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Getting Ready for Firewood Season  RSS feed

 
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It is that time of year again, time to start getting out the chainsaws and producing some firewood. Here are some tips that may help in that endeavor.

1. Keep your chain sharp. Not only does it waste time and effort to try and cut with a dull saw, it causes heat and that causes your chain to heat up (that is why it goes loose), then your bar, that gets transferred to your lower engine case where ultimately your crankshaft is. Keeping a sharp saw will extend the life of your chainsaw for YEARS!

2. Sharpening a saw only looks complicated. It is fast (10 minutes or less) and easy now that they scribe angle lines on each tooth.

3. Be careful taking down the raker, only a stroke or two with the file. That is all you need. Keep this ditty in mind; "Too much off the raker, prepare to meet thy maker."

4. You don't need any fancy tools to keep your saw sharp. Just a file and file handle, and a raker file.

5. New chain, new file! Files wear out quick. My rule is, a new file with a new chain.

6. Stay away from "safety chains". They are not "safe" because they don't cut and that just causes fatigue.

7. Watch your saw tip, dirt is tiny rocks and they do not keep your saw sharp. Keep your saw out of the dirt at all costs!

8. A chainsaw is measured by cc's or horsepower NOT bar length. I have a big chainsaw (76 cc's) yet I only have a 18" bar. Why, because with it I can cut a 36 inch tree and that is HUGE! I spend 80% of my time with a smaller saw and a 16" bar...

9. A shorter bar saves you a lot. It saves money by buying a shorter bar and chain. It saves you from having to sharpen more teeth (and more teeth means you are likely to put your tip in the dirt more). It saves your saw from being robbed of power since it does not have to power a longer chain.

10. It saves you a lot of fatigue from lifting your saw so high. How much? Do the math. I noticed more fatigue at the end of the day with my 20 inch bar and no wonder. On a typical tree while limbing I might go from lower to upper branches 25 times. That extra 2" in bar length equals: 50 extra inches. That is 500 inches per hour, and in a 8 hour day that is 4000 extra inches. Put another way, that is like lifting my chainsaw 333 extra feet! No wonder I am less tired with a shorter bar! Now imagine if you had a 28 inch bar instead of a 18 inch one...yikes, that is like lugging your chainsaw a quarter mile...vertically!

11. It takes 10-12 decent sized trees to make 1 cord of wood

12. In a twitch a half mile or less, no matter if I am using tractor, bulldozer or skidder, I can not seem to produce more than 1 cord per hour (felling, limbing, and twitching).

13. It is far easier to work up 3 decent sized trees than one huge one. Save that for wildlife trees. Your back will thank me and you!

14. A tank full of gas will produce about a cord of wood. (smaller sized burns less fuel, but have smaller tanks, bigger saws burn more fuel, but have bigger tanks).

15. Free firewood is all around if you scrounge for it. Never be afraid to ask!

16. Despite #15, never be afraid to say no either. Grinding stumps, picking up brush and lugging firewood off a lawn is NOT "free", but should be a paying type of job. Consider all things carefully!

17. splitting wood by hand is not as daunting as it seems, it goes pretty quick and is enjoyable.

18. Wood splitters come in many shapes and sizes. Just be aware, they are no where near their rated capacity. Do the math on cylinder bore sizes, rod diamters and hydraulic pressures and you will see that they just cannot achieve their advertised claims.

19. Wood splitters can be rented. For only a few cord, split by hand the easy stuff and rent a splitter for the gnarly stuff.

20. Splitting crotch wood down the crotch seems logical, but it is actually harder. Split the wood lengthwise if it proves too tough.

21. Firewood is handling, and the less times you handle it, the better your operation is.

22. Firewood is ideal for homesteaders because it takes a minimal amount of equipment. A lot of advertising tells you different. Don't buy it.

23. Know your woods, what BTU's they have, and pile it where you know they are. Burn the lighter woods like Red Maple, White Birch and Ash in the shoulder seasons when you don't need so hot of a fire, nor such long burn times. In the dead of winter you'll appreciate your Yellow Birch, Oak and Black Cherry that much more and will be glad you saved it.

24.Avoid dragging your wood on the ground if at all possible. It will just dull your saws when you go to cut it.

25. Only rocket Stoves actually "burn wood", the rest just contain the fire so it does not burn down your home. Consider that well upon buying one. A lot of what they say is just careful advertising.

26. When burning firewood, the wood burns from the top down, where as with coal the fire burns from below. Put air across the top of the fire via air inlets and the fire will go out on a coal fire (I burn both wood and coal).

27. I have made the cheapest stove out there (a Vogelzang Pot Bellied Stove) into an air tight one with nothing more than stove rope, stove cement and rivets. It was not that difficult and actually burned really well (both wood and coal). Never over-spend on a stove.

28. 50% of a stove's heat goes up the chimney. Plan accordingly when accumulating your firewood for the season. There is truth to the old saying, "gather what you think you will need for the winter and then double it."

29. Commercial logging and use for firewood is two different things. My brother heats his home for a year on what I produce for waste in just one week of cutting wood for commercial forest products.

30. Here in Maine anyway, due to climate and snow, anything under 2 inches in diameter, within 2 feet of the ground, will rot in two years time. Foresters call in the #2 rule. Always try to cut down to that size, or slash brush to that depth so aesthetics are maintained quickly.

31. I have cut wood for nearly 30 years and a lot of it commercially, ever year well over 100 cords per year. I often take stupid risks, but I WILL NEVER run a chainsaw without a chain brake! Ever!

32. Know how to fell a tree. Only 15% of the time is spent on felling trees, over half the time is spent dragging it out! Directional felling is key and can save your life.

33. Firewood is a great type of home heat, but only if you do not lob off a limb doing so. Safety should always be number one. Its pretty hard to enjoy a warm comfortable fire when you have to hobble on one leg to get out to the woodshed. Stay safe everyone and have fun getting your firewood in!
 
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Hi Travis,

Thanks very much for the post.  I'm new to this forum . . . this is actually my first post!  I'm good with the rest of the items, but I was hoping you could explain the #2 rule a bit more . . . especially since I'm planning on moving to Maine . . .

Cheers,
CJ
 
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Mr. Johnson,

Thanks so much for your words of advise. I am constantly amazed when I see people operating a chainsaw without even the barest of safety equipment. So many things can and do go wrong. Hopefully others will take the time to read and profit from your words.

-l
 
Travis Johnson
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Cj Thouret wrote:Hi Travis,

Thanks very much for the post.  I'm new to this forum . . . this is actually my first post!  I'm good with the rest of the items, but I was hoping you could explain the #2 rule a bit more . . . especially since I'm planning on moving to Maine . . .

Cheers,
CJ



No problem because it does need more explaining, it was just that it is difficult to get into forestry in a particular state when writing in the format that I did, so it is completely understandable why you might need clarification.

We all know that in a forest where light does not penetrate the ground and wind is not a consideration, things stay more wet then out in fields and other places. So woody debris like limbs tends to rot fairly quick. In Maine it is a bit different because we have snow so the weight of the snow crushes those limbs (what I loosely call brush) down towards the ground where it will rot. The goal is to get that brush down below the two foot level quickly. The faster you can do that, the better. I log with a bulldozer so I just drive over my brush piles and crush them down that way, though you can also "slash" them up with a chainsaw. That is merely cutting the brush up until it falls lower and lower to the ground.

Now if you try and remove any wood over two inches in diameter, and then get what remains on the ground to less than two feet high, in two years time it will be gone.

Now is this exclusive to Maine...certainly not. I have been to Minnesota and they have similar conditions to ours and this rule might apply there too. I really don't know. However a state like Wyoming with dry conditions might be different, that is why I gave the Maine only disclaimer.
 
Cj Thouret
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Thank you again!

I'm somewhat new to this permaculture stuff, although I've been assembling bits and pieces on my own for years.  By biggest problem with permaculture is that there is soooooo much to know and often many ways to do things (though lots of people seem to think theirs is the only way, however).  The result is, at least for my feeble mind, some confusion and not being sure what should be done.  That being said . . .

My inclination is to try to use that brush, etc. for something useful and therefore not leave it to rot.  The flip side of that . . . it's my understanding that the forest likes / needs a certain amount decaying biomass to be healthy.  I was hoping you could comment on that as well.

My goal is to end up with a few to several acres near Augusta Maine near where my parents are going to retire and sustainably use those acres to be as self sufficient as possible.
 
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That's a very good post, Travis.

I'd add that your list is somewhat location specific.  I've cut down bur oak in Iowa where the branches of one tree produced four cords.  ( I was young and fortunately I lived through a seat-of-the-pants training! )  Where I live in Colorado it may take many more trees to produce one cord than what it takes for you.  Yes! You are quite right that smaller trees are easier, probably safer for those not-so-experienced firewooders, and are usually easier to split.

A couple of thoughts to add:  At least in the mountains it is A LOT easier to get trees from above the road than from below!  Often we cut logs where they fell and roll the rounds down.  Keeps that dirt off the chain!

Some types of wood are pretty easy to split by hand, but others are not at all easy.  River bottom cottonwood is often available in the west, but is nearly worthless when you consider how hard it is to split.  The easiest wood to split is green wood split when the temperature outside is well below freezing, preferably zero or colder. 

One last thought.  In 1976 I heated with wood for the first time.  It was September and I was just bringing in a load with my room-mate when his dad dropped by, an eighty-something Norwegian immigrant who was amused at our efforts.  He said something to the effect of:  Nice load of wood.  I assume you must be putting that stuff up for a year from now, right?  I learned.  Now I have about five years of wood on hand and plan to keep at least that far ahead as long as I'm able.

Thanks for your helpful post!
 
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Cj Thouret wrote:Thank you again!

I'm somewhat new to this permaculture stuff, although I've been assembling bits and pieces on my own for years.  By biggest problem with permaculture is that there is soooooo much to know and often many ways to do things (though lots of people seem to think theirs is the only way, however).  The result is, at least for my feeble mind, some confusion and not being sure what should be done.  That being said . . .

My inclination is to try to use that brush, etc. for something useful and therefore not leave it to rot.  The flip side of that . . . it's my understanding that the forest likes / needs a certain amount decaying biomass to be healthy.  I was hoping you could comment on that as well.

My goal is to end up with a few to several acres near Augusta Maine near where my parents are going to retire and sustainably use those acres to be as self sufficient as possible.



Taking care of your landscape is an experiment. Suggested methods and procedures are just guidelines. What techniques you use depends on min and max temps, soil types, slope etc. Micro climates mean techniques used 3 miles away may need modifying to work well on your property.
The best approach is to know about many ideas and find which mixture works for you.
 
Travis Johnson
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I wish I could remember how much nutrients are lost from taking the whole tree instead of just the bole, but it is significant, something like an extra 40% of the tree. That is why I cringe with the latest logging trend for whole tree chipping. Yes the landowner gets more money since more wood is being removed, but for what? Biomass only pays $1 a ton.

Right now I am clearing forest into field and so any remaining brush will be burned so the more I can get rid of, the better. That being said, I am pretty limited on what I can get rid of because of commercial sizes (a 4 inch top on pulpwood, an 7 inch top of softwood logs with no softwood pulp market so I am leaving some pretty big tops and brush in the woods.

It will be interesting though on what the land produces. They said the settlers here had grass growing over their heads because of such soil fertility! 90% of the land here was field in 1900, but this is part of the 10%. Because it is so far from the road, and to get to it requires crossing a wet area, it was never cleared and used for agriculture. This is witnessed not only by agriculture, but when I churn the soil up while logging, in a few weeks time it turns red. The soil engineer that came here said that is the iron oxide in the soil starting to rust. If it had been tilled fields, plowing would have caused the iron to already rust, and if it had been pasture, hooves would have done the same thing. It was never logged either because of how far distant it was the the road, and tractors and horses could not get through the wet area. I even had a hard time getting to it; once for a few weeks in 1994, and then a week in 2011 when it was cold without snow and the soil actually froze. Now I am logging it, but only after spending a few days bulldozing enough soil from each side to build a road up, installing culverts and grubbing stumps. It has taken weeks of work, but now you can drive a car up there and needless to say the wood is flowing. Still it will take me years to clear, but I am in no hurry. My Great Uncle write his autobiography in 1836 and said, "my father bought the farm and was never able to fully clear it." We have been trying ever since then and the wood grows faster than we can clear. And at the slow pace my bulldozer lumbers along at...I am sure I never will clear it all either. I just pick 20-30 acre pieces and work until its all cut off, stumped, graded and sown, then start on a new piece.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:I wish I could remember how much nutrients are lost from taking the whole tree instead of just the bole, but it is significant, something like an extra 40% of the tree. That is why I cringe with the latest logging trend for whole tree chipping. Yes the landowner gets more money since more wood is being removed, but for what? Biomass only pays $1 a ton.

Right now I am clearing forest into field and so any remaining brush will be burned so the more I can get rid of, the better.



How many nutrients are lost through burning?  I guess the minerals are retained.

 
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How many nutrients are lost through burning?  I guess the minerals are retained.



None are lost. The only elements, that sometimes escape into space, are gaseous hydrogen and helium. All other elements wind up somewhere on earth.

I love reading your posts Tyler. Keep up the good work.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I meant on that patch of land (but you knew that). 

 
ronie dee
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I meant on that patch of land (but you knew that). 



Far more elements slip downstream by the hydro-cycle. Most all the gaseous molecules from burning, will move "downstream" from where the wood is burned. Whatever solid molecules that are left
after the fire, are left behind. Different sources quote different compounds when testing ashes. Calcium carbonate, potassium, phosphate and trace metals are in ashes.

If wood burns efficiently, carbon dioxide and water vapor are the most gases in the exhaust. If a tree falls and rots - almost the same thing happens over time.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Seems like a lot more life would result from the rotting tree than from the burnt tree.

 
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I have cut 1-5 cords a year for the past 30 years and enjoy doing it. I did buy a splitter about 10 years ago though, the mostly oak an hickory are tough and I have numb hands issues so the splitter has been my friend. I get others to do the felling now when I can... Im in my mid 50's now and have felled aplenty but that getting older thing... Ya know...? Being in Florida I dont need a crazy amount but for years I kept 2 woodstoves and an outdoor fire going anytime it was suitable. Just me left now but the dogs an i do love the warmth of real heat. And I love doing it...
 
Travis Johnson
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Seems like a lot more life would result from the rotting tree than from the burnt tree.



No because with burning you end up with a chemical reaction that ends up as potash, a pretty major ingredient in fertilizer. Today potash in fertilizer is synthetically made, but in my ancestors day, they found burning the resulting wood produced potash, and in fact settlers in New England supplemented their incomes by exporting it to depleted-soil-England. This was no minor export...it was HUGE back in the 1800's!

The other thing fire does is reduce the time delay of the nitrogen cycle. In regular decay you have the soil being robed of nitrogen in order to break down the woody matter. This takes place for about 7 years, at which time the roles switch, and with the wood sufficiently decayed, it starts adding nitrogen to the soil. We combat this on my farm by adding tons of nitrogen to get our crops to grow, in our case sheep and cow manure. But we know this extra nitrogen will only be needed for the first few years, after that we know our reward will be less nitrogen inputs to get the same yield. This is nothing unique to Permicuturists, it is why we use well decayed wood in the construction of hugels. Fresh wood would have a delay of several years and no one wants that...they want abundant crops.  However, burning debris speeds up this process because its basically rot at an accelerated level, both physically and chemically.

For the southern states, using fire is dangerous, in particular burning stumps as once started they will burn for months. For us in the Northern states, we set fires to stump piles after the first snow and thus can use fire with a little more safety. By the time fire season rolls around, they have burned themselves out.
 
Jotham Bessey
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Unfortunately, by speeding up the release of nitrogen you also increase the nitrogen spike in nearby waters. better to have a brush pile windrow around the field I think.
 
Travis Johnson
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Jotham Bessey wrote:Unfortunately, by speeding up the release of nitrogen you also increase the nitrogen spike in nearby waters. better to have a brush pile windrow around the field I think.



I see what you are saying, and it might be an issue if you did so directly beside a lake or stream where it could migrate quickly to a water source, but it would take an awful lot of it. We have never had that issue here and we spread manure and have burned brush for years. We are however, located miles from any open water. In fact the forest I am clearing now into a field is at the height of land. That is, it literally splits two watersheds with ever rain drop falling on the right side of the field to go into one watershed, and the left side going into another.

A basic understanding of nitrogen I think would dispel this as it is highly volatile in nature. Just to get any real benefit out of it we have to incorporate it as quickly as we can into the soil on row crops, and on grass ground spread just before a significant rain event or its a useless endeavor fertilizer wise. This is supported by USDA-Forest Service Research. The interesting thing is, I could only find nitrate information on low intensity prescribed burns, which is done to reduce fuel load. In my case it would be even less because I have removed every forest resource as much as commercially possible so it would be even less than what they call "low intensity".

I am not calling you out on this, just letting us all learn that there are tools that are perfectly acceptable to use even if at first it seems as if they would not be.

Quoted from: Fire Science Brief
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1079&context=jfspbriefs

1) Elevated nitrogen levels in soils and vegetation of riparian forests were far more pronounced following high-intensity
wildfires compared to low-intensity spring prescribed fires.

2)The moderately elevated nitrogen pulse in soils and terrestrial plants from spring prescribed fires had typically
disappeared by the end of the first growing season.

3)In most cases the brief nitrogen pulse in soil after spring prescribed fires was completely contained within the
terrestrial ecosystem and did not reach adjacent streams.
 
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Travis Johnson wrote:I wish I could remember how much nutrients are lost from taking the whole tree instead of just the bole, but it is significant, something like an extra 40% of the tree. That is why I cringe with the latest logging trend for whole tree chipping. Yes the landowner gets more money since more wood is being removed, but for what? Biomass only pays $1 a ton.



My memory seems to say that the branches and leaves of the tree was the greater percentage of nutrients rather than the bole. But that may also be environment specific. My training was boreal forest.
 
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I didn't read all the later comments so I'm not sure if this has been mentioned. CJ asked what else can be done with the "brush" and branches not taken to use for firewood. Our property is fairly heavily wooded and there is a LOT of brush in the form of abandoned limbs, dead/fallen trees, etc left from the previous owners. While trying to figure out how to work in some agroforestry/silvopasture areas, I came upon the idea of berms. So far, my husband and I have cleared about 1/2-1 acre of ground and - without cutting any large trees - we've created several hundred feet of berms several feet tall and wide. This will hopefully help slow down the water as it flows over the hillside and it will eventually rot in place and create some terracing. These berms will be planted with forage for our livestock. Our chickens like to hide their nests in them
 
Cj Thouret
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That sounds beautiful . . . 
 
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This thread mentioned a lot of windfall in addition to main dead trees that are taken down for firewood.  Since we live along a river, there is both windfall as well as "wash-up" that can be selected from the banks of the river.  With the set-up shown below, it makes fast work of small to mid-sized logs.  The saw will cut ~4-5 inches (12 inch blade), but by rotating the log can cut larger pieces as well.  All of this is dead elm from dutch elm disease. Key is the portability of going just about anywhere on the property.
WoodlotBuddy1.jpg
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Travis Johnson wrote:
Quoted from: Fire Science Brief
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1079&context=jfspbriefs

1) Elevated nitrogen levels in soils and vegetation of riparian forests were far more pronounced following high-intensity
wildfires compared to low-intensity spring prescribed fires.

2)The moderately elevated nitrogen pulse in soils and terrestrial plants from spring prescribed fires had typically
disappeared by the end of the first growing season.

3)In most cases the brief nitrogen pulse in soil after spring prescribed fires was completely contained within the
terrestrial ecosystem and did not reach adjacent streams.



Burning away from streams will not protect your groundwater.

I have to say, I'm with Tyler.  I'm firmly of the opinion that a decaying tree is of far more value than the equivalent in ashes.  And there's way more to it than potash.   Ashes cannot decay to humus, improving your soil's CEC.  They are a poor substrate for the growth of bryophytes, lichens and ferns.  They provide no habitat for sow bugs or centipedes, no shelter for salamanders or snakes and no nesting sites and burrows for small mammals.  They provide no food energy for fungi, nor any of the organisms in the large and complex web they are part of.  They provide no reservoir of moisture to see the surrounding ecosystem through drought.  They do not stabilize soils and slopes during run-off events.

Decaying wood does all this and much more.  Google "ecology of coarse woody debris" to find out more.
 
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And if you've got some nice stumps left, try doing this! This is what I want to do with a really big tree we have near the garden that is going to have to come down eventually.

!
 
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On the topic of burning or letting wood decompose, one thing I didn't see mentioned was rain erosion. We get a lot of rain in my neck of the woods, and its really easy for nutrients to wash away via soil erosion. I'm thinking that ash is probably easier to wash away than small branches on the ground, and with the ash, the nutrients in it (I could be wrong, though, because doesn't a chemical reaction occur when water hits ash, creating lye? I've noticed that when I apply ash from my woodstove to my garden beds and under my fruit trees, the ash "disappears" within a few days of rain. I don't know exactly what happened to it, though...).

Also on the topic of erosion, wouldn't those small branches would also help prevent soil erosion, acting as a mulch until new growth fills the space and acts as living mulch?
 
Travis Johnson
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Many of you may be right and I am rethinking my plan. I am not too worried about soil fertility, this has been in my family since the 1600's and so I know it has never been cleared and put into fields. As I log it and stir up the soil this is evident in the rusting that is occurring, which of course is iron in the soil. This would have already happened if it had been tilled, or was pasture. It is literally virgin land, and will be interesting to see what I get for crops. But erosion might be an issue, my farm has a lot of highly erodible so..fertile...but erodible.

In any case, last month we got 72 inches of snow in 10 days time, which is a record, but with snow comes weight and it really crushed down a lot of the brush I had generated from my logging efforts. Driving over it with a bulldozer and skidder has also helped, and it really has got me thinking on the best way to do this. I have also been running the numbers on my sheep expansion and at present, I have enough open land to feed twice the number of sheep I will be raising, so I got some time and wiggle room for now.

Honestly I would love to mulch it, and can rent a mulcher from a rental company, but it would be around $15,000 for this 30 acres, and that is not even counting removing the stumps. It would get rid of my brush (also known as slash), and look better, but its a lot of money to spend. I could then wait a few years and push the stumps out with my bulldozer. Waiting would reduce my stumps by 3/4 or so in size. I like this option the best, but not the high price. I have talked with an equipment manufacturer in Quebec and they have some cutting edge forestry mulchers, but they also got the high prices to match their cutting edge machines. But they look simple enough to make. A check of YouTube proved others have successfully made their own forestry mulchers, so I have been doodling up some machine designs.

Another option I have is just plain crushing down the slash. As I stated earlier, in Maine, anything under 2 inches in diameter, less than 2 feet off the ground, decomposes in 2 years time. What if I simply helped the slash get below 2 feet off the ground? It would not help with the bigger stuff, but would reduce a fair chunk of my slash. I can't exactly drive over every square foot of these 30 acres with my bulldozer tracks, but I have a friend who has a sheepsfoot roller. I am wondering if I towed that behind my dozer if it would crush the brush down. As I said, i was amazed how much snow crushed down the slash and it was just cut, so it is still full of water and pliable. After a summer of drying out, then being brittle, I am wondering if using the roller on it would cause the brittle brush to break since the ground would be frozen in November, but not yet have snow on it. Driving over it a few times a year might spread the process up quite a bit. It would not be as good as muclching, but nowhere near as expensive. A few hundred buckets in diesel fuel instead of thousands..



 
Travis Johnson
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Nice job on the chair Tracy! We have removed a few stumps in anticipation of making a few stump tables, but other then shoving them out of the ground with the bulldozer, and getting off the soil with a hose, that was where we stopped for winter. Maybe this Spring we can start afresh.

Again nice job!
 
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