Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chickens: Fair Warning

I am getting pretty good at chopping things up with my little hatchet. Do not anger me, for you are tasty and good with just about any condiment ever invented.

Seriously, it's been so icky and DAMP that all my wood is DAMP and it's like 10x harder to start a fire. How do yall in normal non-desert areas actually heat with wood? What am I doing wrong? It takes like an hour of throwing more kindling in before I get the (aged pine) starter logs to really truly catch. And I'm not complaining - dear god, I'm not complaining - but when it's 55 during the day I only need a fire first thing in the morning and at night, so I have to start it twice.

My wood is in a nice pile, on pallets, tarped. It used to be two tarps worth, and the join between the tarps blew up and got soaked in the blizzard. But the rest of the wood was covered and should have stayed dry.

Back in October, with the normal 20% humidity, I could boy scout a fire with one piece of cardboard, one piece of paper, and maybe one piece of kindling. Now it takes 2-3 pieces of cardboard and an infinity of kindling. Seriously, I'm opening the stove every 10 minutes to throw on more kindling for over an hour. Is the chimney full of creosote? It seems to draw fine! Is this really normal? Waaah! Next year, I am going to fill up the wood box in the closet with nothing but bone-dry split kindling.

(Disclaimer: No chickens were harmed in the making of this post. I do not intend to eat these chickens.)

(PS: Don't lecture me about how real Boy Scouts use a flint and some cottonwood fluff. I don't want to hear it.)


  1. Run chickens, run!

    Here's what we've found, over in humid Missouruh.

    We had a pile outdoors that cured from spring until winter. Horrible to start, lots of moisture still.

    We covered the pile with tarp. Not much better. Tarp actually lets moisture through.

    Now, we have a structure with a roof, and we fill it in late winter for the following winter. Works fantastic - can almost light logs with a match.

    Some of that might just be that the wood is now 2+ years old. Some might be that it has been pretty dry here lately. But I think a lot has to do with keeping the moisture completely off and having the wood in an airy place for a few months before winter. Also, elevating the pile and stacking with the bark up probably helps.


  2. Awesome, thanks Ron. That confirms my suspicions - that the wood is damp, and it's damp because it got wet in a couple of spots and wicked throughout.

    I hadn't thought about stacking with the bark up. I have wondered if the wooden pallets are just wicking moisture up from the sand, sigh. I wish I owned and knew how to use a welder - metal pallets would be cool.

    I've been thinking about building a little woodshed in the side yard. I could store several cords in the barn and .5 or 1 cord in the side yard, near the den and fireplace. Washoe County wants a freakin' permit for a SHED though, so I think I will rebuild the fence to 6' before I build a modest woodshed.

  3. What I'm doing now is laying scraps of plastic under the pallets that hold our long-term storage firewood. Any wood around here that touches the soil will be soaked, and termites will be a-chowing.

    The short-term "shed" is really just a 4x12 pallet, up on concrete blocks. Then I mounted pallets around 3 sides, and laid a log across the front. Pallets on top, screwed to back pallet wall and log, with old corrugated over the roof pallets.

    I don't know if you can get away with that, or something similar. The good part about the pallets, aside from cost, is that they allow a ton of ventilation while shielding most of the rain from coming in the sides.


  4. Dont' let the chickens hear ya talking like that...they'll be so skeered they'll stop laying. LOL

    I'm used to burning cottonwood more than pine and that is a whole different beast. I sort of remember my grandpa (who lived in the Black Hills) complaining that he had to have his stove pipe cleaned more often due to the resin left from burning pine, particularly that with bark on it. Something about all the sap pine bark holds.

    I'm jealous of your 55 degree temps. Seems everyone around is getting some really nice weather. I just want the snow to disappear here.

  5. Do you have plastic under the blocks? Do the blocks wick moisture, or is it too far up off the ground? I'm going to dismantle the broken above-ground pool in the spring, so I'll have a ton of great plastic if I need it.

    We do have termites here, but they're not nearly the concern that they are in the South. (Are you in the South or the Midwest or what?) My wood will likely dry-rot from the sun and dry wind before termites will find it.

    My current setup uses t-posts for corners, with scrap 2x4s wedged in on the sides to keep the stack stable. I was thinking about building something like it but sturdier - 4x4 posts, 2x4s tying it together, plywood and tin or shingles for a roof. The problem here is the "gentle breezes," which could easily blow a roof away on a good day. Sustained 30 mph, gusts of 60 are not at all uncommon. I am afraid unbraced pallets would collapse, and if I start bracing I might as well dig proper holes and use 4x4s for corners. 1-bys from pallets would be fine side pieces though.

  6. LOL BEC - I was kind of surprised when the hills and the yard turned BROWN again. The snow is a PITA but it's so much prettier!

    I think cottonwood burns like poplar - I've got a bit of that left, and it goes up like newspaper. The pine lasts longer, once you get it going, grumble grumble.

    Stupid chickens gave 2 eggs yesterday, but 4 today, so I can't complain TOO much!

  7. The air to your stove has a lot to do with how easy the fire is to start too. I always open up the damper and the vent on the back of the stove so that there is plenty of air in the box. Once the fire gets going then I shut it down.

    We burn between 9 and 11 cords of firewood each year. It's the only heat in the house and sometimes we keep a fire going until there is so much ash we can't put any wood in the box. Right now we have a stack of split wood in the wood shed and a big stack of split and rounds at the front door. High tomorrow (Sunday) is supposed to be 6 below.

  8. If you went off the side of an existing building all you would need is a short roof span and two posts to make a shelter for your wood. Put old pallets down with plastic underneath them as a moisture barrier. Then hang a tarp curtain from the top and voila! Wood shed. We did this on our existing shed to make a parking spot for the riding mower and push mower. It looks like a mini carport.

  9. I'm wishing it was 55 here. It'amazing the difference in what a few hundred miles & some elevation can make. On to fires. We burn Pinon pine mostly. And it's stacked outsides. For fire starter we buy a bag of pine shavings & mix some up with Kerosene in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid. Add a few spoon fulls to the kindling open the vents & you got fire!! Now in Montana & Idaho we had really BIG wood sheds. As soon as it was split in went in there...

  10. I don't have anything under the concrete blocks. I just use plastic under the pallets that rest on the ground.


  11. I know a rooster you can have. Ahem.

  12. this wood stacking idea is something looming in our future here. right now our wood is out in the rain everyday, for years, so maybe it's not even burnable. i remember our contractor laughing at us, "you plan to burn THAT wood? that'll never work, it's rotten."

    but the chimney sweep comes every 3 months to monitor and clean our chimneys - they just show up at your door around here without being called. they said burning wet wood will clog your chimney and maybe burn your house up. so we're trying to be careful about that.

    i see that also a chainsaw may be in our future.

    about the chickens, i was shocked to see something lying on the ground of aarene's chicken palace. a chicken leg bone. i had to ask. it's true, the chickens eat anything, including the chicken scraps after your chicken dinner. aghhh!


  13. Our woodshed has slatted walls and a dirt floor (termites aren't a huge problem in the Swamp). I hang tarps from the roof on the outside of the slats to keep the rain and sn*w from blowing in, but with plenty of air space between the tarp and the slats--2 or 3 feet at least.

    Our wood is 1/4 or 1/8 of a fir, cedar, or alder logs while it's stacked, and then the kids split it smaller right before they bring it indoors to burn. Our air is damp, but the woodshed is very dry.

    I suspect the pine may be building up tar in your chimney. We clean our chimney at least once each winter, and once in the summer as well.

  14. Thanks for the tips, yall! I wonder if I should call the chimney sweep. We had the whole setup inspected and had the chimney cleaned when we bought the place, and he said it'd be fine to clean it once a year.

    We don't burn pine exclusively - that's just what I use to get the fire started. We've got mixed black walnut and almond for hardwood. It's lovely stuff, better than oak! Well, it smells better anyway.

    lytha - I also have cannibal chickens! They are heartless little creatures.

  15. when my family used to heat with wood, it was a 2-phase storage solution. Unchopped cords were stored outside, palleted and covered.

    Once or twice per week, depending on how fast we were going through it, someone would go outside and chop another weekish's worth. The chopped wood was passed through a little hobbit-sized door into a brick archway adjacent and built into the hearth. This way, most of the newly-chopped stuff got an extra few days drying time before we tried to start a fire with it, and the added benefit of introducing a bit of humidity into the house, which got quite dry in the winter. Obviously, a pass-through hobbit door from wood stack to hearth may require some renovation, but finding a less labor intensive way to temporarily store small quantities indoors between chopping and burning may solve your problem.

  16. Those poor chickens! I'm sure they're already shaking in their little chicken feet!

    I can't help you with the wood situation, but you do have an award waiting at my blog! :)

  17. LOL i2p, I think they read the blog. After a weeklong egg slump today they popped back up to six eggs! I'll come pick it up - thanks!

  18. Dear Funder, I love reading your blog, so even though in2paints awarded you first, I still had to include there's also an award for you on my blog:)

  19. Moisture is always my enemy here. So I always have a small stack in the house that's drying out. I stack it crosswise so the air can circulate between the pieces. Depending on how damp it's gotten outside will affect long it will take for the excess moisture to dry but it's not the same kind of moisture as when a tree is first cut. It will dry fairly quickly, maybe a day or two.

    I start my fire with that. Once I get it going wood coming from outside will burn fine but I'm always bringing wood in one stack ahead of what's on my fire so it can dry a little before i put it on my fire. It works fine like that.

    Glad to hear the chickens are still alive and squawking. I was thinking they were getting awfully close to getting garliced. LOL

  20. I like the mentioned idea about using cinder blocks--I wonder if they could be the whole bottom layer of your stack. Also, if you have a spot that's south-facing, what about, instead of covering with a tarp, using a piece of clear plastic--think "greenhouse effect." Be sure to leave someplace open for the moisture to escape...

  21. I have heard of drying the next set of logs indoors, which sounds like the hearth renovation mentioned by AmbiAcademic. The trick is not to burn your house down in the process. ;)

  22. You could also soak the kindling in paraffin. Just put a little paraffin in a bucket and stand the kindling end-on so that it wicks up.


Feel free to comment!