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.

Cutting brambles with a hedge trimmer

I’ve written before about mowing rides and glades with a scythe mower and a brush cutter before that. Six foot high nettles, cow parsley and saplings present no obstacle to this machine, but brambles are another story. Their branches run horizontally, tangle together and root when they touch the ground, creating a strong mesh. They need both horizontal and vertical cuts to cut them up and separate them from their roots. Last year I bought a petrol hedgetrimmer and yesterday I used it on big thicket of  brambles blocking a ride: its first proper outing.

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Creating the Glade

The glade at the centre of Century Wood was the first major feature I established after buying the wood almost ten years ago. I photographed the process as I went along and in this post I’ve brought the story together.

When I started there were no open spaces in the wood and just a short ride running from the gate but going nowhere near the wood’s centre. So I pretty much had a blank canvas. I roughed out some ideas for how to lay things out at the same time as completing the purchase in the first winter, but didn’t start work until the autumn – almost a year after first viewing and photographing the wood. In online woodland forums one of the first pieces of advice people now get is to wait a year before doing anything, and back then I knew I certainly wasn’t going to commit to any significant changes until I’d seen things in high summer.

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Mowing woodland rides and glades with a scythe mower

I started sketching out routes for the ride network when I bought Century Wood but only started work seriously about a year later. Before then as the first summer bloomed I was faced with ground vegetation, especially nettles, which threatened to become impenetrable. Over the years I’ve employed various techniques for mowing the rides and glades, or even just getting around. Eventually I settled on a scythe mower which is still serving me well seven years later.

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