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Challenge: more wood, less handling

Post in 'The Gear' started by Nofossil, Oct 4, 2007.

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  1. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    For the last two years, we have provided 99% of our heating and domestic hot water requirements in the winetr months by burning wood in an EKO gasification boiler. Works great, but now I'm trying to reduce the amount of handling and work involved - laziness is the mother of invention.

    About half of what we burn is buckthorn, a nasty invasive species that rarely grows to more than 5" diameter. The balance is a mix of whatever damaged trees need to be thinned - apple, birch, ash, hickory, locust, cherry.

    Other constraints:

    - Because the gasification boiler requires really dry wood, our wood needs to season covered, with good air circulation, for at least a year after it's cut and split.
    - We can store one year's worth of wood under the deck next to the house, where it can easily be passed into the basement. Wood stored under the deck will not dry very well.
    - The basement boiler room can hold a couple of weeks worth of wood.
    - Messy wood processing is not allowed near the house.

    Our current process is as follows:

    1) Cut the tree
    2) Drag it to horizontal with the dozer or tractor
    3) Section the trunk (if over 5" or so) into 21" logs
    4) Section the limbs into 84" (quad length) logs
    5) Bring sawhorse to pile (still in the woods) and cut quad logs in batches to 21" lengths
    6) Throw the logs into a trailer and bring to the 'processing' area
    7) Split any logs that require splitting
    8) Load logs onto gardenway cart and transport to stack area (very nearby)
    9) Stack all wood in covered piles for seasoning (a year goes by at this point)
    10) Load logs into gardenway cart and transport to deck
    11) Stack wood under deck
    12) Pass wood into basement (every couple of weeks during the winter)
    13) Stack wood in basement
    14) Burn it.

    The sawhorse was a big improvement, but I feel like we're handling the wood too much. I'm thinking of building a set of wooden crib frames about 6' long by 4' high that could be carried on the tractor forks. If I combined that with a tractor mounted woodsplitter, we could load the frame in the woods, carry it directly to the seasoning area, then pick it up again when it's dry and put it under the deck. If the frame had a plywood / EPDM 'roof', the wood would be covered with no extra effort.

    Has anyone done something along these lines? Any other ideas that I should consider?

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  2. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Handling is what kills you with firewood. Over the years I've resigned myself to constantly dealing with wood, and now just consider it part of an ongoing exercise routine.

    Here's what I do April or May through October or November, depending on the weather:

    Three days a week I travel up north to work (office job). After work, I go out into the woods and fell and buck a tankful of gas, which works out to about half a cord. Then I load up the pickup with wood cut last summer and haul a load home. The truck holds about 1/3-cord. I split by hand and stack that wood on the days that I work from home (in the evening after work, of course). So over the course of a week I've cut 1.5 cords, and hauled, split and stacked a cord. Looked at another way, that's about six hours of vigorous exercise.

    In the spring, I move ten cords from my pile in the backyard into the barn, where the boiler is located. It sits there under cover until it's burned the following winter.

    Typically, I can do about 20 cords a year this way. That was fine with my old boiler, which burned between 15 and 20. Now, however, I expect to burn closer to 10 cords a winter, so I guess I'll have to find some other form of exercise for part of the summer. Too bad, because I love to cut and split wood and the woodlot I'm working on could use more thinning.
  3. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Now I feel like I'm whining - we only burned 4 cords lat year, and 3.2 cords the year before. My only excuse is the fact that buckthorn requires a LOT of work per cord compared to more robust species.

    In addition to all the handling (we currently touch each piece of wood at least nine times) keeping the seasoning piles covered but with adequate air circulation is also a pain.

    Let me think about it - nine times:

    1) Load onto sawhorse
    2) throw into trailer
    3) load into cart
    4) Stack in seasoning pile
    5) Load into cart
    6) stack under deck
    7) hand into basement
    8) Stack in basement
    9) Load into boiler

    Gotta be a better way!
  4. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Don't forget the ashes. :)
  5. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I haven't done this in awhile, so here goes:

    1.) load round into truck bed and haul home
    2.) toss round next to pile
    3.) split and stack
    4.) haul into barn
    5.) stack in barn
    6.) toss into boiler
  6. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    If I can make my tractor-transportable crib frame work, it might be something like this:

    1) Load on sawhorse (or split)
    2) Load into frame on tractor
    2a) Transport to seasoning area (no handling)
    2b) Transport to under-deck area (no handling)
    3) Pass into basement
    4) Stack
    5) Toss into boiler

    There might even be a way to transport the frames directly into the basement - we do have a ground-level garage door on the south side. I'd have to have dollies of some sort to allow the frame to be rolled to the boiler room. I'm just curious if others have tried harebrained schemes along these lines, or if there are other ideas that I would wish I'd known about before doing all the work on this one.
  7. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I like that modular idea.
    Someone here did something like that on casters to move around in the garage, but not through the whole process.
    Would this frame be only one split wide?
    How about something like you see for apples? (wood slatted cubes)
    Stackable.
    Would the wood get sufficiently dried out, if wood is just thrown in loosely?
  8. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I'm thinking 1 split wide - our wood is nominally 21" long and that would fit through a doorway. It needs to be about 6' long so that the tractor can pick it up. That works out to somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 cord, or about 900lbs. Making it a double row would be too much.

    Wooden bins don't provide as good circulation. I toyed with wire mesh bins, but I think they would be awkward in comparison. This isn't always easy...
  9. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    How do the road people set those wire mesh/stone rip rap, or whatever the right word is, used to hold back banks?

    Edit: Gabion
  10. KeithO

    KeithO Minister of Fire

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    Why do you stack the wood under the deck and again in the basement ? Why not just pile it ? And exactly what do you mean by "hand into basement" ? Maybe you need to get one of those construction type conveyors that you could set up to transport the wood into the pile in the basement and once set up, all you have to do is turn it on, open the door or window and throw the wood onto it and it will automatically run the splits up and dump them in a pile. Or is your basement part of the "living space" and only a limited area is available for the firewood and has to look relatively "orderly" at all times ?

  11. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    [quote author="KeithO" date="1191561414"]Why do you stack the wood under the deck and again in the basement ? Why not just pile it ? And exactly what do you mean by "hand into basement" ? Maybe you need to get one of those construction type conveyors that you could set up to transport the wood into the pile in the basement and once set up, all you have to do is turn it on, open the door or window and throw the wood onto it and it will automatically run the splits up and dump them in a pile. Or is your basement part of the "living space" and only a limited area is available for the firewood and has to look relatively "orderly" at all times ?
  12. myzamboni

    myzamboni Minister of Fire

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    find a way to get the trailer closer to the seasoning pile to eliminate step 3.
    cart from seasoning pile into basement to eliminate step 6.

    Gotta be a better way!
  13. KeithO

    KeithO Minister of Fire

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    "asthetic" concerns have a way of creating work like one would not believe. I can't see a steel rack that is 16" wide and 4' high being sufficiently stable to pull "trailer fashion" across anything but blacktop without wanting to tip over. The concept demonstrated in the thread regarding kiln drying wood (using square wire baskets) is perhaps not a bad idea at all. It shows that there is almost no difference between the drying results with the wood stacked in the basket or piled in, other than that one gets a bit less wood into the basket when piled. I just recently evaluated the stackable wire bins and they cost about $120 each They can be stacked 3 high (about 12 ft) if one has a forklift. They will never fall over and are ideal for covering, since the wood is automatically off the ground and exposed on all sides. If one use a tarp to cover the top, it is not directly in contact with the wood and is evenly supported if you have the mesh lid on.

    Here is 1 link to a retailer http://catalog.cisco-eagle.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=CEI&Category_Code=WireBasket These are a bit more expensive than the ones I originally looked at. Here is another, (cheaper) http://www.wirecontainers.com/

    If you want a neat but lazy way, just put in an extra wide door to the basement that will allow you through with a pallet jack ($300) and these bins and you would only have to fill the bin prior to drying and empty it into the boiler. Of couse you need a hard surface in the drying area (concrete slab) and under the deck, but you may already be there. Other than that the wood would never have to leave the basket. And none of that stacking ever again....

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  14. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I like the baskets - thanks for the link. They are a neat and elegant solution. I had thought of them in the context of possible kiln drying, but there are some issues:

    1) While they will fit through the garage door into my basement, they will not fit through the boiler room door.
    2) Unless I got the extra cost fold-down sides, the shorter members of the household would have a hard time unloading them.
    3) I would need a couple dozen at least - that adds up. I need to have at least two years worth of wood (8 cords) stored in whatever system I end up with.

    Just to be clear, I have a tractor with forks. I wouldn't expect to roll any rack, bin, or basket anywhere except inside the basement.

    What are people actually using out there? Does anyone have first-hand experience with any scheme along these lines?
  15. KeithO

    KeithO Minister of Fire

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    According to my calculation, if you go with the basic 40x48x36 size (which should have the fold down section on 1 side standard) you need 3 bins/cord. For 4 cords that makes it a dozen. For 8 cords or a 2 year supply you would need 24. So your math checks out ! That would be about a $3000 investment but with the minimal amount of use they would get they should easily last 20 years or more. If you know the right people, you might be able to get a bunch of them at a bankrupcy or liquidation sale, but you would have to be in the right place at the right time. I know a few people who paid that much to get their stoves installed !

  16. Turner-n-Burner

    Turner-n-Burner New Member

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    Being a Lazy SOB myself, I've put a lot of thought into this. One idea I came up with this summer is using the outer shell from a 275 gallon tote, as a "mesh" bin to hold firewood. They are standard pallet size 40"x48" x ? They're made of aluminum, so no rust, and they're pretty light weight too. I figure they'd hold roughly 1/3rd of a cord of loose tumbled firewood. I'd leave them out in the sun to dry all summer, then drive them under cover in the winter.

    http://images.google.com/images?sou...US210US210&q=275 gallon tote&um=1&sa=N&tab=wi

    There's a guy just over the NH border that uses these (full of polymerized soybean oil) in the plastic business. He resells the empty totes for use as biodiesel storage etc. Only $25 each! And he always has a few with busted plastic tanks. Those are free! So you'd be talking $300 or less for 4 cords of storage.


    the only hole in my plan is that I do not yet have a tractor with forks :(
  17. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I like that a lot.
    One more reason to get more equipment as well.
  18. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    So who is this guy in New Hampshire? I'd have to arrange a big stack and bring a trailer, but I'm not that far away. I love the idea of something that can sit out in the weather. I'd have to figure out a different fork arrangement - mine are fixed at about 5 1/2'. These bins would work great except the last step - I can't get them into my boiler room. I think I could use a roller conveyor to slide them around under the deck, though - that would be cool.

    In the meantime, I've built a prototype of a wooden rack that I can use to transport wood from the woods to the seasoning area to the boiler room - picture below. The top will be plywood scraps and EPDM. Many unanswered questions - will it hold together with a load of wood while being bounced around on the tractor forks? I promise humorous pictures of any spectacular failures.

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  19. Turner-n-Burner

    Turner-n-Burner New Member

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    I don't remember who it was I spoke to, but this was the place.

    http://cccompounds.com/

    I was there early summer to pick up a couple of tanks for rainwater/irrigation. They had tractor trailer loads of them then.

    -Dan
  20. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Thanks. He's as far away from me as he could be and still be in New Hampshire. I guess I'll have to do a reconnaissance run before driving down there with the van and trailer.
  21. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    First trial run with 'wood handling reduction system' - lessons learned

    I tried out my prototype wood stacking frame - took it into the woods, loaded it up, and drove it out over the roughest trail I have. The picture below shows it deposited in the designated seasoning area. The roof panel is not on it yet, but otherwise I'm done handling this wood until I burn it. Couple of lessons learned:

    1) That sucker is heavy! The tractor can pick it up, but it almost takes the rear wheels off the ground. Way more weight than I like to drive around with on the forks. White knuckles, seat belt, hand on the 'drop the load' lever.

    2) If I had half a brain, I would have made the pressure treated 4x4s an integral part of the frame. You need them every time you put it down on anything but pavement.

    3) It's really nice to stack the wood on it once at the point of cutting and be done handing wood.

    I'm pretty happy at this point, but I need to make some more decisions and fabricate more stuff. Whether I go with the wire totes or these frames, I need to rig something on the hitch to pick them up. I really want to split the wood at the point of cutting (in the woods) as well. I'm going to pursue a homebrew PTO driven splitter, I think.

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  22. carpniels

    carpniels Minister of Fire

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    Hi Nofossil,

    You can actually rerig your tractor so that the forks are on the back. In an earlier carreer, we had an old tractor that we used to move fishfeed and harvested fish on pallets and totes on the back of a tractor. That will prevent the tipping of your tractor.

    Carpniels

    PS. for a guy that calls himself nofossil, you must be burning quite a few gallons of diesel in that tractor of yours. Moreover, no cat converters on that baby so environmentally, that is not the best. Unless of course you burn vegetable oil, then that is permissible. Just an observation. When initially I read your name, I thought:" finally a guy like me that does everything by hand, except for chainsawing). Split, stack, move, handle, handle some more, etc. all by hand. Perhaps not.
  23. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I'm not a fanatic about the 'no fossil' aspect of it - I'm just looking for the most practical and effective ideas. Philosophical purity is impossible in any event - it took fossil fuel (probably coal) to make the steel for my boiler and chainsaws, and more to make the cement for the firebrick. I'm by no means off the grid, either. As it happens, most of Vermont's electricity is hydro and nuclear, so not too much fossil fuel there at least.

    It's a 25hp 3 cylinder - burns a lot less than a riding mower. I burn about 5-10 gallons of diesel per year for firewood harvesting along with a couple gallons of chainsaw gas - seems OK for a 700+ gallon reduction in heating oil. I know, it's only a 98% reduction, not a 100% reduction. I try not to let the inability to be perfect prevent me from trying to be better. By the way - the tractor does burn straight biodiesel in the summer.

    One of my ground rules is that I wanted to do this without sacrificing comfort if possible. While achieving the reductions above, our house is warmer, hot water is endless, and temperature swings are less than they were when we heated with oil. Better for the planet, more comfortable for my family, less fixed annual costs. That's what I'm aiming for. Once I get this figured out and stable, I'll try to make it better - I'm hoping for more ideas and suggestions from this forum.
  24. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I'm actually in the process of designing a rig that will attach to the three-point hitch that will incorporate a PTO-driven logsplitter and a carrier for either the metal baskets or the wooden frames. Hoping to find a derelict splitter with a blown engine that I can cannibalize.
  25. carpniels

    carpniels Minister of Fire

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    Hi nofossil,

    I was just busting you b*lls. Don't worry, 98% reduction is much better than 99.99 % of people in the USA can say. But then again, if all those were burning wood, we wouldn't have any woods left!!!

    I think you are doing wonderfully well. I have been getting tired of handling the wood 10 times too before it gets burnt. However, that is the way it is. Also, I am frugal so I cannot even get myself to buy an ATV (although I have been secretly checking Craigslist) so that I can haul the cart with the ATV and not my muscles. And I also checked out the Ryobi splitters. Must be getting older.

    Thanks

    carpniels

    PS. I have regularly seen PTO splitters on ebay or craigslist. Take a look. There might be one local to you. Not too much competition for those. But normal splitters with blown engines are in high demand because many guys can swap an engine and sell it for profit.
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