There is an old saying that firewood heats you twice. If you’ve never heated with wood before, spend a day cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood and you’ll fully understand the meaning of that phrase. My parents grew up in an age before central heat and air. In the cold winter months, you burned wood to stay warm. In the hot and humid summer months, you kept the windows open and prayed for a breeze to stay cool, especially at night when you were trying to sleep.
When I was a child, we lived in a nice home with an oil furnace that heated the entire house, but my parents bought a Buck Stove fireplace insert and used that to heat with wood in order to save money. They were both from a generation that was taught to be frugal, work hard, and save. My mom loved a cozy fire though. Often, she would open the doors of the stove and sit on the hearth near the flames. Nothing heats like fire either. It is a warm, dry, radiant heat that warms you to the bone. Aside from the warmth, the fire also tickles your other senses. You can hear the flames crackle and pop. You can smell the split, seasoned oak along with the woodsmoke wafting up the chimney flue. Lastly, you can watch the embers glimmering below the logs while the flames dance merrily on top. If it’s nighttime, turn the lights out and enjoy the orange glow from the fire and the flickering shadows the flames cast upon the walls. All wonderful, right? Well, yes, but until I was eight years old, I thought my name was Get Wood.
Nothing in life is free and there is a cost for enjoying the simple pleasures of a fire on the hearth. I remember many Saturday mornings when my Dad would be outside before the sun came up, patiently sharpening his chainsaw. We’d be in the woods right when the sky began to turn gray with dawn and my Dad would crank that chainsaw and start felling trees. I remember sitting in the truck and praying that just once that saw would not crank, but it was a Stihl and it cranked faithfully. Every time. Anyhow, Dad would cut for a little while and then I would get out and start loading the truck. I could not throw the wood into the truck, I had to stack it in the truck so that we could haul as much as possible. I also had to pile all the brush up too. Once the front end of the truck was high in the air and the tail end of the truck was sitting on the rear axle, Dad would declare that we had a full load and we would pack it in and head home.
Think that was the end of my day? Oh heck no. Dad would pull the truck around to the woodshed and then he was off to work on some other job. My job was to unload the truck, split the wood, and then stack it in the woodshed. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. There is something satisfying about splitting a log with one swing of the maul. There is also something very satisfying about seeing a neat stack of firewood in the woodshed and knowing that you did that!
Fast forward many years. Mom and Dad grew older and eventually put in central heat and air. Their home is now heated with propane, but I carried on the tradition for many years after I married. My wife and I heated our home with an indoor Fisher Mama Bear wood stove. I remember many evenings; we’d come home from work to a freezing house. I’d build a fire in the stove and we’d stand on each side of the stove waiting for it to warm up. Neither of us ever thought of it as “hard times”. We talked about many things around that stove. We were both young and full of dreams and it was a happy time in our lives.
As we grew older, our family grew and so did our house. One indoor wood burning stove was not enough to heat it evenly, so we added another and it did not take long for me to realize that maintaining two indoor woodburning stoves was impractical (and a heck of a lot of work too). I had to get up every morning around 2:00 AM to put more wood in the stoves and that got old fast. The solution? A Hardy outdoor wood burning boiler furnace! Yep. We bought one and heated with it for another 15 years. It kept the house warm and toasty and it heated our water too. We never ran out of hot water. I saved a good bit of money burning wood because out in the country where we lived there were only three options for heat: wood, propane, and electricity. The cost of propane would fluctuate wildly, from reasonable to unaffordable, but never cheap. The cost of electricity was stable, but it was also high. The Hardy stove boasted a 24 hour burn time, but I had to load wood in it twice a day – once in the morning before work, and once in the evening before bed. At least I was getting to sleep through the night now, but the Hardy was a hungry beast with an appetite for wood that could never be sated. In the cold months, I burned a full-sized pickup load of firewood every week. Toward the end, I was so sick of cutting wood and splitting wood that I started buying wood and that was even more expensive than the propane or electricity. We finally sold the Hardy, or as I called it, The Beast. Some poor sucker is feeding it now and thinking they are saving a ton of money. Want to know how much I saved burning firewood? Maybe enough to pay for the surgery to fix my thumbs where picking up logs over the course of years has worn the cartilage away to nothing.
We still have our indoor wood burning stoves and a fireplace too. I keep one truckload of seasoned wood in the woodshed for emergencies such as power outages and ice storms, but now, when I’m cold I roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and tap that thermostat until my heat pump kicks on.
“Before enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.”