The Crazy Coe’s – Off Grid living and crafting

Winter Wood Prep.

I love the smell of burning wood when I am in the garden and the wood burner is on, it has a distinct smell of its own. It is the overwhelming smell of home. Today when I was filling my wood corner in the house Simon held out a couple of logs, smell he said and whilst it seemed strange I sniffed the offered logs and sure enough they had a lovely aroma, wow what is that I asked Cedar he said -this was one of the trees that fell down on our land in 2015 and now 5 years later we have got far enough back in the wood pile to come to burn it. Yep we have a lot of wood.

My Sunday Chore the wood pile

To all dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.

German Proverb

I love the woods and the trees we live in and around, as I child my father use to take me to the local park where the trees would magically “talk” to me. It seemed amazing to my 7yr old self. Now the trees that we live among still seem to whisper to me as they sway, just not with Dads voice now. Fitting then that they also warm us and heat our water, they stand tall and protect us during the fierce winter winds and provide cooling shade when we actually get some sun.

We never buy wood as you can imagine and whilst we have given up chopping down trees as we were so bad at it, running at every creak and groan, we do plan in the future to coppice our willow plantings but they wont get to be taller than our house which was the case with the last tree we attempted to fell. That tree despite the chain saw marks in the trunk is still standing and has no intention of going anywhere.

So where does our wood come from then? We collect any fallen tree we find – sometimes taking the trailer back out if we see trees that are down. Hedgerow is a wonderful source of kindling and some weeds that grow wild here are amazing for fire starters – Rosebay willow herb burns hot and fast and will get any fire going. There can be no denying it burning your own firewood is hard work and requires dedication.

We have 3 dedicated wood drying areas. I wont call them sheds as two don’t have complete walls, we also store wood in the polytunnel as the heat in there really starts the drying process. The wood is dried by air so a good roof is essential but the sides in the drying sheds have spaces in them to allow the movement of air over the logs.

The final wood store we are using this year is an old cabin with one wall taken out, it stands on stilts to keep the floor dry and is a sturdy structure for the last stage of the drying. The wood in there is at least 3 to 5 yrs old so really ready to burn, this wood would have stood in other areas in years past as we run a conveyor belt of drying and moving wood as it moves towards the fire.

New Wood collected and cut this year 2021

Wood should not really be burnt “green” or freshly cut so the preparation of your firewood is essential year on year as you will have to wait for the first lot to season before burning, disappointing I know but worth it. We cut and stacked wood for 3 years before we moved here, this is a year round process that doesn’t stop to ensure we always have a good back up supply.

The continual process of wood rotation is labour intensive so be prepared for that. Once the colder weather starts to descend and wood is brought into the house space will start to appear in the dry shed and so we gradually refill it with cut logs that are at least 1-2 years old. There is no need to rush this process as we wont use this new stock until next September but it is a purposeful topping up process that allows the next stage of drying for the logs.

I will admit that the woodsheds’ hold the potential for many a scary moment with the prospect of creepy spiders and other things best not mentioned, however the worst thing of all is the wasps. They like to hibernate in the wood over winter and often if not checked the logs will transport a number of sleepy stinging enemies into the house. It freaks me out, its the one thing I have never been able to tolerate. I have reached a point with spiders, mice and other 4 legged beasties that I just move away and let them do their thing but wasps and I will never reach that point. My work mates used to shout “wasp” really loud to throw me into blind panic, apparently the funniest thing ever. Hard to believe but they loved me, and of course I them.

Can you imagine my panic when I met my first wood wasp. It was as if the wasps had come to take over the world, Needless to say they still startle me but at least these ones don’t look to sting. They are pretty fascinating really, once you know that enormous stinger wont hurt you and their only focus is munching on the wood pile they don’t seem as sneaky as their smaller hovering cousins who’s main aim is to chase me and make my life a misery.

Anyway I digress – if you have weighed up the cost of buying wood and established that cutting and prepping your own firewood is for you then you do need some big toys.

A good chainsaw is a must. When we first came over we had a cheap petrol saw that took one look at the trees here and promptly gave up. Invest as much money as you are able into your tools, buy good second hand if necessary but don’t stint as a poor chainsaw will always let you down, balance the cost against the amount of wood you are going to cut and choose wisely.

We now have a couple of saws – Stihl petrol saw MS251 – chain is 18 inch bar. This is the beast, loud and noisy so ear protectors are a must. It is a bit heavy for me but it will go through everything. It is 5 years old and is still magnificent. We paid 500 Euros and it has paid us back plenty.

We also have a DeWalt 18V XR 12 inch bar – battery operated saw. This is less noisy and rechargeable so to us this is free as we charge it with solar. It is also lighter which has been good for Simon since his heart attack. Even I can use this one and it is good for smaller pieces. This cost us 350 Euros from a well known online market place.

The size and diameter of your logs is important and making sure you have logs that fit nicely into your stove saves a lot of time. If saving money is top of your lists you will need to build a saw bench or log cradle – there are a number of really good designs on the internet – this bit of kit is essential for holding your logs still whilst chopping up. We have made a number over the last few years out of bits of metal and wood we had lying around and they don’t have to be posh just sturdy.

Old pallets are wonderful things

Simon was out of logging action for several months after his heart attack so what I found was that some of the dried logs last Christmas had not been split down again which is something he would have done bit by bit over the months. Consequently I was bringing wood down from the store which I then needed to chop again with the splitting axe. Not ideal and so I needed to find a way in which Simon could get back to cutting up the logs but without too much exertion.

The maul was too heavy for me and for Simon now really so our small hand axe allowed me to split of smaller pieces and whilst time consuming I found this a good tool for chopping logs I could control.

This year we have invested in a log splitting machine, probably not totally in line with simple living but needs must. I work full time and so to ensure we keep the firewood going for years to come this seemed the best labour saving option.

The other piece of equipment you really need is a moisture meter, whilst used to measure moisture content in lots of things, this little gadget will help you to ensure your wood is at its optimum dryness to burn. If your log moisture is to high they wont burn efficiently so the heat output will be reduced. It will also create more soot that clogs your chimney. You can tell people are burning wet wood or turf if you take a little drive around the countryside as wet wood creates more smoke. Remember though, wood dries from the inside out, so if you took the reading immediately after cutting the reading might show 50-55% water content however the inside would have a much higher content. Your optimum content for burning well should be between 10-15% – the longer you dry the less moisture will remain.

Does it seem too much work? – I hope not. The payoff for all this work is a fuel source that we don’t buy, that despite what you might assume helps us reduce our carbon footprint and gives wonderful warm nights in front of the jumping flames. Its the stuff of all of those romantic films – log fire burning and ….. Nah that’s enough of that!!

So if you have been chopping your logs today then I think you deserve to

Just Breathe


A forest full of trees is as important as a gold mine.

Paul Bamikole