If you are serious about using wood fuel, then you must have this book. The author’s own experience and the wisdom of people passionate about wood shines through, from foresters, woodcutters, stackers, burners and researchers on combustion.
Throughout Scandinavia, having enough wood for the winter was for centuries a matter of survival. This care still exists today, as shown by the many astonishing photos in the book showing different types of wood stacks, the National Wood Stacking Competition in Norway and heated debates as to whether to stack wood bark side up or down. Even in oil-rich Norway, 25% of the energy used to heat private homes comes from wood and half that is cut by private individuals, largely retirees it seems. The annual consumption in Norway is 1.5 million metric tonnes, which is less than 0.5% of the volume of standing timber in Norway. Apart from being a source of energy, wood is a deeply rooted part of Scandinavian culture, as much as cross-country skiing and hunting elk. The nature of a man’s character can even be judged from his wood pile. The author also makes the point that no-one has ever gone to war over a firewood forest and that timber is a local source of reliable and renewable energy.
The book is largely about method, beginning in the forest. Where and when to work, how to fell safely and correctly, the different species of trees for firewood, especially birch, beech and ash, coppicing and the value of stripping the bark to speed up drying. Tools are covered, which type of chainsaw, bowsaw or splitting axe to use and how to sharpen them. Importance is given to having a chopping block of the right height. A car tyre to hold the wood on the chopping block can save a lot of work and a strained back by holding the wood in place. Wood should never be left lying in the forest but should be stacked as soon as possible to season before it goes into the woodshed and the various styles of stacking are covered, including some amazing sculptures. Drying time, measuring moisture and heat output are discussed, with additional Btu tables in the appendix. I was pleased to find that my own Leylandii logs stacked against the house were down to 15% moisture content.
Clean burning woodstoves and how to light them correctly are also described.
While the book is immensely practical with much erudite detail, it is engagingly written, laced with many droll comments and occasional side splitting anecdotes. The philosophy of woodcutting shines through to the extent that an alternative sub-title could be, Zen and the Art of Woodcutting.
Richard Webb is permaculture teacher and designer living in Co. Wicklow.
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