Late Winter 2013/2014 – Weekend of 1 Mar 2014

The weekends provide opportunities to take on more time-consuming projects, and this weekend was no exception. There is much forest management work to do on the property leading up to planting in the spring, and winter has also traditionally been a time when the fuel-wood stores were stocked.  And, I want to show just briefly, a plumbing repair I substantially completed this past weekend.  Later I will make a very detailed post regarding the cause(s) of the damage.

The largest of four trees, an American Beech.  Some of the four smaller trees
in the upper right corner, one of which was a Sugar Maple.

Saturday morning I spent about 4 hours working the slope just south of the house; two reasons, the first is that we needed some firewood, and secondly, I am removing dead-fall and live trees selectively to bring more light and life to the forest floor in the spring.  There is a tremendous amount of dead-fall, with many trees having been broken off by wind 20-30 ft off the ground.  I identified four trees, two with the tops broken off 30 feet or so above ground, and two others that had been damaged by the fall of the first two. The biggest tree, an American Beech, pictured, was probably close to 10 inches in diameter; the smallest perhaps 4 inches in diameter.  A chainsaw is simply a must-have on the property.  It seems like the most respected brands are Husqvarna and Stihl; I chose Husqvarna because I can get parts and service at my local hardware store, and I chose the “460 Rancher” model because that is the hardware store’s rental saw of choice.  While there are lighter and more powerful saws in the Husqvarna line-up, I took the fact that it was chosen for rental use (abuse) to be testament to its reliability and durability.  So far, I have no reason for buyer’s remorse; it is a great saw.  I am new to chain saw use, so I will not offer anything close to “instruction” regarding their safe and effective use; if you are interested, and a visual learner, please consult, it is one of the many “classes” I am taking at “YouTube University.”  You also might want to visit Cody at; he is very knowledgeable and devotes much of his time to all matters having to do with coniferous forest management.

Trees have been “limbed” and branches set off to the left, trunks have
been “bucked”

After felling the tree(s), the next step in the process is “limbing,” which is to say removal of the branches from the stem of the tree.  The chain saw can be used for larger branches, though in this case all of the limbs were small enough that I used an axe for limbing.  I use dry branches of less than about 1-2 inches in diameter for “stick fuel,” or as kindling, and will chip green branches of up to 3 inches in the spring for use on foot paths, in compost, etc.  Having “limbed” the trees, “bucking,” that is cutting the main stem into usable lengths, is the next step in the process; this is work for the chain saw. [1]

About halfway to completion;  a plastic sled, is used to move
wood around in bulk

Since the bucked pieces of the trees were to be used for firewood, I then split the wood using my Gränsfors Bruk Splitting Maul.  I use a plastic sled in winter, this one picked up at a local Tractor Supply as I recall, to move the bucked sections to nearer the stack for splitting.  Of course the sled can double for snow sledding, to drag your deer out of the woods, or to haul your ice fishing equipment onto and off the ice.  Lesson learned:  Either cut the trees uphill from where you are going to stack the wood, or stack the wood downhill from where you cut the trees!  A workout is one thing, but let’s not go crazy.

There are numerous schools of thought on how best to dry firewood.  Having split the wood, I stack it bark-side up to the extent possible, so that it will shed water more effectively, and then cover the stack with a tarp, or with construction plastic as in this case.  This keeps snow and rain from dropping directly onto the stack, and yet allows for airflow through the stack.  I suppose that as usual “it depends,” on any number of factors, but I am planning on drying-time of 9 months before use as firewood.  For lumber (planks or posts, etc.), the rule of thumb is one year per inch of thickness.

Done.  The stack covered by construction plastic to protect it from
rain  and snow, while allowing air flow through the stack.

I can say that I am pretty happy with how much wood I was able to put away for use next fall and winter, and I made some progress in “cleaning up” the hillside.  We have put up three or four face cords this year I would estimate, in excess of all that we have used.  A face cord is defined as a stack 8 feet long by 2 feet across by 4 feet high, while a full cord would be 4 feet across.  Ultimately the wood will be used in the wood burning stove, the fireplace, the fire pit, or in an outdoor kitchen for boiling down maple sap to make maple syrup.  For your reference, a “typical dry <full> cord of wood is enough to make about 15 gallons of syrup,” [2] which requires boiling off approximately 630 gallons of water from the sap. There will be much more on maple syrup production in later posts.

Now to the plumbing, briefly.  The immediately obvious cause of the damage to the plumbing supply to one bathroom in the house, was freezing water.  As mentioned at the top of the post, I will address the plumbing issue in much more detail at a later date.  Suffice it to say for now though, that it is in most cases practically impossible to prevent water piping from freezing with 100% certainty.  Unless systems are in place that allow a homestead complete independence from the power grid, if power generation or transmission goes down, and stays down long enough, and if it is cold enough for long enough, piping will freeze.  In such a situation, it is of benefit to have “freeze tolerant” piping, that is piping that will not suffer damage from freezing.  Of course the foregoing assumes that the house has not been winterized, and the water piping system drained of water.  While researching methods of repair, I came across PEX tubing, the components designed to work with PEX, and the tools necessary for installation.  This stuff is sweet!  Easy to install, no glues or soldering, flexibility that reduces the number of angled fittings required, fittings that allow for connection to existing PVC, CPVC and/or copper piping, AND it is freeze tolerant. [3] If you look closely, you might see “safety wire” on the unused manifold valves; these wires will prevent inadvertent opening of the valves.   Consider PEX as a back-up to the back-up for damage prevention in extreme cold weather conditions.

Completed installation of PEX system in utility closet adjacent to the bathroom

And I almost forgot, that on Sunday Geri and I went with friends to a “Home Maple Sugaring” course at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, just north of Kalamazoo, MI.  The course consisted of about 40 minutes in the classroom, where the end-to-end process was described, from the tree identification to the bottling of syrup, and where we sampled maple syrup and some wine made from maple syrup.  The intensity of the maple flavors was simply incomparable to store-bought maple syrup.  After the classroom portion of the course we ventured outside and Geri was picked for the demonstration of tapping a tree, so she got our first practical experience in doing that.  We had a great time, visited the gift shop after the course, and signed up as members of the KNC.  This coming weekend we will be putting our education into practice and tapping our own Sugar Maples.

Your comments and criticisms, your inputs and acknowledgements, are welcomed, and will help me to improve my posts.  Please “follow” the blog.

— John, 04 March 2014.

[1] Stelzer, “Felling, Limbing and Bucking Trees,” University of Missouri, Extension,
[2] The University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center, “Energy Use in Maple Operations,”
[3] Burch. 2006. “Northward Market Extension For Passive Solar Water Heaters by Using Pipe Freeze Protection with Freeze-Tolerant Piping,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory,

4 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    Fabulous blogging John. Gina & I are so excited to read your posts and so impressed with the detail and attention that you are putting into it. The pictures are GREAT. Can't wait to see your first video!

    • homestead
      homestead says:

      Thanks Peter! It has been great fun! And of course I am learning as I go, both about blogging and about what we are doing on the homestead. I do the research anyway, but I guess it is as the old saying goes, when you try to teach something to someone else, or even relate something to someone else, you learn it twice yourself. Or words to that effect. I took 3 short videos with the AW100 this weekend, and am not quite sure why I didn't include them in the post.

  2. Tamra Buntrock
    Tamra Buntrock says:

    Wow, I am so impressed. I loved reading your post about the weekend, seeing your pictures, and hearing of all the great times and memories you and Geri are harvesting!

    • homestead
      homestead says:

      Thank you Tamra, and thanks for following! We are indeed having great times, and I love how you have described "harvesting memories," that fits perfectly! I do worry that the posts might be too long or too detailed, so if you have ANY critical feedback please share; I will not be hurt.

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