A Hermit

How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck?

Hypothesis

A few ramblings about wood stoves and an attempt to answer a question that's nagged humans down through the epochs. Well, ok, probably only for the last several million years. But anyway, don't tell me you've never wondered, how much wood can a woodchuck chuck?

The Hermit hypothesizes that a woodchuck, given the opportunity, can actually chuck a great deal of wood. And stay quite warm doing so.

Data Collection, 3 Phases

Phase I

The first phase of data collection began on 80 acres in the Eastern Townships of southern Quebec in a 415 square foot cabin, constructed roughly in post and beam and set upon cedar posts. It sits high up a long, gullied road on a rugged hillside forested with mature hardwoods and softwoods.

pile of firewood

Phase I, totally off the grid, lasted ten years. The original cabin didn't so much have drafts as it did cross-winds, and even in so small a place, it required two stoves to keep things cozy. The stoves went out overnight and water in the sink sometimes froze. When the pitcher pump in the kitchen window froze it had to be thawed using boiling hot water from the kitchen stove.

The first stove installed was a wood cook stove of 50s vintage; $15 off the side porch of a just-remodeled kitchen in a house down in the village. To say it was "used" is an understatement, but for five or six years it cooked all the meals (including buckwheat pancakes every morning, 361 days a year on average), and heated all the hot water.

It was quite an elegant stove. Perched on a substantial claw-foot base, it was enameled yellow and fogged with gold like many stoves of that day, but I never saw another whose colors were quite as beautiful.

It's output was greatly appreciated during cold weather because the cabin was heated for the first two years by an average sized box-stove - "Buck's Gem", from a foundry in Windsor, Quebec. Buck's Gem went to the sauna years later and by the time it retired it provided enough illumination to read by and the crack across the bottom was nearly a quarter-inch wide.

A PD Beckworth #7 Round Oak wood stove replaced the box stove for the third winter. Mid-size in it's family range, the Round Oak had plenty of BTUs to make the cabin not only cozy, but toasty! Clothes? Who needs clothes? It's winter!

Old #7 came complete with a Loving Cup to decorate its domed top, which slid to one side, allowing wood to be loaded on end for greatest capacity.

Once I burned the broken handle out of the head of a splitting axe, and after removing it from the Round Oak with a poker, I looked around for a place to set it down. I dropped it into the Loving Cup and walked a few feet away to the kitchen sink when from behind me I heard a big thud on the floor. The Loving Cup was made of pewter.

Eventually, the Leger cook stove burned out and it was replaced by another used stove, a slightly more modern Findley Condor. The appliance white Condor, with a skirt all the way to the floor was free for the moving. The Condor was available with either wood grates or two oil burners and this one was oil so I converted it to wood with grates and fire bricks purchased right from the Findley factory in Ontario. Thirty-two dollars including shipping.

As the cabin acquired a field-stone basement, became more finished inside, and better insulated, and the lofts closed in, the Round Oak had too much output for the area and it was replaced by a brand-new Roxtan "Cadet". The Cadet is a compact air-tight stove fabricated completely of cast iron like a raised-panel cabinet. Extremely handsome and well-made, it has never required any more than new door gaskets during its 45 years of use. 1

Annual wood consumption during this phase averaged five full cords, or 15 runs.2

Phase II

To make room for Liselyn's grandmother's grand piano, the kitchen wood stove was replaced by a trailer-sized propane stove and the Cadet became the cabin's sole source of heat.

Annual wood consumption then fell to two-and-a-half solid cords, or 7 1/2 runs.

Phase III

Phase III began in 1993 with a move into the newly constructed New House, whose area is nearly five times that of the cabin.

In the New House, a "Extra Large" Dutchwest convection heater with a catalytic-converter is the major heat source, all 44,000btu. The Findley kitchen wood stove returned from the tractor shed for wintertime cooking and to augment the Dutchwest on the coldest of days.

The Dutchwest convection heater is very efficient in terms of emissions and wood consumption, but the Findley burned wood lickety-split.

Together, the two stoves annually consumed around 4 1/2 full cords, between 13 and 14 face cords

Methodology

Throughout the study, the Hermit used the following methodology to gather the required data (and wood).

Thirty-one Ways to Keep Warm

  1. Fall tree using chain saw3
  2. Buck tree into blocks with chain saw
  3. Split blocks manually with 6 pound splitting maul
  4. Chuck splits into trailer
  5. Draw trailer to drying area
  6. Chuck and stack splits for drying
  7. When seasoned, chuck splits back into trailer
  8. Draw trailer to basement
  9. Chuck splits into basement
  10. Chuck splits to far end of basement
  11. Chuck splits into ranks piled on skids

  12. Wait for winter's arrival...

  13. Chuck splits onto wood dolly
  14. Wheel wood dolly to wood waiter
  15. Chuck splits from wood dolly onto wood waiter
  16. Convey splits to first floor using wood waiter
  17. Chuck splits from wood waiter to storage area

  18. Daily, as required...

  19. Select split from storage
  20. Open stove door
  21. Chuck split into stove
  22. Close stove door

  23. (Repeat as necessary)

  24. Daily...
  25. Remove ash pan from stove, and
  26. Chuck ashes into outdoor ash barrel
  27. Replace ash pan in stove
  28. Annually...
  29. Chuck two ash barrels on trailer
  30. Haul ashes (I'm not kidding) to the eastern pasture
  31. Spread (chuck) the ashes over the ground

Processing the Data

First the data was tabulated and collated:

PhaseCords Annually Splits AnnuallyNumber of Years Total CordsTotal Splits
I5 2,0001575 30,000
II 2.51,0005 12.55,000
III5.52,200 105522,000
Total  30 142.557,000

Next, consulting the 31-step methodology, the chucks-per-split were determined:

Chucks per split:

Step #Wood Chuck? # Wood Chucks
1No 0
2 No0
3No 0
4 Yes1
5 No0
6Yes 1
7 Yes1
8No 0
9 Yes1
10Yes 1
11 Yes1
12No 0
13 Yes1
14No 0
15 Yes1
16No 0
17 Yes1
18No 0
19 No0
20No 0
21 Yes1
22No 0
23 No0
24No 0
25 No0
26In Aggregate 0
27No0
28No0
29In Aggregate0
30No0
31In Aggregate0
Total 10

Conclusion

So, how much wood can a woodchuck chuck? Calculations show that over a period of thirty years the Hermit woodchuck chucked

142.5 solid cords x 400 splits per cord x 10 chucks per split

For a grand total of

570,000, or 218 chucks.

Hermit's grandmother, Thusnelda, was often heard to say that "He who heats with wood is twice warmed". This research, however, demonstrates conclusively that he who heats with wood is actually warmed by a factor of ten.

For Further Study

This study used a constant 400 for the splits per full cord of firewood. A future study could achieve greater accuracy by taking into account the ratio of kitchen stove wood to heating firewood and the effect of that upon the number of splits (chucks) per full cord.

Footnotes

1This phase spanned the years between 1972 and 1982, a period of below average temperatures and above average annual snowfall. Frost was expected as late as the first week of June, and when the Hermit arrived people still spoke of the year there was a killing frost in July. Something that must have been quite devastating at the time. Frost returned right after the Ayer's Cliff Fair during the waning days of August.

During those winters January temperatures would remain below 0F for a couple of weeks at a time, day and night. Minus-twenty F was seen frequently, and on one occasion, the thermometer outside the Cabin's single-glazed kitchen window reached the bottom of its scale at -40, where Celsius and Fahrenheit coincide. The cold penetrated the Cabin's exterior walls like it was a sharp knife. 2

On average, Hermit reckons there's just a few more than 400 splits per solid cord of heating firewood, although that number increases when the firewood is split finer for the kitchen wood stove. 3 Table #3

Description of wood-cutting apparatii used over the course of this study:

Make/Model Notes
McCulloch I-43 Weighed approximately as much as a big hog ready for market. Given to me during my travels in California, its 22" chain bar was better suited for western species than those in Quebec. Hard to start and ran terribly no matter who tuned it

Not sure if McCulloch is still in business, but I'd sooner pull my grandfather's two-man saw out of the shed than use another of their saws

Pioneer ?? Circa 1955. Weighed approximately as much as an Evinrude 10 HP outboard motor. In fact, I believe this model actually was an outboard motor originally and was converted to a chain saw
Pioneer 620 Weighed approximately as much as a bag of Portland cement and turned very slow by modern standards, but performed well and lasted many years
Stihl/028 Saw was ok, but carbs wore right out and Stihl replacements cost around a third of a new saw's price
Stihl/034 Lighter than last model: smaller fuel and oil capacities mean more frequent breaks, probably a good thing
Husquavarnah 353 Best saw I've used - light, plenty of power, good design, starts and runs year round

Baby it's cold outside, throw another log in the stove, will you?