Firewood Management 101
Tools and Tips to Make Cutting and Managing Firewood Quick and Easy
Wood-splitting tools have enabled homesteaders to survive and thrive for centuries. Just like many of today’s tools we use on the homestead, there have been some marked improvements since the days of yore. Today, the modern homesteader has lots of options available to them, thanks to newer technology.
Many people still believe that axes are the best way to split wood, and they may be right, but it’s not the best way for everyone. If you’re young, able, and can do for a quality workout, then perhaps splitting wood the old-fashioned way is the best way for you. If, however, you don’t have the time, inclination, or physical ability, you really should evaluate other options.
The quintessential wood-splitting tools – the axe and maul – are still a viable way of splitting wood. You can find them in their utmost of classic forms, and you can find them with updated handles and head designs, but in the end, they’re still just an axe and maul.
A good, sharp axe will serve any homesteader well, and every homestead should have one, even if you prefer to use more modern wood-splitting tools. Likewise, a proper maul gives you the heft and head weight to tackle some big species of wood that your axe may not handle. There is a time and place for both these tools, but unless you’re a glutton for punishment, I don’t suggest using them as your exclusive method of wood-splitting.
If you heat solely with firewood or have a stove that consumes large amounts of wood, such as a wood-burning cookstove, then you will surely tire of using manual wood-splitting tools in a hurry. Aside from expensive, fully automated firewood processors, the now-common hydraulic wood-splitting tools of today are definitely your best bet.
Almost every large farm, tool, or hardware store now sells hydraulic log splitters. These splitters feature a gasoline engine or electric motor to power a hydraulic pump, which in turns actuates a hydraulic piston. This piston crushes lengths of wood between a wedge and flat anvil surface, making it split. Depending on the moisture content and type of wood you’re splitting, this splitting may be sudden and violent, or slow and controlled.
Independent hydraulic wood splitters are very popular and for a good reason. Most of them can tow behind a truck or car, which makes them easy to transport. Many people who split wood like to do the splitting some distance away from the house, either next to a storage shed or where the tree fell. Having a mobile and independent wood splitter lets you wander afar to split your wood.
Small gasoline engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, which means you must operate them outside. Without proper ventilation, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning, which will make you sick and can easily (and quickly) kill you.
Another issue with small gasoline engines is the noise they emit. Exposure to loud engine noises can cause serious long-term hearing loss, so be sure to wear hearing protection. Even if you wear hearing protection, the droning sound will eventually wear on you, your neighbors and fellow residents.
Electric Driven Splitters
If you split your wood next to a woodshed with electricity, or near your house, you can consider an electric log splitter. The vast majority of electric log splitters are slow and feature a marginal tonnage rating (the amount of force it can exert to split your wood, expressed as tons of pressure). These typically small units are okay for low volume splitting and may work for someone who burns wood occasionally, but someone who burns a lot of wood should look elsewhere.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. Some high-end, high dollar electric log splitters can be found with force ratings of 20 tons or more, and are available in 220V configurations. 220V powered splitters will offer better efficiency, longer motor life, and lower electricity bills compared to an equal unit in 110V.
If an electric log splitter sounds like a fit for you, I strongly suggest buying a 220V unit in as high a tonnage as you can find and afford. These units will be quieter than gasoline fired wood-splitting tools, but not silent by any means. Electric log splitters can be operated indoors, such as inside a woodshed (which is the best way to store firewood), without the concern of toxic fumes. If that is important to you, then an electric driven hydraulic splitter is an excellent choice.
Tractor Driven Hydraulics
If you already have a tractor, you have a fantastic third option for hydraulically operated wood-splitting tools. A three-point hitch mounted log splitter implement takes advantage of your tractor’s onboard hydraulic system. Most modern tractors have hydraulic fittings on the back near the three-point hitch to attach to powered implements. If you have these fittings, purchasing a three-point log splitter should be quite cost effective.
Tractor-mounted log splitters offer superior power compared to gasoline or electric powered unit. Additionally, since you’ve provided your engine and hydraulic pump, a three-point log splitter can deliver more tonnage at a considerably lower purchase price.
For tractors which don’t feature rear-mounted hydraulic connections, there is still another option. Tractors with a live PTO can install a PTO driven hydraulic pump to operate the log splitter. These splitters will have a large oil reservoir and are effectively a self-contained hydraulic system unto themselves, minus the engine. The added components do add cost to the log splitter, and setup takes a little more time when mounting a PTO pump, but these systems work well.
Pallet forks for tractors and other tractor bucket attachments are great complements to your wood-splitting tools. From dragging logs, bucking, moving and storing split wood, your farm tractor will be an indispensable asset as you prepare for the winter ahead.
Once you’ve felled a tree and de-limbed it, you’re left with this rather long stick to contend with. Dragging a log by the trailer hitch of a tractor usually results in you catching rocks with the butt of the log, which is counter-productive.
Using weld on tractor bucket hooks, preferably a slip hook welded in the center of your bucket, you can drag a log easily. If you have a chain with slip hooks, your chain will naturally choke the log, but if you only have grab hooks on your chain, wrap it around the log twice before hooking on. Once the log is chained to your bucket, you can lift the end while you’re pulling to avoid catching stumps or rocks.
Before you start splitting wood, you need to buck your logs into lengths. Bucking wood is simply the act of taking bare tree trunks and sawing them up into lengths your stove can handle. There are a few tools we can use to make this an easy affair.
Cutting up trunks while they sit on the ground can be problematic, especially if you strike the ground with your chainsaw blade. Do this often enough, and you’re sure to be a pro at changing and sharpening chains.
To avoid killing your chainsaw chains, you can use some conventional manual wood-splitting tools called timber jacks. Similar to a “cant hook” or “Peavey” in design, timber jacks offer a way to grip and then elevate a log, letting you cut from above without the risk of hitting the ground or pinching your saw.
Leaning down to buck a log will strain your back in a hurry, which is why people who cut a lot of firewood use sawbucks. Sawbucks are similar to a carpenter’s saw horse, except these saw horses have a “v” design to center logs. A properly built sawbuck will eliminate bending over while bucking logs, which is far more comfortable and far safer than leaning over to cut logs from the ground.
Pallet Forks for Tractors
For many reasons, even the best small farm tractor can benefit from having a set of pallet forks for tractors. In the context of working with firewood, pallet forks on your bucket make for a handy, motorized sawbuck.
Once you’ve dragged your logs out of the woods, pick them up with your pallet forks and start bucking them into lengths shorter than your wood stove is deep. If you like to maintain consistency in your firewood length, consider making a mark on the bar of your chainsaw to act as a measuring mark.
Pallet forks for tractors are great for bucking logs, but be careful with them. If you’re not careful, you may hit your bucket or forks with your chainsaw, which will result in dull chains or worse, dangerous kickbacks. Additionally, be careful to buck logs equally from both sides. Otherwise, you will lighten the log too much on one side, and it will tip over.
One major benefit to using pallet forks for tractors as your sawbuck is that you can adjust the height of your bucket at will. If the logs sit a little too high or low for you, then simply move your bucket up or down.
Even if you have a nice wood shed to store your split wood in, you will still likely need to move split wood from point A to point B. Many people in my area have taken to using IBC (intermediate bulk container) totes to move firewood.
IBC totes can be found used on sales websites locally, and they’re usually the 275-gallon size. These totes are effectively plastic tanks on pallets with a steel cage around them. When modifying them for use as firewood containers, take the top cage off and pull the tank out. Now you have a convenient cage on a pallet which you can toss split wood into.
I’m quite fond of using pallets for moving and storing firewood, mostly because they’re free. Almost any company that receives palleted goods will have free pallets to be rid of; just ask! Remember not to overload your pallets, since your tractor may not be able to move a pallet that’s too heavy. Since pallets are free, consider stacking less on each pallet and then stacking loaded pallets on top of loaded pallets.
Winter waits for no one, so if you intend to heat with wood, start planning today!