terms of loads of wood to be delivered to
the schoolhouse (in Dorchester, the price
was half a cord per student). Oftentimes,
a school’s woodshed was bigger than the
Nowadays, while the vast majority rely
on fossil fuels rather than wood for heat,
many are the fireplaces that crackle on a
cold winter’s evening, even as our furnaces
and boilers crank away in the basement.
And still feeding those beloved flames is the
beloved woodpile, the object of any true
New Englander’s affection.
For those who buy their firewood plas-tic-wrapped down at the supermarket or order
from a purveyor who delivers it “cut, split,
and stacked,” the building of a woodpile is
not something to worry about. However, for
folks facing the small mountain of logs the
delivery truck just dumped in the driveway
a curved wall of meticulously stacked
split wood in Newton, New Hampshire,
makes a sculptural statement.
— or who are among the hardy willing and
able to cut their own wood — the woodpile
is an art form worth understanding.
It all starts, of course, with a tree.
Felled and limbed, it’s divided into logs
8 to 16 feet long, which are then cut, or
“bucked,” into rounds, billets, or bolts
— sections the right length for burning.
The rounds, if big enough, are split into
sticks, and the sticks are what get stacked
into woodpiles. That makes for hard physical labor, leading Thoreau and others to
call wood “the fuel that warms you twice.”
David Tresemer, author of the exhaustive
book Splitting Firewood, parses the work
more exactly, calling out a full 10 steps
between tree and fire, but the fact remains:
There’s a whole lot of energy that goes into
a woodpile. No wonder the American folklorist Eric Sloane reported reading several
historic wills in which “the wood supply
was considered as important an inheritance as any other item.”
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