Saturday, December 18, 2010

Backyard firebuilding, Part I

It's the perfect winter's morning -- there's snow on the ground, the sun shines from a clear sky and the winds are calm. Bitter as it is, it doesn't feel unpleasantly cold.

The temp hadn't reached 10°F when I headed outside to liberate our American flag, which had hung up on the front-porch gutter and froze fast. As I was putting the ladder away after, I spied my old
Estwing carpenter's hatchet hanging on the garage wall and hatched an idea.

Grabbing the hatchet and a folding saw, I walked back to the edge of the woods. I'd had my eye on a dead hardwood, probably an Ohio Buckeye, for a while now. At four inches in diameter and about eight feet long it'd be easy to process. And because it was a "leaner," held off the snow-covered ground by surrounding growth, it was ideally dry.

I used the saw to cut it into three portable sections -- crown, trunk and base -- and hauled it home in one trip. After stripping twigs and smaller limbs, I bucked the trunk (with the saw) into 12-inch lengths.

A carpenter's hatchet may not be my first choice to split kindling, but for this backyard fire I'm using backyard tools. My antique-store Estwing worked just fine cleaving the dry, frozen wood (stubborn knots notwithstanding).

I made one more trip back to the tree line, harvesting a couple of resinous pine stubs to serve as a natural firestarter. Less than 45 leisurely minutes after I began, I had the makings of a respectable fire.

One of the best things about this morning's exercise, I think, was doing the job with less-than-ideal hardware -- a used hatchet and a cheap lawn-and-garden saw. It's a reminder that skills, not tools, matter.

I'm not sure when we'll light our backyard fire -- maybe later today, maybe tomorrow. That'll be Part II.