I like to chop wood. Maybe it was my early training as a Boy Scout. Or those tales of Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack in the big woods, got to me.
Could it be I was moved beyond prudence by the poetry of Robert Frost?
Good blocks of beech it was I split,—“Two Tramps in Mud Time”
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
At any rate, I’ve always enjoyed swinging an axe.
This year, however, the task threatened to overwhelm. From wood-gathering efforts chronicled here and here, I had more than enough fresh honey locust in my backyard, needing to be split.
We don’t use those big, round logs mentioned in Christmas carols (“See the blazing Yule before us, falala-lala, lala-lala!”). Logs must be halved, quartered, or even eighthed, to fit our small cast iron stove. Apart from mere size, wood ignites quicker when it has a cleft inner surface to feed the flame.
I started to split the honey locust, and some river birch from the same source, with my trusty axe.
My neighbor Dick rented a hydraulic splitter. I helped him use the splitter on his part of the take. I had never used one before, and it’s impressive, the ease with which it shivers great logs into small ones. It’s a good job for two people—one to horse the logs onto the splitting bed and one to push the lever that makes the machine go.
Need I spell it out? Dick did the heavy lifting and I provided the wrist action. A fair distribution of labor, agreed. But I was beginning to think I’m an old man, needing to be spared exertion.
When we had reduced his logs to splinters, he offered the use of the machine for mine.
“I actually enjoy splitting them with my axe,” I said. “Good exercise.”
I grinned. “However, some of my logs are too big and heavy to split easily by axe. So I gratefully accept your offer.”
We wheeled the machine to the back end of my garage. In a half-hour’s time we split the biggest and baddest of my logs down to halves or quarters. Plenty of logs remained to be split the old way, gratifying the woodsman inside me.
We hitched the splitter to the back of Dick’s car, and he towed it back to Home Depot.
Since then I have used my axe to make three face cords of split wood. That’s probably enough for now, as we head into winter. Tons of prime honey locust still await the axe. It will keep me busy all winter, whenever the snow is low enough.
Why Is This Important?
Ordinarily, the way people keep warm is their own concern. It’s hard to excite others about it.
There may be curiosity value in historical heating methods. Someday perhaps I’ll tell you what it was like to live in a house heated with a coal furnace, what one had to do—and it was the child’s lot to do it—to keep the flames alight.
But this year’s saga of my firewood husbandry is of possible interest only because it shows our dependence on one another. Some of our wood was a gift from my friend Jack. Some was a gift from our neighbors Nick and Shelly, who no longer needed their honey locust tree.
In processing the huge logs down to burnable firewood, I had help from my neighbor Ben on one side, and my neighbor Dick on the other side.
They say firewood warms you twice—once when you split it and once when you burn it. But the warmth of working with friends and neighbors is not to be discounted.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Writer
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)