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Garden Woodworking

Chopped Wood

So, after cutting a tree down, what do you do with the wood?

In the last blog I talked about a few trees in our garden that had to be taken down. This creates a lot of wood, and I don’t like letting that go to waste. We use long, thin branches and twigs around the vegetable patch, mostly to produce screens and shields to keep the muntjac deer and badgers off the courgettes. We have a good system for composting down leaves into leaf mould, and we pile up twigs and roots to provide places for insects to work their magic. Here’s the root of the Cherry Tree for example, on its way back down into the earth.

But there’s still more wood in these trees that we can’t really use in this way. I’m not yet enough of a craftsperson to be able to fashion things directly from branches and tree trunks – my Father in Law is, and we always salvage the straightest and most knot-free bits for him to work with (more on that later…) – so what can we do with the rest?

Around the time the Bay tree came down, MakeWalkRead and I decided to replace a rather ugly gas fire in our end room with a much nicer looking and more snug feeling wood stove. This gave us an immediate answer to the wood question. We vowed that we would never buy logs to burn on the stove and would always look to utilise all that we had previously grown.

It didn’t take long for this to be extended into a service. Family, friends, and neighbours would find themselves with fallen trees or bushes that had become unmanageable. Would we like to salvage anything?

Here, for instance, is a tree that came down in our neighbour’s garden. We never identified what the tree actually was, but it was a double-win for us: the wood burned really nicely, lasting for several winters, and the tree had previously been casting shade over our vegetable patch during the afternoons.

And here is a rogue tree that had grown up wild and taken over the parking space at our friend Sop’s new house. We think it was Ash, but aren’t really sure. There was plenty of it though.

Add to this some conifers from my mum’s garden and the leylandii that friend Barry found leaning against his house after coming back from holiday. Add also two huge poplars that fell from the nature reserve into our neighbour’s garden, and our declaration to never buy wood for the stove has held for nearly a decade, and it looks safe for many years to come.

Of course, managing wood meant new tools. I immediately bought an axe. Well you would, wouldn’t you?!

I have since found that swinging an axe is great fun for the first half of whatever time it takes to split the wood. After that, it does my back in and leaves me hobbled for a day or so. Plus, swinging and missing the log is at best very embarrassing! So, I moved to a Wood Splitting Wedge and a Lump Hammer. Much easier to manage, more controllable and quicker to get through a pile of logs.

I needed saws to cut branches into logs too. I have got by with two in particular; a Bow Saw, which rips through green wood like nobody’s business, and a Pruning Saw which can get into awkward places, such as through roots that are still in the ground and through those tough points where boughs and limbs branch off from a trunk.

But of course, as with the axe, I also had to buy a chainsaw…

Here it is, being set up to tackle one of Father in Law’s old apple trees – the toughest wood I have ever encountered!

I’m actually very wary of this saw. It came as a necessity; some jobs are much too hard for the bow saw. I bought a very small electric model, in part to take away the complication of a petrol engine, and in part to reduce the temptation to use it on jobs that were difficult or hard to reach. I use it only on pieces that I can cut vertically and with space around me, and I always position and secure the wood to suit being cut safely. I have to say though, it goes through tree trunks like a hot knife through butter!

So, I mostly cut logs by hand. This supports the adage that a wood fire will warm you twice – I get a lot of exercise from wielding a saw.

The other tools I use include Loppers and Secateurs, for cutting small branches and twigs, and a small Hand Axe for splitting offcuts into kindling. It all gets used. I have even recently begun saving the wood shavings from the Hand Plane as these make excellent fire starters.

All this wood needs places to store and season. You really shouldn’t burn green wood in a stove. I have made a rule that nothing gets burned unless it has had at least a year to sit and dry out – longer if possible. I will leave logs for many years if they have come from a softwood like leylandii which can produce resins that will clog up a stove’s chimney, or laurel which produces prussic acid when green, and gives off cyanide.

I build wood stores out of whatever scrap wood I have at hand. They are basically an open shelf with a roof over the top that allow the wood to be stacked up somewhere dry and out of the way with room for air to circulate around.

Replacing a fence was a great way to get lots of old feather board that could serve some extra time as the roof of a wood store. Similarly, dismantling an old shed resulted in lots of grotty but still usable planks and strips of wood for construction. Old pallets of course are excellent for this kind of thing. Here are some examples:

This store sits outside the end room with the wood stove. I keep it filled with wood that is fully seasoned and ready to burn. I made the shelves by putting a frame to some old wire shelves that were once part of a pop-up greenhouse.

The main stores sit at the end of the house and were made from old decking, with metal rods from a defunct fruit cage to hold the logs in at the sides. There are two of these, either side of the chimney.

Sop’s Ash tree produced so many logs that I had to build a new store just to hold it. This is tacked on the side of the shed and is two rows deep. The base is an old pallet, cut in two and staggered to accommodate the slope of the ground here, and the sides are I think old strips of wood that used to hold up curtain rails.

The laurel, that I described in the last blog, was clearly going to generate a lot of wood. So, I built a new store for it even before I began the job. This sits behind The Den I built for my son. Once again, it has a sawn up pallet for a base, and old fence panels for the roof. The sides are scraps from some shelves I took out of a fitted wardrobe that I removed (and that I keep meaning to write about). This too is two rows deep to allow plenty of room for the wood, and by chance was exactly the right size to hold everything that came off the tree.

I did say I would give a mention to Father in Law, who gets first choice of any wood we cut down. Here are a few of the pieces he has given back to us in return:

Bowls, turned from the trunk of the Cherry tree (fittingly, one filled with cherries.)

A candle holder, from a piece of Sop’s Ash.

I shall try and learn how to do this sort of thing one day, when time permits.

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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