How to Make a Log Splitter – Kindling Splitter The minds of regular Americans never cease to amaze me. There are people innovating on a daily basis and their products or ideas just never make it to Amazon. When I look at this article about building a log splitter from rebar I am again reminded …
Small Wood Splitting With Axe: Reliable In Camp & On The Trail Splitting wood on the home front is a completely different endeavor than when you are on the trail and I really enjoy the angle on this great article because of that. When we generate a skillset in the comfort of our own homes …
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Cordwood building – An old-school building technique The first time I found out about cordwood construction was while visiting a close friend of mine. He built a great retreat in the woods of North Carolina. He did it after researching his family history and the way his ancestors build houses. After seeing his cabin and …
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Cooking Alternatives Off Grid! Host: Denob “The Prepared Canadian” Over the last couple of years, I have had the chance to try a lot of different off grid cooking options. From home made solar ovens to open fire methods and everything in between, I found out a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Actually, … Continue reading Cooking Alternatives Off Grid!
107 Used Wood Pallet Projects and Ideas Repurposing is great way to save money, labor, and materials. Whether you’re building from the ground up, need more furniture, or just looking to flex your creative muscles there are plenty of recyclable materials that are super cheap or even free. Snappy Pixels has a gallery of 107 …
Wood may grow on trees, but it’s still expensive, especially for fine woodworkers in the market for high-quality lumber. Knowing how to season and dry your own wood is the answer. This is an expert’s handbook on finding, processing, seasoning, and drying your own wood. Designed with the independent craftsperson in mind, it focuses on […]
When the weather outside is frightful, it can be a challenge for people dependent on a wood-burning stove for heat. The question is: How can you improve the efficiency of your wood stove?
An obvious answer is to buy a new one with a built-in catalytic combustor, but they can be expensive. Thankfully, there are other ways to do it.
Here are some steps you can take to improve the efficiency of your wood stove:
1. A clean stove and chimney
Barring a warm spell, it’s a little late in the season to do some of this work, but good chimney sweeping and cleaning of the interior of the firebox can improve the efficiency of any wood stove. This also cleans out any creosote, which can impede air flow and pose the potential danger of a chimney fire.
Air flow is critical to good combustion and heat, and anything you can do to properly manage it will make a difference. If you have a brick chimney, make sure any cracks are sealed. This not only will avoid the potential for a fire but also will improve air flow.
2. A well-sealed stove and damper
There are two primary controls for air flow on a wood stove. These include small gaps that can be opened and closed on the front-bottom of some stoves, and the damper on top of the stove or in the chimney about two to three feet above the top. The damper is the primary air-flow control.
A problem can emerge if there are unwanted gaps on the stove. These typically happen around the door for the fire box. There are kits that allow you to replace the gasket, but it requires you to remove the door and let it cool. That’s tough stuff during winter. There are also kits that allow you easily to fill gaps as a short-term fix. Either way, an unwanted gap will cause you to lose control of your air flow and result in a fire that burns too hot for too long.
The damper also could have a smoke leak or allow air to enter where the spindle emerges from the chimney or stove. This spindle is attached to the damper flap and here again, wood stove supply stores or websites have various solutions you can quickly apply.
Assuming your stove is well-sealed and the damper is operating properly, there are some key things to damper management. The basic advice is that whenever you start a wood stove fire, you should leave the damper fully open for 30 minutes to get the fire off to a good start and properly heat the chimney for efficient drafting.
3. Seasoned wood vs. green wood
Green wood can have a moisture content between 30 and 60 percent. The result is poor combustion and lots of smoke and creosote. In fact, green wood with a very high moisture content takes more energy to burn than the energy it releases in the form of heat. It’s important that you use seasoned wood for a wood stove.
The U.S. Forest Service recommends that firewood be seasoned for six months to a year in a sunny location and protected from rain and snow with a tarp.
Another firewood consideration: Are you using softwood or hardwood? Softwoods, like pine and fir, are great for starting a fire because they burn hot. But they also burn very fast. That’s why you want to establish a good, hot bed of glowing coals with softwoods and then add two or three hardwood logs like oak or cherry. Hardwoods burn hot when well-ignited — and burn long. Make sure you don’t overload the firebox and when necessary, carefully remove the ashes to an ash bucket and dispose of in an ash pit outside.
4. Added iron on the stove top
My mother has three pieces of cast iron in the shape of ducks sitting on top of her wood stove. The iron pieces get hot and increase the heat exchange capability of the stove by presenting a larger hot surface area to the surrounding air. There are also iron pieces with simple fan blades that actually spin very slowly as the heat rises and runs over the blades. This, to a small degree, can help distribute some of the hot air.
5. Forced-air blower
A more robust solution for air distribution is a forced-air fan that will blow the hot air from the stove’s surface into a room. This requires electricity so it’s not a pure off-the-grid solution, but solar panels could be enough to power the fan.
6. The catalytic combustor
Many of the newer wood stoves feature a catalytic combustor as an efficiency feature. You also have the option of buying a separate catalytic combustor for installation into an older stove.
A catalytic combustor is a ceramic disc, usually about six inches in diameter and two inches thick. It has a honeycomb appearance and is coated with a rare metal called palladium. It’s inserted into the top of the stove where the smoke rises to the chimney and works to combust the smoke.
Smoke is essentially a gas that failed to combust and (most of the time) requires at least 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to fully ignite. A catalytic combustor will combust the smoke at temperatures as low as 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The result is that the fire burns better and hotter and any residual smoke that could cause creosote buildup is reduced. In fact, a catalytic combustor can reduce creosote buildup by anywhere from 20 to 90 percent
It’s reported that catalytic combustors are good for 12,000 operating hours before they have to be replaced. That equals 500 days, so you can probably get several years of service from one catalytic combustor.
One caution is that you should only burn natural woods (no building lumber, paper, or treated woods) with a catalytic combustor or the life of the combustor and its efficiency will decline.
How do you make your wood stove more efficient? Share your tips in the section below:
How To Build a Wood-Gasifier (Power for when SHTF) Whether you want to be off the grid or simply prepared in the event of a sustained power outage, you are going to need an alternate source of energy at some point. A generator would seem like the practical solution to the energy problem, but what …
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Behind finding fresh water, finding food is one of the biggest concerns in a survival situation. The easiest way to feed yourself for short-term situations is to learn edible plants, but at some point you need meat.
When you start discussing tools for hunting, the bow and arrow inevitably enter the conversation. Learning to make a capable bow, though, is no easy task. Bows made by bowyers today are works of art just as much as they are hunting tools. Learning the entire process takes years of practice and attention to detail. If carefully crafted and cared for, a good bow can last for years and years.
The problem is that properly curing a piece of wood (stave) for a bow takes months or years if done the traditional way. If wood is not properly dried, it will break much sooner and you will have to start over. If you find yourself in a situation where you need a bow and arrow, but don’t have years to dry a stave, you’ll need to make a “quickie” survival bow. Quickies are bows that are completed within a few hours of harvesting the wood. These bows are not designed for long-term use, as they will most certainly break at some point in the near future. However, these bows can absolutely serve for short periods of time until you can properly cure a stave.
For those interested in learning how to make a survival bow, here are the three steps you need to follow.
1. Selecting your wood
Good woods for bow-making are yew, ash, Osage orange, oak, bamboo and mulberry. You may, however, find yourself in a situation where none of these woods are highly prevalent. As I set out to make myself a quickie bow I found myself in that exact predicament. In the Great Plains where I live, trees are scarce, and trying to find a good tree for making a bow can feel like looking for hen’s teeth. With that being the case, I decided to select a much-despised tree of the plains — the Russian olive. Although these invasive trees are everywhere, they have not earned a reputation as a standout bow material. Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.
When selecting any piece of wood, a piece that is taller than the shooter, straight-grained, and free of many knots is ideal. Good woods have the ability to withstand forces of tension on the back (facing away from the archer) and compression on the belly (facing the archer). Once again, the ideal piece of wood may not always be available in a survival situation, so do your best to find a piece that most closely fits the bill. I was able to find a Russian olive branch about the thickness of my arm — and fairly straight. It also had no major projecting branches. Since it was so prevalent and the piece looked good, I decided to give it a go.
2. Roughing it out
Once you have your piece of wood selected, it is time to start roughing out the bow. Use a tomahawk, hatchet or knife to remove large bits of wood and create a rough outline of your bow. Be careful not to remove too much wood in this process. You can always take more wood off, but you can’t add more once it is gone. On my Russian olive bow I left the back of the bow completely untouched and it worked well enough. Bowyers will tell you this is incorrect, and they are right; this is not the correct way to make a bow you want to last for a long time. However, we are discussing survival bows and are looking to make an efficient hunting tool as quickly as possible. With the rough shape of the bow carved out, you can move onto the next step in the process.
The next step to make a quickie survival bow is to tiller the bow. Tillering is the process of getting the bow to bend in an even arc when drawn. You can continue to work with your cutting tool, but a file is ideal for the job. If you have a file available, it is worth using. Start by bending the bow and seeing where it is stiff and where it bends easily. In the areas the bow bends stiffly, begin to remove a small bit of material with your file. A good rule is to spend more time scrutinizing your bow than you do working on it. This will help you avoid removing too much material and ending up with a bow that is too light and incapable of doing its job. Continue to remove material and check the arc of the bow until you are pleased with it. Once again, spend as much time tillering as you find acceptable for your situation. When you are pleased with the tiller of the bow, it now can be strung and ready for use.
I was able to construct my quickie survival bow in the matter of a few hours; depending on your situation you can spend more or less time on the process. If your survival situation were to be a long-term affair, you would be wise to begin drying a stave while you make your first quickie bow. You could essentially use quickie bows in the time it took your stave to dry and then construct a long-term hunting bow for yourself. Regular hunting bows are made in much of the same fashion, with attention to detail being a big key. The kind of bow you create all depends on your particular situation. However, should you decide to proceed with a quickie bow you can rest easy knowing your new survival bow can help procure some life-saving meat. Add this knowledge to your list of bushcraft skills, and you will immediately increase your ability to survive and thrive in most any situation.
What advice would you add on making a survival bow? Share your tips in the section below:
When maple leaves are glowing red and gold, Canada geese are honking overhead, and patches of white frost accent the path to the barn, it is time for homesteaders to turn their attention to seasonal matters.
The rhythms of those who heat their homes with wood vary from person to person. Some stay a full year or more ahead on their firewood, cutting and splitting all their wood for the winter of 2016-17 during the year 2015. Others get the current season’s wood done just in time to chuck it into the woodstove as the snow starts flying. Most of us hit it somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
No matter how far ahead you may or may not be, you probably like to take advantage of the cooler autumn temperatures to split firewood. And now that wood-splitting season is upon us, it is time to get serious and get ready. If a weekend set aside for firewood processing is in your future, make sure you have all you need to keep things running smoothly from start to finish. Here are some things you may have forgotten – things that will make the day’s task much easier.
First, make sure your wood splitter is tuned up and running well. Assuming you use power equipment to aid in splitting your wood — be it powered by electricity, gas or a tractor — you will want to have it in the best working condition possible. Having a malfunction which slows or stops progress can be frustrating, so be proactive about having it ready. Take it to a shop or do the work yourself, but take care of whatever is necessary to prevent breakdowns and sluggish operation.
Have a supply of fuel ready. Keep in mind that some small-engine mechanics warn that gas older than 60 days ought not be used in small engines, and make sure you have the gas cans topped off so you will not have to interrupt the flow of work to go for a fuel run. If your splitter is PTO-driven, make sure you have enough diesel fuel for the job.
Do not forget lubricant for the log table. This is a small item but one which ought not be overlooked. I am fastidious about spraying my splitter table every time I start it up, and the occasions when I used up the last can and forgot to replace it or it got misplaced have resulted in delays. If you live out in the country where stores are a long drive away, little things like this are even more crucial to gather up ahead of time.
Have an axe or hatchet handy. Having at least one piece of wood put up a fight is almost guaranteed. Bucked-up firewood has a mind of its own, and will sometimes twist around a knot or pull apart in sinewy portions that are difficult to master. A quick chop with an axe is a great remedy.
If you live in an area where snakes pose a threat or if you have an aversion to them, you will want to keep something within easy reach for possible encounters. Firewood piles make excellent snake habitat, and you will want to have a way to deal with them if needed. A long handled axe or hoe close by is good insurance.
A pulp hook is often useful for moving and lifting firewood. Using a hook gives the user better control, more leverage, increased arm length, and creates a little more space between him-or-herself and potentially dangerous moving logs.
Ear protection is advisable. Gas-powered wood splitters are loud, and muffling the sound is a good idea. While it may be tempting to go without ear defenders when splitting with other people so as to convey information, it is useful to consider that you probably cannot hear them well enough to communicate verbally anyway. Instead, consider developing a plan that includes a few unmistakable nonverbal signals when working with others, for the sake of safety and ease of operation.
Make sure your gloves are the right ones for the job. Many people prefer leather gloves, but my experience has found them to be slippery — which is very dangerous when handling wood, as it can result in less control of the wood and possible foot injuries — and they tend to wear out quickly. I inherited a pair of knit fabric gloves with rubbery palms and fingers one year when a farm hand left them behind, and I have since thrown away every other pair I had and begun purchasing the fabric-and-rubber types by the dozen. I find them to grip wood well, fit comfortably, and last longer than leather.
One final thing to make sure you have ready to go on firewood-splitting day is a collection of good friends. Not only do many hands make for light work, and particularly with firewood processing projects which easily lend themselves to being done assembly-line style, but they make for fun as well.
If you do have friends and family show up to help, be sure to have plenty of cold drinks and snacks available for the whole crew. You might even need to consider a barbecue after the work is done if you want to make sure they return next year.
As with any tasks involving power equipment, make safety a priority. If goggles, chaps, steel-toed footwear, and a helmet seem like a good choice for you and your work team, do not hesitate to use them.
Splitting and stacking firewood for the winter are some of my favorite homesteading activities. I cannot promise that by following the above steps will transform it from a detestable chore into a fun time, but being prepared can often alleviate some of the stress and aggravation that can go along with any big job. And when you are enjoying the warmth of a cozy wood fire while the snow is falling outside in winter, you will know that your wood-splitting work was worth the trouble.
What wood-splitting advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
Nothing beats the enveloping warmth from off-the-grid wood heat through the winter, and autumn is a perfect time for collecting firewood for your wood stove or fireplace. Use the following tips and you’ll fill your woodshed with the right wood from the right trees.
Your primary concern must be safety when looking for trees. Pro lumberjacks have the highest rate of work-related deaths of any other U.S. occupation. It doesn’t end there. A total of 25 amateurs, who were cutting down trees, died in 2012. When adding safety to the decision of selecting firewood trees, consider the following:
- Leaning vs. straight – Leave the leaning trees behind. Seek trees that grow straight and proud. The leaning tree category includes tree trunks angling one direction and then twisting off at a different angle. Crooked trees can fall in unpredictable ways.
- Long trunk vs. wide branches – When a choice exists, select trees with long trunks and branches on top, rather than expansively branched full trees, because with fewer branches, there’s a chance for fewer accidents while limbing the trees for firewood.
- Beware of lodging dangers – Timber growing in a tightly packed forest contains those nice, long-trunked trees. Felling a tree in these woods leads to lodging the treetop into neighboring trees. Trying to get a lodged tree to drop to the ground is hazardous. Leave thick-growth forests alone.
- Match tree size to chainsaw – Don’t attack a three-foot thick oak tree with a chainsaw containing a 12-inch bar. Forestry experts recommend chainsaw bars that are two inches longer than the diameter of the tree, which reduces safety issues with chainsaws kicking back into an operator’s head or face.
Certain tree types favor hot-burning firewood. When a choice exists, look for hardwood, selecting trees with higher density. Dense, or heavy wood once dried, contains higher heat per volume when burned. That means your firewood will burn hotter and longer.
Desirable tree types in descending order, based on dry density measured in pounds per cord of firewood and rated as “excellent” for heat, are:
- Osage orange 4728
- White oak 4200
- Black locust 4016
- Ironwood 4016
- Shagbark hickory 3952
- Apple 3888
- Bitternut hickory 3832
- Honey locust 3832
- Burr oak 3768
- Mulberry 3712
- Maple 3680
- Red oak 3528
All wood types burn, so when no other choice exists, go ahead and take firewood from softwood trees. Just understand that in most cases, you’ll be burning more softwood to get the same heat value you’ll receive from most hardwood trees.
The above list of the dense firewood varieties is based on dry wood. Green, or wet wood, greatly hinders the heat production value of your firewood. If you cut green trees for firewood, give your new firewood at least two years of drying time in order to gain the full effect of dry wood heat value. Besides providing less heat, when you burn green wood, you fill the flue and chimney full of tar and creosote, which has the potential of turning into chimney fires if not removed.
Another option to obtaining dry firewood is to get your wood from trees that are already dead, since they already enjoyed some drying time, thereby cutting down on your overall firewood drying time. Just realize the following aspects about cutting down dead trees for firewood:
- Dead trees have wet areas – Just because a dead tree has dry wood doesn’t mean it’s thoroughly dry. The capillary action of the tree’s roots pulls water from the ground, even after the tree is dead. That means the bottom trunk of a dead tree is still wet. It will require drying time, but you might be able to get away with six months, instead of two years to dry your firewood.
- Dry wood at top – Pull the driest wood from the top third to half of a dead tree. Often this wood is dry enough to burn immediately.
- Beware of widow-maker branches – Look for branches broken loose and ready to fall from dead trees. When you see dead trees with broken branches hanging overhead, select a different tree.
Finally, enjoy your firewood gathering efforts. There’s nothing better than hoisting around hefty chunks of oak firewood for getting great exercise. Plus, you breathe clean air while looking forward to excellent off-the-grid wood heat this winter.
Sources: University of Nebraska, Utah State University.
Which is your favorite tree for winter heat? Share your advice in the section below:
For the pioneers, building a log cabin was not just a cool project that you took on for the fun of it. You had to know how to build your own home because there was no one else to build it for you.
Below, we will discuss the basics of building a log cabin. If you want a more detailed diagram, there are books on the subject. However, I would read this report first, as we will cover things, from experience, that others may not.
Back in the day of the settlers, the log cabin we are speaking of was their home. So, we are not talking about building a home by today’s standards, where homes average several thousand square feet.
Tools You’ll Need
Sure, you can get by without a few of these items. However, for the most part you’ll be darn glad you have them.
- A crosscut saw to fell the trees, cut your lengths and make any strait cuts.
- An axe for hundreds of jobs.
- A two-person log carrier, because carrying a 20-foot long log up a hill can be challenging.
- A draw knife or barking spud to debark the logs.
- A peavey to roll the logs into position.
- An adze to start most of your notches, smooth limb stubs and knots.
- A hand drill and a 20-inch drill bit so you can pin the logs together at the corners if you choose to build that way.
- A broad axe is likely the most useful tool you will have. Use it to smooth and fit notches, shape any part of any log, and more.
- A mallet or sledgehammer to drive corners together and set corner pins.
There are other basic tools that you and everyone should have, such as a tape measure, a hammer and a hand saw, just to name a few. We won’t cover them, as they are basic tools and not specialized for this task.
The Basic Steps
1. Get a plan. If you don’t have a log cabin plan, we suggest you get one. They can be found at many local libraries and also online.
On your land, face your door true south. There are three big reasons for this: A) The southern sun will warm and light your home if you have windows there. B) Just by looking at your cabin, you’ll know the compass directions. C) You won’t have to worry about snow drifts covering your front door nearly as often.
If you can, forage your timber in the winter and let it set for two years before you build. Winter harvesting will allow it to dry slower at first. This, along with two years of seasoning, will minimize checking and cracking.
Go for trees that are 8 to 10 inches in diameter and have the lowest degree of taper that you can find. You really can’t go with any more than 2 inches of taper on a 16 -foot log or you’ll run into problems that chinking won’t even solve.
3. Debark your logs when they are fresh. If you let them sit for 2-3 days, the bark begins to adhere to the tree, and you’ll have a lot more work with your barking spud or draw knife.
You can debark them where you fell them or haul them first to the building site before cleaning them up. That’s up to you. But, hauling them with your log hauler first leaves them looking better, as the bark protects the wood hauling.
4. Build your foundation and set your sill logs. Your foundation should be a rock wall 2 to 3 feet tall; most are closer to 2 feet.
Then, build stone walls in rows at 4- or 6-foot intervals all across the prepared and packed dirt within your outer walls. These will allow you to lay your girders on the full length of them and give you anchors for your flooring.
Others just tell you to use small support pillars. But, that means you have to hit those pillars spot on with your flooring. When you build walls on rows, every floorboard is fully supported and you don’t get floor sway as the girder longs sag over time.
Pro tip: Leave a 3-foot section of each girder support wall open and unbuilt. The reason: If you ever have to crawl to the center of your cabin under your floor, you’ll have a path. Stagger these openings so that one side of your cabin doesn’t have less support that another area.
You can joiner your girders in with a mortise and tenon approach, which will secure them well.
Cut your girders flat on top to get a wider spot for your subflooring to nail to. Most settlers used the adze for this.
In one spot where you’re going to build your fireplace, build up a platform for it and build your subflooring around it.
5. For your subflooring, you’re going to want to hue logs into boards. This can be done with your adze or with the crosscut saw. The adze is faster, and since it is subflooring no one will see it anyway.
Do NOT cover your sills with your subflooring; your subflooring goes inside your sills.
6. Erect your walls. Here’s a pro tip: If you live in areas with a lot of rainfall such as Washington and Oregon, you should strongly consider single-sided saddle notches with all the notches facing downwards. This is so that you don’t have any upward-facing notches to collect rainwater and develop rot.
A lot of cabin builders will number their logs on how they see them going up on the walls. We are here to tell you that the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry.
You’re better off looking at how the walls are shaping up, looking at your inventory, and seeing what fits. Once you do this a few times, you’ll see what we mean.
Don’t cut your log long groove in the bottom log for the next log to fit on top of. Instead, cut your grove in the bottom of the next log before you seat it. This will prevent any accumulation of water, dirt and debris, as all your grooves are facing downwards.
If you’re in dryer territories, you can double saddle notch your log ends, which is the simplest method. Just roll them together, scribe them and notch them. When they look good, refit them, scribe any areas that need better fitting and broad axe the notch into that perfect fit.
Here’s another pro tip: don’t drill them through your notches like most people do. Drill them about a foot inward of your notches. The reason: The wood at the notch is thin. When the cabin settles as they nearly all do, you won’t split your thin wood at the notch as the stress is put on the log from the settling.
8. Build your fireplace. Visit our article on how to build a mountain or river rock fireplace here.
When you meet your roof to your fireplace, you’re going to need to flash it. Most pioneers brought some hardware with them along with their windows. One thing they nearly always brought was flashing.
If you don’t want to do it that way, then there is a pine tar chimney sealing trick, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
9. Do the roof. Most cabins are going to be rectangles of some sort. It’s easiest to run your roof long ways on your cabin.
The roof we’ll discuss has purlin and rafter construction, as this is the most sound in a high wind or heavy snow situation. No, we are not going to talk about premade trusses; this is not how your pioneering forefathers did things.
Your end walls are built to the height of the peak of your roof. Scribe your wall and cut it at the proper angle of your roof to both sides.
You then set your two end rafters just a couple of inches from the end of your purlins as they hang over the outside of your walls. You notch them into place so they are flush with the purlins themselves.
Install the rest of your rafters at regular intervals.
Attach your roofing boards that you’ve split horizontally to the rafters.
Then, shake your roof. We strongly suggest reading our article on cedar shaking a roof here.
10. Window the frames and doors. The simplest way to frame your windows and doors of a cabin is going to be to cut a notch in the ends and lengths of the logs surrounding your windows and doors that you then put a pre-made board into. So, you’re recessing your frames into the ends and lengths of the logs, all the way around the windows, but on only three sites for the door, as you don’t cut the bottom one because it’s the floor.
Next, simply hang your door.
11. Finish your flooring. You may want to slit and sand the boards for your floor that goes atop the subfloor. Or some many want a stone floor. How you finish your floor for the look you want is up to you.
12. Clean and protect. The pioneers didn’t have any bleach or chemicals to wash down the outside of their cabins. However, it is advisable to water wash it with a long handled brush or similar to remove the dirt.
Let it dry for 2 weeks before you protect it.
Mix 1 part linseed oil to 5 parts turpentine, and apply to the outside of your cabin. This process should be repeated on an annual basis for the first 3 years, and then as needed for every five years thereafter.
That’s it — you’ve just build a log cabin just like the pioneers did.
Have you ever built a log cabin? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
Fire has long been considered one of man’s best friends. It provides both light and warmth, it enables us to cook our foods, and it aids us in the production of primitive weapons.
Therefore, understanding how to build a fire is an essential skill for any outdoorsman, and the ability to build a fire in wet conditions is especially useful. Thus, the first thing you need to understand about building a fire is that it is all about the production of BTUs! While that may sound like an oxymoron, the fact is that heat production is the single most important key concept to building and managing a fire, regardless of whether it’s a campfire or the fire in your wood stove. It is essential to understand how heat and air react, with both wood and moisture, in order to gain a proper understanding of how to build a fire in wet conditions. Obviously, a heat source is required to light a fire and both oxygen and fuel are needed to maintain it.
The second concept that you need to be aware of is that the less dense and/or the smaller the diameter of the fuel is, the faster it burns; the denser and/or the larger diameter the fuel is, the slower it burns. Further, it is important that you have enough fuel at hand before you start the fire to get it going so that you don’t have to scramble to find appropriate fuel while you are trying to build your fire.
To start a fire in wet conditions, you will first need some lightweight, small diameter fuel known as “tinder.” Next, you will need to build a small platform on which to start your fire; when you build a fire on the ground, some of the heat it produces is absorbed by the ground beneath the fire and when that ground is wet, building a fire on top of it will cause it to produce steam, which will dampen your fire.
It also should be noted that any small tree branches lying on the ground during a soaking rain also will absorb a significant amount of moisture; when gathering tender in wet conditions, it is best to look above ground. For instance, the upper sections of tall stands of dead grass are often dry enough to burn after a rain, and pine trees often have a plethora of small, dead branches on their lower extremities that can be easily collected.
Once you have sufficient tinder and fuel to start and maintain your fire, the next step that you need to take is to clear the ground of any debris or leaf litter until you reach bare ground. Then, place several short sections of small diameter dead limbs side by side to create a platform on which to start your fire.
Starting the Fire
Next, place your tender in a pile on the platform that you built and apply heat. While a magnifying glass, a match or a butane lighter will serve the purpose in many cases, sometimes your tinder and fuel are simply too sodden to ignite easily; in those situations, you need a more intense source of heat. Consequently, it is wise to carry a Magnesium fire-starter block with you, in addition to waterproof matches and a butane lighter. With this device, you simply use a knife to remove some shavings from the edge of the block and then, you either use the imbedded flint striker or a match to light the magnesium, which will burn so intensely that it will light anything that is placed on top of it.
Once your tinder is going, you simply add small bits of slightly larger fuel to the pyre until you have built the fire up to the size that you want. But when doing so, you need to plan ahead, because when placing larger pieces of damp fuel on the fire, those pieces will first need to absorb enough heat to convert the moisture they contain to steam so that it can evaporate and then, they will need to heat further to reach the flash point before they will burn. Thus, it is imperative that your fire be really hot before you start adding larger pieces of wet fuel, and that it has enough heat to dry the fuel that you do add.
If You Can’t Find Dry Wood
The last concept that you need to be familiar with is that split wood burns better than round wood. If are having trouble finding sufficient quantities of small, dead limbs to build your fire, then you can use your survival knife and a baton to split larger pieces of damp wood to expose the dry interiors in order to produce burnable fuel for your fire.
The key concepts to remember when building a fire in wet conditions are that fire is all about the production of heat and thus, you need heat to light and maintain a fire.
Fortunately, all of this is not as difficult as it might sound, since there is really very little difference in building a fire in dry conditions and in wet conditions, other than being aware of the key concepts mentioned above, and planning ahead so that your wood is dry by the time that you need it.
What advice would you add on starting a fire in wet conditions? Share your tips in the section below:
A Dakota fire hole is not simply another way to make a fire. It is the survivalist’s trick to cooking food – or simply staying warm — when limited wood is available.
What makes it so special are all the advantages it has compared to other fire models:
- It has little smoke.
- It burns more efficiently.
- It cooks food quicker.
- It lasts longer.
Not only does the Dakota fire hole have those benefits, but it is a good skill to learn for any outdoorsman, survivalist, camping extraordinaire, or regular/everyday individual.
How to Build It
Building this fire hole is not as complicated as it may seem, as it basically consists of two holes. The first hole is called the “main” fire hole. To create it, the hole must be dug a foot in diameter and a foot deep. At the bottom of this main fire hole, the chamber is located. The chamber is where the wood will be burned for the fire. The chamber needs to be a few inches bigger than the rest of the hole to fit larger pieces of wood. The other hole is called the “airflow” hole. The airflow hole is where the air goes through to feed the fire. It needs to be half a foot in diameter, although the depth varies.
The airflow hole should be dug and angled toward the chamber. So, basically the airflow hole needs to be dug straight down and then angled to the bottom of the main fire hole. The airflow hole also should be positioned upwind from the main fire hole. Then, simply put the kindling into the chamber and light it up. As the fire gets stronger, add more pieces of wood to the fire. Start with smaller pieces of wood and then add larger pieces as the fire gets stronger.
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If someone is looking to cook with the Dakota fire hole, simply put a wire screen and whatever needs to be cooked on top of the hole. If no screen is available, even fresh sticks could be used, since the fire is lower than the surface. The main magic behind this fire is that the airflow hole sucks the air down through its tunnel to the chamber in the main fire hole. This allows the fire to burn better and longer than other methods.
The Dakota fire hole is definitely for people of all shapes and sizes. Anyone who simply wants to cook outside can use this to cook their food at a faster and more efficient rate. Also, a person who is surviving out in the woods can use it and not have to worry about getting huge loads of wood to keep the fire going. Another great advantage of this fire hole is that the fire and smoke cannot be seen. If someone is trying to stay undetected, this is the fire hole to use.
Any person can use the Dakota fire hole — the unsophisticated but easy way to build a survival fire!
What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:
Fire has rightly earned its reputation as one of the most important aspects of survival. Anyone with experience in bushcraft and primitive living will tell you fire is not only essential for the direct benefits it offers, but also for other skills: making primitive glues, tanning and arrow making are just a few examples. This is beside the fact that meat cooked over a fire is much more palatable and safer to eat as well. Fire is simply a necessary component of any survival situation.
In reality, we live in a world where fire starting is ridiculously easy. For a few bucks you can buy enough Bic lighters to last you for years. Even with that being the case, though, some people want the ability to start a flame in other ways – say, when they don’t have a lighter. One of the simplest ways that was extremely popular prior to the invention of matches is flint and steel.
Flint and steel has been used for fire since before Roman times. It is the fire technology with which our frontier was opened, and men like Daniel Boone and other mountain men used it. The process is incredibly simple and effective. All you really need is a piece of steel and something to strike it against that throws a spark. Flint works superbly for this purpose and is the most popular material for the job. There is, however, a secret ingredient our ancestors used that plays the biggest role in this process: char.
Char refers to any natural material that has been “charred,” a process we will dive into in a moment. Charring certain natural materials changes their chemical composition. I’m no scientist, but the technical term for this change is called “pyrolysis.” Regardless of the name, most bushcrafters are only concerned with one thing: It works. Once charred, certain natural material will catch a spark from the flint and steel and create an ember. From this ember, a person who understands the basic elements of fire can create a blaze in a few short minutes. It is almost spellbinding the first time you see it in action.
To be sure, not every natural material can easily be turned into char. Here are three popular natural materials for making char.
1. Rotten wood
People who were removed from civilization for an extended period of time had to use materials they could find. One of the best char materials, and most abundant ones, is rotten wood. Rotten wood is typically scattered all about, so one huge benefit is not having to pack it with you as you go. When selecting wood, try and select small pieces that are punky, or in other words, porous and light. It is best to look for suitable material near creek beds or in low-lying locations. These locations have more moisture, which helps to rot the wood faster. Rotten wood would have been the most popular choice of char material for experienced woodsmen and frontiersmen.
A third popular material for making char is cattail. Cattails are abundant in many parts of the country and make suitable char material. When you are gathering cattail for char, you want to be sure and get full heads that have not begun to release their seeds. Before you make the char, you will need to pull the seeds from the plant and get only the cattail “fluff.” Cattail fluff is an easy-and-abundant way to make char, but keeping the fluff together can be a challenge. I would not recommend cattail fluff for a first-time firemaker, but after practice it can be used easily.
3. 100 percent cotton
Most people are introduced into the world of flint and steel through what’s called “char cloth.” Anything 100 percent cotton works just fine. Beware of any shirt blended with synthetics, as these will not catch a spark like natural cotton will. While cotton is popular today, and historically was used as well, it wasn’t the most popular method for people removed from civilization; they would soon run out of it after significant time in the wild. In our modern world, we can get cotton cheaply and easily enough that it is the best option for beginners.
- Find a fire-resistant container of some kind that can be closed. An Altoids tin has become the iconic flint-and-steel container of our day.
- Punch a small hole into your container or tin.
- Get a fire going and get a good bed of coals burning.
- While your fire burns, break your char material down to a size that can fit in the tin.
- Fill the tin with the desired amount of material. For efficiency sake, it is best to fill the tin fairly full.
- Close the lid and place the tin on the coals. At this point it is worth noting that you don’t actually want the material to catch fire. It needs to bake more than anything, and coals serve this purpose the best.
- Soon, the tin will begin to smoke. This means the charring process has started and things are moving along just fine.
- Once the tin has quit smoking, that means your char is made and you should remove the container.
- Allow the container to cool for a few minutes before opening the lid.
- You should now have char material made that will catch a spark for your next fire-making adventure.
As you can see, making char is an extremely simple process, but nonetheless invaluable to know for long-term self-reliance escapades. Learn the ins and outs of the flint-and-steel fire-starting method and you are not only learning a skill to help you develop more self-reliance, but you also are carrying a torch from the past.
What advice would you add? How do you make char? Share your tips in the section below:
To read the first story in this series, click here.
The modern homestead is heavily dependent on electricity and gasoline – for everything from lawnmowers to tractors to chainsaws to electric drills.
But during a power outage, particularly a long-term one, we probably won’t have any of those modern conveniences.
Fortunately for us, we have to look no further than our country’s history to find ways of doing things without electricity. While those aren’t going to be as efficient as our modern methods, they will allow us to do many things which we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. From carpentry to food preservation, the methods of our ancestors, including the methods of the pioneers, could end up becoming commonplace once again.
Of course, that means that we need to have the necessary tools and equipment on hand — the same ones those pioneers used so many years ago. In fact, you may find that you’ll want to use some of these unique tools right now, even with all the lights still on.
1. Shoulder yoke
Pioneers had a variety of ways of carrying things. It wasn’t uncommon for a homestead to have more than one cart, a wagon and means for carrying things in hand. Amongst these was the shoulder yoke.
If you think of a yoke for oxen, you’ll be well on your way to understanding a shoulder yoke. The main difference is that a shoulder yoke is for carrying, not pulling. It’s also designed for human use, not the use of oxen. The yoke sits over the shoulders, with a cutout for the neck. Being wider than a person, buckets can be hung from both ends, allowing the user to carry two buckets and whatever is in them.
2. Hoof trimmers
For centuries, horses were one of the world’s most common means of motive power, second only to the feet.
But if you’re going to ride a horse, you’re going to have to take care of it. More than anything, that means shoeing the horse every four to six weeks. Even if you can’t shoe the horse (for lack of horseshoes), you’ll need to trim its hooves. That requires a trimmer. You should also have a horseshoeing rasp for trimming the hooves and a hoof pick for cleaning rocks, mud and anything else out of the horse’s hooves.
Horses tend to eat a lot. Of course, if your body was that big, you’d eat a lot, too. So if you’re going to have a horse, you’d better be ready to start cutting hay for it. For that matter, if you manage to get your hands on any livestock, from goats to elephants, you’d better have a way of cutting hay.
There have been a wide variety of sickle designs through the years, some smaller and some larger — each designed for its own particular use. At a minimum, you’ll need something that you can use to keep the grass under control, even if you aren’t feeding a milk cow in your backyard.
You might be able to fell a tree with an axe, but once it’s on the ground, you’ll need to cut it into manageable sections, regardless of whether you’re using it for building or for firewood. That means having some sort of saw to use. While there are many styles to pick from, the bucksaw was one of the best. The bow kept the blade under tension, allowing it to cut in both directions. About the only thing you can’t do with a bucksaw is to cut logs into boards.
5. Wood-splitting wedges
Cutting logs into boards is fine — if you’ve got a sawmill to cut them with. But most people didn’t own their own sawmill. For them, there were two options: use a two-man saw, with one man in a pit to cut the logs into boards, or use wedges to split the log into boards.
Wedges were actually much more efficient for this, although the boards wouldn’t be all that smooth. But to make a split-log floor or to create a half log for use as a bench, splitting was the preferred way for most. Wedges could also be used to split wood for the fire, especially in cases where the chunk of log was too big in diameter to split with a maul.
6. Log jack
The log jack was the lumberjack’s way of getting a handle on a log and move it around. It didn’t matter if they were moving it in the river or just trying to roll it, a log jack made the job a whole lot easier. While not in such common use today, if you’re planning on harvesting your own wood, especially for building, this is a very useful tool to have around.
When most people think of drilling holes into wood by hand, the first thing they think of is a brace and bit. That was a great system, and you would never find a carpenter without one in their kit. But the average person couldn’t afford to have a brace and bit around the homestead. Instead, they used gimlets (and no, I’m not talking about giblets in gravy).
A gimlet is a small hand-held and hand-powered drill. It has an oblong loop handle, with a drill bit sticking down from it, making a T with a fat-top beam. Only created in small sizes, these tools made putting holes in boards easy. While they were limited, they weren’t as limited as trying to burn a hole through a board with a hot ware (another method they used).
The adze is probably the first tool to grab when trying to move from the realm of logs to the realm of wood beams and boards. This is a cutting tool, used to square logs for homes, as well as making the beams used in building sailing ships. While the average person didn’t have one in their tool kit, you can be sure that any carpenter or boat builder worth their salt had one.
The adze consists of a slightly scooped blade, mounted at a right angle to the handle. It was swung in a down and back motion, chipping off wood to square logs. An experienced carpenter or boat builder could square and fit a dozen such logs in a day’s work.
While this may not be the first tool you add to your kit, having one allows you to make a squared log home, rather than a log cabin. The difference is impressive, as properly squared logs will make a much warmer home, need less chinking and last much longer.
9. Spokeshaves and draw knives
Speaking of shaping wood, there are times when it is necessary to shape wood much smaller than what you can do with an adze. Simple chair spindles, wheel axles and even a handle for an axe need to be shaped by something. In those cases, draw knives and spokeshaves were the tools of choice.
The two are often thought to be much alike, but in fact they are quite different. A draw knife is an open blade, with handles at 90 degrees to the blade. That allows the user to pull the knife toward them, shaving off layers of wood. How much is shaved off is controlled by the angle of the blade. It actually takes a bit of practice to gain the finesse necessary to work a draw knife well.
The difference between a draw knife and a spokeshave is the same difference between a chisel and a plane. The plane’s body controls the depth of the cut, while the carpenter has to control the depth of the chisel’s cut. Likewise, the spokeshave’s body allows for a controlled depth of cut. That makes it a much better tool for fine work, such as making wheel spokes that are round.
What pioneer tools would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:
Hugelkultur, the German word for “hill culture,” is the ideal method for the farmer/grower looking for a unique and practical way to grow a weed-free and healthy garden. This method of planting has been used for centuries in Germany and Eastern Europe and allows for greater biodiversity, moisture-control, convenient harvesting, less maintenance, and saves the need to till.
Conventional farmers may have a really hard time with this growing method because they know rotting wood steals nitrogen until it’s fully decomposed (when it then releases it back to the soil). Well, this is a bit different. The wood itself will slowly decompose; meanwhile, it becomes a hotel for beneficial microbes and amazing fungi.
Microbes are not only extremely important, but they also are extremely interesting little organisms! They can help roots acquire nutrients, such as phosphate. Some microbes can even kill Salmonella, making your food safer. Microbes also help protect plants from the nasty wars going on in your soil. A hugelkultur garden houses all of these microbes, furnishing them with everything they need to be healthy and strong.
Right up there with microbes, fungi does wonders for the garden! Fungi gives us a natural way to break down organic matter like the wood in a hugel (short for hugelkultur). All that buried wood would otherwise take years to break down, and do so very slowly. Fungi will break down the wood faster and release the nutrients at a much quicker pace in order to make the plants healthier.
The wood in the hugel will become warm from the slow-composting action. Since soil covers the pile of wood, the composting wood will not overheat. Conveniently, this action maintains a warm temperature over the winter months.
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In a test of ability, we performed a small experiment with goji berry plants using a hugel versus a standard bed. The goji berry plants on our hugel produced several more harvests across several weeks compared to goji berry plants growing out of a standard bed.
Hugel beds are also fantastic for preserving moisture for a sort of self-watering system. The buried wood receives most of the credit for this action in that it holds the water. This water then feeds the bacteria, fungi, plants and other helpful organisms. Moisture is essential for life in all types of gardens. Hugel beds will hold all the water they need, and you don’t need to water them if built correctly. Many people using hugelkultur employ a swale. A swale is basically a tactic to catch water and hold it at the hugel bed. This can be as simple as a U-shaped bed pointing up your property’s grade. When rain falls, it will run into the U-shape, effectively trapping much of the water. This is not needed, but it helps. I did have a swale in my bed but removed it for space reasons.
Are you ready to build your hugel bed?
Building the Hugel Bed
- Make a trench if you find it convenient; it will help hold water.
- Insert logs (most efficient if you cut the larger logs into sections and face them up like stumps in the ground) or lay them flat.
- Pack in all the open spaces with branches and twigs.
- Add some wood chips if you would like.
- Cover with a minimum of 8 inches of soil.
Digging a trench will also give you some soil to cover the hugel. It saves the time and energy of finding soil without making a huge hole in the lawn. It also may be a good idea to add aged manure directly over the wood before covering. There are so many variations you can do to suit your needs. Some people also inoculate the ends of the bed with mushroom mycelium and then harvest mushrooms from the hugel bed.
Some plants will like your hugel more than others. We had really good success with tomatoes, strawberries, goji berries, cucumbers and beans. The longer you have your hugel, the better the harvest will be. So give it a shot, and you won’t regret it!
Have you ever used a hugel bed? Share your advice in the section below:
How do you keep your house warm during winter? If you are like me and millions of other Americans, you use wood. Figures in a recent Census showed that the number of homes heating with wood grew 34 percent between 2000 and 2010 – a faster pace than any other heating fuel.
Heating with wood is certainly not a novel idea, as we have been using it for the majority of human history. But we always can improve how we do it.
If you are considering wood heat or would like to know how you can make your wood heat longer and as efficient as possible, here are a few tips.
Tip One: Know How to Really Build a Fire: While it may seem elementary — toss in some logs, some paper and a match – burning an efficient fire isn’t so simple. The key to a successful fire is to start small and add on. Don’t be in a rush to put too many logs on the fire at one time. Gradually adding logs will help build up a strong and steady heat. Don’t go overboard and build a huge fire at the beginning; it is actually much less efficient, contrary to how it may seem. Always use softwood kindling to start a fire; it makes for easy starting.
Of course, there are some things that should never be burned, including:
- Colored magazines
- Painted wood
- Household garbage
- Fabric made out of synthetic materials
Tip Two: Know Your Wood: You have probably wondered which type of wood provides the most heat. Oak is one of the best woods with which to heat. One cord of oak will burn about 29 million BTUs. Oak is hard and very dense and will burn for a long time compared to other types of wood. A cord of pine will provide about 60 percent of the heat as oak; white cedar will provide 50 percent the amount of heat as oak. But what if you can’t get oak? The top five head-producing woods are:
Tip Three: Use Well-Seasoned Wood: When wood is seasoned well, it offers a great deal more heat than that which is green. In fact, seasoned wood offers four times as much heat value as uncured wood. Cut, split and stack wood in early spring and let it sit out in the sun and wind until it is seasoned. It generally takes six months to a year to season wood, depending on the climate and the type of wood you are cutting.
Tip Four: Keep Everything Clean: If you heat with a wood fireplace insert, be sure that your chimney is inspected and cleaned yearly. Don’t let ash pile up in your stove or fireplace; this gets in the way of its effectiveness. Keep in mind that just one-tenth of an inch of soot inside the fireplace can hamper the heat-transfer efficiency by about 50 percent. The best is to clean it after each use.
Tip Five: Make Sure Your Fire Has Enough Air: Make sure that your fire is always getting enough air. This will ensure that it burns hot and clean. Check the air intake on your heater to be sure that there are no blockages, such as dust or spider webs. If you have a through-floor intake, make sure that the screen is clean and not obstructed. Keeping your air intake open will ensure that your fire burns as efficiently as possible.
Finally, keep your wood cut, split and stacked in a place that is sheltered from the weather. But don’t cover the sides, as this helps to keep air circulating. Be sure to cover your wood with a tarp during a snowstorm. Stack your wood on pallets to keep it off of the ground. Finally, always keep a small supply of wood indoors; this will ensure that you have what you need to get your fire started.
Follow these simple five steps to burning wood efficiently and you will be warm and cozy all winter long!
What advice would you add on keeping wood burning efficiently? Share your tips in the section below:
It might be a bit simplistic to say that a wood-burning stove or fireplace is the only heat alternative in winter. However, for many people affected by the North American Ice Storm of 1998, it was their only heating source for months when power lines across Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and northern New York and Maine succumbed to ice.
Thirty-five people reportedly died as a result of the storm and millions were left scrambling to find ways to generate heat and stay warm.
Alternative such as propane, kerosene heaters and natural gas heaters can be a great backup if the power goes out. The problem during big storms is that stores quickly sell out of propane, kerosene and the heaters they fuel. So unless you had those resources already on hand, your only alternative was a wood-burning option, assuming you had a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
For those without any heating options, massive shelters were opened and supported by 16,000 Canadian troops.
For those with a fireplace or woodstove, the only option was to keep the fires burning until they ran out of firewood. While a sufficient stockpile of firewood could have alleviated the problem, many people typically only used their fireplaces and wood-burning stoves occasionally and stored only a small amount of wood.
To complicate matters, people who did have wood – or lived on wooded properties – were highly protective of the resource. And the wood that was for sale was not cheap. So many who opted to tough it out in their homes used some interesting alternatives. Here’s a few, although it’s important to stress: These should be used only in emergencies. Using them long-term could cause a house fire.
Alternative 1 – Yard and garden trees and shrubs
The first alternative that many people turned to were trees and shrubs in their yards and gardens. It wasn’t an easy task for thoe who didn’t have a chainsaw or the gas to power it, but neighbors cooperated by sharing tools, gas and sometimes labor, especially in exchange for some firewood.
Axes and handsaws were often used as well, and harvesting and stacking wood became a daily chore.
A fundamental limitation was that most of the wood was green and unseasoned, and smaller branches from shrubs burned quickly unless tightly bundled.
Alternative 2 – Rolled paper logs
Some people with sufficient stockpiles of paper created paper logs that were tightly bound into rolls about three to four inches thick. The paper used included newsprint, magazines, books, phone books and any paper trash.
There are paper log-rollers available on the Internet, but most people in the storm simply sat down and rolled their paper logs by hand. Bailing wire was sometimes used to bind the paper logs, but string, rubber bands and anything else that would bind the paper tightly was used, too.
For the record, paper logs last about a fourth as long as a wood log and they don’t burn quite as hot (they mostly smolder), but they maintained the heat in desperate times.
Alternative 3 – Lumber scraps
Many of us have lumber scraps leftover from that knotty-pine basement remodel or hardwood floor installation and we store these for other minor projects. People in the ice storm made good use of these extras.
A limitation is that these kinds of wood tend to burn hot and fast, especially in a fireplace. They also tend to spit and spark quite a bit, so if you’re using this kind of wood in a fireplace, make sure you have the screen tightly closed and move all rugs from the vicinity.
On a side note, a fireplace is far from an ideal wood-burning heat source. Many people stranded in the storm made the best of using a fireplace, but in reality most of the heat produced is lost up the chimney.
Alternative 4 – Damaged furniture
We’ve all got some damaged or old furniture in our garages and basements. Many of those old desks and cabinets found their way to the woodstove or fireplace when the storm hit. This kind of wood also sparks and spits and, depending on the type of wood, can burn very fast.
There also are stories of people tearing up their backyard decks as a wood source. There’s some danger here due to the fact that most decking is chemically treated to resist moisture. If the stove or fireplace is not well-vented, the chemicals can be released into the house. There were no specific reports or complaints about this hazard, although there were many reports of problems with carbon monoxide from poorly ventilated kerosene and propane heaters.
Alternative 5 – Rolled rag-logs
This was one of the most extreme solutions. It involved rolling rags and pieces of fabric along with twigs and bark into tightly-bound logs. Your best bet if you ever have to go this route is to use natural fibers, like cotton or wool. Burning synthetic fibers is as bad as burning plastic.
Alternatives to Avoid
While you might be desperate to stay warm, there are certain things that you shouldn’t burn in your home. These include:
- Charcoal briquettes. They are impregnated with a chemical that produces significant carbon monoxide. Save these for cooking outside.
- As mentioned before, most wood used for decks is chemically treated. Perhaps if the deck wood is old and weathered some of the chemicals are gone, but consider using only at your own risk.
- Any flammable fuel like gasoline, motor oil, kerosene, turpentine, alcohol, etc. These fuels are dangerous and burn very hot and very fast. The limited amount of time that any fuel like this would burn would not be worth the heat nor the risk.
- Burning plastic is toxic, produces copious black smoke and creosote, and will leave a hard, tar-like substance in your stove, fireplace and flue. Forget about plastic.
- Roofing materials. This is another bad choice that burns as poorly and as toxic as plastic. Don’t even think about it. The same goes for rubber.
There are a number of factors that can take down the grid, and this event was a dramatic demonstration of the dangers and the implications. If you’re going to have to depend on wood heat in an emergency, consider alternatives like well-ventilated kerosene and propane stove options. As for me, I keep three cords of wood just in case.
What alternatives would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:
One of the things I like best about running this website is all the cool people I get to talk to and learn from. The other day I was talking with YouTube personality Katzcradul and she informed me about Paul Gautschi and his wonderful film Back to Eden. I won’t go into detail here (except […]
Temperatures are cold, and your stack of already-prepared logs is getting smaller and smaller. You find yourself dreading heading out to split more logs. Perhaps this year is the time to make that purchase — you know, that log splitter you’ve been dreaming about with every downswing of your splitting maul. Manually splitting logs burns about 440 calories an hour and, for some, causes back pain. Not light work. Before you go out and buy the first log splitter you set eyes on, let’s look at a few important elements of log splitters first.
First of all, there are three basic types of log splitters (although there are variations in each): manual, electric and gas-powered. Manual log splitters can provide more power for less up-front cost, although they can be slow and cumbersome to work with. They save your shoulders, but take about the same amount of time to split logs as it does to use a splitting maul. With a splitting maul, you can estimate to split 20 to 30 logs an hour. With a manual log splitter, you generally can split between 18 and 24 logs an hour.
Electric log splitters have several things going for them. First, depending on the type, they increase your log-splitting output to about 40 to 50 logs per hour. Since they don’t generate gas fumes and are quieter, they can work nicely indoors (in a barn or on a porch, for example). A quieter system can be an excellent choice if you have noise-sensitive neighbors.
Along with being quieter, electric log splitters tend to be lighter in weight, which translates to greater portability. However, there are a few drawbacks. Electric log splitters are less powerful. They usually only go up to about 10 tons, although there are models that can do more. One other potential drawback is that they require electric power, and so splitting logs in a remote location
Along with being quieter, electric log splitters tend to be lighter in weight, which translates to greater portability. However, there are a few drawbacks. Electric log splitters are less powerful. They usually only go up to about 10 tons, although there are models that can do more. One other potential drawback is that they require electric power, and so splitting logs in a remote location is not possible unless you also have access to a generator.
Now let’s take a quick look at gas-powered log splitters. Gas-powered splitters pack a punch of power, going anywhere from eight tons up to 24 tons and beyond. They also come in a variety of kinds — hydraulic models, horizontal-vertical models, and fast kinetic models. Gas-powered log splitters increase your log output, as well. For example, a quality hydraulic model can split between 60 and 80 logs an hour, while a quality kinetic model will do much more. These are the splitters that you will need for the larger logs (anything beyond a 12-inch diameter by 20 inches in length). But more powerful doesn’t always mean better; gas splitters come with a few negatives. They’re louder, more expensive and heavier. You wouldn’t want to run a gas splitter indoors or near animals (for safety reasons), and just like other gas engines, gas-powered log splitters require maintenance, including oil changes, air filter changes, spark plug replacements, and fuel refills regularly. However, for processing the kind of large logs most home owners find themselves dealing with, the gas-powered splitter is probably the best choice.
But more powerful doesn’t always mean better; gas splitters come with a few negatives. They’re louder, more expensive and heavier. You wouldn’t want to run a gas splitter indoors or near animals (for safety reasons), and just like other gas engines, gas-powered log splitters require maintenance, including oil changes, air filter changes, spark plug replacements, and fuel refills regularly. However, for processing the kind of large logs most home owners find themselves dealing with, the gas-powered splitter is probably the best choice.
So, evaluate your needs. If you are cutting logs that you just hauled out of the woods, then you’ll probably want to consider a gas-powered splitter. If, however, you have smaller logs or are looking to cut logs down for kindling, then an electric splitter may be perfect for you. Some people have found it helpful to have one of each kind of splitter, the gas-powered for the main log splitting in the fall, and the electric splitter for cutting down smaller logs and kindling at the house.
To sum everything up, there really isn’t one best type of log splitter. Each kind can be quite useful depending on where and how you want to use it. But most will admit that, apart from the calorie burning perk, any type of log splitter is better than the old splitting maul.
What are your favorite log splitters? Share your tips in the section below:
It’s the most reliable, safe and efficient way to produce heat with wood. So why do so few homes nowadays have them?
Masonry stoves have been used for centuries — across Scandinavia, France, Germany and Poland. But they were seldom found in Britain and it’s the early British influence on North America that may account for their relative scarcity in the US.
On a fundamental level, a masonry stove is a massive assembly of bricks that is designed to hold and radiate heat produced by a wood fire. When properly designed and built, a masonry stove can continue to radiate heat for up to 20 hours in a well-insulated home after the intense burning of a two-hour fire. On average, though, the two-hour fire will heat a home in winter for eight to 12 hours.
The brickwork in the chimney is designed to circulate the smoke through a system of channels that extract as much heat as possible before the smoke exits the flue. Because an intense fire is used to heat up the masonry, there is little creosote buildup and it produces a very clean fire.
Well-known American author Mark Twain was so impressed with the masonry stove during a trip to Europe that he wrote about it, expressing confusion about why America hadn’t imported the heating style:
“All day long and until past midnight all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable … Its surface is not hot: you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt. Consider these things. One firing is enough for the day: the cost is next to nothing: the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns … America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? No, she sticks placidly to her own fearful and wonderful inventions in the stove line. The American wood stove, of whatever breed, is a terror. It requires more attention that a baby. It has to be fed every little while, it has to be watched all the time: and for all reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half … and when your wood bill comes in you think you have been supporting a volcano. It is certainly strange that useful customs and devices do not spread from country to country with more facility and promptness than they do.”
Ideally, a masonry stove is built during the initial construction of a home, but it’s possible to retrofit one into some existing homes. What’s critical, though, is that there is sufficient support under the stove because one can weigh anywhere from one to three tons. Another architectural detail is that most masonry stores are built and placed in the center of a home’s living space. This allows for more efficient radiation of heat to all parts of the home.
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A side benefit to a masonry stove is the inclusion of an oven in the brick work. This is another great off-the-grid solution and it works extremely well for baking everything from bread and pizzas to turkeys.
As Twain pointed out, the masonry does not get terribly hot on the surface. Unlike a cast iron stove that can easily burn you if touched, the brick and stone in a masonry stove radiates heat steadily at a lower temperature. It can still be hot to the touch, but not as hot as a traditional wood-burning stove.
Popular materials used in construction include fire-brick, soapstone and other types of brick that hold and retain heat well. There are free-standing masonry stoves that you can buy, but they really should be installed by a professional and are sometimes assembled in pieces due to their weight. There also are building codes and necessary safety features that need to be followed because of the high heat generated in the firebox.
Because the masonry stove puts off a consistent heat for hours without great fuss, it is a great asset if you are living without electricity and gas.
Do you have experience with a masonry stove? What would you add to the story? Share your advice in the section below:
I’ve had a pile of firewood sitting in the backyard for a while — actually for a few years. This pile was made up of branches that I’d cut off our various trees, either because the branches were dead or I needed to cut back branches of the trees because they were spreading too far. Regardless of the reason, there was a stack of tree limbs that needed to be dealt with.
Finally, though, I got around to building a firewood rack, so that I’d have a place to put all of that wood. Setting the rack beside the garden shed, I started stocking it. So far so good. Some logs had to be cut to length, “bucking” them for firewood, but that wasn’t much of an issue, either. The problem came when I tried to split them.
Now, I haven’t split firewood for a few years, so I expected to be a little rusty. But rusty wasn’t exactly the term for it; the Three Stooges comes more to mind. Even though I (supposedly) knew what I was doing, all I could manage was to split small chunks off the sides of the log, not really splitting it into usable firewood.
In my own defense, I need to mention that this wood was all hardwood and had been sitting for some time. Had it been freshly cut, I might have been able to do a better job. It’s usually easier to split wood when it’s somewhat green, not once it’s sat there for a few years.
I can’t blame the axe I was using, either. Actually, I wasn’t using an axe, but a maul. For those who don’t know the difference, a maul head is wider than an axe head, even though they look pretty much the same. The wider head makes a better wedge, specifically for splitting wood. An axe really isn’t the tool for splitting wood; a maul is. Oh, and I sharpened it before starting, too.
Splitting wood is a pretty basic survival skill, particularly during cold weather. But as I’ve recently re-discovered, that’s not as easy as I remember it being.
The solution is to find other means of cutting wood. While I won’t claim to be an expert on everything, I will say that there are some rather innovative ways to do it, as well as some that have been around for a long time. The point isn’t whether the idea has been around for a long time or not, but finding one that will work for you, allowing you to get your firewood ready for winter.1. Hydraulic Firewood Splitter
1. Hydraulic firewood splitter
The first and best known option is the hydraulic firewood splitter. These come in a variety of sizes, made by a number of different manufacturers. They use a hydraulic cylinder (think hydraulic bottle jack) to push a wedge through the wood. You can buy these splitters in either manual pump models or ones with an electric motor and pump, depending on how much wood you’ve got to split.
While hydraulic splitters work well, they can be rather expensive. Even the smallest cost a few hundred dollars, while a large one can run as much as $9,000 or more. Of course, that’s a commercial unit. But to me, they all seem a bit like commercial units, in that I wouldn’t feel justified in the expense if I wasn’t either selling wood or heating my house with it full time.
2. Auger splitter
The auger splitter is another one that has been around for a while. They come in several varieties, some of which are designed to bolt onto a lawn tractor’s axle, while others work independently, powered by an electric motor. The idea is that the auger is like a big screw that is driven into the log. However, this screw gets wider very fast. So, it ends up acting like a wedge, pushing against the log from the inside, just like a wedge, ultimately breaking the wood.
While very effective, auger splitters, like hydraulic splitters, are a bit expensive. If you have a good motor sitting around, you can save yourself a lot of money by buying just the auger screw and using it with your own motor or axle.
The LeverAxe is a totally redesigned ax, designed to make splitting wood much easier. This tool just recently came off of one of the crowd-funding sites and the price went up quite a bit. But even at the higher price, this tool is well worth the money, making the job of splitting wood much easier.
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The off-center head of the LeverAxe acts as a much wider wedge than it actually is, simply because of the way the weight acts against it. In videos I’ve seen, the person operating the LeverAxe didn’t even lift it all the way, like a regular ax or maul. They were only lifting it about two feet above the log to be split. This looks like a much easier way to split wood, especially if you are splitting larger logs, like I was.
4. Kindling cracker
This is another new invention, coming from a teenage girl in New Zeeland. The log is set into a holder, sitting on the ax head. When the back end of the log is struck, it pushes the log down onto the ax head, splitting it. This is great for people with a poor aim or who don’t have the strength to swing a maul with the necessary force for splitting.
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While it may need several strikes with a sledge hammer for some people to split a log, it will work.
5. Wedge and hammer
If you want to simplify things and not buy a special tool for splitting would, you could split logs with a wedge and hammer. The wedge is placed on the end of the log and driven in with a heavy hammer. While a slow method, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of wood to split, it is still effective.
6. Table saw
Some might call this cheating, but you can split a log easier by cutting it partially through on a table saw. Simply cut along the log’s length, “ripping” it in several spots. Then, when you hit it with an ax, maul or wedge, the wood is already partially split. All you really have to split is the center part of the log, where the blade couldn’t reach.
Be careful pushing the log through the saw. You don’t want your fingers to find the blade accidentally. Nor do you want the log to start twisting as you push it through. Doing so could cause the log to bind up the blade, acting as a brake. This could either bring the saw to a stop or cause the log to be thrown by the saw’s blade.
7. Smart splitter
The Smart Splitter is a simple device which uses a weight as the driving power to split logs. The device needs to be mounted to a stump or log that is being used as a work surface. Logs to be split are then set on the work surface, end up, with the wedge of the Smart Splitter on them. The weight is raised and dropped, driving the wedge down into the end grain to split the log.
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Like the wedge and hammer, this isn’t the fastest means of splitting wood. The weight won’t provide as much force to the wedge as swinging a maul would, but it will get the job done. Chances of injury are very low with this sort of log splitter
8. Build a counterbalanced splitter
One of the most ingenious methods of splitting logs I’ve seen was in a video on YouTube. A man took a maul head and mounted it to a counterbalanced frame that he built. This allows him to pull the head down, having it strike the wood and split it, very efficiently. Little actual muscle strength is actually expended, as the work is being done by the device he built.
This idea is not commercially available, so you’d have to build your own, just as he did. However, I’d say it’s one of the most ingenious wood splitting devices I’ve ever seen. I’m even considering building one myself, especially If I don’t do any better the next time I try splitting wood with my maul.
What would you add to this list? Share your ideas in the section below:
Traditional heating systems are powered by electricity and often accompanied by heat that is generated by natural gas, oil or propane. All are expensive options and typically require at least an electric-powered fan to force the air through heating ducts throughout the house.
The benefit of any forced-air system is even distribution of heat. Wood-burning stoves lack this feature and depend on “radiant” heat, or heat that is simply radiated from the stove itself. But the downside of forced-air heat is its dependence on the grid.
There are alternatives, though, to not only electric systems but also to the traditional cast-iron stove. Let’s explore them.
1. Masonry stove
These stoves burn wood but are made from materials like fire bricks and concrete, and some even funnel smoke through a chimney system that is embedded through a brick wall. The advantage of a masonry stove is that it holds and exchanges heat better than cast iron and typically can produce significant heat with a slow, burning fire.
One of the significant advantages of a masonry wood-burning stove is in the wall feature. By circulating heat through a brick wall, it can effectively deliver heat to a second story bedroom or bathroom to some degree. The biggest problem with wood-burning stoves is that they depend on radiant heat. The good news is that heat rises, but on particularly cold days it may not rise enough to sufficiently heat rooms upstairs. A masonry stove does both, imparting heat not only through radiance, but also through brickwork upstairs.
2. Pellet stoves
Another alternative is a stove that burns things other than firewood. These stoves can burn dried corn cobs, wood chips and even peanut shells. Pellets are the result of a manufacturing process that also requires a supply-chain distribution system. That can be a problem in an off-the-grid scenario.
Another consideration with alternative burning fuels is their availability in quantity. Burning corn cobs is a good idea assuming you can store and accumulate enough corn cobs to last the winter. But unless you plant a significant amount of corn or have a resource close to home from a local farmer, you might run out of corn cobs pretty quick. The same is true for wood chips and peanut shells. It sounds like a good idea, but do you have a ton or two of wood chips and peanut shells? If so, you may want to consider such a stove.
3. Passive solar
Passive solar involves the collection of heat from the sun in tiles or wallboards designed to absorb heat during the day and radiate it at night when it’s colder. It may be inaccurate to call it an “alternative” system, but think of it as a complement to another home heating system. It’s an excellent way to provide heat to parts of a home that are beyond the reach of radiant heat.
However, there are a few parameters.
- It requires a significant southern exposure with large windows that will allow sufficient sunlight to hit the tiles or wallboard so they can absorb the heat.
- It is ineffective on cloudy days. Even though solar panels can absorb some radiation from the sun on a cloudy day, passive solar tiles require direct sunlight to capture heat.
- The tiles can overheat a room in the summer and even in winter. There’s no thermostat you can dial up or down. Your only solution is drapes or shades to prevent the sun from striking the tiles. It’s a simple solution if you don’t mind covered windows in the summer.
4. An underground home
This is not for everyone, but where and how you live can make a big difference when it comes to maintaining and sustaining heat in winter. One of the best solutions is based on the geo-thermal principle. The ground stays warmer than the air during winter, so build your house underground. This gets to the basic laws of thermodynamics. The average ground temperature is around 40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on where you live. Rarely above or below. Do the math. You’re never freezing and never over-heating. Few people consider this option, but it’s a good alternative solution. In an underground home, you won’t have to use heat until it really gets cold outside – and even then, it won’t take long to warm the place.
What alternatives would you add to the list? Share your tips in the section below:
My grandfather heated his home in northern Michigan with wood for most of his life. As he got older, we installed an oil-burning stove as a backup. But for the most part, he did great with just wood heat, and my brother and I would often go up to his place to cut and split timber and stack the cords.
My grandfather usually insisted on three cords of wood stacked on his back porch for a typical Michigan winter, and sometimes liked an extra batch just in case. (A “cord” of wood is a stack that measures four feet high, four feet wide and eight feet long.)
He always over-stocked. He felt that wood harvested in summer and fall was much better than panicking in late winter or early spring if the stockpile of wood was low. We all agreed.
His house was modest at about 1,500 square feet, but he had a second story. His wood-burning stove was on the first floor. He also had a wood-burning cookstove in the kitchen, which was next to the stairs leading to the second floor, but he rarely bothered to heat the upstairs.
When the temperatures got below zero, he closed off the stairway to the second floor with a light sheet of plywood and set up a cot on the first floor in the living room. Over time, he actually preferred this bed in the living room and pretty much relegated the second floor to storage.
I learned a lot by helping him heat his home – lessons that are still applicable for today.
Let’s start with the basics. If you have a two-story home, the good news is that heat rises. If you only have a first floor wood-burning stove, the heat will find its way upstairs, but you may find the first floor a bit chilly if the heat generated isn’t sufficient for your total square footage and it’s all going up.
Many wood-burning stove manufacturers indicate the reasonable amount of space you can heat with a given stove, but this varies depending on the stove quality. Make sure you anticipate your square footage and understand how many square feet any stove you purchase can reasonably heat.
Stove Quality Facts
A standard wood-burning stove is made from cast iron, and the iron acts as a heat exchanger to direct heat into a room or rooms. Some have clear glass doors so you can enjoy the sight of a wood fire and assess when to add more wood.
However, quality matters. A poorly constructed stove will not only vent smoke into your home, but burn and heat inefficiently. If you can’t afford a better quality stove, any wood-burning stove is better than none.
Some stoves are made with stone, brick or soapstone to transfer and hold heat. Another critical consideration is the flue and other valve controls that can control the flow of air to the fire. What you want overnight is a slow, steady burn that continues to radiate heat without burning out in the middle of the night. The key is to do your homework and know that better quality stoves will give you maximum control, effective smoke sealing and overall safety.
Wood-burning stoves also require a base underneath that is usually firebrick or fire-proof tiles that protect the floor from any radiant heat from the bottom. Make sure you insulate the floor properly before planting a wood-burning stove on any floor.
Humidity and Stoves
An unfortunate side-effect of heat generated by any wood-burning stove is that it creates a very dry environment. This can cause problems for some people related to their sinuses, chest congestion, dry skin and dry eyes. You need to find a humidifying solution. The simplest is a towel in a five-gallon bucket that is filled with water and draped over a T-shape made with dowels of two slats of wood.
Any water exposed to dry air will evaporate into the surrounding air, but the towel acts as a wick to speed the transpiration. You could also hang your wet laundry on clotheslines in your home; you’ll be surprised at how fast it dries.
Wood Types and Seasoning
Only wood that has been dried or aged for a least a year should be used in a wood-burning stove. In an emergency, you do what you have to do, but green wood not only burns inefficiently but produces creosote that will eventually clog your stove pipes and chimney – creating a fire hazard.
The type of wood is also critical. Hardwoods such as oak and maple are best. Fruit woods are also good if they have been sufficiently aged. Aged ash is good for starting a fire but as a soft wood it burns very quickly. The worst is pine. Dried pine branches can help start a fire, but even when aged pine produces creosote and simply burns too quickly. Here again, if it’s all you have then you need to do what’s necessary, but if you can avoid pine, do so.
Strive for hardwoods for 90 percent of your stockpile, with well-aged softwoods to start a fire. Three cords is a good general stockpile, but like grandpa said, “More is better.” Besides, you can always carry over the excess to the next winter.
Insulation as a Factor
Insulation applies to the retention of heat regardless of the heat source, but you can reduce your wood stockpile needs if you manage insulation properly. The key is to understand not only key insulation points, but temperature management.
Temperature management is as simple as telling a teenager to not leave the front door or the garage door open. This was my grandfather’s pet-peeve. He knew how much he worked to maintain heat and humidity in an environment — and complacency from anyone was not tolerated.
Temperature management also involves stopping leaks in the integrity of a structure. This is largely defined by doors and windows. What most people don’t know is that doors are the biggest heat leakers. Make sure your doors are sealed with a rubber or plasticized gasket and that the door seals tight.
Windows are another matter. If you have storm windows, make sure you use them. You can also apply a sheet of plastic internally and stretch it tight with a blow-dryer to create an additional seal. It may be unsightly for a while, but hey — it’s winter.
Gaps in insulation between the foundation and the frame can also be heat sinks. If you can afford it, find ways to insulate and seal areas where cold air can invade.
By the way, electrical outlets on walls facing the exterior can also cause drafts. There are simple insulating templates that you can use to insulate any electrical outlet. Hold your hand close to the outlet on a cold day and if you feel a draft, you know what to do.
Hire an Expert?
As a self-sufficient person who values and appreciates homesteading, I’m always reluctant to hire experts. But you may want to think about this a bit if you’re not willing to pursue some due diligence on the subject of heating your home with a wood-burning stove.
Heating your whole home with wood heat is a serious and potentially dangerous proposition. The risk of fire, oxygen depletion, carbon monoxide poisoning from escaping or leaking smoke, or a failure of the stove on a night when the temperatures are -30 Fahrenheit contradict our attempts to survive in the face of adversity. You want to get this done right the first time.
Wood-burning stoves require annual maintenance:
- The seals need to be evaluated and potentially replaced.
- The chimney should be swept and cleaned by a chimney sweep regardless of the quality of wood you are burning. If you want to do this yourself, then buy the equipment and make it a late spring chore.
- Clean out and dump the ashes on a regular basis. You’ll need an ash bucket and a place to dump the ashes in the cold and snow of winter. Think ahead about how and where you’ll do this. Remember: The ash will most likely have hot coals that are a fire hazard.
Heating with a wood-burning stove makes sense for many people and may be your only off-the-grid option. Take the time to learn the basics and have the tools and hopefully the resources to stockpile enough wood to stay warm and comfortable all winter long.
What are your wood-burning stove tips? How much wood do you stockpile? Share your advice in the section below:
In this episode of #AskPaulKirtley I answer questions on toxic firewood, down sleeping bag cost vs weight, what to do if lost in the woods, what knife to carry, sharpening knives on coffee mugs, using contact lenses outdoors for extended periods, the minimum knowledge to be a bushcrafter and rewilding Britain…
For people who have lived with wood heat for years, firewood is pretty much a no-brainer – just another part of living in the country. But people who have just moved to a home that relies on wood heat or just installed a wood stove might not find it so simple.
Here is a brief rundown on selecting, buying, splitting and storing firewood for the beginner – and in making sure you have more than enough for the season.
Types of Wood
When it comes to type of wood, there are four categories to keep in mind:
- Hard vs. soft
- Green vs. seasoned
Hardwoods and softwoods refer to the type of tree. Hardwoods like oak will burn longer and create a nice coal bed. Softwoods like pine will burn hotter and more quickly. An ideal woodpile should have a mix of these dense and soft woods. Softer woods tend to make good kindling and help to get the fire going before adding bigger piece of hardwood. Softer woods also are useful for getting a room heated more quickly, whereas hardwoods will maintain the heat and last throughout the night if maintained properly.
Softwoods also can be nice to have in the spring and fall when you only want to warm your house in the morning to take the chill off. Keep in mind that some softwoods like pine can have a lot of sap in the wood, even after seasoning. This can cause a creosote build-up to happen more quickly, so keep that in mind.
The terms green and seasoned refer to the age and status of the firewood. Green wood is newly processed firewood that still has a lot of water content. Naturally this water content is going to make the wood difficult to burn and also might cause gunk to gather in the chimney. It just isn’t efficient. Seasoned firewood is wood that has been split and stacked, then allowed to sit in storage to dry. Depending on the wood, you can season firewood well in about six months. But some people choose to gather a ton of firewood a year or two in advance to ensure they have plenty of nice, dry wood.
It’s best to get your firewood in the spring if it’s green so it has time to dry by late fall or winter, depending on your climate. Seasoned wood costs more money and is more difficult to find.
Buying vs. Gathering
When deciding whether to buy or gather your own firewood, you should consider a few things. If you live on some acreage with trees it can be tempting to want to play lumberjack. But take a moment to think about that. If you are brand new to woodlot management, you can do a lot of damage to your property if you haphazardly take trees without considering the long-term effects. Aside from that, say there are some damaged or already fallen trees you have your eyes on. That would be fine to take but you will need to learn how to safely use a chainsaw and should have someone else with you in case of an emergency. Even experienced chainsaw users can become complacent and end up hurting themselves. Learning to use a chainsaw is an important skill for anyone who lives in a rural area. Just be sure you educate yourself either from the help of a friend, a class, or online videos before cutting trees.
Cutting and gathering your own firewood is quite a laborious process, especially since you’ll still have to split and stack it at home. If that is something you’re interested in and you have the time to do it, by all means go for it. But keep in mind that your firewood pile may not be seasoned by the time you are done. If it’s your first year with wood heat, it would be a better idea to start gathering wood but also buy enough for the first winter.
If you’re in a rural area you can find ads for firewood in the local newspaper, online (like Craigslist) and through word-of-mouth. If your town is like mine, you might even see trucks loaded with wood and a sign with a phone number as an advertisement. For most people it’s easiest to just ask friends if they know a good source of firewood in the area.
When buying firewood be sure to ask whether the wood is seasoned. You also should inspect the wood yourself before paying. It’s a good idea to measure the stack of firewood before paying to be sure you get your money’s worth.
Cords vs. Truck Loads
The reason for measuring wood is to determine whether it’s a cord or not. A cord of firewood is roughly 8-feet x 4-feet x 4-feet. Typically, wood is sold by the cord, so it’s a good idea to get an idea of how much wood that actually is. Depending on your climate and your home, you may only need a cord. Whereas others may need three or more to be safe. It’s a good idea to ask local friends/acquaintances or the person you are buying wood from for an average amount of wood needed for your region’s winter.
Firewood also can be sold as a face cord which at face is 8-foot long and 4-foot tall but only as wide as the logs. A lot of private firewood sellers sell by the pickup truck load. This can be a bit tricky because you really won’t know how much you are getting until you get it unloaded and stacked. Depending on the truck, you can get about one-third to one-half of a cord in the bed based on how neatly is stacked and how high. A face cord is roughly a neatly stacked, full-size pickup truck bed load.
Splitting and Storing Firewood
Whether you cut your own wood or bought it, once you have logs you will need to split and stack the wood for storage. This is the most time intensive and tiring part of firewood and perhaps the one major reason why some people do away with wood heat. It is a great workout, however, and very rewarding once it’s all done.
You will need a nice open area for splitting firewood and it’s nice to have someone there to help with placing the logs in front of you or take turns splitting. You also will need a good quality splitting maul. The traditional, wooden-handled ones are nice but will tire you quickly so if you are buying a brand new one, you should probably go with a fiberglass handle.
You’ll also want a splitting block. This can be a stump or a very large log. Splitting on the ground is doable but a splitting block will make your job much quicker and much easier on your back. It’s going to take a bit before you get into the swing of using a splitting maul accurately and efficiently, so don’t become discouraged. It’s really helpful to watch a video on proper swinging technique.
Once you’re ready to go you can start splitting the rounds. If you bought firewood, be sure to measure them to ensure they will fit into your stove. Also, don’t go overboard with splitting. You don’t want a bunch of small pieces of firewood. It’s better to split a round into thirds or quarters and also leave some as halves for overnight burning. You can use an ax or hatchet for splitting the thirds or quarters into kindling.
After splitting the wood you can stack it for storage. There are a couple of different ways to stock wood, so just be sure you stack in a way that allows plenty of airflow.
Within six to eight months your stacked firewood will be ready to burn. For fire safety reasons, it is best to store your firewood well away from your house. You can keep a small stack by the house in a safe area and move a days’ worth or so into the house everyday if you have the space. Keeping kindling stacked by the stove is also a good idea to help it dry more quickly and help you get a fire started without hassle.
Wood heat is wonderful, and there really isn’t anything quite like a warm fire with the occasional crackle to relax by at the end of a long day.
What advice would you add on chopping and storing firewood? Share your tips in the section below:
Starting next fall it will be illegal to install wood-burning heaters and stoves in new homes in at least one major American city: San Francisco.
Even wood stoves certified as low emission by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be banned.
“We are serious about reducing the health risks associated with our residents’ exposure to wood smoke,” Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, told the Contra Costa County Times. “We are strengthening a rule that has been successful in protecting public health.”
All 22 members of the district’s board of directors voted to amend regulations to bar the installation of wood-burning heaters in new homes starting November 1, 2016. The district consists of the nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay and includes: San Francisco County, Alameda County (Oakland), Contra Costa County, Napa County, Santa Clara County (San Jose), San Mateo County, Southwestern Solano County and Southern Sonoma County.
Fireplaces Already Illegal
Wood-burning heaters will still be allowed in existing homes, the Contra Costa Times reported, although sellers must give buyers a form explaining the “health risks” or burning smoke.
A ban on traditional fireplaces already was in place in the region.
The board also voted to end all automatic exemptions to its existing wood-burning ban, including one that exempts people who live in areas with no natural gas lines. Currently, such residents are exempt on high-pollution days. People living in areas with no natural gas will have to file for an exemption.
Some members of the board wanted to go farther. Earlier this year a measure that would have required home owners to get rid of old-fashioned fireplaces and wood stoves before placing a home on the market was rejected.
John Crouch, a spokesman for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, criticized the new rule.
“I think this is an overreaction,” Crouch told the newspaper. “I don’t think other pollution boards will take this approach.” (Listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth interview with Crouch here.)
The district’s action is part of a growing movement to ban or restrict wood burning in the United States and Canada. Ban proponents believe that wood burning fills the air with fine particle pollutants that can cause health problems such as asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks and strokes. The installation of new wood-burning heaters has been illegal in Montreal since 2009.
Critics say such laws are government overreach lacking common sense – and note that people have heated their homes with wood for thousands of years.
“It seems that even wood isn’t green or renewable enough anymore,” columnist Larry Bell wrote on Forbes.com “… [It’s] the oldest heating method known to mankind and mainstay of rural homes and many of our nation’s poorest residents.”
About 12 percent of all homes rely primarily on wood, Bell said, quoting census data.
It looks as if burning wood for heat could soon become an endangered species in many parts of North America.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Yes, it says wood-fired, making this blacksmithing forge ideal for Preppers and for anyone that currently has the skills, and for those also wanting to learn Blacksmithing skills. Now you can make and shape using just wood as a heat source with the Full-Sized Whitlox Wood-Fired Forge.
Blacksmithing skills will be invaluable during a grid down situation, and being able to forge on, if you will, using just wood as a fuel source is the best case scenario. Propane will be in short supply during a crisis as well as, coal/coke for any forge. The Whitlox Forge uses wood efficiently, and best of all, you do not need to make charcoal first, because it burns seasoned chunks right from the wood pile.
Wood will be easier to acquire and store during a crisis than would propane, coal or coke. Even if available the prices would undoubtedly rise considerably due to the demand. Having a fuel that is readily available to most people is ideal, and you can of course begin stockpiling it now. Keep in mind wood does not store forever, it will rot if stored outdoors, exposed to the elements, so consider this as you begin gathering it.
Here Are the Manufactures Specifications
- The trench shaped fire box is designed so wood burns down to charcoal and at the same time concentrates it at the draft line
- Made from 11 gauge steel
- Has a fire bed lined with one half inch thick “kaowool” mineral fiber batting that insulates and protects the forge body and helps keep the work area cooler
- Lined with fire bricks for added durability and heat retention, and this also helps you to maintain a smokeless fire
- Has dividers that can easily be moved and secured to concentrate the fire and helps you maintain the right size fire for any project
- There is a cutaway that allows longer bars to lay across the fire
- The adjustable tuyere is one of the most innovative features of the full-size forge a tube within a tube design allows you to dial up just the number of holes you want open, for perfect control of air flow
Blower and Forge Stand Sold Separately As an Option
Optional blowers (3 to choose from) are available, and can be purchased as you order the forge. A stand is also available for purchase.
Blowers available: Light duty electric fan (50 cfm) with a “stomp switch” that latches on/off or the stamped steel hand cranked blower, or the Cast Aluminum hand-crank blower. Any of them will come with a mounting bracket, and duct, along with the applicable hardware when ordered with the forge from the website.
The forge stand available is 26″ tall, of welded construction. It has two rubber wheels making it easy to roll out for work or put away when not in use.
At one time if you needed something made out of metal you had either to do it yourself or visit the local blacksmith. Horseshoes, metal bands for wooden wheels, knives, arrow heads, and spear heads, hinges, nails/spikes are just a few of the things a Blacksmith can make, and the list goes on.
During an extended crisis goods and materials will not be available, so if you need or want something you will have to make it or have it made. The reality is to have it made will cost you, so having blacksmithing skills will not only save you money or save you the goods needed to trade for that skill, it will also make you invaluable to others. You can barter with the skills you have, and barter with the tools you can make as well.
You of course will need to work to acquire the skills now before a crisis and this also means you need supplies, metal in particular that can be heated and shaped. You can now start gathering a stockpile of what is essentially scrap metal at this point, but during a crisis it will be as valuable as any gemstone or bar of silver.
However, before you can do anything you need a forge, and a forge such as the Whitlox Wood-Fired Blacksmithing Forge that uses wood is almost the perfect situation for those wanting to get started, or for those that want to upgrade and hone their skills for when the SHTF.
There are classes you can take or you can teach yourself, but to become skilled, you need to put in the time and effort so you can make your own tools and material.
The basics would allow you to make nails/spikes knives, swords, axes, and arrow and spear heads, but to make more sophisticated tools and implements it will require extensive hands on training.
This forge was the perfect option for me since I don’t have a designated area set up yet for blacksmithing, I can just store it in my shed and roll it out when I need to use it. I also didn’t want to have to deal with coal or propane, being able to fire up the forge with wood or charcoal leaves me with few less things I would have to stockpile.
The Whitlox Forge comes in two sizes the full size and the mini forge, which is great if you want to start out small and work your way up as your skills improve. The full-size forge sells for $385.00 without the stand or blower and can be purchased at whitloxhomestead.com.
If you happen to find yourself stranded in the woods, for whatever reason, know that making it out in one piece will require more than patience and dumb luck. Whether you find yourself stranded due to an unfortunate event while you’re out bird watching, whether you’re the survivor of a plane crash or you’ve ventured knowingly into the woods in order to escape a SHTF situation, the outcome is pretty much the same: it’s man vs. nature, and conquering nature is not easy task.
Before finding yourself in such an ingrate spot, do a little research on what wilderness survival actually means. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: information is power and you’re greatest survival asset. If you hit the bottom of a weal and you’re still alive, there’s no other way to go but up. Same here, if you’re stranded in the woods, don’t panic; keeping calm and focused is the first step of making it out alive. Once you have that covered, here’s what else you’ll need to do:
Pick your spot and build a shelter
Your campsite should be the closest thing you have to a sanctuary, so pick your spot wisely because it must be as safe as possible. For example, try not to get too comfortable in a place that’s crawling with insects. This means stay away from zones that are abundant in plants. Also, the vicinity of large water beds should be avoided at all costs. The waters can be an attraction to all sorts of animals, even dangerous predators. If you must take shelter under trees and rock formations, study your surroundings very carefully. If the trees are dry or the rock formation unstable, there’s always the danger of being crushed over night, be it by tree branches or rocks.
Ones you have picked the best camp spot available, you’ll need to build yourself a shelter; a well insulated one, that’s bound to keep you out of the cold and prevent hypothermia. The easiest way to go at it is to find a leaning tree (or set a branch securely against a standing tree) and stack smaller branches together on one side. The angled wall should be covered in leaves, moss and all sorts of debris you can get your hands on. Using the same materials (leaves and moss) make yourself a carpet to stand on (about a 6 inch layer of debris), so that you remain insulated from the cold ground.
This is a fairly easy task if you have dry wood lying around (tinder), smaller pieces of wood (toothpick, Q-tips and pencil size) and fibrous material (Vaseline-covered cotton balls or lip balm would be great if you have some on you). Lighting the fire should be done progressively and with care. You can use a log (no bigger than a forearm) as base and windscreen for the tinder. The tinder should be lit first and once this is accomplished, stack the small kindling against the large log so that the oxygen can circulate in order to feed the fire. Once the flame starts building up, add larger and larger pieces of wood. If you don’t happen to have a lighter on you or the necessary means to starts a fire, you could generate a spark with a simple battery. If you short-circuit the battery by connecting the + and – with a wire, foil (like a gum wrapper) or steel wool, you’ll get a spark that’s potent enough to light up the tinder you prepared.
Procuring clean water
Thirst can settle in pretty fast and it can become a nuisance. The human body can go for days without food, but nowhere near that close without water. So what you need to do is act fast and make sure you never go without a potable source of water. Drinking directly from puddles or streams is a bad idea, as these waters are infested with all sorts of bacteria and pathogens that can prove fatal in no time. Boiling the water is the safest solution, but not always 100% effective. Precipitation water (the one resulted from rain and snow) is safe to drink and it can be easily harvested. But if nature doesn’t land you a hand in forthcoming rain or snow, don’t worry, as there are other options available. Clean drinking water can also be procured by squeezing vines and certain cacti. During the day, you can find yourself some leafy branches and cover the in plastic bags. The process of perspiration (present in plants as well) will fill the bags by night time with clean potable water, ready for the taking.
You’ll need to resort to hunting if you plan on having meat on the menu. If you don’t happen to be a skilled hunter, don’t worry. Gigging is a method devised for the unskilled hunters and it’s basically hunting with a multiple pronged spear; very effective in catching small critters and fish. Making this type of spear is real easy if you happen to have a knife on you: cut down a sapling (about 1 – 2 inches in diameter) and split the stronger end with the knife in four equal parts. Shove some sticks in order to spread the sections apart and simply sharpen the ends. But if hunting seems like too much of a headache, you keen simply feed on all sorts of fruit and plants from your surrounding areas. But only do so if you’ve documented yourself in the field, because many of the fruit and plants you stumble upon could be fatal.
If you’ve lost all means of communication with the civilized world, it still doesn’t mean you’re completely lost. The best way to survive in the woods is to determine the cardinal points is by observing the suns motion from sunrise to sundown, as it always rises approximately in the East and sets approximately in the West. You can also look for mossy formations on trees and rocks. These always grow facing the north and can give a clear hint as to where you should be heading. Navigating by night is a bit trickier, as you’ll have to find Polaris, the North Start (located in the Little Dipper’s handle).
In order to assure and ease your survival in unfriendly territory, it’s a must you bring the necessary tools along. No matter the reason for being stranded, you should never leave for any sort of expedition without these on you:
- a survival knife
- regular matches or fire steel (metal match)
- first aid kit
- a compass
- a space blanket (thin sheet of reflective Mylar)
- a SPOT Messenger
- some 550 paracord
- a signaling mirror
- water purifying tablets
Before leaving, double check the list and make sure nothing is forgotten. All these items are crucial and at the end of the day, they could simply save your life.
By Alec Deacon
(Julie’s Note: Kate from This Wild Lifestyle is back! Yay! She has some great ideas about things we can use to make our own wood stain. Think: re-cycled and up-cycled projects. Go ahead, Kate…)
If you’re trying to live a green lifestyle and want to use something like wood pallets for a project, consider kicking your creativity up a notch. Make your own wood stain! Each homemade stain is applied the same way — use a paint brush or lint-free cotton rag to apply the stain onto the wood, working with the grain. Test out the stain on scraps of wood first, so you have an idea what it’ll look like when it’s finished. Wear latex gloves to avoid becoming part of the project!
Here are four ideas to get you started:
The tannic acid in tea makes it a natural for staining, and it’s been used for centuries to color wood and fiber. To make your wood stain, use plain black tea or orange pekoe tea. Boil one quart of water and add about a dozen tea bags. Turn off the stove, and let the tea sit for a few hours. Dip a paint brush or rag into the tea, and rub into the grain of the wood. The stain will darken over the course of a week, so allow time for the brown shades to emerge.
2. Vegetables and Roots
Bright foods have always been used for their staining properties, so feel free to experiment with all kinds of fruits, vegetables and seasonings. To make a simple, soft reddish-brown stain, run one large beet and one large turmeric rhizome through a juicer. Add one part vodka to two parts juice, and you’re ready to stain.
If you’ve ever spilled wine on yourself you know how well it stains. Use one cup red wine (the cheaper the better, but if you’re drinking the remainder, then by all means buy your favorite!) for your stain. Rub it into the wood, going with the grain. If you want a deeper color, do more coats until you get the shade of red you want.
4. Food Coloring
To add a splash of bright color to your wood project, think of Easter eggs! This one is great for kids, but remember not to handle the project until it’s been sealed because the colors will transfer. Just add around 10 drops of food coloring for each tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Mix the colors up to get bright purple, lime green, teal, orange and more!
Now, wait for it.
Remember these stains aren’t like the ready-made chemicals you buy in the store. Some will deepen in color after a week passes, so if your wood doesn’t seem dark enough after a coat or two, set it aside for a few days.
If your stain is still too light even after a few days, though, you have options. To darken any wood, chop up a ball of extra fine steel wool and soak it in a cup of vinegar for a week creating rust on the steel wool. Strain the liquid, and rub the rust into your stained project to darken the color.
A word on sealing…
All of these homemade stains leave the wood unsealed, which means the stain may rub off, and liquids may penetrate the wood. Always seal your wood projects using a natural product such as linseed oil or Tung oil to protect both the stain and the surface of the wood. Rub the oil into the wood with a soft cotton cloth. Then, let it dry overnight, and repeat the process with a second coat of oil.
Aside from helping you achieve a greener lifestyle, creating and applying these stains can be a fun family project. The sky is the limit!
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