(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
If you are preparing a retreat to be abundantly supplied when you bug out, but are not always using and replenishing wood, make sure that the wood is protected from rain and snow. Rotten wood does not provide as much energy. Also, make sure that you know where you can get more wood, should you start living in your retreat full time. Do you own your own timber? (Good thing to keep in mind when buying land.) How will you transport your logs to your home if you are in a crisis situation? It takes several medium sized trees to make a cord of wood. You need get into it before you will fully understand the investment of energy required for a season’s worth of wood.
To get wood into your fireplace, a tree needs to be felled, the length of tree needs to be sectioned into shorter lengths that will fit in your fireplace, and finally the wood is split longitudinally so that it is a diameter that burns well in your fireplace. Under normal conditions–that is to say, the society has not collapsed and you can obtain parts and fuel–a chainsaw is the ideal tool for felling and sectioning a tree. I currently use a Husqvarna 16” bar saw on trees that are typically 6” to 12” in diameter.
Each year I replace the spark plug and bar, and I typically purchase and use one or two new chains in order to process 6 to 7 cords of wood. Along the way, I sharpen the chains with a fine, cylindrical metal file. I keep telling myself that I’m going to get a Stihl 18” saw because it seems to work its way through the wood better and last longer, but the old Husqvarva keeps going well enough that it has been easy to put off that purchase. The macho in us all leans toward getting the largest, longest chainsaw available. However, when you are wielding a very unforgiving tool for hours on end, macho inclinations can be tempered. Be safe and thoughtful; get enough chainsaw, but not too much.
However, what about abnormal conditions; that is, conditions where you can’t buy parts or fuel. Under those conditions, I use a Collins axe or 30” bow saw to fell the tree, and the bow saw to section the tree. It is sometimes convenient to use a hand sledge to drive in a wedge into the tree to keep it from collapsing around your saw blade, regardless of what kind of saw you use. A bow saw and extra blades is a critical low-tech prep. These tools are very inexpensive, durable, easy to maintain, and long lasting. Good traits for when the grid is down.
To split the wood, my favorite and most versatile tool for splitting is an inexpensive Collins axe. (At the onset of the current coronavirus crisis, I bought an extra one just to be well equipped.) The Collins axe is heavy enough to fell a tree and easily split slightly damp wood, and it is wielded easily enough to split dried wood sections like a hot knife through butter, with little effort. Some people buy either a gas powered or hydraulic hand driven splitter, but for me the added gas guzzler or machine that needs parts is not worth it. A good axe gives me the feeling that I can provide wood in all situations, regardless of how long I will be providing wood. (Right now I am 63 years old; perhaps when I’m 80 I’ll break down and buy a mechanical splitter.)
When splitting wood, stand with your feet well apart so they are never in the path of your axe. Pay attention to what you’re doing, without distraction, so that the axe blade lands where you intend it to. Many a trip to the hospital has been as a result of someone looking away halfway through their swing, and the axe blade ricocheting off the log onto their shin or foot. When a beginner, practice with short swings on dry logs to build your confidence. I tend to split the wood right before it is used, so it has been dried for over a year and is therefore quite easy to split. That makes splitting wood a welcome, easy exercise during the winter, parceled throughout the season, so it is never an ominous task.
Once we have collected our wood, we stack it under a shed roof that keeps the rain and snow off it. It is not an entirely enclosed shed, so wind will get the wood wet on the sides. However, this amount of moisture doesn’t seem be excessive, and what is lost with a little moisture on the outside of the wood is more than compensated by the air flow moving through the stack, which we depend on to age and dry the wood. Usually I collect the wood that I will use a year later, and the wood that is used for the immediate winter was collected more than a year before. This does two things for me. It gives me a reservoir of wood that exceeds my needs for the immediate winter; and it assures that I am burning dry wood–which gives me the greatest amount of energy for the wood that I have collected.
People who use wood heat will burn the species of wood that are most available to them. In our area (mountainous Idaho), we have pine, spruce, fir, and aspen. We burn about 70% pine, 25% aspen, and 5% fir and spruce. The pine burns hotter than aspen, and gives off more creosote. Creosote is a product of incomplete combustion that, if it builds up in your chimney, will cause a chimney fire and potentially burn down your house. It will build up if your fire is not hot enough, or if it is not getting enough oxygen. Dangerous creosote buildup can be avoided by installing a fireplace thermometer (available at the local hardware store for a few bucks). The thermometer will help you keep your burn at a temperature that will not build up creosote.
Also, most stoves have some kind of air intake control. We keep ours at the maximum air intake to make sure the fire is getting enough oxygen to burn the wood as completely as possible. So far, using a fireplace heater to assure a hot fire and keeping the air intake at the maximum level has prevented creosote from accumulating. We brought out a chimney sweep to clean our chimney after about 25 years of seasonal use and 3 years of full-time use, and he found almost no creosote.
So when we want to warm our cabin quickly and thoroughly, we burn pine. When we want put a large log on the fire before we go to bed on a cold night, we’ll use aspen; which will burn at a lower temperature, less explosively, and produce less creosote.
A Quick Word About Wind and Hydro
Two renewable options that have not been discussed here are wind and hydro energy. Both wind and hydro energy sources can be wired to the inverter discussed in this article, but I haven’t used either of them, so I can’t comment much on them. I chose not to install a wind generator because we do not receive constant enough wind, and I didn’t want to mess with the maintenance needed for consistent energy production from wind. Hydro was not practical for us because of a lack of usable water source. However, in some circumstances, preppers may have the wind and water resources that would make either of these two options realistic.
In conclusion, energy planning is a vital component of planning and building your retreat. Using simple solar and wood energy sources, you can cover all of your needs in a cost effective manner, for an indefinite length of time. Good luck with your preps, and keep yourself and your loved ones safe!