Heating a Home With Firewood

A fallen tree becomes firewood, and brings back memories of old pros at work on the farmstead.

  • Watching the buzz saw chew through logs at lightning speed was a thrilling experience.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth
  • Chainsaws make quick work of fallen trees.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth

This past summer, in the midst of a midnight thunderstorm, a tree fell on our house.The tree didn’t so much fall as it slumped over, as if it had grown weary of holding itself upright. The ancient ash tried to minimize the damage to itself by using our house to cushion its fall.

The next morning, I laddered up to the roof to inspect the damage. My wife was worried — and for good reason. The sight of a middle-aged guy strolling around a rooftop with a roaring chainsaw in his paws is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most hardened emergency room physician.

I was pleased to discover that the damage to our roof was limited to only a few scuffed shingles. But I was displeased at the prospect of turning that majestic old ash tree into cordwood.

Cutting up a leaning tree is a study in physics. You learn to estimate the path a falling branch might take and to position yourself accordingly. An incorrect guess can result in some painful lessons.

You also discover that the tree has spent vast amounts of time patiently storing up large amounts of mass. Gravity makes you acutely aware of this when your chainsaw chews through a suspended branch that’s as thick as your waist. A thudding “whump” that can be felt through your feet makes you glad your positioning estimations were correct.

The chainsaw and I gradually reduced the mossy trunk into splittable sections. It looked as though my lawn was littered with dozens of stunted beer kegs.

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