Wood Stove Provides Warmth

Caleb remembers what it took to keep the wood stove fed as a child, and enjoys the continuing task today.

Chainsaw poloroid

Running the chainsaw is just one aspect of a favorite chore that keeps us warm several times over.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Maurice van der Velden

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Nothing beats wood heat. The warmth a woodstove provides is exceptional in its own right, but I love the entire process of heating with wood.

Where I grew up, a woodstove and an attic fan were all we depended on to stay warm during the cold months. About every night of the winter season, you’d find my brothers, my mom, and my dad sitting together in the living room, the middle of the house, where the woodstove was located. That space would get downright warm at times — so hot, in fact, that my dad came up with the term “freeze down,” which meant stepping outside in your underwear and cooling off in the extreme chill — and it was the attic fan’s job to pull that heat through the house.

Some of my earliest and most dear memories involve cutting wood in “Devil’s Lane,” an extremely woolly stretch of timber through which ran a ditch that made cutting and especially hauling the wood a true drag. My dad would do the cutting — I can still remember the icicles hanging off his mustache — and it was my brothers’ and my job to haul the logs, lift them into the bed of the truck, and dream of the day when we were the ones running the saw.

As much as I dreaded those days then, I look back on them now with extreme fondness, and nothing was better after we were done than Mom’s waffles and bacon.

Fast forward about 25 years, and the first country home my wife and I moved into featured an electric furnace, poor insulation, and elements of construction that resulted in extremely drafty winters. During the coldest months, we’d pay in the neighborhood of $900 a month for heat. Even at that price, the furnace, coupled with a pellet stove, could only achieve about a 55-degree temperature according to the indoor thermostat, and colder than that in some parts of the home.

When that’s your existence, you hear that furnace kick on time and time again, spaced entirely too close together, and it’s enough to make you cringe. Spring couldn’t come soon enough, and we couldn’t get out of that house quickly enough.

These days, the country house we call home features a sizable woodstove in the middle of a stone house. Get the woodstove rolling, and we’ve never had to use the electric furnace backup in the two winters we’ve been there. Our electric bill during winter is around $800 less than it once was.

But aside from the money savings, I love to sit and file my chainsaw chains; I love the whistling sound of my favorite Husqvarna saw at full-throttle; I love the peaceful quiet when I turn the saw off and start loading the wood; and I love the time to think as I methodically split the wood on a log splitter. And, of course, while they can be dangerous machines that demand you learn the ins and outs of safety, running a chainsaw as it rips through hardwoods and sends the chips flying — that’s what I looked forward to as a kid hauling wood through Devil’s Lane.

What about you? What are your favorite aspects of cutting wood and heating with wood, if that’s how you stay warm? Anyone have any unique heating systems for their home, or favorite chainsaws and log splitters you’d recommend to your closest buddy? I’d love to hear about it. Send me a note, with a photograph if you can (cregan@grit.com), and the entire works might just wind up in a future issue.