Gathering, Splitting, and Stacking Firewood

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Math

Preschool/Kindergarten

  • Have your child help measure the size of a cord of wood and mark the dimensions.
  • Let them play inside the area.
  • Show them what a 70 and 20 degree angle looks like. 

Middle School/High School

  • When felling trees, mark the tree with the 70 degree and 20 degree angles.
  • Why does making the three cuts correctly make the tree fall how you want it to?
  • What would happen if you used smaller angles? Larger?
  • Measure the lengths for bucking the wood. 
  • Estimate how many pieces of firewood are in a cord of your wood and how long that will last you. 

Safety

Preschool/Kindergarten

  • Have your child try on some of the safety gear you use for wood gathering, splitting, and stacking.
  • Ask them how it keeps you safe.
  • Discuss safety with the chainsaw and other tools.
  • Teach them not to play around the wood pile and how they can get hurt if they do.

Middle School/High School

  • Write down all the recommended safety gear for splitting and stacking wood.
  • Show you how to properly use the safety gear and give a demonstration.
  • Parents: If you are felling trees, take them along and teach them the safety measures involved.
  • Teach them to stack wood so that the wood pile will not fall. 

Language Arts

Preschool/Kindergarten

  • Start familiarizing your child with the vocabulary words for this lesson.
  • For handwriting, have them use pieces of firewood to make letter shapes outside. 

 Middle School/High School

  • Learn the meanings of the vocabulary words (Splitting and Stacking Wood Vocabulary).
  • Make a booklet highlighting the process of obtaining firewood from the forest. Include how to do it and safety measures. Pictures are optional, but count as art if included. 

Gathering, Splitting, and Stacking Wood

If your family uses a wood stove, then they will be splitting and stacking wood. It is possible to buy already split wood, but it is costly. Ideally, each homestead would have a good supply of trees available to be used for firewood. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes you can go into the national forests and cut dead trees down or select fallen trees. There are times when you might have to buy wood from the nearby lumber yard (discarded pieces). No matter what your source of wood is, you will either need to split it, stack it, or both. 

Equipment

One piece of equipment that is extremely helpful on the homestead is the chainsaw. Your chainsaw must be the proper size for the job you are performing. If you are cutting down larger trees, you will want a longer bar (the guide for the chain), while smaller trees and limbs would only need a shorter bar. Proper maintenance on your chainsaw will keep it running well. Be sure to oil the bar according to the instructions for your saw. Gas powered chainsaws use a gas and two-stroke/two-cycle engine oil mix – again, read the instruction manual for your saw. Sharpen your chainsaw blade when it is spitting out dust instead of wood chips. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to be sure you are sharpening correctly. 

Safety Equipment

There is some safety equipment that is good to have if you are using a chainsaw.

  • First, you should have eye protection. There are pieces of wood flying everywhere as you cut with a chainsaw, and the eye protection will keep your eyes safe from foreign objects.
  • Next, ear protection will keep your hearing from being damaged. Chainsaws are loud and are usually run for an extended amount of time. Continuous exposure to the noise can cause hearing damage.
  • Chaps and boots are also good safety items to wear. The chaps can protect your legs if your chainsaw happens to slip and come in contact with them.
  • Boots (especially steel-toe) can protect your toes from heavy logs that can drop on them.
  • Gloves will protect your hands from scratches, cuts, slivers, and other uncomfortable injuries that can happen around wood.
  • Wearing a helmet can protect your head from stray branches or parts of a tree that fall down. Always have a buddy along when cutting wood – in case of an emergency, the companion can get help.
  • Also be sure to have a first aid kit nearby for small injuries, and a manual with directions of how to treat more serious injuries. 

Tools

There are a few more tools that are handy when cutting firewood.

Wedge

  • A wedge is a device that tapers to a thin edge and is usually made of metal or wood. You can use one in a tree you are felling and it will help that tree fall where you want it to. Using a wedge when cutting wood that is on the ground will keep your chainsaw from getting pinched in the wood.

Axe

  • An axe usually has a steel blade attached at a right angle to a wooden handle. You can use an axe to trim limbs or to split and chop your firewood. Have you seen a double sided axe? These can do the duty of two different axes, but can require more experience to use.

Maul

  • A splitting maul is a blunt, fat, heavy tool designed to cut along the wood grain and force the wood apart. One side of the head is like an axe and the other is like a sledgehammer. 

Felling A Tree

There is a lot of skill required to fell trees. If you have the right equipment and a place to get wood, you can expect to harvest about a cord of wood a day. While you can fell a tree using a saw or an axe, it is much easier and more efficient to use a chainsaw.

To get a tree to fall in the direction you want it to, you will need to cut a notch on the side that faces that direction. This is done with three cuts – the face (or top) cut, the undercut, and the back cut. Some people start with the face cut, some with the undercut. Discuss as a family which one you start with and why.

>>>Face Cut & Under Cut Diagram 

  • The face cut is made downward at a 70 degree angle until you reach ⅓ of the diameter of the tree.
  • The undercut is an upward cut at a 20 degree angle that stops when you reach the bottom of the face cut.
  • The goal is to create a notch opening of 90 degrees.
  • The last cut is the backcut. Begin this on the opposite side of the tree from the notch. Start at the level of the corner of your notch. Cut flat, and stop when you reach a point where the hinge that is left is 1/10 the diameter of the tree. This should result in the tree falling just where you planned.

Here is a video on YouTube that shows these cuts being used.

 Bucking The Tree

Once the tree is down, the next step is bucking the tree. What is bucking? It is the process of sawing the tree into logs.

  • First, remove branches and limbs from the trunk using the chainsaw or axe.
  • For safety, cut the branches and limbs from the opposite side they are on to minimize risk of injury.
  • The standard bucking length is 16 inches, but your family might use a different length.
  • Once the bucking is done, the next step is splitting and stacking.
  • If you are in the woods felling trees, you may need to haul the wood home.
  • The logs can be loaded into a trailer or you can do the splitting while there on site. 

Log Splitting

Splitting logs is wonderful exercise! You can use an axe or a splitting maul. The splitting maul weighs more, so it will tire you out a lot sooner.

  • Place your log on the chopping block (normally just a short, fat log or stump).
  • Face the log you are cutting with your shoulders square to it and your feet shoulder length apart.
  • Place your dominant hand at the base of the axe head, and your other hand near the bottom of the handle.
  • As you swing, your dominant hand will slide down the axe handle to meet your other hand.
  • As the axe drops, bend your knees and pull your hips back for extra energy in the swing.
  • Aim your swing at the center of small logs and closer to an outer edge of larger logs.
  • Normally you will split a log like you would cut a pie.
  • If you have a heavy log, you will benefit from using a sledgehammer and a wedge to split the wood.
  • There are some logs that have twisted, difficult wood that will not allow the pie-type cuts.
  • Split difficult logs into segments however it is possible.
  • Be sure you are cutting firewood sizes that will fit into your woodstove. 

Stacking Firewood

Once the wood is split, it needs to be stacked. Have you ever seen a woodpile that looked like it was ready to topple over? It is important to stack wood correctly, not only to help it season better, but also for safety.

  • Wood should be stored off the ground – pallets are great for this.
  • You can also lay scrap wood on the ground as a base for the firewood piles.
  • Stack the cut wood in a woodshed that will protect it from the rain and snow. This is a great way to keep your wood if you have the ability to have one.
  • There are many ways to stack wood, so it is important to discuss as a family your preferred way to do it.
  • Do not stack the wood tightly together – there needs to be plenty of airflow to help the drying process. 

Wood Pile Location

The location of your wood pile or wood shed is very important.

  • Choose a place that gets lots of sun, and where the wind will blow through the stack. Doing this will help the wood to dry quickly and be ready for burning when you need it.
  • The woodpile should be no less than 5 feet away from the house – 30 feet away if you live where wildfires happen regularly.
  • Be sure that it is in an accessible spot at all times of the year.
  • A woodpile that is a ways from the house might be great in summer, but will it still be easy to reach when there is 3 feet of snow on the ground? 

Wood Sizing

You may have often heard of a cord of wood or a rick (or face cord) of wood.

  • How much wood is a cord?
  • First, the measurement of a cord of wood is 128 cubic feet of stacked firewood.
  • The generally accepted measurements of a cord are 4 foot by 4 foot by 8 foot.
  • Using wood that is the standard length of 16 inches, 3 stacks of wood 4 foot high and 8 foot long will give you a cord of wood.
  • As long as the stack measures 128 cubic feet, it can be called a cord no matter how it is stacked – even if it is stacked in a round shape.
  • A rick of wood is usually 4 feet high and 8 foot long or any other shape that would have a 32 square foot face.
  • A rick is not a very accurate measure of firewood because the size varies according to the length of the firewood.
  • The typical 16 inch length of firewood would mean your rick would only be ⅓ of a cord.
  • Many people haul their firewood with a pickup truck (or sell it that way).
  • A full size 8 foot truck bed stacked to the top of the bed with wood will give you about ½ cord. 

Splitting and stacking firewood is very satisfying and a wonderful way to exercise. It can also be very dangerous, so be sure you follow safety precautions for the whole process. 

Weekly Bible Verse

Proverbs 26:20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. 

We need to be careful with our words. Especially within our family and circle of friends, talebearing can cause a lot of strife. Make it a goal to not gossip about people and to use words that build up rather than tear down.

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