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PAUL SMITH: Back to my Wood Burning Roots

The woodpile looks absolutely wonderful. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO
The woodpile looks absolutely wonderful. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO - Paul Smith

So it’s a done deal. I bought a chimney this afternoon, and a few days ago I ordered a wood furnace online.  

After a 30-year hiatus from burning wood for central heat, I’m returning to my roots. Well, sort of, because it’s not for the house, our primary dwelling place, but a close second I suppose.  

I mentioned on a few occasions about my garage project that mushroomed into a two-story building. Now I have a big enough storage area on ground level, and a guesthouse above for children and grandkids. 

I also sneaked in a good-sized room for my fly rods, snowshoes, shotguns, rifles and other outdoor gear. I’m really looking forward to a dedicated gun cleaning, scope installing and tinkering area.  

The building’s windows face the ocean and I’m keen on tying flies while watching goldeneyes, scaups, mergansers, long-tailed ducks, and the odd eider milling about the harbour. Yes, I’ve seen them all there from time to time.  

Rod Hale splitting wood at our salmon fishing camp. He's skipping the gym.
Rod Hale splitting wood at our salmon fishing camp. He's skipping the gym.

Actually, the structure isn’t quite finished yet. It’s taking time because I’m doing most all the work myself. And I was out of commission for six months with a torn bicep.  

But it’s finished outside and right now and I’m working on getting the electrical clewed up, maybe before Christmas.  

The weather is getting cold and I really need heat. I was leaning towards a combination of electric heat and a wood stove.  

Then I discovered online a dandy wood furnace with a glass door to the firebox for viewing the flame. The cost wasn’t much more than a good quality stove, so I pulled the trigger, an online purchase with free delivery to Newfoundland.  

And you know what? I’m excited about being back in the wood-burning fraternity.  

There’s something very special and comforting about the smell of wood smoke hanging heavy in the air on a crisp and clear frosty winter’s evening.  

That will be our snow-covered yard very soon, mixed with the smell of salty Conception Bay air, no less than intoxicating to be sure.  

Back to that glass door, for inside ambiance, that was the furnace’s main selling point for me.  

I wanted to see the fire crackling and popping, making my inside space warm and cozy while the snow blows around outdoors. What more could a man want? Maybe Goldie will make a Christmas fruitcake upstairs.  Now that would be absolutely perfect.  

What about those wood-burning roots?  

Goldie and I built our first home during the summer of 1982 while living in Port Rexton on the Bonavista Peninsula. 

The hunting was good and there were plenty of wood and logs to cut.  

Cameron Gosse and Robert Richards (not shown) saw up wood at our moose camp. They love it. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO
Cameron Gosse and Robert Richards (not shown) saw up wood at our moose camp. They love it. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO

Actually, I cut all the logs to build the house that previous winter, along with five or six cords of firewood, because I fully expected to be burning wood in our new home. We had a big green Kerr hot air wood furnace installed soon after we moved in around mid-September.  

We would not have a cold winter. Not being fully familiar with the big iron beast’s capacity, I recall having the windows wide open on a bone chilling early December evening.  

Life was good. 

How I worked to satisfy the fibrous hunger of that green monster.  

My understanding of today’s furnaces is a less violent and more efficient high-tech nature. 

They claim to deliver equivalent thermal output with 30 per cent less wood by using secondary burn characteristics.  

I guess that means less energy going up the chimney. I have talked to the techs at the Quebec-based company, and it all sounds good. They were very helpful with helping me plan out my installation.   

We will see how it all goes. 

Some of you will say that I’m crazy to be getting into wood heat at my age. Maybe, but I really do enjoy the whole process of wood heating from start to finish.  

I’m certainly not going into this blind because I know very well from experience how much physical labour is involved. I’ve done it before — 20 piled-to-the-cab pickup loads a year, and cutting every stick myself.  

But I’m not going at it on that scale again. I’m figuring on burning maybe three or four cords a heating season.  

A cord is approximately two rounded-up pickup pans. During the 1980s, living in a windy cold location and burning from September to June, we put 15 cord up the stack.  

Never burn green wood, not in your house, basement, shed or cabin. 

It’s extremely dangerous. Green wood burns slow and smolders — a sort of fire that smells bad, and produces a tar-like substance called creosote. It sticks to the walls of your chimney and is very flammable.  

Creosote buildup is the cause of most chimney fires. Of course, you need to clean your chimney once or twice a year, but the best way to avoid creosote is to only burn seasoned, dry wood. 

You have to cut your firewood a year in advance. The wood that I cut this coming winter will be for the heating season of fall 2020/winter 2021.  

It’s a lot of hard work, and if you choose to embark on this path, be prepared for plenty of vigorous exercise. Hey, you can save on a gym membership. I didn’t need to pump much iron to stay fit during the 1980s. But you can always buy firewood. 

Going into the forest and felling trees is just the beginning. So you cut wood and bring it home either in your truck or towed right to your property by ATV or snowmobile. The latter is my preferred option because it reduces handling quite substantially. You avoid loading and unloading into a truck, which constitutes time consuming labour. That’s wonderful.  

If you live where you can haul your wood right to the house, you are ahead of the game. That’s what I’m doing.  

Cameron Gosse is taking a well-deserved pipe break. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO
Cameron Gosse is taking a well-deserved pipe break. - PAUL SMITH PHOTO

Spring comes and you have a big pile of spruce and fur sticks just sitting there.  It won’t dry a tad in a pile like that.

Now it’s time to buck that wood into proper size junks or logs for your stove, fireplace or furnace.  Once bucked, bigger logs require splitting so they will both dry more efficiently and burn better.

Then there’s the stacking. I like to stack wood in rows with both ends exposed to the summer sun and drying wind. Let the wood dry all summer. 

Now it’s September and the fall rains are coming soon. It’s time to fill the woodshed. Now you have to move all billets of dry, seasoned wood from their drying location to a shed or basement so it will stay dry for the heating season.

A wheelbarrow or ATV cart comes in handy. Either way, there’s plenty of bending and moving about. Finally, you get to lug an armful into the house and light the stove.

Sit back and enjoy the ambiance, snub your nose at Muskrat Falls and feel the heat. Enjoy the fruits of your labour. 

Hey, you still have to clean out the ashes and sweep the chimney. Seriously, don’t get into this if you don’t like in the woods and good honest outdoor physical labour.  From forest to ashes, wood has to be handled so many times. For all that, I just can’t wait to get started. We will see how it goes.  

 Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com  or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock 


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