There are all sorts of ways to heat a home in the winter, but given the carbon-neutrality, low technology, and local abundance of wood in our region, the wood-stove is a popular choice. In our case this is a masonry stove, one that combines a fast, clean, efficient burn with a great deal of energy-absorbing mass.
A fast, high-oxygen fire is the secret to both efficient combustion and low particulate pollution. But doing so with large chunks of wood means that most stoves tend to overheat their indoor environment, especially when outdoor temperatures are not extremely low. Masonry stoves manage to regulate the temperature by simply storing the bulk of the heat for release later, so they can burn even big logs quickly. But smaller stoves would do better stuffed full of smaller sticks. This is where a good set of loppers comes in handy, whether as the main wood supply for a small stove in more temperate weather, or for getting the daily load of larger wood to ignite here in the frozen north. Below you can see the cutting heads on four of the loppers we use, or have used, in the past few years.
These are all either “anvil-type” loppers or, on the upper right, a bypass lopper. Anvil loppers have a cutting blade that mashes branches against a flat surface, some with ridges that grip the branch and some with an end tab to prevent the branch from squeezing out of the cutter’s grip. The lighter-duty bypass types are more like a scissors, working best to trim branches you don’t wish to damage below the cut, as in trimming fruit trees. The top two were made by a Canadian company called “TrailBlazer” which has gone out of business, but they are still available. The bottom right is from Mastercraft and the bottom left is the “G2” from EZ-CUT .
All of these can quickly handle “green” branches over 1 inch in diameter, some up to 3 inches, mainly through the use of their ratcheting action and because of their extendable, telescoping aluminum handles. Greater handle extension gives both better “reach” when working overhead and more mechanical advantage (less strength required). The complexity of the ratchet mechanisms varies widely, as you can tell from the photo, and this affects their long term reliability, durability, and ease of maintenance. And the most complex model (top left) always cycles through four pumps of the handle, whether the branch is 1/2 inch or 2 inches in size. The most durable and simplest mechanism (bottom left) ratchets anywhere from zero to seven times depending on branch size, saving time on smaller limbs.
The three shorter models, shown fully extended above, have tiny springs that control the ratcheting action which are buried under parts of the cutting head. If/when they break they are hard to replace. The EZ-CUT on the right requires the removal of only a single bolt. The shortest one (the bypass model on the left) is also the lightest, so it makes fast work of small branches but is pretty maxed-out in limbs of 1.5 inches. The tallest can handle up to a 3-inch branch with ease, as long as it’s green, not dry, and often replaces our electric chain saw.
We had also looked at two other heavy duty loppers, one from Barnel, a company whose telescoping pruners and loppers work wonders in our orchard. But the connection between the handles and head is rather lightweight, making them durability challenged. The other (Florian) cost around $180 and while made in America, and heavy duty in other respects, its wooden, non-telescoping handles didn’t appeal for several reasons. Fiskars, Felco, and numerous other companies make similar models, none of which could reliably handle really thick branches.
If you can only buy one lopper, the EZ-CUT G2, at $90 to $125, isn’t the cheapest, but its speed, size, solid handle-head joint, ease of maintenance, and lifetime warranty on all but the cutting blade (which slowly wears on any of them and needs periodic sharpening) made this our overall favorite for serious winter heating preparation. You just latch onto the branch and pump the red rubber-gripped handle. It’s great for coppicing our hazel bushes.
And if you simply want to read about how others prepare their winter wood supply, in a country famous for long winters and large forests, we recommend reading, “Norwegian Wood – Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way” by Lars Mytting. Other than a mistranslated confusion between “chisels” (cutting teeth) and “rakers” (or depth gauges) on chain-saw chains on pages 71-72, its an engaging, inspiring, and nostalgic trip through the whole wood-making process. If you burn wood we’d call it a “must read”.