Autumn has set in, it’s not long till the clocks go back and the blackberries (such as they were) are over. It’s the time of year when I light a fire in the evening – and that means it’s also time to get my wood pile in order.
It’ll be no surprise to skiers that the countries that lead the way in the art of building a successful wood pile are the mountainous ones.
From the villages of the Valais to the towns of the Tyrol to the dwellings of the Dolomites, householders across the Alps are masters in stacking them neat, stable, dry and, in some cases, high.
I have been photographing these labours-of-logs (sorry…) during my travels in the mountains.
As you can see, there are regional variations. Now I’m no expert, but what I think they all have in common is the following:
1. To make a good pile, logs need to be cut to the same length.
2. Larger logs are split to similar widths.
3. Smaller unsplit logs – almost kindling-sized – are stacked all together, sometimes in their own section of the pile.
4. A good stacking place must be found.
5. Sometimes this place will have support at one or both ends, but often it doesn’t.
6. To build an ‘end’, some sort of criss-cross system is used, such as two logs one way, then two at 90 degrees, on top; repeat up to desired height.
7. The pile does not necessarily need to be under cover – only the top layer gets wet or snowy – and if you leave any bark facing the elements, this is minimised.
8. But most piles are next to a building with an overhang, such as most chalets have. In fact, it looks like many houses have been designed with a wood pile in mind.
9. The logs are usually very easily accessible from the dwelling.
10. Many households have a second, messier, pile of unsplit/chopped or partly split/chopped logs, which are being seasoned.
My dad has always kept a very organised, well-seasoned wood pile, and my parents installed a wood stove long before they became fashionable – which is probably partly why I started noticing other people’s ones.
And the village where I’ve done most of my skiing – Anzere, in Switzerland – now has a giant log-burner heating virtually the whole village (read about it in my Telegraph article here).
I, however, have only recently got the hang of dealing with wood. Or have I? Judge for yourself by looking at the little stack at my back door in Surrey – I know it’s not up to Alpine standards.
I confess that although I did the stacking, it’s my house-mate, Alex, who has been responsible for the sourcing and splitting.
Readers who know me won’t be surprised that I also have a box of easily ignitable material so I don’t have to waste money on smelly, synthetic fire-lighters.
As well as newspaper I’ve taken to hoarding loo rolls and egg boxes.
My uncle and aunt get their fire roaring – and fragrant – by adding orange peel, dried in a warm oven or on top of a Rayburn or Aga. I’ve tried it, and it works.
So I’m ready for winter. Bring round your loo rolls, egg boxes and orange peel, if you like – I can use unlimited amounts.
Meanwhile I think I’ll just go into the woods to fetch some kindling…
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