Yes folks, it’s that time of year. The weather outside is frightful, the days are short, and the wood stove is cranking. Looking through a frosty window pane, we stare out at our garden covered in snow, and think about how nice it is to be warm. Only fellow homesteaders know that winter time is actually our rest and relaxation time, and having our home heated with wood just adds to the ambiance.
The warmth on our homestead comes from wood heat. Heating with wood is a lifestyle. Just like any other lifestyle, it requires dedication, hard work, and a lot of preparing. Our wood heat journey began when our youngest son was born. We decided to get a small wood stove, because during the previous winter we experienced many power outages and a high heat bill. We installed the stove in a room in the back of the house. We purchased a cord of wood and stacked it on the back porch, it didn’t take long before we were hooked on the unique warmth wood heat provides. After seeing the savings in our utility bill, we decided that the next year we would try and heat exclusively with wood heat. We also realized that we could save even more money if we cut and split the wood ourselves. This decision was an easy one for me, heck I would get to buy a chainsaw, right? We tracked down a logger friend and had him deliver us a load of logs.
This is when I purchased my first chain saw and learned my first lesson. I went to a box store and purchased a cheap 16″ bar chainsaw and went to work. The saw was under powered and much too small. It lasted only 2 years. They say you have to have the right tool for the job and this wasn’t it. After purchasing the biggest saw the box store offered, it became apparent that we needed to go to the experts. We went to Al’s, a local mom and pop small engine shop, and they had a wall of chainsaws, and decades of experience. After taking Bruce’s (the resident expert repairman) advice we settled on a Husqvarna 365 special. It was north of $500, but sometimes time is money and this saw made short work of the wood pile. This saw had power and a 20″ bar.It was made to be maintained and not thrown away in two years, plus you look pretty tough cutting down your Christmas tree with it.
The next thing that needed to be done was splitting the wood. Log splitters are very expensive, so for this chore we went old school. Just a maul, sledgehammer and a wedge. I won’t lie, two young boys help here too! When they say wood heat warms you twice they are not lying.
Splitting wood is something I always loved doing. There is something about it that clears the mind. It is also a bit of an art. You have to learn which way to turn the wood to make it split easier. You split around knots when you can and not through them. when I cut the wood to length, I am always looking for ways to make the splitting easier, like cutting through big knots or at least leaving them close to the end of the log. When the splitting is all done, it is time to stack the wood.
This is everyone’s least favorite chore, and thoughts of being nice and warm in the winter don’t help when it is 90 degrees outside. In the beginning we stacked the wood on the back porch. This was until I put 4 cords on the porch and it collapsed. It turns out wood is heavy, just another lesson in homesteading, and proof that I’m always a work in progress.
As I said before, our first wood stove was small. A lot like our first chainsaw, it was too small to do the job. It kept a few rooms warm, but the bedrooms could be in the 40’s sometimes. It also didn’t have enough burn time to last through the night. Waking up to a cold house and huddling around the stove as it heated up made us feel like real homesteaders. I have fond memories of those mornings, but splitting kindling everyday, however, I remember less fondly. After a few years we were able to purchase an add-on forced hot air wood furnace. Again sometimes you need the right tool for the job. This stove can heat the house and burns all night, though we still wake up to a decidedly cool house. This furnace was 1/5 of the price of an outdoor one and uses less wood. Sometimes I crank it up so that Tracy starts shedding clothes. I guess I’m still a teenage boy at heart.
Wood heat has certainly taught us to have the right tool for the job. Sometimes it is best to make the investment up front and not waste time and money with undersized saws and stoves. Having wood heat also teaches you work ethic. If you don’t split your wood in the summer you will be cold. If you don’t put wood on the fire before bed, you get the same result. If you don’t bring wood in when its nice out, you will be doing it when it’s not. These lessons are so simple and can be applied to everything in life. There are no apps for fire wood, a Roomba is not going to load your stove, and when you are cold you have no one else to blame. Heating with wood will change you. No longer will you be worried about the oil guy or your natural gas provider. No more huge bills, just hard work and the reward that comes from it. Stay warm my friends.