Evan woke up at 2 and as tradition dictates ended up in our bed cuddled up to Laura the Snorer. Charlie woke a couple of hours later needing a wee. On his return trip he opted for our bed as well, so at four in the morning there were four of us in a double bed, with two cats curled on top. At this point it was a bit parky outside the blanket but I was cosy and knew that getting up to stoke the furnace would disturb everyone, so I didn’t. An hour of Charlie wriggling and sitting up to see where the kittens were and I decided that, okay, I’ll just get up and stoke. However, knowing that if I did that would be me up for the day I had one more go at settling C-boy and getting some kip. It worked, and I woke up at half-seven freezing my derriere off – it was two degrees in the house. I snuck out of bed, crept into some warmer clothes and went to head out the door, only to find that it was frozen shut. Twenty minutes of prying and banging later I was out to a crisp -14c morning where I could breath fresh life into the cold furnace.
Or try to at any rate, as the wood we’re lighting isn’t the driest or the most seasoned. We’re lucky at the moment in so much that most of the wood is larch that has been dead for a year which my neighbour chunked up and dropped off for me last week. It’s been in the basement since and I’ve spent the last couple of days splitting and stacking it. On TV they just waft a hatchet towards a log and it splits neatly into eight pieces then stacks itself. Our experience has been somewhat different. Through experimentation I’ve progressed from the feet splayed, axe in the small of the back and ruddy great over the head ‘by the power of Thor I command you!’ swing to a nifty twist over the right shoulder and down that makes me feel I should be splitting wood in a wine bar or at the tennis club or something. Anything goes I think as long as you don’t damage yourself.
My weapon of choice was initially an axe, but that turned out to be another hollywood mis-queue as they’re adequate (and no more) at cutting trees down but completely rubbish at splitting wood. What you need, obviously, is a splitter, which is the ungodly marriage of a sledge hammer and an axe, and does the job admirably. I ummed and ahhed over mine when I bought it, trying to work out whether I wanted the traditional hickory handle or the fibre-glass shock resistant day-glo orange one. The latter was cheaper but if the handle breaks on the old fashioned hickory ones you can just replace it with another. If anything works loose on the day-glo baby that’s the lot in the bin, and you can’t even burn the broken bits. I know what I should have bought, but I just can’t resist day-glo anything.
Once you’ve split your wood you need to stack it, ideally for one year outside, another under cover and the third in your basement. Up until this morning I was splitting it then slinging it straight into the oven. I know it’s wrong but when you need heat even poor, inefficient heat will do.
My compromise is that I use a layered method to stack it, off the floor by a couple of inches and away from the wall by at least 6, first one row pointing towards you then a pair of runners perpendicularly down the length of the stack, then another row towards you and so on. If you’re mindful of the warps, dips and bobbles you can build it quite solid and it’s meant to be the quickest way to dry wood. We have a few sticks of seasoned stuff left and a lot of totally green wood, but much of this is still buried under the snowbank outside and I need the snow to melt a little before I can find it and dig it out. I think I have a weeks worth downstairs and another two or three outside but my neighbour has his eye on a few trees by the road that are threatening the power line so I expect we’ll go up and get those at some point in March. At any rate I’m hoping we’ll be through the worst of the winter shortly so will be using less wood when levels start to get critical.
Our problem is the house, and it’s total lack of insulation or double glazing. We’ve put the plastic over the windows and hairdryered it tight only to have it blow down when the wind really picks up. It seems inconsequential however as if you put your hand up to the wall you can feel the wind coming through that… no wonder we were spending $15 a day on oil just to keep the place at 12 degrees.
Starting fires is another thing I struggle with. Each person will give you their own best advice, whether it’s the size of the kindling you need (thin, no more than 1x1cm) or which corner of the firebox you rake the embers over to before adding new wood, but it takes me about three hours to get kitchen stove going and about an hour to get the behemoth downstairs chugging along.
Kermit and that Strawbridge fellow agree and I concur- it’s not easy being green, especially in the teeth of our first Canadian winter.