Firewood handled only twice

December 23, 2012

Ironwood (hornbeam) is an inconspicuous weed tree which grows beneath the maples, walnuts, and towering beeches of the forest crown. It fills in sunlit spaces if it can, and if not will stretch up forty feet until it eventually dies from root disease and falls over. Its cadavers litter the forest floor, often suspended a foot or so above the ground, dried like bones.

My dad built fences with them. He claimed ironwood rails would last twenty years, and a horse couldn’t break them. But now that there’s no more livestock on the farm, the dead ironwoods have become a mess of pick-up sticks.

I decided it was time to launch a small campaign to clean up the view from the trails.

My new Husqvarna 346 is light and fast. The 20” bar reaches the ground with little back strain.

At 44” in width and with excellent ground clearance, the Bolens G174 can get to any part of the woodlot to pick up cut blocks.

Last winter I discovered that the Walco 3 pt hitch dump box on the Bolens holds as much firewood as the 5’ bucket on the larger tractor. What’s more, it can back directly into my workshop and unload at the woodpile beside the stove.

Think of it: firewood handled only twice.

But a run back with the Ranger to cut a couple of ironwoods and then returning with the tractor to haul it out seemed wasteful to me, so on a wet day I built a scabbard from two 6” boards rabbetted to create a slot for the saw’s blade.

First I bolted it vertically to the bumper of the tractor. That worked fine until I tried to change the oil. Oops. Couldn’t open the hood. Off it came. Internet searches offered no real suggestions apart from the odd bit of butchery of the tractor’s sheet metal. The scabbard wouldn’t mount behind the seat. There wasn’t room on the little tractor.

Then I looked at the right fender. If I could hold it in place there, it wouldn’t interfere with much of anything. A leftover fitting from a plastic tractor canopy spanned the handrail and bolted the scabbard in place. A loop of string slipped over the starter cord to keep the saw from working its way out while underway if I forgot to set the chain brake.

It takes an hour on a fine day to cut enough ironwood to fill the box, bring it to the shop and add it to the woodpile. No block is larger than 6”, so the splitter isn’t needed. The surprise is how well the forest-dried wood lasts overnight. Ironwood, it turns out, makes excellent firewood.

There’ll still be lots of use for the logging winch, the hydraulic splitter, the loader on the tractor with a cab, even the manure spreader with beaters removed, but firewood handled with all of this equipment requires many stages of production and quite a bit of diesel.

The little tractor-with-saw-attached uses less than a litre of diesel per hour of operation and requires little strength of its operator. It looks like a system which could work for me well into my seventies.

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