Roughing it, Part 2: No such thing as too much firewood

This is the next installment in a semi-regular series of yarns about living

off the grid, even if for a weekend.

Most folks would agree that limits do not exist for such things as too much money or too much fun. In the world of off-the gridders, I would add one more to that list: firewood.

My father often would wait until the first snow in western Nebraska before he’d pile all four of his boys in the pickup and seek out a log pile to get the winter wood.

He’d give us brown cotton gloves that lasted about four minutes before the finger tips wore out. But it didn’t matter. Most of the time, the wet, soggy gloves would hold enough cold to numb any pain caused by splinters or stubbed fingers.

An ordeal as a little boy has grown into a very strange fascination in my life. I now make excuses to spend some quality time behind a chainsaw or splitting maul.

But my wood craze has a practical side.

I need firewood for the woodstove in my canvas outfitter tent. I need chunks of cellulose for the little woodstove that heats my cabin near Lake Roosevelt.

I also need firewood for the campfire ring at the cabin, and for the two lovely ladies in my life who crave a roaring fireplace.

To keep enough supply for that demand, I spend many a late-winter weekend felling dead-standing trees.

Cutting early in the year gives the wood the necessary time to dry and season before the next winter.

But even more important than cutting the wood is having a place to keep it out of the elements. Preferably, that solution doesn’t include a 12-by-15-foot chunk of blue plastic.

I built my first seasoning shed out of six logs I sunk into the ground and a bunch of two-by-fours I salvaged from the stupidest dog-run ever built. I added a steel roof and now all the wood I need for my cabin woodstove is perfectly seasoned.

My second seasoning shed took all of 90 minutes. I laid three logs across two huge boulders near my fire ring. I then hammered a bunch of 2-by-6s I had under the cabin as cross braces. I placed them every 12 inches or so and then added the steel roof.

But my masterpiece of using found materials was my latest creation. And it cost me $75 worth of new materials.

My planning started by gathering the scrap lumber I had on hand. I had several 12-foot-long 2-by-6s and several weathered boards that were salvaged from a fire.

A trip to the hardware store in Hunters, Washington, got me the four treated posts and concrete footers. And then I began.

One of the tricks I learned from my contractor friend, Mark, was to design buildings, additions, decks or whatever, based on standard lumber lengths.

For instance, an 8-foot square deck saves both time and money because the lumber is virtually ready to install as soon as you get it on the jobsite if you buy the standard 8-foot boards.

In this case, I decided – largely based on the found materials – that I would build an 8-foot square shed.

I designed the shed to hold about three cords of wood. But I also extended the roof by 2 feet on either side so that I could stack rounds of wood under the roof until I have room to split them and add them to the larder.

I only used a generator for a couple hours so that I could rip a couple 2-by-8s in half and cut the steel for the siding. Otherwise, I built everything else with a hammer, handsaw and rechargeable drill.

I had enough of the fire-salvaged boards – ones that were too weathered for anything else – to complete the building with a free-floating floor. I also designed the floor to have a slight rear-to-front slope so that any rain that blows inside will run out the front.

The open-wall design allows air to circulate from below and above the wood stack. While the air comes in, the steel roof keeps the rain and snow out.

I found that it’s much more satisfying to create using leftovers and castoff boards that otherwise would have been wasted. And, it allows me to treat firewood with respect – like it’s going to keep me warm all winter long.

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