Dog Logic And Firewood Levers: Part I

Winter is trying to kill me. It might be trying to kill you too? That’s none of my business. This blog is all about me and narcissistic or not, I have no doubt that winter is definitely, unquestionably, and specifically kicking my ass.

I’m not surprised. I live in the north and plan accordingly. Three pieces of machinery to move snow. Three bottles of Ibuprofen for when the machinery croaks. Two is one and one is none… so I have three. My snowblower died around Christmas. Man down! It knew the risks. The remaining equipment soldiers on. So do I.

This year the snow has been deep but it’s the cold that landed the most punches. Holy leaping wombats has it been friggin cold! Relentless too. I can live with -30 degrees in week long bouts but months at a time is a game changer.

I have three redundant sources of heat. I use them in whatever proportion seems best. (Adaptive folk like options!) When it’s bitter cold, firewood is king. It’s cheap and nobody ever settled down to sip whiskey and read a book by the inviting glow of a furnace vent. When spring comes the equation changes. When it’s nippy but not arctic the furnace is superior to inconvenient wood heat. When I switch to the furnace and ignore my woodstove, robins aren’t far behind.

The relentless cold has done in my firewood supply. My goal is to keep the fire going until “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Normally I’d have already (or nearly) crossed the finish line. This year? Not so much.

I started winter with plenty of firewood for a normal winter. If you see “normal winter” tell him I miss him and wish his asshole cousin “second standard deviation winter” would bugger off. By mid-January it was clear that my woodpile was losing a war of attrition against “snowmageddon” / “polar vortex” / “winter storm ‘Putin’” or whatever buzzword the talking heads were repeating. There was no avoiding it. The woodpile was going to run out.


I was pondering the grim situation while tossing chunks of wood into my ATV wagon. My dog was sniffing around the ragged edges of my once mighty and now depleted supply. After this week’s “wood run” my woodshed would be as empty as a politician’s promise.

Let me interrupt a minute and explain that firewood is a game of logistics. A household will burn tons of wood (literally… many… tons). There are a several steps between a standing tree and heat in the living room. Folks who warm their house with money might not understand the complexity involved. When you make your own heat, the entire industrial supply chain, which delivers strawberries on Christmas and will move an iDevice from China to your mailbox, must be replicated by you and you alone. It’s all on your shoulders Bubba!

It’s not all brawn. If I relied solely on studliness to fell, buck, cut, split, stack, haul, and move everything I’d have arms like Popeye right up until they buried my exhausted body in a plastic coffin because I’d burned the wood one. I’m just one man with limited time and equipment. Of necessity I treat processing wood like a chess game.

The opening gambit starts with trees in the forest. If you fell the trees without killing yourself the game pieces are now in play. I’d say that anybody can get this far but YouTube has videos of trees falling on trucks, porches, houses, and BBQ grills that prove me wrong.

The middle game is my “firewood processing area”. (Mrs Curmudgeon would look at it and call it “the mess my husband makes out of the backyard”.) It’s a delightful maze of logs, sizable tree limbs, big chunks of unsplit wood, stored chains in buckets, and a garbage can full of empty beer bottles. It’s arranged in a way that makes perfect sense to me and looks like chaos to everyone else.

The log pile sits around housing squirrels and gathering weeds most days. In summer I periodically dive in to cut and split as much as I can manage during the time I have available. The squirrels disapprove. When it snows, the whole area gets buried and forgotten.

The end game starts the second after the splitter (usually parked near the log pile) does its magic. It’s not enough to make a mighty pile of stove bolts, one must place them strategically or all is lost. I use the Pony trailer and my tractor (when it runs) to drive the fruits of my labor closer to the house. I build several piles (and fill a small shed). The piles look haphazard but they’re cunningly situated to be easily reachable after snowplows surround my house with packed ice. The end game is where you win or lose.

Thus, my home is the sun to a solar system of slowly orbiting Stonehenge-like arrangements that last from one to many years. You know you’re from the North when you think like that.

Checkmate is the cusp of spring. All winter long I make weekly “wood runs” to the handiest Stonehenge. If my Stonehenges outlast Al Gore’s winter, I win.

All of my Stonehenges, I reflected… were gone. Game over. I suck.

About Adaptive Curmudgeon

I will neither confirm nor deny that I actually exist.
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8 Responses to Dog Logic And Firewood Levers: Part I

  1. Joel says:

    After you’ve frozen to death, can I have your stuff?

  2. PJ says:

    I hear ya. Also, it’s not enough to own a woodlot. There has to be a way to get the wood out. Across my gully I found a big madrone down on the ground. They keep pretty well standing, even when dead, but when they hit the ground it’s a race against rot. How I’m going to get that wood out is going to make me lose some sleep. Fortunately the winters are pretty mild here so I haven’t even made much of a dent in my existing pile. The most accessible trees are the willows which burn all right, but need 2 years of seasoning to do it.

  3. P2 says:

    I feel your pain….. I’m down to my last face cord. There is still 2ft of snow on the ground and the thermometer is still dipping into the minus side… This one might end in a draw… A short 90-120 days to restock and it’s game on..

  4. razorbacker says:

    I live in the north and plan accordingly.

    Likewise, except insert south. Been right here for eighteen years, and now I stack enough wood with that experience in mind.

    I didn’t stack enough, this year.

  5. MaxDamage says:

    I have a hydraulic pump that runs off the crankshaft pulley, which powers the loader on my Ferguson. You might be able to find a similar kit that runs off the PTO, or grab one from a boneyard, Add a couple lines, a 2-way valve, and weld up an I-beam with a hydraulic ram and a 3-point hitch or attachment to the drawbar, you could split wood from the back of the tractor. You could pull to the stacking area, remove logs from the wagon right on to the splitter, pull a valve and deposit split firewood right there. Probably set you back three or four hundred bucks if you can’t weld it yourself, only a couple hundred for the parts if you can.

    Best of all, if you get the PTO version it transfers directly to the next tractor so long as there’s a 540rpm PTO shaft.

    • I pondered that before I bought my splitter. I love my tractor so I thought it was a good approach. Sadly the parts for a PTO pump, hydraulic ram, 3 point hitch, etc to make a tractor powered wood splitter add up to a big chunk of the cost of a new towable wood splitter with it’s own gasoline engine and wheels. No assembly required. I initially assumed I could save a bunch by leveraging an already existing tractor engine but it simply doesn’t pencil out. (The good news is that small gas engines are currently unreasonably cheap?)

      You can also buy wood splitters that (by design) go on a tractor’s 3 point. Pricewise, these are pretty much on par with the generic gas powered “drag it around on little wheels” splitters. I was dissapointed because they should be cheaper. Sure it’s macho to have a 3 point design but there’s a lot of flexibility in dragging a wheeled version around with an ATV, or lawn mower, or truck, or by hand. Unhitching the splitter from the tractor to use the tractor as a redneck log skidder is handy too.

      Also there’s reliability. My archaic tractor (which I love) is too likely to conk out (“go on temporary vacation”) when I need it. Two is one and one is none; so the reliability of a plucky little Honda engine was a better option than a homebuilt rig on my finicky tractor. YMMV.

      None of this cancels out the joy of homebuilt welded awesomeness… but you’re not likely to save a lot of cash.


      P.S. I’m planning on some wood splitter “upgrades” this summer. It’s still too cold out but stay tuned when the wood season is in full swing.

      P.S. I also searched high and low for a “used” wood splitter. This is hopeless. Used splitters are incredibly rare and when you find one it’s decrepit, homemade, beat to hell, and offered at 80% the price of a new rig. Life is full of dissapointments. Also who are the chumps that’ll buy a leaking, rusted, bent, hammered, piece of junk with an engine “that ran when we parked it in 1995” to save 20% versus a new TroyBilt/Honda rig that eats wood like a champ?

      • MaxDamage says:

        I don’t know who the folks are who buy such high-priced used contraptions, but if you find one of them let me know — I’ve an ’86 F-150 and the welds holding the floor onto the cab were still solid when I last used it a couple years ago.

        (such logic is why I’ve not driven it to the scrap dealers lot. Also, I’m lazy)

        If you’ve a tow-able wood splitter, why not make a train and tow it behind the wagon? It’s not like the Fordson is going to notice the extra mass and you get the same convenience. All it would take is a hitch on the wagon.

        There are a few places where one can buy a Chinese-made 5hp gas motor for under $100. Compared to just a carb rebuild kit on a Briggs that’s hands-down cheap as can be. I purchased three for the wife’s Roto-Tiller about five years ago, two of which are still in the boxes. There’s enough to do without adding more engines to maintain, but I think I’d rather a few spare engines than be dependent upon only one. Thankfully, I have two tractors. I think they both stay running only because they’re in competition.

        You know that old saying that if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail? Once you have a welder, anything made of metal becomes a piece of Your Personal Erector Kit, Size Large. This is dangerous to your wallet if you’re a creative type.

        – Max

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