I posted a video to YouTube of me splitting and stacking wood. I’m on a “before and after” kick, and well, before I did the job the wood rack was empty. Afterwards, it was full. The video was fun to make and I find it fun to watch too. But it was kind of short so I took the opportunity to tack on a time-lapse video I’d made a while back. It had been sitting on my hard drive for the better part of two years. Here’s the story about it, including the ideas that didn’t make it into the final posted video.
I’d been staring at a large pile of wood in my neighbor’s yard which had been cut into various lengths and sizes. It was just sitting there waiting for someone to stack it. I thought it was kind of an intimidating project, at least from a time perspective. I was feeling bad for my neighbor who was going to have to stack it all. But then it hit me that I had an old GoPro sitting around, and it might be cool to capture the work in progress, speed it up, and watch it all in fast motion. I also thought it would be interesting to keep track of how long the project took.
I volunteered my services, and Joey, my neighbor, was more than willing to let me tackle it. Even better, I told him I wanted to complete it on my own as a sort of video project. He looked at me sideways and told me to have at it.
As I began I knew I was going to have to lift the stack off the ground somehow. If I didn’t, the wood on the bottom level would soak up the moisture from the ground, stay wet, and be mostly useless in the fireplace. Not to mention create a haven for bugs I didn’t want to bring into the house.
So, I began by making a foundation – a rack of sorts – for the wood. I raked up the leaves in the area, brought over some unused cinder blocks which had for years been sitting not too far away. This was ole’ Uncle Joe’s pile of cinder blocks. In life Uncle Joe had been a frugal do-it-yourselfer, and there wasn’t any way he’d throw away perfectly good cinder blocks. Finally, decades later, a dozen or so of them were finding a purpose in life. I laid them out in the newly raked area, placed some long pieces of metal on top of them, and when I was done, wallah! I had a foundation for two rows of firewood stacked right up next to each other.
I began to stack the wood.
In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be much to stacking wood. You simply pick up a piece an put it in place. But as I began to tackle this task, I discovered there are a few things to keep in mind while stacking wood. Those lessons seemed to be a sort of wisdom for life as well. At least when it comes to tackling projects.
1) Sometimes you have to work with what you’re given, no matter what.
By far, the most challenging part of stacking this wood was that I had a ginormous pile of all different shapes and sizes. There was nothing uniform about what I was given. Someone else had cut up the wood, and they clearly weren’t concerned with the stacking process. I did the best I could, filling in gaps in the stack with smaller pieces as possible, and trying to piece together odd-shaped logs like some sort of new-fangled game of Tetris.
I liked Tetris, so it was kind of fun.
2) Plan ahead with the ultimate goal in mind.
As the novelty of wood-stack Tetris wore off, I began to consider how great it would have been if the person who cut this wood up had planned ahead for the end goal. Here it would seem that the end goal was to get the wood stacked. This is not the case.
The end goal is to enjoy a fire in the fireplace. Stacking the wood is just one means to that end.
Fireplaces have dimensions. My woodstove has an opening that is 19 inches wide, and the interior width is 22 inches. I typically only build fires in my fireplace with the wood laying lengthwise, so, hypothetically speaking, I can cut all of my wood lengthwise to the length of 19 inches and kill two birds with one stone – the wood of the same length will be easier to stack and it will fit nicely and uniformly in my woodstove.
So, planning ahead for stacking firewood would include measuring during the cutting stage. It sounds silly at first, but when I thought about it more, sometimes the silliest things – the small things – can pay big dividends in the end.
3) Break the job up into smaller increments.
This really was a lot of wood for me to stack, and breaking it up into smaller increments made the job a lot easier. This was for a couple of reasons.
First, procrastination wasn’t a problem. I find that the larger the task in front of me, the more I procrastinate on getting started. I don’t know why, but this has been a pattern for me. Perhaps it’s because I just don’t want to start a task that seems formidable. Breaking projects down into smaller tasks takes this pressure off. This was the case with the firewood too. I knew I was only going to be working on it for a small amount of time, so I wasn’t worried about it taking all day or longer. And, if I wanted to work longer, I could.
Second, the job wasn’t difficult on me physically. To be honest, the logs weren’t all that heavy, and I could have worn gloves, but attacking the pile a little at a time prevented wear and tear on my body. And, as the wood stack grew, I was able to see the job moving towards completion. It helped motivate me to finish. It actually felt good to see productivity on the project.
4) Do research and know how to do the job properly.
It’s just stacking wood, right?
Well, not exactly. Seasoned wood stackers might have seen a problem coming. Take a moment to go back and look at the height of the stack when I finished. It ended up being a pretty tall, long stack. I’d forgotten to take physics into account and learned the hard way that even though it was two rows deep, I’d built the stack too tall with enough surface area to allow for the stack to be affected by wind. And when I say affected, I mean totally destroyed.
I came outside a few days later and found the entire stack of wood had been blown over.
This leads me to number 5.
5) Be patient and give yourself boatloads of grace in failure.
Fortunately, this was just a stack of firewood. There wasn’t much to lose other than time if it was blown over. I had to restack the wood, which was easier the second time because I’d already done it once, and some of the wood remained in place. I was annoyed, but learned a lesson. Several, actually.