Recently I had some firewood delivered. I live in rural France and our main heat source is our woodburning stoves. Getting good quality firewood is a big deal out here.
Last month, with winter getting started, we were running low. So I asked around our usual suppliers, and to my dismay they had all sold out! They could supply part-seasoned wood that would be ready for next winter (you’re supposed to season fresh wood for three years or it won’t burn well), but nothing for this.
Eventually we found a supplier. They had to come quite a distance, so we had to pay a small premium for delivery. The truck showed up on the appointed day, and dumped seven cubic metres (or stères as this unit is known in France) on our drive.
And – the heavens opened! As soon as the wood hit the ground, a freezing downpour started up. We threw a couple of tarpaulins over the woodpile, and I pushed barrow load after barrow load through the rain to the outbuilding, where my wife Julie stacked it up. After 10 minutes I was soaked through, and so was the wood. But we had to keep going.
Maybe an hour later (maybe longer, I lost track of time) we had the wood all stacked up inside. Our problem now was that the wood was wet. In the unheated outbuilding, it wasn’t drying out. Our fires over the next few days needed constant tending. If you turned your back on the fire, ten minutes later it had gone out and needed restarting. We got through a lot of firelighters and kindling that week, and the constant need to see to the fire made it hard to get down to any sustained work. It was pretty dispiriting.
There are some obvious learnings from this, principally ‘order your wood well in advance’ and ‘get it delivered in the spring or summer so it’s less likely to be rained on, and if it is it can dry out in the warm weather before you need it’. All of which was zero use to us in the situation we were in, though no doubt it would come in useful for next year.
But the most useful thing we learned was this. Most of the logs were pretty thick, about the size of a man’s hand in cross-section, which made it harder for them to catch fire. After about a week, I started splitting them with my new splitting maul (probably the most satisfying tool to use that I’ve ever bought). The split logs, of course, had a higher surface area in relation to their volume, so it was easier for them to catch fire. Even better, the dampness was only on the surface, so splitting them revealed new dry surfaces for the fire to lick at. Result: the most gratifying roaring fire I’ve ever built.
I don’t know why it took me a week to think of this. I wasn’t raised with a woodburning stove, so I’m still on a learning curve with it, and things that are obvious to the experienced stove user may take me some time to realise. But once I realised I could do something about the situation, actually doing it was easy.
So: if you’re not entirely happy with your current situation, what could you do that you haven’t done so far?
What’s the most outrageous thing you could do? (that question is in there to get you to think differently)
And, if having fully considered those two questions, nothing useful has come up yet: what could you do that would make it worse? I bet you get lots of answers for that one! So, in the light of that, what could you stop doing or do less of that would improve the situation?