Chop! Chop!

I've got several more bamboo-related projects to tell you about, but so you don't get sick of bamboo (as if that's even possible) I'll be interjecting some other topics. Successful gardeners are flexible and adaptable, ready to respond when an opportunity arises. Such an opportunity presented itself to me this weekend when I heard a nearby *crack* and thump -- the unmistakable sound of a large tree limb falling.


It turns out that a neighbor a little ways up the street took down a large silver maple tree limb. I went up to watch them cut it up -- it's always fun to watch somebody else doing yardwork once in a while. When I asked them what they were planning on doing with the wood, they said "we're putting a 'free firewood' sign on it".

***


I told them I'd be back in about an hour with my truck, if that would be enough time for them to have it all split for me. After their polite chuckle (hey, I thought it was pretty funny, but gardeners lose much of their sense of humor when covered in sweat, leaves and sawdust) they told me to take as much as I want, but they're not cutting it up any smaller.

So a couple of hours later I was loading wood into the truck:


I love the look of freshly sawed logs:


I love the smell too. I also love splitting firewood, as long as it's the right type of wood -- in other words, wood that is easy to split. I only have experience splitting four types of wood: wild black cherry, silver maple, black locust, and some kind of elm. Three of the four split quite easily, making the task a blast. The elm on the other hand is almost unsplittable. It has interlocking grain, so it takes a lot of effort to split it. More effort than I'm willing to expend until I have no other options.


This maple gives me a chance to hold off splitting the elm for another year, and for that I am very happy!

Until a few years ago I had no idea how to split (or "chop") firewood, and I thought an axe was involved. What I learned was you really need to use one of these:


It's called a "maul", and although it looks a bit like an axe, it's heavier and duller. It's like a sledgehammer with a sharpish end. This one has a foam rubber collar to protect it when I aim poorly and hit the shaft on the log. As you can see, I never do this.

What it needs is a little duct tape:


That's better! Now I just set the log to split on my chopping block -- which is just a large log that is pretty flat on both sides:


Swing the maul up and over my head onto the log, and it falls apart in a very satisfying way. Repeat this many, many, many times, and you get firewood that is ready for seasoning (drying).


I won't be burning this wood this winter -- it's for next year. Although it's possible to burn freshly cut wood, a lot of the energy is being used to boil away the water that is contained in the wood. Plus, you'll get much more creosote buildup in your chimney from "green" wood. So it's best to let the wood dry out for a year before burning it.

Most of these logs were quite easy to split, but I want to point out some special cases. First, the dreaded branch junction (I don't know if it has a special name). These are very difficult to split:


Sometimes there is a "buried" branch -- still hard to split:


On larger logs it's best to hit the edge of the log in order to get it to split. If you don't, you may end up with a stuck maul:


(Notice that I took this shot before taping up the shaft.)

You may have some problem pieces like this "Y":


You may think that this is the correct way to split it -- just take a whack between the two branches and it will fall apart. I wish! Instead it may be easier to flip it over and attack it from the opposite side:


That may not work well either -- the wood is quite sturdy in those areas. You may have to just knock as much off as possible, and leave the "Y" for your neighbor to burn in his firepit. That's what I did.


I also had a few logs of what I think is wild cherry, but I'm not certain and by this time I was too tired to care. It split very easily, and was really beautiful inside:


Look at those colors! I also had this piece of maple:


That wavy grain is really special, but it made this piece extremely hard to split. Looks cool though.

So after much effort, all that is left are a few large "Y"s (which I'm not going to tackle today):


and a couple of longer pieces that I need to cut down to size (which I'm also NOT going to tackle today).



So that's a good portion of my firewood for next winter. It was fun to split it, but I should have waited for a cooler weekend. This took a lot out of me.

Now back to the bamboo projects...

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