Cutting hazel for firewood

One of my aims for 2021 is to be more organised about firewood, now that we have a wood stove at home too. I’m concentrating on the hazel that grows in the thin shade of the plantation poplar trees, since it’s a better firewood, and coppices well so it’s an easily renewable source. This post has some photos and a bit more about my plan for it.

First, here’s a slider comparison showing before and after pictures of one of the hazels on the edge of the Glade at the centre of the wood, which I cut this month.

Since I established the Glade, every few years I’ve cut back overhanging branches like this when they start to encroach. The next picture shows a close up of what the hazel looked like afterwards, with the thicker stems cut for firewood, a few smaller stems cut for overhanging, but most of the smaller stems left to thicken up. The cuts are sloped to tip the stems over in the right direction and to direct rainwater away from the centre of the stool or clump of stems that form these trees. I make brash piles out of the ends of the thicker stems, which are good for wildlife but here help define the edge of the Glade.

What I’m trying with this approach is “Coppice Selection”: you pick a minimum diameter for the stems you want, harvest all stems larger than that, leaving most or all of the thinner stems in place to thicken up.

Coppicing in Britain tends to be dominated by “Simple Coppicing”: you remove all of the stems of all the trees in a particular area. There you are typically aiming for thin, straight poles and rods. Hazel stems have a tendency to curve over to get more light if other stems shade them, but by starting all the stems at the same time, there is more chance they will grow up from the stool in straight lines.

However, as I’m just aiming for firewood, and short 10 inch (25 cm) lengths at that, I’m not worried about stems with a bit of a curve. I don’t have a use for thin stems, and I’m not producing enough to try to sell them. Coppice Selection allows me to avoid cutting and discarding those thin stems. Instead, they have a head start towards becoming logs I can use for firewood, and their green leaves are already there producing sugar to build more wood right from the first spring.

Up to now I’ve been cutting and seasoning hazel as firewood for the Log Cabin wood stove. These were mostly hazels that I needed to remove for establishing the rides and clearings, and I cut some for fence posts too. Here and there I’ve noticed how they’ve grown back, which is what suggested the idea of Coppice Selection.

These two pictures show one hazel stool that I cut in 2009 as part of tidying up the boundary of the Glade. It wasn’t planned at the time, but as you can see in the second picture taken this month, there are new stems several inches in diameter, mostly growing from the stumps I left, which have also thickened up.

Robert Scott Troup described the system in his “Silvicultural Systems” in 1928:

In principle the working of the coppice selection system is similar to that of the selection system in high forest. An exploitable girth or diameter is fixed according to the size of the material required, and an estimate is made of the age at which material of this size is produced; this age determines the rotation, which is divided into a convenient number of felling cycles, and the area is divided into annual coupes equal in number to the number of years in the felling cycle. Each year coppice fellings are carried out in one of the annual coupes, but only shoots which have reached the exploitable size are cut, those below this size being left.

Since the fraction of the hazel I’m intending to harvest is so low, I’m not going to be so organised about coupes and cycles, and will just be “cherry picking” trees to apply this to by eye, based on the number of sufficiently thick stems they have.

I’ve been stacking this batch of wood ready to take home in my trailer and season in a wood store I’m building. I took the opportunity to split some of the logs with the Fiskars X25 splitting axe I got in the recent B&Q half price clearance of Fiskars kit. Much better than the rather blunt splitting maul I’ve been using for years.

I’m planning to continue documenting how it goes this year, including the log store at home, the wood tractor and trailer for moving logs in the wood, and how the seasoning progresses.

So how did 2020 go?

Well, 2020 did not go as planned in Century Wood either! Every year I write myself a summary of what I’ve done and a list of what I plan to do, and I’ve been looking back at what I wrote back in January 2020.

The first thing is that I had planned to cut a lot more firewood than I did, but due to other work, travelling and an operation, I wasn’t able to get much done in January to March. So far, firewood has been for the Log Cabin, but in November we got a wood stove at home and so we’ve been rationing it. Next winter will be better as I’m being much more organised about cutting it now.

Continue reading “So how did 2020 go?”

Woodland Awards, 2020

At the end of this very odd year I received the award for Best Woodland Blog for (jointly with Clare Mansell’s Little Green Explorers). These awards are run by, one of the two main “retail” woodland sellers, and you can see the other winners in the winter 2020 edition of Living Woods magazine.

I’ve now received a box of prizes and a certificate. Sometimes these kind of things are token gestures, but in this case they are generous and genuinely useful.

Firewood numbers

There are a lot of numbers associated with firewood and I’ve tried to collect best estimates relevant to small woodlands, here in one place, along with enough context to use them. They’re not a substitute for what you actually see in your own circumstances, but they’re the kind of thing you need if you’re putting together a woodland management plan, prior notification for a drying barn, a business case, or even deciding roughly what you can do.

I’ve organised it in the same order as the firewood processing sequence: how much grows per year, what lengths to cut, when to split, how drying works, how much heat different species produce, loose vs stacked, and bag sizes.

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Woodland Hutting

I’ve added a page over on the website about Woodland Hutting – a proposal to extend the rival of hutting that has started in Scotland across the whole of Britain. Until the 1940s we had the freedom to build weekend and holiday huts on our own or rented land. How can we get that back, with appropriate environmental safeguards?

A rocking chair

Last month I invested in a wooden rocking chair for the log cabin. There have been benches there for years but on an evening you want something you can sit back in. In the past I’ve sometimes brought a folding garden chair, especially when staying overnight, but it’s better to have something there all the time.

Henry David Thoreau famously had three chairs in his cabin in the woods: “one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society”.

Thoreau was also an early proponent of the hutting tradition of bodging and scavenging, and what we now rather grandly call upcycling. In the chapter “Economy” of “Walden”, he explains:

My furniture, part of which I made myself — and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered an account — consisted of a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking-glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and and irons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp. None is so poor that he need sit on a pumpkin. That is shiftlessness. There is a plenty of such chairs as I like best in the village garrets to be had for taking them away. Furniture! Thank God, I can sit and I can stand without the aid of a furniture warehouse”.

Thanks to the internet we can advertise the contents of our garrets, lofts and garages on Freecycle if they are free for taking them away, or on eBay where there is a much wider choice. I bought my rocking chair on eBay for £25.

It’s a traditional fiddle-back style but the modern colour still looked a bit Ikea so I stripped the varnish off with paint stripper and applied dark oak wood stain.

The chair has already earned its keep on the long dark autumn evenings and during the rain storms I posted about last time. As so often, Thoreau was there first though:

“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain-storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.”

Storm Alex in the log cabin

I’d planned to spend most of the weekend at Century Wood before the warnings about Storm Alex started, and after a close look at the forecasts I went ahead. Despite 18 hours of continuous rain, the overnight stay was comfortable and I got a lot done on Sunday which was dry.

I made this quick video of the rain when I arrived on Saturday afternoon. It was basically like that until about 9am on Sunday. I got some firewood from the log store, fired up the wood stove, and unpacked the car.

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Response to the England Tree Strategy Consultation

I’ve been writing a response to this year’s England Tree Strategy Consultation. This is the essentially the final draft, which I will submit before the deadline on the 11th:  TreeStrategy2020Response.pdf

I focus on three problems with the planning system and the the new firewood regulations:

  • Consistent national guidelines for the minimum size of sheds, barns etc which will be viewed as reasonably necessary for forestry.
  • Processing wood into finished products should be classed within the definition of forestry, when using wood from the same woodland.
  • Woodland-based education should be classed as forestry.
  • The legal requirement to join the Woodsure auditing scheme at the cost of hundreds of pounds a year will wipe out any profit for many small woodland owners.

Continue reading “Response to the England Tree Strategy Consultation”