The Drying Barn

The Drying Barn at Century Wood has made a big difference since I put it up in 2018. This post shows how the barn was built and then some pictures from September after another good tidy up of the stuff it “accumulates” – like garden sheds do, almost by themselves.

These two pictures show the Barn as it is now and one of the sketches I drew in January 2018 before I started. It’s next to the Log Cabin in the Glade at the centre of the wood.

I included a barn in the forestry management plan I wrote in 2012, as a place to store larger equipment, and to split, dry and bag up firewood. In practice I don’t leave equipment there, but it’s a great place to park the tractor and trailers when I’m around in wet weather.

I had to extend the Glade to make space for the Barn to avoid blocking the end of the roadway, and the first picture shows me cutting up poplar trunks and clearing space. The building is basically a pole barn, but with steel post anchors rather than setting the posts in concrete. I chose this method because I had a source of cheap post anchors and it will makes it easier to replace the posts in the future as they eventually rot. It also makes it simpler to level off, by levelling the post anchors rather than cutting the tops of the posts off to make them the same height. This stack of pressure-treated timber was used to make the frame and I put the posts up one by one.

I nailed it all together with a framing hammer, and I used the blue tarpaulins to start suppressing the ground cover which I’d not cleared down to the soil before starting. Overall the Barn is 15m by 5m, and 3.6m high at the apex. There was a blog post about my 5 day stay in the Log Cabin while I got the frame up.

Next I put the 6 inch vertical boards up with 2 inch gaps to allow air to circulate. This combination is enough to create a dry microclimate inside the Barn but with enough air circulation to carry moisture away from the firewood as it dries. The roof sheets rest on purlins which are nailed to the rafters. I treated the boards, rails and the ends of the rafters with Creocote which is water repellent but is largely cosmetic on the pressure treated timber. It does at least make the different shades of wood look more uniform.

Finally I brought the steel roofing sheets into the wood. They were 3.1m long and just right to cover each slope in one piece. I made L-shaped jigs out of scrap wood to hold a board in place in line with the bottom of the sheets, to help me align the bottom ends of all the sheets. As you can see for the first few sheets, it does a pretty neat job despite the imperfect roof frame.

The roof finished, with a view along the length of the apex sheets. Special roofing screws are used to stitch the sheets together and the screw them to the purlins. The last two pictures again show the Barn as it is now. You can see a slight ripple in the sheets, due to the frame itself not being entirely level. Roofing sheet advice always says the frame must be perfectly aligned but for an open structure like this, it’s not really necessary.

I used these tools for almost all the building work, plus tape measure and spirit level: wood saw; Vaughan 18 inch framing hammer – with a magnetic slot for putting in nails with one hand while holding on to a ladder; Screwfix own-brand cordless drill with hex driver and metal roofing sheet screws – short for stitching sheets together and long for fastening sheets to purlins.

Now some pictures about how I’m using the Barn. The big bay on the end allows a car or small van to be driven in, and makes it possible to load and unload in the dry or to load a trailer with logs directly from the wood piles. The current state of the wood piles, after taking a lot of logs home already. I’ve got some white builders bags there too, which are a common measure of loose firewood logs in the UK. One of the bays on the side of the Barn aligned with the side door of the Log Cabin and makes it quicker to get from one to the other in the rain. The last picture shows the space where I park the car and trailer for loading and unloading.

As with everything at the wood, sooner or later wildlife makes its presence felt. I’ve posted these 2019 photos before: a wasps nest in the corner between the boards; one of several remains of a grey squirrel on the earth floor of the Barn, probably brought in and eaten by a buzzard; a buzzard stretches its wings in the Glade below canopy height. As with the Log Cabin roof, buzzards use the Barn roof as a perch from which to swoop on their prey in the Glade.

Having the Barn has made a big difference and having dry, shaded space to work in when it rains or gets hot and sunny is really useful.

Finally, I’ve also made this video with a tour of the barn and more about how I built it.

Fences and boundaries

They say that good fences make good neighbours. When I bought Century Wood, my thought was not so much about neighbours but wanderers: wandering people and wandering deer. I put up stretches of fencing with this in mind, but over time they have come to define boundaries on the ground.

In practice, I’ve had very few run-ins with trespassers, although the first was quite a surprise. On my second visit after buying the wood in 2008, I heard shotguns and then three tweed-clad trespassers, two with guns, confidently wandered into what is now the central Glade where I was felling a tree. I suspect some local shooters had got used to the wood being unoccupied for many years. Signs and fences were an important part of stopping this, along with natural boundaries.

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Every Time Box video

I’m just back from the wood and I thought it might be interesting to have a look in my Every Time Box. That’s a toolbox I take with me on every visit. Even if I’m just passing and might drop in for half an hour. I keep all these things together in the box so I can just stick it in the car and not have to think what to take and get it altogether. If I’m going for a day, I fill a plastic crate up with the tools I need, and I have some big plastic boxes with lids for overnight stays in the Log Cabin. But the Every Time Box always has the essentials.

Rather than take a lot of photos and type descriptions, I’ve made a video in which I talk you through the contents of the box.

Do you do something like this? Please tell us what you always take with you to the woods in the comments!

Wood tractor 2 – trying out my mods

Last year I posted about buying a second-hand lawn tractor to use in Century Wood. I modified it during the winter to make it work better in the woods: for getting around and pulling the garden trolley that I’ve been dragging along the rides myself since 2008. Now I’ve tried it out and in this post I talk about the modifications I’ve made.

In the slider above you can see the before and after pictures. The tractor was in good working order, but had some patches of surface rust and flat tyres at the front. There was no grass cutting deck with it: when I went to collect it during a gap in the lockdowns, its eBay seller gave me the rusted lump that had been the deck for free, and I managed to salvage two pulleys from it before taking the body of the deck to recycling.

This video shows the mods I’ve made and driving the tractor around to look for fallen branches on the rides. The rest of the blog talks about the modifications in more detail.

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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. 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.

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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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Regulating wet firewood

Woodfuel has been in the news the last few days following the government’s announcement about restrictions on selling firewood to domestic users in England. What they’re trying to do is worthwhile, but the proposals raise some issues for owners of small woodlands. I believe there need to be exemptions for people selling less than about 50 cubic metres of firewood per year. Otherwise the regulations will inhibit small woodlands’ role in fighting climate change and attempts to bring half of England’s native woodlands back into management.

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“A wood of our own” by Julian Evans

I read “A wood of our own” by Julian Evans before I bought Century Wood, way back in 2007. I was already pretty sure I wanted to own a woodland, and Evans’ book helped confirm it. It’s become the book I compare other woodland owners’ books against, and I’ve looked through it again after reading and reviewing “A wood of one’s own” by Ruth Pavey.

Back in 2007 I had already read Evans’ book “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, which is out of print but still available as a free PDF from woodlands.co.uk. That is very much a How To book with a lot of practical advice. At the same time as “A wood of our own”, I bought Chris Starr’s “Woodland management: a practical guide” and Ken Broad’s “Caring for small woods”. Both of these are more formal (very formal in Starr’s case: it’s a textbook) How To books in the vein of “Badgers, beeches, and blisters”, whereas “A wood of our own” is autobiographical. A first person account of Evans and his wife and her brother purchasing and managing the wood.

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