by Todd Walker
It’s cold and you need firewood back at base camp. That standing dead oak tree 200 yards from your shelter will provide you with enough BTU’s for heat and cooking on this frigid weekend.
What’s the best strategy to get the fuel back to camp?
You can only carry x amount of stove-length firewood in your arms before your back shuts down. The efficient method is to cut longer lengths at the harvest site and haul it back to base camp. How long? The answer depends on your functional fitness level and the diameter/density of the log to be hauled.
You need to conserve calories since the only means of conveyance is your body. Firewood provides heat. Heat cooks food. Food provides calories.
Hauling Long Logs
I first witnessed the technique as a young boy when my daddy hired Mr. Colbert to cut timber on our land. Get this, his name was King… King Colbert!
Mr. Colbert was strong as Paul Bunyan’s ox, Babe the Blue Ox! He hauled pulp wood logs to his old log truck on his shoulder. Paul Bunyan was folklore, but King was the real deal!
Now, you don’t have to be as strong as Mr. Colbert to transport firewood, a few simple tips, and upping your functional fitness, will have you toting logs like toothpicks.
Here’s my rule of thumb for hauling logs…
- A foot or so taller than me
- Choose trees I can reach around with one arm and touch my nose
- Walk the path of least resistance (tripping hazards)… even it’s a longer walk
- Good form equals less injuries
Let’s haul some wood!
Stand the log on end. Position your shoulder just past the midway point of the log. With your legs and hips bent like your about to do a squat in the weight room, keep your back straight and tilt the log backwards (opposite the way you’re facing) as you lift the log.
The longer end of the log will naturally counter balance to your backside. A bandana or extra shirt on your neck will prevent scratches. Now haul it back to camp!
Splitting Long Logs
Grab your ax, two hardwood wedges, and a maul. Simple machines are force multipliers. Carve two pieces of hardwood about 8 inches long into wedges with your ax. The beauty of woodcraft/bushcraft skills is that you craft simple machines on site. This lightens your load considerably.
Don’t overlook the importance of a simple maul for camp craft projects. Uses include but are not limited to…
- Pounding stuff like stakes and wedges
- Baton for splitting wood
- Hammer for mortise and tenon joints on shelters
- All sorts of camp craft tasks at camp
Here’s a down and dirty tutorial on how to make your own maul:
Back to splitting.
Lay the log to be split on top of another log to elevate it off the ground. If you want to get fancy, cut a “Y” branch to cradle the log. This short “Y” holds the long log steady for splitting and prevents grounding of your sharp ax. Your ax bit won’t take kindly to dirt and rocks.
Once secure, straddle the log and strike the end of the log with your ax to start a split. Remember to keep the ax handle horizontal at impact. It may take a couple of strikes. Once a split opens in the log, drive a wedge into the split above your ax with a maul. Remove your ax and pound another wedge in the crack going down the log. Use the maul, not your ax. The steel ax tends to “mushroom” the top of wooden wedges. And please, never hammering metal wedges with an ax.
Repeat this process until the log splits lengthwise. Take care not to pound the wooden wedge into your “Y” cradle or other hard stuff or you’ll blunt the wedges.
Use your ax to cut any stubborn wood fibers clinging to both halves of the log. Follow safety procedures as if you were limbing. Keep your anatomy clear of ax swings!
Repeat the process to split halves into quarters or even eighths. I prefer quartered if I have my bucksaw at camp. With a shorter folding saw, eighths speed the processing considerably.
Bucking the Split Logs
I’ve found this method of processing firewood saves my ax. Sawing logs into firewood lengths first, then splitting them with an ax, consumes cutting tool resources (sharp ax bit) quicker than splitting long logs first then bucking.
With your logs quartered, you’re ready to process firewood lengths for your tent stove or campfire. Obviously, if you’re burning a long fire, all this processing is unnecessary.
To save calories and frustration, lay the split rails in a notched stump vise you’ve crafted. A simple “V” notch or “7” notch will help hold the rails in place while you cut to your desired length. On the homestead, build yourself a sawbuck.
If you don’t have a takedown bucksaw, order a 21 inch Bacho Dry Cut saw blade and build one from scrap lumber for under 12 dollars. This saw eats through wood like a beaver on steroids! I just ordered a 36 inch blade for larger logs.
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