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Not my favourite time of year. Last time I posted we were enjoying the end of a warm Autumnal November. Now we’re at the end of a drenched December and January that seems an impossibly long time ago and everything is just so Wet!

It’s been unseasonably warm (I’m told we should learn to expect that as the climate changes) and that doesn’t help at all as all my carefully prepared stacks of firewood have been exposed to continually moist air.

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The must-have present this winter for the firewood hunter gatherer of the family is the book attractively entitled ‘Norwegian Wood’ a well written story of woodsmen, firewood and beautiful Norwegian piles of firewood stacked outside and covered in snow.

But here in the British Isles our firewood no matter how carefully split, stacked and dried during our relatively long summer is exposed to moisture laden gales – now replete with everyday names. Today we’re enjoying ‘Storm Henry’ at a relatively balmy 12 degrees above zero (C).

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The result – my carefully seasoned, split and stacked firewood is shockingly wet! Almost 30% on this piece of oak chosen at random from the stack outside my front door. That’s a lot more water in the log than I’d like to have – 300g of water in a 1kg log and all of that has to be ‘boiled’ off up the chimney. That’s all energy not available to heat the house, resulting in a cooler stove and potentially more tar blocking up the chimney as inefficient combustion at cooler temperatures mixes volatile chemicals and moisture.

So what went wrong? Nothing other than our British ‘maritime’ climate. We just can’t do Norwegian Wood over here. It’s too warm and too moist. Wood is hygroscopic – in other words – it will absorb moisture from it’s environment. If the atmosphere is above zero (C) and moist then dry wood will become damp. There is an equilibrium moisture content, and at a few degrees (C) with the relative moisture content of air up to between¬† 90 and 100% (the air is saturated with moisture) as it has been for months now. Then my air dried logs will be returning to somewhere over 20% and perhaps as high as 30% depending upon how quickly the moisture is absorbed and how long it stays moist.

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What can I do about it? Not much outside. With so much rain and overcast days there is little hope of using the sun to dry the wood. Even expensively (environmentally as well as financially) kiln dried firewood will become damp in this weather. The same applies to the net bags of logs left standing outside filling stations or garden centres. If they weren’t damp when they were delivered they will be by now.

All I can do is ensure that I take my logs into the house and give them a day or two beside the fire (but not too close of course) before I burn them.

By chopping my firewood into smaller sizes and letting the warmth run through them I can reduce the moisture content to below 20% which enables a more efficient combustion in the stove as well as reducing the moisture released up the chimney.

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So don’t forget to bring your logs inside at least a day or two before you need to burn them, chop them up good and small (you’ll get warm all over again) and run your stove hot enough for efficient burning.¬† But most of all I hope your logs are nice and dry wherever you are burning them this winter!

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I am not the fastest to get going in the morning especially when its dark and cold outside. There always seems to be plenty to do before I can leave, so at this time of year I tend to end up working into the twilight and sometimes by torchlight until I become accustomed to the early evenings again.For a couple of evenings recently the moon has helped out, casting a cold blue light over the work site and I couldn’t help trying to take some photos of the contrast with the warm red light from the dying fire..

There is a tawny owl in the woods very close to the site . As the light fades I sit in a chair and I can hear her (apparwntly you can tell because the females call the males ‘twit’ whereas as the males call to the females ‘twoo’!) as she moves round the fire.

It seems as if I’ve been on this job for ever and it has taken a lot longer than I anticipated but I’ve finished enough timber for various projects as well as bits and pieces for friends. There is still more to mill up but I’ve finished the work at the site for now and spent some time clearing up. Very little will be wasted as the offcuts will go to make firewood shelters at my charcoal site, if not for more chairs (they seem to be much appreciated by all, and I have a couple of orders already).
I’ve left quite some of the timber as ‘waney edge’ boards, a little different and more rustic than what you buy at B&Q, but I can rip them down later to square them off if needs be. Unwanted logs will go to the firewood pile on the commons and the last task is to move the sawn timber from the site to a more sheltered location.

It will take a few days to complete this in between other jobs, even with the help of the tractor and trailer.

 

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The Lynchmere commons covers 300 acres of mixed heathland and woodland on the edge of West Sussex between Haslemere and Liphook. In 1998 the commons were purchased from the Cowdray Estate by a local society (The Lynchmere Society). At that time the commons were almost entirely very poor scrub woodland with only remnants of heath. Over the last 10 years a lot of progress has been made in clearing scrub and restoring areas of lowland heath with much of the work being carried out by volunteers.

 

I started working on the commons as a volunteer in 2000 to get experience in conservation work and as stress relief. I enjoyed it so much that now I help to manage the commons. Clearing fallen trees from paths and fencelines is one part of what I do on the commons. The wet weather this year has caused a lot of problems for trees. At some times of the year tree clearing can be on a regular basis especially with all the birch trees growing on the poor heathland soil (upper greensand of the Western Weald).

 

But the birch I cleared this morning had fallen because of a fungus in its roots. I think its a Ganoderma applanatum (or Artist’s Fungus) but I will be very happy to hear from anyone who can offer a more accurate diagnosis. Ganoderma rots the roots and base of the tree so it will fall very easily. You can see the bracket in the photo – brown top with white margin and white underside.

 

From the stump you can see the rot was quite well advanced in the base of the trunk (click on the image to enlarge it). Very little sound wood remained so the tree snapped off just above the base. This one went only a foot above the ground but when it pivots a few feet off the ground while being cut down its called a widow’s seat or barber’s chair , both references to the danger of being caught behind it when it goes.
As it happens I wanted some fresh birch for turning this week as I have some wood turning to do and some hook tools that were worked on at the weekend to try out. I managed to find a few lengths of the tree that might be useful for turning, the rest will go onto the firewood pile.

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It’s not what I’d planned to do today, but I just needed to sit by the fire this afternoon.

The pine project is taking a little longer than I anticipated, having been rained off over the weekend and with progress a little slower than I had thought. But I am now back on it for the next 3 days. I need to plank up another 10 logs, burn up the old brash and then tidy the site, as I will be onto other jobs for a while.

Having a good fire going is an invitation to sit by it, so all I needed was a chair. No time for anything elaborate but luckily I have a pile of pine offcuts and they need to be used one way or another. A simple way to make a seat is to take two large offcuts and bore a hole through one (the seat back) allowing the other to placed through it as a rustic seat. Generally the larger the offcut the more throne-like and eye catching is the eventual seat. Surprisingly enough they are very comfortable – this may be because of the slope backwards on both the seat and backrest.
I first saw one of these chairs placed at a local viewpoint in a chestnut coppice looking out over the Weald towards the South Downs. That was made several years ago by Colin when he cut the coppice. I will leave a couple here and hope they get as well used.

 

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Why is a lot of something referred to as a shedload? Perhaps because an empty shed is a rare thing? It certainly is in my case, but the reason that this is a shed load is because it will be my new shed….eventually. In fact its about a half a shed load at most, but then I am planning quite a large shed. The pile of timber is the result of the last few days work and is now air drying before use.

To move the logs onto the sawbench my capstan winch has been pressed into service. Once the logs are in front of the bench I can then roll them by hand.
This landrover is a 1960 Series II that should be taking it easy in its retirement but it still works for a living. It also has to carry my pole-lathe and shelter to all the shows.

For those who have been watching the recent TV documentary Axmen following Oregon lumberjacks, this is my version of the skyline, and it comes with all of the sound effects and bleeps.

The capstan winch made light work of moving the logs. Not everything went according to plan as this is the second rope this week, the first one broke under the strain.


There is something about a fire that makes a worksite, especially as the weather gets colder. Here the pine brash is burnt, to keep me warm. but only the wood that won’t be used as kindling or firewood so little is wasted.

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The wet summer weather has put me way behind on some jobs. One of these is to make pine planks from some timber logs we cut early in the year.Planks are always useful and I have a number of small projects for the winter that will use quite a lot of wood, so as the weather has been reasonable this week I’ve been spending a lot of time making them.

The woods are on Marley Common, an area which is now a mature pine plantation but which was open heathland for many centuries. It is slowly being returned to lowland heath and we felled about 20 trees to make a wildlife corridor at the start of the year. With the poor weather the pine logs are starting to go off so its the last chance to make decent timber from them

To make planks I use a chainsaw mill. This is a powerful chainsaw (for afficionados I am using a Shtil 660, thats a 92cc saw with a one piece milled 25inch 3/8 bar and a PMZ 1/4inch ripping chain)as cutting down the grain of the wood is much harder work than crosscutting. To make the work much more accurate the chainsaw fits into a cradle which runs up and down an 18ft long guide rail. The logs are rolled (easy to say but not so easy to do) up onto the log bench and the arms can then be raised and lowered on the ratchets to allow accurate cutting.

A chain saw mill is slow work in comparison to a mobile bandsaw (woodmizer) or even a lucas mill (mobile circular saw system). It also creates a lot more sawdust than other narrower blades. What to do with a tonne of pine sawdust? Sadly nothing as far as I am aware. But it is easy to carry to the site and to store when not in use. Although I was very tempted to upgrade to a bandsaw it doesn’t make sense for an occasional user like me and even the top of the range Logosol M7 system which I am using here costs a fraction of a mobile bandsaw which makes it affordable. For more on cutting timber with big chainsaws you can find the logosol UK website here – Logosol UK .

When I started planking a few years ago I just used a standard chainsaw, a simple home-made guide rail and chainsaw attachment. I was hooked instantly. It just feels good to be able to utilise logs that otherwise would go to waste and to make something using timber that you have milled yourself. As well as saving money and timber miles! You can start very simply and cheaply. Some people use simple attachments which hang off an aluminium ladder to get the straight cuts. It’s hard work doing the work manually but it really pays off when you have isolated hardwood logs in places that you can’t easily reach with anything but a chainsaw and lightweight mill. The planks can be carried out when the logs often can’t be extracted.

The finish on the planks is excellent and it always surprises people that its so clean. It can be used as it is for external work or put straight through a planar/thicknesser for planed planks. It doesn’t save a lot of time and money to make pine planks as they are so cheap at the building merchants but as I have both the mill and the timber it seemed to make sense at the time.

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