Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cabin Life: Logging by Hand

Logging by hand has to be one of the most pointless and inefficient activities I have engaged in so far. I have been “cleaning the woods” as it were, dragging out large limbs and cutting dead trees to get wood for next year’s firewood supply. This year’s supply is large, but the quality of the wood is not that good.

When we moved here in the fall, my then-roommate and I didn’t have the money to buy firewood, and since we had fifty acres at our disposal, we figured we could cut, haul, and split our own wood. Luckily, we found a pile of logs that had been cut three years ago. It was mostly soft wood like white pine, spruce, and poplar (aspen), but it was free and dry.

We were able to mix in a lot of hardwood from scrounging and an existing supply of wood left by the previous owners. That ten-year-old hardwood burns really, really nice. I’m not sure if I’ll be living out here next year, but since I have lots of free time, I decided to comb the woods, finding nice pieces of downed or standing dead hardwood. I got lucky with some of the wind storms we’ve had this winter and I’ve dragged cherry, maple, beech, and a little birch out of the woods.

On nice days, I usually take Pico and go for a walk around just to check things out. It’s on these rambles that I find the wood. If it needs to be cut up into smaller, more manageable pieces, then I take Pico back to the cabin and grab my chainsaw. Some of what I cut is pretty dangerous, with dead limbs, lots of weight pressure, and pressure from other trees that the dead stuff is leaning against. Luckily, I have plenty of experience cutting this type of wood.

Once the logs are cut up into four or five foot lengths (depending on diameter, the skinny ones I leave longer), then the real grunt work begins. I grab Pico again and start walking out to where the wood is. Today, it was about a quarter mile away, and Pico and I made at least ten round-trips. That’s about five miles of walking, half of it carrying logs that weigh anywhere from five to fifty pounds. Even Pico was panting on our last couple of trips. And other than moral support, he was no help at all.

After I get the logs back to the cabin yard, I block it up into firewood-length pieces (16” or so) and split any of the bigger pieces. There are still some monster logs out in the woods that I’ll drag out once I can get the four-wheeler going. My shoulders are bruised, and there’s no way I could lift my arms over my head right now, but at least I’ve got a start on a better wood supply for next year. Yeah, dragging all those logs out by hand is dumb. So I’m dumb. Dumb like a fox.

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Having grown up in the southern Adirondacks, Justin has always been at home in the mountains of New York. After graduating from Paul Smiths College, he began his career in the environmental field working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After a brief five year detour to Florida, Justin returned to the Adirondacks to live off the grid in a small cabin with no running water or electricity.

Justin continues to work and play in the outdoors, and maintains a blog about living off grid, hiking, and being outside in the Adirondacks called Middle of the Trail.

3 Responses

  1. Cobber says:

    Winter time, with frozen ground is the best time for this type of work. Rig a Tobaggan or fashion a wide runner sled type drag system. Always cut “uphill’ from your cabin when you can.

  2. Justin A Levine says:

    Hey thanks for the advice. I’d never heard it put that way, “uphill,” but definitely have noticed that the cabin is on the “downhill” side of the property, so no problem there.

  3. MountainMatt says:

    Cobber is right. I cut and remove timber (all standing dead or windfall) from public land for firewood year round in Colorado. The sled, no matter how primitive the design should, at the very least, relieve the pain of carrying wood on your shoulder. The sled should also at least double your number of logs per trip, more time for splitting!

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