One of the first things we did when we moved into our little cottage was to have two wood burning stoves installed. This has proved to be one of our very best decisions. Not only do they provide us with lots of free, and carbon neutral heat, but they also help to create a wonderfully cosy and warm atmosphere within the house. We find that a real fire instantly makes us feel more relaxed and content. We actually now look forward to cold winter evenings, just so we can feel extra snug sitting by the fire, glass of red wine in hand, watching the crackle and spit of the flames.
Surprisingly though, one of our favourite aspects of having wood burning stoves, is the simple pleasure derived from chopping, splitting and stacking wood for them throughout the year. It is hard work and takes up a fair amount of our time, but we find there is much satisfaction to be gained from the slow process of stockpiling and drying wood. This possibly harks back to our more primitive instincts to gather and squirrel away resources in times of plenty. We do much of the work when the weather is warm and pleasant. That way everything is ready in plenty of time for when the first autumn chills arive.
Last week we came home with a pile of free wooden pallets that were kindly given to us. Pallet wood, along with the pruned twigs of fruit trees, foraged pine cones, and other small branches from our garden and orchard, makes up the bulk of our kindling stores. We find pallets are extremely easy to come by. Perhaps the best places to get hold of them are shops (particularly DIY places or stores that stock large items), who regularly throw them out for recycling. If we are buying something in store or passing by, we just politely ask a shop assistant if they have any pallets going spare. They rarely say no, and are usually more than happy to give them away for free. The only condition on our part is that they need to be unpainted and untreated, and ideally should have been stored inside or under shelter. That way there are no nasty chemicals on the wood, and they will be bone dry; perfect for getting a fire started.
To prepare the pallet wood for kindling, we used to painstakingly remove all of the nails and staples from the slats and corners, using the end of a hammer and a lot of elbow grease. Now we have a much faster method. We invested in a Black & Decker Alligator Powered Lopper, which is fantastic for quickly chopping smaller pieces of wood without the use of a chainsaw. For pallet wood kindling, we use the loppers to separate the slats from the blocks, leaving us with a pile of nail-filled cubes and plain wood.
The wood is then split into strips using a hatchet axe, and stacked neatly in one of the log stores (we have a handy shelving system in one of our homemade stores that we use for kindling), alongside the blocks. We use both to get the fires going in the stoves: a layer of crumpled newspaper, a criss-crossed stack of the pallet kindling, a couple of pine cones or twigs, and a pallet block on top. We burn the blocks whole, nails and all, then use a powerful magnet (recycled from the back of an old pair of speakers) to retrieve the metal bits from the ash tray (once cool) and bin them. The ash is then emptied in the garden (where the chickens make use of it for dust baths and the compost can benefit from the potassium). Overall we find the process works really well. We’re easily able to stack up a year’s worth of kindling from a pile of pallets and a few hours work. Best of all, we’re recycling rubbish that might otherwise have ended up in landfill, and it doesn’t cost us a penny.