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the village idiot

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About the village idiot

  • Rank
    Senior Member
  • Birthday 18/09/1977

Personal Information

  • Location:
    Suffolkshire
  • Interests
    woodlands and their possibilities
  • Occupation
    woodman
  • Post code
    ip6 8eh
  • City
    ipswich

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  1. Hi Stere, that's a handy looking gizmo. Do you know what it's called? We cut the most gnarly branch unions out straight after felling but smaller ones are processed. I absolutely take your point about a mix of sizes in the finished bag. Our two main customers like the uniformity of our logs and we are somewhat guided by them. They sell kindling too to get the fire going. If we were ever to go over to a processor they probably wouldn't mind too much. There are some other reasons why we haven't gone down the processor route as yet which are highlighted in the firewood post, but we'll see what the future brings. The next large investment is more likely to be a big seasoning barn. I haven't yet covered Ash dieback in depth. I am going to a seminar about managing Woodlands with Chalara next week. My plan was to report back after that. Natural regeneration is earmarked for the ecology sections.
  2. Yup, it's all about the split. You get very good at judging a 10'' log length when you do as many chainsaw cuts as we do. The beauty of the excavator is that you can pick a log out of the stack and slew it round to the cutting area very quickly. I think this procedure would take too long with a tractor mounted grab. We did consider using the tractor but decided against it.
  3. Thanks doobin, You're quite right, it would almost certainly be financially beneficial to be less fussy about firewood quality, opening up the options for faster kit. I think it probably comes down to pride. I'm not generally a big fan of pride (I have some rather unorthodox views on free will) but in the case of our firewood it seems to have crept in the side door.
  4. Understood. I did go off on one a bit there! Got carried away with my own train of thought. Hope you enjoy your tipple.
  5. Gyms alongside Takeaways sounds like a perfect cosmic balance. A bit like Betting shops alongside Banks.
  6. Nice video warren! It certainly would help, as long as all our cord wood looked like that and we were less anally retentive about our finished product!
  7. Thanks roboted. Very kind words but with only six years under my belt I really don't feel I have enough experience yet to be confident in advising others. I'm more than happy to show others what we are up to and compare notes though. I am really only learning about good practice in one particular type of woodland. It may be that what is happening in East Sussex is totally appropriate in that particular set of circumstances. There are many ways to manage woodland well and many different objectives to take into account. Of course it could also be the case that the Woods you mention are being trashed for profit. I hope this is not the case. You raise a very valid point regarding workforce numbers. The sustainable forestry sector is hopelessly understaffed, with much of this type of work being carried out by volunteers. This is largely due to the fact that it is difficult to earn a comfortable living in this line of work, but also due to the fact that sustainable woodland management is not well publicised as either a career prospect, or as a rewarding option to woodland owners. I hope this will change over time as the importance of woodland habitats and services becomes more prevalent in the public consciousness. Regarding philosophy. This is a tricky one and very dependant upon people's independent nature's and circumstances. I personally value experiences and mental wellbeing over ever increasing financial reward, but I am a single man with no dependents who can afford this luxury. Most people require (or sometimes think they require) a much more substantial income to keep themselves and their families happy. This necessitates a somewhat more 'business like' approach which can sometimes work well but is also often damaging to sensitive habitats. It would be great if someday soon our Woodlands are valued strongly enough that their management becomes a more viable prospect for many more workers. If woodland operations can see bigger financial returns then all contractors will be in a position (or obligated) to take special care during their operations. At present unfortunately this is often simply not an option. Most larger scale woodland contractors I have met are very sensitive to environmental impacts, and if given the financial freedom would go to great lengths to operate as environmentally consciously as possible. They are very often good people constrained by an undervalued industry. Apologies if this all comes across as self righteousness. I don't mean it to be. I fully understand the financial pressures on the majority of woodland contractors. It is also fair to point out that in a lot of cases less than sensitive woodland operations are still much better than no operations at all.
  8. Absolutely. The concrete rides and pads are a HUGE bonus. I go a bit weak at the knees at the thought of not having them. As a bare minimum any woodland owner should consider having a hard track installed running from a road entrance in to the main processing area. This makes life so much easier. There are also grants available to help with the outlay. The excavator 'saw horse' has been a bit of a game changer for us. I couldn't find a digger/grab combo to hire in without an operator so had to buy in a grab (around £2500). A 5ton excavator costs about £400 per week. You can do a huge amount of ringing up in this time. You have to make sure that the grab comes with the correct hitch to fit with the excavator. Subject to timings you would be very welcome to borrow my grab to try out if you have a lot of cord to process and can obtain a digger.
  9. We are probably quite small compared to some of the firewood guys on here. For us, the firewood operation is a means to an end. It provides the funds to keep us in the Wood.
  10. FIREWOOD. (Long post alert!) There is a view among some that Woodland resource ending it's days as firewood is a shame and somehow a bit wasteful. We do not subscribe to this view at all. In recent years it has been the demand for firewood that has driven the increase in management of many more broadleaf woodland sites, including ancient woodland. It is not just wildlife and the rural economy that benefit from this, it also helps the planet. Any displacement of fossil fuel use by wood helps massively to stabilise and ultimately reduce atmospheric carbon levels. Firewood, especially if combusted in efficiently burning stoves and boilers is a very good thing. Right from the start of my woodland management activities firewood has been my mainstay in terms of revenue generation. Almost 100% of my income comes from firewood sales. Without this market being available and thriving the management of the wood would not even come close to being financially viable. Sustainable woodland management would likely only occur in sites owned by wildlife trusts and exceedingly green minded private owners. As the firewood threads on this fine forum show, there are a hundred different ways to set up an effective firewood operation. We produce around 600 cubic mtrs of split product a year with no firewood processor. Are we crazy? Almost certainly, but there is method to our madness. I'll attempt to detail our thinking and our process below. The path you choose to take with your firewood operation will be largely dependant on the size and variety of kit that you can afford to purchase/hire. There are people out there who make do with a chainsaw, an axe and a battered old pick up. If you are going large scale though it makes sense to equip yourself with some extra machinery to take the strain off your body. When I first started out all I had available were my trusty Husqvarna 346, Antonio the work shy tractor, a small craneless timber trailer and a small horizontal 8ton electric log splitter. The Process: After you have felled an area of woodland you are left with a scene somewhat like this: I had no means of extracting logs of this size so resorted to ringing up the lengths 'at stump' (where they fall). The 10 inch long rings were then roughly split with a maul and placed into cages made of stock fencing to begin the seasoning process: During a dry spell in the spring I would hand ball the logs into my little trailer and extract them over the small bridge to my processing area. From the trailer the wood was then split down further and thrown into double height stock fencing cages to continue seasoning. This methodology produced wonderful logs but the amount of handling was unsustainable in the long term. Firewood production was increasing year on year and I had to get a bit more mechanised. The first change was to switch over to fully vented cubic mtr bags. This made handling much easier, including with loading the logs onto lorries (all my firewood is wholesaled). Below you can see an early picture of Steve on the horizontal splitter loading a vented bag held open with a frame made of pallets. We of course never bypass the two handed safe operating system on the splitters. What you think you can make out in the picture is simply an optical illusion. We have since ditched the pallet frame and gone over to builder's trestles. These are brilliant for holding bags in place and slot neatly into the long sides of a standard pallet. Our next improvement was to have our cordwood extracted by contractors with proper forwarding trailers. This saved a huge amount of time and unnecessary handling. We started with Chris Howard's compact set up but now use John Shipp with his bigger kit. This costs money of course but free's up your time for splitting more logs. The cordwood was all stacked at our processing area where we ringed it all up out of the stack. This was probably my least favourite job in the woods. Cutting out of a stack is a real ball ache. So, we had streamlined the extraction process, but ringing up out of the stack was not a practice we were keen to continue. Two seasons ago we asked John to stack all the cord wood one log deep on bearers. This took up a huge amount of ride edge space but did make the ringing up a lot easier, especially with a cant hook on standby. A cant hook is a long bar with a pivoted hook on the end, it grips a long log and uses leverage to roll it over. Last season we had a bit of a breakthrough. We were thinking about how easy it would be to ring up the cordwood if each log could be lifted up to waist height. The perfect machine for this is an excavator with a log grab attachment. We hired in James Gadd (a local contractor) with his bobcat and timber grab for a few days to test the principal. I don't have a picture with the grab, but below is an image of James with a flail attachment that we also had a play with. Ringing up with the help of the excavator was a revelation. In no time at all you are left with a sizeable heap of rings ready for splitting. James was too expensive to use for all our ringing up, but I was so enamoured with the process that I went straight out and bought a grab of our own. We then hired in an excavator to finish off the rest of our stacks. Filled bags are moved around with Sally and a forklift mast attachment (one of my better purchases!) You can see the trestles holing a bag open in the background (behind the bbq, which no woodland operation should be without.) After a few months of splitting we accumulate quite a healthy collection of finished product. Fingers crossed the video works. firewood6.mp4 So why in the name of all that's holy have we not gone down the firewood processor route? There are a few reasons. We have been to many machinery demos and have not yet encountered a machine that can produce logs of the consistent quality that we want. We have very high standards! A firewood processor is somewhat limited in the size and shape of the log it will accept. With our method all logs can be dealt with in the same way. To use a firewood processor to it's maximum efficiency you ideally need several other pieces of additional kit (log deck, loader, elevator, second tractor etc.) We do not have the funds available for all this ancillary equipment. These are all reasons why we have shied away from a processor, but the main one is simply down to job enjoyment. When making purchasing or operational decisions we almost always prioritise job enjoyment over maximum productivity. Steve and I both love spending the summer on the quiet electric splitters listening to audiobooks and podcasts. The splitters are powered by a diesel generator sited a long way from the work area. This creates a very pleasant environment in which to work, and an opportunity to broaden our minds. A scenario that would be much more difficult with a noisy tractor and processor right next to us. A processor set up works very well for most large scale firewood producers, and they would probably consider our methods bonkers. Each to their own I say. We have tried vertical splitters but actually find our compact horizontal splitters considerably more user friendly. The 'compact' is key here. Most horizontal splitters are a bit too long, the ergonomics slowing down the splitting operation significantly. Our little splitters only have a maximum of 8ton splitting force, we have always found this perfectly adequate. I chose early on to wholesale all of our firewood. We sell to two local firewood merchants who do all the deliveries. We obviously take a significant hit on revenue per bag with this arrangement, but Steve and I are both keen to spend as much time in the Wood as possible over the winter, rather than be trucking around the lanes of Suffolk dishing out logs. One of our wholesale customers collects the bags himself, the other gets the logs delivered to his base via lorries loaded with the alpine/forklift combo. Every woody person I have spoken to sets up their firewood operation in a different way (from us and from each other). A good general rule is too try to limit log handling as much as possible. I personally would add to this that it is important to ensure that you are enjoying the process too. It is difficult to sustain and be successful with a process that you dread the thought of doing. Edit: Forgot to mention that small diameter logs, generally those that don't need to be split are processed on a circular saw bench. This is easily powered from Sally's PTO.
  11. Thanks for the picture avantgardener. Woodland Oak coppice is quite a rare sight. We've had little success in our Wood. If the Muntjac don't get the regrowth, the mildew does. We've got one large specimen in the North of the Wood. I don't know if it was originally coppiced by man or mother nature.
  12. What an outrage! I hope these people can gain access to the appropriate counselling services to help get their lives back on track. The World has some truly momentous challenges to overcome. Too much coconut for comfort is not one of them.
  13. Gosh! Thanks Canal Navvy. Is it just me or are advent calendar chocolates always curiously disappointing? As with most things in life, the real tangible pleasure is in the anticipation. I'll try and keep things going till Christmas. I'm running out of operational stuff so will have to switch focus to ancient woodland ecology soon. Plenty of good stuff to get stuck into there though.

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