Thursday, January 31, 2013

Homesteader's Resolutions

I’ve always been big on resolutions, New Year’s and otherwise.

And generally my resolutions were all about writing…I would finish my novel, do more blog posts, write every day. But after we moved out to the Foothills, our priorities completely changed…as did my resolutions.
A while back, I resolved to learn how to split wood. So I went out to the woodsheds with John, pulled on my trusty ear protection, and set a small log—a piece of birch, a nice soft wood for a beginner—on our splitting stump. I positioned the wedge onto the log, swung the mallet down on top of it, and Bam!
Ouch! I’d split the piece, but the impact reverbed into my wrists, and shot up both arms into my shoulders. Jeez, that really hurt! I tried five more logs, each time the impact zinged through me harder than the last. My arms were numb for two days. At that point, I made a new resolution: to give up wood spitting forever. It would have to be the one Berryridge Farm chore that I just wasn’t suited for. John could take full responsibility for our wood supply.
Then recently, some unforeseen circumstances put me in charge of our woodpile. Here it was, early January—the dead of winter, with the coldest days ahead. But we had only several days’ worth of firewood. I had to get up to speed on splitting, and fast.
Luckily, since my original attempt, I’d gotten some physical therapy to treat neck and shoulder stiffness—the souvenir from intensive gardening by hand in my Boomer years. Still, with that awful wood-splitting reverb still fresh in my memory, I wasn’t too optimistic about filling our empty woodshed.
However, John had just bought a new, heavy-duty splitting maul. Plus Santa had brought me a great pair of leather gloves—much better than gardening gloves for using sharp tools. So, after a quickie tutorial with the new maul, I was on my own. I set a nice dry piece of fir on the stump, lifted the maul as high as I dared, and swung. Thwack! It worked!
True, I felt the reverb, but not near as badly as before. So I did a couple more pieces, just to give my arms a chance to get used to the impact, then quit for the day. From then on, I resolved to split a few pieces every day. It’s one of the few resolutions I’ve actually kept—avoiding a freezing house is a powerful motivator—and I’ve actually learned a few things.
So after 3 weeks of splitting wood, here are my Top 5 Woodsman’s/Woodsgal’s Tips for Newbies:
*Get to know your wood.
After years of schlepping wood with John and feeding the woodstove, I could identify most kinds of wood—maple, alder, birch, fir, etc. But for splitting, you need to look at the grain, and figure how each kind of wood splits a little differently. There’s a reason maple is called a hardwood, as opposed to fir being a softwood—if you’re splitting maple, you really need to put some oomph into it.  
*Make sure your wood is seasoned.
If there are cracks, or “checks” on the ends of the log, you’re good to go. If you swing your maul and it bounces right off the log, you can pretty well conclude that puppy is too green for a newbie splitter.
*Watch for knots.
If you try splitting a log, especially maple, with a knot in it, you just created more work for yourself. Because your maul will probably get stuck in it. I learned this firsthand, with my maul lodged in the log tighter than the Sword in the Stone. I had to hack at the log with a hatchet to free the maul. But if a log is really, really dry, you aim your maul in between the knots, and luck is with you, you’ll wind up with a nice split log.
*Keep your eyes on the log.
It’s like in baseball, or golf—you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball.  John will tell you, I can’t throw worth a darn, and my aim in pathetic. However, employing intense focus, I’ve actually split some jagged logs—windfall that broke apart in various places—by aiming my maul into one of the crevices.  But I still can’t throw.
*Focus is everything.
No multi-tasking allowed! When I’m splitting, I can’t be daydreaming about my heroine’s escapades in the novel I’m working on, or what to eat for dinner. You don’t want to miss the log and hit your leg with that big old maul. Which brings us back to: keep your eyes on the log.
One last homesteader’s resolution. I resolve that John and I will start splitting next year’s firewood this June—and by September, we’ll have two woodsheds’ full!