Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Life's a beech


Among the scores of trees on our 2 1/2 acres was a magnificent and ancient beech. It stood at least 50 feet tall and had a circumference at the base of over 6 feet. It stood within touching distance of our spanking new garden shed and, alas, it was rotten at its roots. Huge holes had been dug into it by everything from microbes to insects to, no doubt, snakes. With regret, we had to face the fact that it must come down.

Dwight was the man for the job. He was the foreman on the framing crew, the man who directed all the very intricate carpentry that made all those peaks and valleys on our roof a reality. He's a master carpenter and also a nice guy who's always hustling a few extra bucks. That's what we paid him to cut the tree down--it was on the ground, cut into immense, even logs, when we returned from our Nags Head vacation in September.

It goes without saying that the eventual destination for this wood bonanza is our fireplace. To get it ready for service, the next step for us was to split the logs into hearth-size pieces, and Dwight said we could borrow his gas-powered hydraulic log-splitter to do the job. We still had to finish building the shed and then siding it, so the task had to wait a few weeks. And in those few weeks Dwight, that sterling character of a master carpenter, made like a contractor and disappeared. "Oh, yes," he said, when we called him to confirm he would still lend us the splitter. But he never showed up on the appointed day, and he stopped returning our calls. He'd gotten his money and had no sentimental need to continue the relationship.

So there we were with many many beech logs to split and nothing to split them with. We looked at renting a splitter and were prepared to do that, even at $69 a day, because we thought we had no choice. Then our Deep Creek Shores neighbors stepped into the breach. One of them stopped by for a chat and in the course of the conversation he mentioned that another neighbor had a splitter we could probably borrow. Relieved, we called that neighbor to talk log splitters. He said we were welcome to his, but it hadn't worked in months and he'd trashed it. He'd ordered a new one, but it wouldn't be delivered for weeks.

Back to the rental idea. Since these splitters are big machines that have to be towed, and none of our vehicles has a trailer hitch, our plan was to borrow the truck and trailer from the same guy (yet another neighbor) from whom we had borrowed them to clear brush. But he had major qualms about letting us drive the rig all the way to the rental place in Elizabeth City. Insurance concerns. He was very apologetic and it was clear he felt bad about leaving us in the lerch, but we understood, probably would feel the same way if we'd been the lenders. We went back to square one with our plans, preparing to actually rent a trailer to pull the splitter down from E. City, when the truck-and-trailer neighbor called us to say he remembered yet another neighbor who had a splitter! That was the middle of last week. We called neighbor number 4, and we got the response with which we were becoming depressingly familiar: we were welcome to borrow his splitter, but it wasn't running at the moment. The difference this time, however, is that this guy is a whiz-bang mechanic who can make anything with a carburetor run. He said he'd be able to fix the splitter over the coming weekend (this previous one), and we'd be able use it for as long as we needed it after that. Since it rained all last week anyway, no untoward time was lost. We found other things to do on the property while it rained.

Finally, last Sunday, Mr. Mechanic delivered the splitter. A noisy monster that applies 14 tons of hydraulic pressure to split the biggest log we'll ever see (and that's not even the biggest, which comes in at 20 tons), it will be our boon companion all week. It took us a mere two days to reduce the mighty beech tree to the stacks of wood you see in the photo above. That is about 132 cubic feet of wood, slightly more than a cord. It will last us several lifetimes. And we aren't even finished. Tomorrow we'll tackle this pile, which was saved from the original land clearing. It's oak and cypress, and there's at least another cord there.

Need some firewood?

11 comments:

Kemp said...

Damn! Can you say "butch"?

Ralph said...

Kemp: HA! We are HOT! Sssss........

Cuidado said...

You're certainly learning lots of new skills; skills I have used for years but no longer heat with wood. They say wood heats you several times. You have to haul it from the woods, cut it, split it, stack it, carry it indoors, stack it again, clean out the ashes, sweep the constant mess....yes, you get heated several times by one cord of wood.

Ralph said...

You're right about that Cuidado! I di get sick of cleaning out the ashes and all the dust they cause, but I just love a fire. We won't heat the house with it, just enjoy the flames...but between the great room fan and the blower in the fireplace itself, we will get extra heat from it. It's the same kind of fireplace we had in Arlington. Can't wait to use it. It'll be next winter, giving this wood enough time to cure.

Charlie Metro said...

What a happy transition time (despite the one guy who disappeared). For years this confirmed city boy traveled home to Connecticut to join with cousins to split, cart, stack firewood in the basement for my parents in the circa 1752 house I grew up in. It seemed a small way to help the 'rents...and a great re-bonding experience with family.

Linda - SE PA said...

Your commentary sent me on a memory lane reflection.

However, first - I am sad - yet, understanding, of the tree having to come down. A little hassle which worked out fine in the end - which leads to - many, wonderful fireside afternoons or evenings.

I loved my fireplace which was a fulfillment of a dream come true. And yes, they are work but so worth the effort. How wonderful is it to have a meal by the fireplace or a stormy night reading or watching a good movie with a warm fire going. And, how priceless is just sitting gazing into the fire and daydreaming?

Well worth the effort now and all will be forgotten with the first fireside time.

Ralph said...

So, Woody, you know whereof I speak. DIY'ers that we are, we always hated paying for wood if we didn't have to. The messy silver maples on 12th Street, where we used to live, were good for one thing, and that was firewood when they inevitably got too old and started falling on the right-of-way. We split a huge one from a neighbor's front yard. Then we did a lot of it in Delaware, preparing for a fireplace in the planned-for house there. And now here.

There's a denouement to yesterday's story. We were hell bent for starting on that second pile today and rarin' to go. But the splitter decided to break down overnight. Won't start at all. This has been the damndest project!

Ralph said...

Yes, Linda, it was a shame the tree had to come down--it's sort of like putting down a beloved but fatally stricken pet. If we'd let the tree go, it would have crushed the garden shed, for sure. But a tree turns into lumber when it is cut, and at we are at least honoring its remains by giving them an honorable use that will, as you say, provide us with great pleasure.

Zoey and Me said...

"Splitter"?? Boy Ralph that sure is roughing it out there in the country. How 'bout axe or saw and lots of hard work? oh, ooohhh, ohhh, I forgot, you boys are city slickers. Well, glad you enjoyed your friends splitter. . . now hear this, now hear this. It don't snow much in the South. You might use one of them logs if you're lucky on a cold Christmas day. God, I can't believe this post. It had me rolling by my desk.

Ralph said...

We always aim to amuse, Z&M! In our defense, I'd say that while NC is further south than DC, it's not Florida. It's already been cold enough here at night, in the 30s, to warrant a fire in a fireplace. Even the 40s qualifies for a cozy fire in my book. Most of the people in our development here have put in either gas or wood-burning fireplaces, and they use them.

The cottage by the Cranelake said...

Nowdays I prefere to use fire logs, some kind of sawdust in blocks. But every one around here (exept for me) owns a bit of forest and owns a splitter, so there were never any problems finding one I could borrow when I neede one.

Have a great day now!
Christer.