Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cabin Life: Five Cords Of Wood A Year

800px-Cord_of_woodWell, the January thaw made for a nice weekend, even though the skiing suffered a little bit.  It was warm enough last Sunday that I actually was able to get the four wheeler going and plow the driveway.  I only had to hike in for a week or so, and can now once again drive all the way up to the cabin.  I really didn’t mind the hike and since the four-wheeler won’t start unless the temperature is about forty degrees, I’m sure I’ll be hiking in again before winter’s over.

It was also a nice break for the wood stove, and more importantly, my wood supply.  Or more specifically, my dry hardwood supply.  The stacks of wood were definitely in need of a break.

I have three wood piles.  One is out in front of the cabin, under the big window covered by a couple of blue tarps that are pretty tattered.  This wood pile rests on top of a bunch of old metal roofing and consists of mostly pine and poplar.  There’s some maple in there too, but not much.  This is my “junk wood” pile.

The second wood pile is stashed neatly in the shed that is attached to cabin. It is safely ensconced in the shelter of four walls and a cheap but solid roof.  There is a heavy wooden door with a massive iron latch to keep the elements out, and other than soft snow that gets blown in through some cracks, the wood is well protected.  This pile is all cherry, maple, oak and ash.  The third wood pile is in front of the shed, split and drying, waiting to be added to as I cut more trees for next year’s wood supply.

This fall, I actually had to buy some wood from a guy I work with.  The supply I cut last year was pathetically small, and once summer rolled around, I figured it was too late to have dry wood for the winter.  I stacked about a cord and half of the stuff I had done in the shed, and then had two cords delivered.  This all went in the shed as well.  I left the junk wood out in front and figured I could mix a little in here and there.  But I also figured I wouldn’t have to do that until some time in February.  It’s now the middle of January and I’ve been mixing in junk wood for almost a month.

I figured wrong on how much wood I would need this year.  But now that I’ve been paying attention, I know how much to do for next year.  My little four-hundred square foot cabin will need five cords of wood to heat.  This seems like a lot to me, and it seems like a lot of work.  I have also vowed to myself that I will not be paying for firewood next year, because, you know, I live in the woods.

But the amount of wood I’ll need to lay in for next winter is far more than can fit in the shed.  I’ll have to build a new wood shed, but one that is not attached to the cabin.  I’m going to build big so that I have some room for extra wood plus a little storage.  This is one project I can do for free from building materials that are just lying around here.  It’s not going to be pretty or square or level, but it’ll be tough enough to hold up.  There’s a good spot with southern exposure where I’m going to build, and the new shed will hold a prominent place in my yard.  This way, everyone will be able to bask in its functionality.

The plan is to take a bunch of small pines and spruces for the upright supports and use old metal roofing.  There are huge old planks of wood scattered around that will make perfect sides.  No piece of lumber out here is the same width and thickness, so I can safely say that this wood shed will have some character to it.  The very short lean-to is like that, as is the front porch with the unintentionally swooping roof.  Yup, that misshapen wood shed is going to fit right in.

Photo: A full cord (courtesy Wikimedia user JKBrooks85)

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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.

11 Responses

  1. John Rosenthal says:

    I hate to hear that the four-wheeler won’t start in cold weather. Have you tried a lighter weight or a synthetic motor oil?

  2. joan streetman says:

    sounds so cozy at your place with a fire burning and so warm and cold outside. My son use to buy a tractor trailer full of wood but had to split it with a splitter for his house in Peru

  3. Robert Buhts says:

    I lived in a 900 sf cabin in Colton, NY (near Ham’s Inn) for two winters in 1974-75 and cut and used about 20 face cord of wood each year in a really inefficient Utica Comet box stove. I just stacked the wood outside, bark side up and uncovered in a really long snake-like configuration. The wood dried for a year and was moved into small porch room approximately two or there days before use. Generally the cabin was toasty and at times the stove burned red hot, especially when temps got down to -20’s & lower. Snow was plentiful and XC skiing in & out was wonderful. Would love to do it again but too old. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I treasure the memories.

    • Bill Ott says:

      I remember seeing cabins or small homes in New England being completely surrounded by the firewood supply. Seems like that would be a wind break of sorts.

  4. Ray says:

    Five cords seems like a lot of wood for a 400 sq ft cabin.

  5. I have an ugly wood shed that I built from old already been used wood.It looks funny but the price was right, and it suits it’s purpose.Enjoy reading about Pico and you. happy belated New Year!

  6. Paul says:

    For sure I am with Ray. You need 5 full cords? My friend in Saranac Lake heats his 1900 Victorian cure cottage (3 floors 5000, square feet, poorly insulated) with only wood in a wood burning furnace. He uses 10 full cords per year in a cold winter. I get most of my heat from wood in a 4500 square foot home built in 1880. I burn 7 full cords. What kind of stove do you have? You need something different. I reccomend a Jotul.

  7. Shawn G says:

    I remember my health teacher in highschool, early 1980’s, taught a survival class outside. One of the things he noted was about firewood. He said to make sure to have 10 times what you need to survive outside a few days/nights. Now you are inside but still need to consider not running out. Maybe 10 cords are needed this year, 5 dry and 5 just cut green. That way next season you will be warm and not have to worry. Just thought to share. All the best.

  8. Mike says:

    Agree w Paul, you need a more efficient stove. Jotul 602 is a nice small box stove well made. Check out ebay, you can find used ones in the off seasons at very reasonable prices.

  9. Frank says:

    Is it a cord 8x8x4 or face cord 8x8x2 . In New England a cord is a cord my son lives in Potsdam and there they call a face cord a cord. My cabin is bigger and uses less wood, of coarse that’s after I insulated the heck out of it. Stack your wood in a criss cross patern a just cover the top to speed drying. Burn the softwood first to warm up the cabin then build up the coal bed with hardwood. I’m a little older now also so I appreciate that I don’t need to cut and split as much wood . Get an old snowmobile to get into camp in winter. Nothing like sitting around a woodstove drinking coffee to warm your soul. Enjoy

  10. John Lanczycki says:


    Interesting article regarding survival in a small cabin in the Adirondacs. Drop me a line at
    Would like to connect
    Class of 1964

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