The Last Frontier

Monday, January 17, 2011

Firewood and Independence

Most of our 

firewood for the year
Most of our firewood for the year.
We heat and cook with wood, and burn about 10 cords each year. One cord of wood is a stack measuring 8’x4’x4’. (We live in a little frame cabin now. Once we get our log cabin built, we’ll go through much less wood.) Today I finally did something I’m terribly embarrassed to admit that I’ve never done before. I learned to split wood with a splitting maul! I know. With a blog like this, you’d think splitting firewood would be a daily thing for me. I’ve learned lots of skills living in the Alaskan bush, and now at last, splitting wood is one more! It may seem silly, but I felt such a sense of accomplishment.

All these years, I’ve depended on my husband to take care of the wood. How foolish of me! What if something happened to him and he wasn’t here, or was injured and couldn’t do it? I know I could manage, but an emergency is the worst possible time to learn a necessary skill. It isn’t that I’ve never thought of it before. I just “never got around to it”. Very unwise.

Today the thermometer read 33 degrees below zero, and since wood splits easier when it’s really cold, I decided now was a good time to learn. But when I went outside and asked him to teach me, he just handed over the splitting maul, set a piece of wood up for me and said, “There ya go”. I asked how far away to stand. He said, “Far enough so you hit the wood”. Well, that was certainly helpful! I asked how to hold the maul. He said, “However it works best for you”. Clearly, he wasn’t about to make this any easier for me.

He was actually happy that I wanted to learn to split wood, but he has split so much of it over the years that it was about like trying to explain to someone how to talk. To him, you just swing the maul, hit the wood, then pick up the pieces. To me, this was some highly technical skill that required detailed training (kind of like whitewashing a fence). However, it didn’t take long to get the hang of things, and to realize that the old saying is right --- “Wood warms you twice. Once when you split it, and again when you burn it.”

Last summer, Chuck began teaching me to use the chainsaw. I need to get back on that and practice. I don’t want to depend on it, though. I want to learn to do everything required to get the wood in --- cut down the tree, cut it into lengths, haul it in (with the dog), and split it, all without depending on a gas engine. I know nothing about motors. They make me feel so helpless when they don’t work, and I hate feeling helpless. Another reason I don’t want to depend on a gas engine for anything is that affordable gas may not (probably will not) be available in the not-so-distant future.

Splitting wood today made me feel a bit more independent. It’s the same feeling you get from hauling your own water from a spring rather than turning on a faucet. Or picking wild greens for a salad and cauliflower from your garden rather than driving to the grocery store and picking it from the produce counter. Or serving meat or fish for supper that you killed or caught yourself rather than buying a neat little 2-pound package of it at the store. It just feels good.

firewood with the homemade sled
Hauling firewood is easier and faster in the winter. We use this
homemade sled Chuck built mostly from an old fuel drum.


  1. So glad you have a new skill. What kind of medical supplies do you keep on hand?

  2. Good job on learning the new skill. I know that makes you feel better. I was wandering. Do you visit the doctor at all when you go to town? Also, what kind of medical supplies do you keep on hand.

  3. Hi Dawn. Good to see you! We do take the boys to the doctor and dentist regularly. I keep a variety of medical supplies --- suture materials, bandages, dried plants to stop bleeding, herbal antibiotic salves that I've made, including spruce, comfrey, chickweed and others. We gather some plants from the wild, and others we grow, such as comfrey and yarrow, and we purchase some online. I also keep super glue in the first aid box. That has come in handy with my son when he cut his leg running with a stick last summer. Off hand, I can't remember all the medical supplies we keep, but I'm a nurse, so I try to think of what "could" happen, and prepare for it.

  4. Good job on the wood splitting! I'll warn you, you will feel it tomorrow! At least I do when I split it. Do you heat entirely with your wood cookstove or do you also have another wood heat stove as well.
    I shared your blog address on my blog and with several families in our area who also homeschool. We have all been studying Alaska, and your site fits right in wonderfully! Love your photos.

  5. Great post. How come the logs in your picture are so long? Does it make transporting and stacking them better that way, then you cut them shorter to split? Just curious. I don't know if I could cut a tree down, split it or any of that. I have so much I want to how to shoot a gun, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to keep my house warm if the power goes out. I don't have a wood stove at this time... We need either an alternative power source or a wood stove, I think. I missed talking to you this weekend. Is your phone out of commission again? Stay warm.

  6. Yesterday, when I visited your blog for the first time, I saw all your photos. Today, instead of the photos I see "Upgrade to Pro Today".
    Any ideas how to fix taht problem?

  7. Hello,
    Thank you, April for sharing my blog. Yes, we have a barrel stove we use for heat when the temperatures get below zero.

    Hi Carol. Yes, Chuck hauls them in long, unless they are too big to pull. Then he cuts them into stove length pieces in the yard, and then we split them.
    Carol, have you ever heard of the BOW classes taught by Alaska Fish and Game? They are Wonderful ! ! !! BOW stands for Becoming an Outdoors Woman. Go to the Alaska Fish and Game website. At or near the bottom, you'll see a tiny link for Becoming an Outdoors Woman. Click Schedule tab. They have a great weekend workshop in March in Chickaloon. I went last year and loved it. I wish I could do it again this year. You can choose the class you want, IF you sign up EARLY. They have classes on shooting, firearms safety, archery (I took those last year), and MANY, MANY others. You can choose four. It is WELL worth it.
    Ariela, sorry about the pictures. We have them hosted at photobucket. Yesterday they sent an email that asked us to upgrade because we are close to our limit. We haven't hit the limit yet, so they should not be blocking our pictures. I will contact them.

  8. Jenny,

    What a great post! I admire you for wading in and tackling the hard stuff. And those classes sound so interesting.

    I have a book I bet you'd love; maybe you can get it through your library. It's called "O Rugged Land of Gold" by Martha Martin. It's a true story of a woman injured, pregnant, and stranded alone for months in Alaska and how she survives. An amazing story!

    Happy wood splitting!


  9. Far be it for me, a Wisconsin, Flat lander, to give advice to you but I have a tool you and your Husband might like to have. It is a 4 sided wedge that you hit with a Sledge hammar to split wood. Of course I cannot remember where I got it since that was 30 years ago, but I think I saw it advertized in Mother Earth News in the late 70's/Early 80's. You guys are doing great. I envy you.

    Old fart In WI

  10. That sounds like a good idea. A friend basically uses that idea, only she doesn't have a 4 sided wedge. She smacks a short handle ax into a chunk of wood, then hits it with a sledge hammer. I tried that and didn't care for it, but it works well for her. That wedge of yours would probably work better. Thanks for the suggestion! :)

  11. Hi Again, I spent this morning searching the internet for the wedge I am talking about, but cannot find it. It is similar to the wood gernade but much shorter and much wider. I'll keep looking

    Old fart in Wisconsin

  12. Old Fart here again. I found the website. Unfortunaely they are out of stock on the 4 sided one, but have the 3 sided in stock.. Here is the link:

    Old fart....

  13. Thank you very much for taking the time to search for that! Looks good.

    Thanks again, and best wishes to you,

  14. Too cold up there for a hydraulic wood splitter?

  15. Hi Bill. Thanks for stopping by. Not at all too cold for a hydraulic splitter. We have a small one that we use sometimes, but it's terribly expensive to fly gas out here in a charter plane. We only use it in a pinch Plus, I don't get along too well with gas engines. A couple of years ago while my husband was out guiding for a month, I couldn't get the generator started, so no hydraulic splitter, and no way to charge the batteries. I was able to get in touch with the outfitter he worked for, and a few days later Chuck got to a computer and sent an email telling me how to fix the generator. I just don't like depending on motors. And doing things the hard way keeps us in better shape.
    Best wishes,

  16. That is an absolutely beautiful site - a fresh pile of wood ready to become next year's cozy warmth.



  17. You have a great blog here. Once I get more savy, I will spruce mine up. Your husband is a lucky man to find someone to live the BUSH life. Women of this caliber are few and far between.

  18. Dom and John, thank you both very much.
    Dom, your comment came in while we still did not have an inverter and could not be online very much. Sorry about not replying. I did stop by and visit your site. I'm heading back there right now.
    John, thank you for the very kind words. Maybe it's that I'm just not as sociable as most women. ;D

  19. Nothing wrong with that, that is one nice thing about living in the BUSH, you can be as sociable you want or not, LOL.


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