The Evolution of the firewood gatherer
The there is a common evolution of the firewood gatherer. The pinnacle of the evolution is a well managed forest, good road system, reliable equipment to do most of the hauling and splitting, a covered wood shed close to the house, an efficient stove and well insulated house. The firewood newbie will usually have more time and enthusiasm than anything ready to put toward labor. Along the path, the labor is traded for the expensive efficiencies of equipment and infrastructure.
15 years ago, when we decided it was time to heat with wood, we started by pulling our ~40 year old Fisher stove from the basement our family first used in the house. We gathered river rock from Ridley Brook and built a hearth. We bought some pipe, cut a hole in the ceiling and boom. We had woodstove ready to go. Without firewood. Without dry firewood for that matter.
We had spent the last few years gathering firewood for our backyard sugaring operation so I had some familiarity with the labor. This started as seeking standing dead trees or branches, breaking them by hand and bucking with a chainsaw and dragging them out in a sled. We probably never used more than a cord or two and it was good time to kill while sap was boiling. But I knew we needed at least 6 cords to get through the winter.
I enrolled in the Game of Logging: the best, and as far as I know the only, chainsaw safety training course available. It came highly recommended with the selling point of it'd be good for ya if you don't want to cut your leg off. At the conclusion of the course, we could not only fell large trees exactly where we wanted too but do so safely providing humble confidence, I didn't even know I needed.
A craigslist search yielded an ATV and wagon on the cheap. My plan was to cut and buck trees in the woods, place them in the wagon and haul the wagon out a quarter of a cord at a time, unload the wagon into a stack and cover it. The maul would come out and I split and stacked 6 cords for a few years, covered in plastic tarps.
Over the next few years I would encounter what we firewood gatherers know well. Stacks would tip over, tarps would fly off, wood wouldn't dry because it wasn't adequately off the ground. In the woods, bars would pinch, chains would dull, ATV would get bogged down or not be able to haul a load. Wagon axels break and tires pop. The labor filled many afternoons and weekends and it would be until October that the last stick was under cover. Fires had a recognizable sizzle; the reminder I was burning wood that had not yet fully dried. Some who find themselves on this path find an easy way out: oil.
Overtime however, my commitment to firewood only strengthened. I procured posts for stack ends, pallets to keep the wood off the ground. Metal roofing to more regularly keep wood dry. I'd borrow and eventually buy a hydraulic wood splitter. A few years ago, in building my office, we included a wood shed on the side so we've done away with metal roofing. With ibuprofen always at arms length, I remained committed to that woods life of mine. Then, last year a punctuating evolutionary step: I financed a tractor and forwarder. I can now cut and neatly stack 6 cords- log length in a couple weekends. Two more weekends and the wood is split and under cover. I can get ahead with ease.
After 15 years, I'm still gathering firewood and I expect the evolution to continue. I need the woodshed closer to the house, a much better wood stove, and some better insulation on the house. But my woods are in the best shape they've been in in years. Low-quality hardwoods are being removed given more room for better quality, longer-lived trees. Things are looking good out there.