Aging Infrastructure

Ringing in the New Year brings with it an implied acknowledgement of the fact that everything on the homestead is another year older (hopefully).  There’s always a “to do list” of repairs and maintenance to keep everything functioning well.  But since human labor is so integral to our systems, we also need to attend to our own aging abilities, preventing down-time due to injuries by recognizing our age-related reduction in strength and stamina. To that end, we spend a fair bit of time assessing what we need to keep this place running and implement improvements to systems that will make life here possible well into the future. Not to say that you should wait until your senior years approach to make these changes.  On the contrary, it makes more sense to design systems up front so there is less wear and tear on even a younger body. This can also extend the longevity of the homesteader’s lifestyle (and, possibly, their life).

One of our most physically demanding tasks each year is making firewood.  Even though we minimized our needs for heating by building a passive-solar, strawbale home with a masonry stove, we still require about 1.2 cords of wood annually.  That takes a bit of work to cut, haul, buck, split, stack, and finally haul indoors to feed the stove.  Here’s some of what we’ve worked out to make our annual wood supply with minimal resource and energy inputs:

1.  Sawing & Hauling:  We’ve gone entirely to electric chainsaws run either off the house inverter or a newly acquired battery saw.  To extend the cutting time on this new saw, we also plug it in to the 36-volt battery pack on our GE Elec-Trak.  This will allow us to fell trees out in our woodlot far from the house.  This battery saw replaced the need for a 36-volt inverter on the tractor to run our 120-volt Makita saw (the existing $800 inverter was toast and not repairable) .  The electric tractor can also pull a wagon to haul wood back home where it is cut into stove length.

2.  Lopping:  In addition to the saws, we use rachet loppers with telescopic handles to trim off branches 2″ or smaller in diameter.  This wood is reduced to stove length for kindling.  A portable tool bench to hold the lopper makes for less bending while working – kind of like a big paper cutting board.

3. Splitting:  Swinging a maul is a skill that takes careful mastery.  Splitting logs with a manual, hydraulic splitter is a safer way to get a little upper body workout.  It works with two handles that are moved in a push/pull action, a little bit like using your poles when cross country skiing.  We first saw one of these devices at a friend’s homestead and knew it would be a good addition to our firewood tool kit.  No gas engine, just a little effort on our part.  Actually, with the masonry stove we can burn almost any size wood, even all small stuff if that’s what we have.  Felling small diameter trees is easier all around and eliminates most of the need for splitting wood in the first place.

4.  Moving Wood:  Firewood is heavy fuel.  Having a wagon to haul logs back from the field gets it to the wood shed.  But from there it needs to make its way to the stove.  We do keep a couple weeks supply of wood in our porch and were stocking this with our 2-wheeled wheelbarrow.  The problem was in getting that through the 36″ door without wrecking the door or frame.  From the porch, carrying a log tote to the stove also entailed maneuvering through another 36″ doorway with a screen door added into the mix.  Using a narrow log cart would make this task easier, so we shopped around town and only found one type, a metal frame with large pneumatic tires made for moving wood stacked crosswise.  The trouble is that we burn a lot of small sticks daily.  Our masonry stove is only fired in the late afternoon, which necessitates kindling, as there are no coals to start the fire.  The log cart was only designed to haul firewood, and we reasoned that a narrow multi-purpose cart would be handy to move produce from the garden to the root cellar and house, especially where there’s not enough room for the garden wheelbarrow.  So we purchased a hand cart (dolly) made for moving 5 gallon buckets.  It’s heavily built, has wide, inflated tires good for rough ground, and is nimble enough to get through doorways with ease.  We strapped on a galvanized 1/2 bushel tub, big enough to haul a day’s firewood (about 25 pounds worth of boxelder).  The hand cart can also accommodate a metal garbage can which will come in handy when moving compost in the garden or harvesting squash.

Now that we’ve got the firewood process better thought out, our next system analysis is snow removal.  We’ve bought an ergonomic shovel for starters.  More thoughts on this later….

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