Heating with Wood: Part IV: Getting the Wood Home

First thing: Where are you going to put it?

A pile of rounds and chunks that you’ll be splitting later always takes longer to knock down than you think it will. It’s convenient to drop the wood as close as possible to where you’ll eventually stack it but it’s more important not to block the sun from the garden and be in everybody’s way until you get around to it. You’ll want a tarp big enough to keep rain off.

Wood wagon

A lot of people don’t do wood heat because they don’t have a truck to get it home. Trucklessness shouldn’t be an obstacle because you probably know somebody who has one. You can barter. Share wood with the owner, help them split a cord, bring them a loaf of bread, smoked fish, a bottle of wine or whatever. It’s good form to at least fill their gas tank. An old beater truck of your own is handy for wood, except that old trucks, like old dogs and people, get to a point where they’re using up all the family resources to chug the last few miles. If you’re spending a thousand a year for repairs it’s cost effective to just rent one. A second hand wood trailer made from a truck bed is good for doubling the load but it’s a lousy lawn ornament for the rest of the year. Even if you own a truck, when there’s a big slug of wood to be had, say a couple cords with large diameter rounds, it may be worth renting a big one for a hundred dollars, they come with ramps. When loading rounds into a truck lay the rows closest to the tailgate flat so they can’t roll out if the tail gate pops open going up a hill. Drivers behind you appreciate that and you won’t become a ‘Can you believe that idiot?’ story people tell in town for the next twenty years. If the truck is loaded above the sides, tarp the wood so pieces don’t fall out when you go around a corner. Finally, don’t over load the truck or family car. It’s easy to look at that small handful of rounds left on the lot and say, “Hmmmm, I could fit those in.” You could fit them in but it’s a weight thing not a volume thing, so be strong. Resist that urge.

Wood lot etiquette:

When you get a line on wood, say someone puts an ad on Craigslist: Free Firewood!, contact the owner, preferably by telephone in case they’re getting lots of texts, and make sure of what kind of wood it is, how much there is, where it is and how accessible it is. Sometimes you can drive right up to it, other times it may be a long carry through brush or maybe you’d have to lug it up a steep slope. If it’s going down hill to the truck a runaway round could smash a house or person. If you feel it’s a go, ask if the owner wants all the wood gone or is keeping some. Ideally, you can meet them there to be sure.

Usually the trees were taken down by a storm or by an owner who wants to build on the lot. Free wood doesn’t last long. You want to get there early and work fast. If you’ve got three people one can be cutting, one can bust up rounds, one can load. Cut rounds and load them into the truck at whatever weight you can conveniently lift. Split them to stove size later. Don’t be greedy. You can’t expect to cut the whole lot before you start filling your truck and hauling wood if other people also want the wood. Sometimes an owner who is motivated to clear the property will have the rounds already cut to length. If that’s not the case and you show up where other people have been working, don’t take rounds they’ve cut and stacked.

Once the truck is loaded and you’re ready to bring it home, leave one person at the lot to keep working and keep an eye on wood you’ve cut. It would be unusual for someone to take cut/stacked rounds but it’s happened. If you’re by yourself you can stack your excess rounds and mark them with surveyors tape. They’ll probably still be there when you get back.

Group effort:

My friend Steve invited me to help buck up a massive, ancient spruce. He’d counted 550 rings on the stump. Someone with a plan had cut that fine tree down, plus half a dozen smaller trees, then changed plans. With no sawmill in town and, with the giant being in the woods a quarter mile up a hill, there wasn’t a practical way to get the lumber out of it so the tree had just lain there for a few years and was going to rot. Enter the Woodshed Kings.

It was a short, rough stretch to an easy path leading down the hill. At first we carried split wood on pack boards. That was good cardio but slow and a lot of carrying. Next we got a wheelbarrow which could haul three times as much as a pack board. That was faster and easier but we still had to break up the rounds, carry them to the wheelbarrow at the top of the trail, then run the wheelbarrow back up after we dropped the wood at the bottom. This was going to take a long time. I began to ask myself, “What would the Romans do?” The answer of course was, a Roman would roll those babies and have slaves do the work.

As luck would have it, my birthday was coming up and my twenty-something sons asked me,

“Hey Dad, what do you want for your birthday?”

“Well fellahs, since you ask….”

In one sunny morning they rolled a few dozen rounds out of the woods, right down the hill and up the ramp into a rented box truck. When we got to the house it was a simple matter of backing the truck in, setting up a ramp and rolling the rounds across the yard to where they were going to be split. The boys said, “Next year you’re getting guitar picks.”