Fit for a King

Published on August 22, 2014
A warm feeling


Ash wood wet, and ash wood dry

A King may warm his slippers by

When Celia Congreve penned her Firewood Poem she obviously knew her trees. I have been thinking about firewood lately as I prepared my wood pile for the upcoming winter and recently had a load of wood delivered for next year. The load had a mix of rock maple and ash. Both species make great fire wood but also make great lumber.

I have already made plans to put the best logs to one side to have them sawn for lumber. I like fixing up old wood and canvas canoes so I am always looking for ash to make seats, thwarts and stem bands as well as canoe paddles. In addition to its strength and straight grain, ash is easy to bend so it lends itself to projects such as landing nets and so on. The ash I have is white ash, which is common throughout Nova Scotia.

A second species, black ash, is very rare. It is prized by First Nations for use in making baskets and a recent survey found only around a dozen mature trees in the province. Ash are facing a major threat with the spread of the emerald ash borer which made its way to North America from Europe a few years ago and is now devastating ash as it spreads across the continent.

I grew up in a home where we burnt wood and we have been heating our house with wood for over 30 years so it is a yearly task I am used to, and one that I actually enjoy. Henry David Thoreau in his classic book Walden, published in 1854, wrote that firewood warmed you twice. Once when you cut it and a second time when you burned it. As much as I admire Thoreau's writings on simplicity and self-reliance I think he was wrong. Wood warms you when you cut it, when you split it, when you pile it, haul it into the house, when you burn it and finally when you haul out the ashes.

Wood has several factors to recommend it as a fuel to heat your home. First it is renewable and, with proper management, new trees should grow to replace the ones you cut. Also, as those trees grow they are producing oxygen, and using up carbon dioxide, to help reduce greenhouse gases. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a wood lot you can manage the woods, and harvest your firewood, in a sustainable manner. If, like me, you have to purchase your wood you have several options: buy it in eight-foot lengths or buy it already cut and split.

My father, who is fond of saying that there is no sense getting old if you don't get smart along with it, bought his wood cut and split. His son, who hasn't reached the smart stage yet buys it in eight-foot length and as a result must cut and split it himself. Cutting, hauling and splitting takes a lot of work and time as well as a few tools. The first is a power saw. Although I grew up using a power saw and cut a few cords of pulp as a young fellow I still have great respect for a power saw and consider it the most dangerous tool you can use. Proper safety equipment is a must as well as your full attention at all times. Secondly, make sure the chain is sharp; a dull saw is both frustrating and dangerous. Once the wood is bucked into stove lengths the work is half done.

Fire wood must be split and dried to gain its full benefit as fuel.

Finally piling the wood, off the ground and in an area where the warm summer winds, and sun, will dry it completes the drying process. I finally built a wood house to shelter my wood a few years ago after struggling with tarpaulins for years. When I look at my wood pile I must admit to a certain level of satisfaction that, regardless of world events, at least we will be warm this winter. I think Thoreau would be pleased.


Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.