Blistering summer heat where I live in midcoast Maine starts around 85 degrees. Anything above that and you can expect some longtime Maine residents and their dogs to simply fall over dead. But it’s exactly this summer heat that serves as a perfect reminder that we who burn wood in the winter better get some in right now. Otherwise we won’t have to worry about over-basking in front of the woodstove come fall.

It would be even better if we stockpiled our wood two full seasons in advance to give it that extra year to dry out. But if we were disciplined enough to do that, we wouldn’t be carrying a balance on our credit cards, now would we?

Living in a semi-rural area, I have enough trees to keep me in wood for the time being. This is due to the regular windstorms that come and cull out the tall, weaker trees free of charge. It is also due to my extremely thrifty nature that every branch, right down to an inch in diameter, that falls or is trimmed from our trees ends up in the woodshed. After all, a pound of wood gives off as much heat as a pound of wood, be it logs or twigs.

The only difference between logs and twigs is the speed at which they burn and the fact that it takes ten times the effort to gather a pound of twigs as it does to deal with larger pieces of firewood. However, if you value your time at about 45 cents an hour, gathering, storing and using smaller branch wood is surprisingly cost-effective.

You may consider me borderline obsessive using wood this small, but check out my good neighbor Jeff Leighton up the road, who keeps everything down to a quarter-inch and maybe smaller. I have to thank Jeff because when people see my woodpile and suggest I find professional help for my compulsive disorder, I refer them to Jeff, who is as solid a man as you would ever want to meet, aside from his collection of tiny twigs.

One could almost consider processing branches into firewood as labor intensive. On a typical ten-foot branch, you first snip off and pile any twigs that you deem too small to store. Then you gather and cart off the pile of too-small twigs. Next you cut the remaining branch into small pieces to accommodate stacking and to fit into the stove. This is typically done with a set of branch loppers. It creates a pile on the ground that you have to bend down to pick up, place in a wheelbarrow and move to your woodpile or shed.

The smaller the twigs you deem acceptable, the more bending down to pick up sticks per unit of heat delivered. Somehow this is not a problem in our youth. But as you get older the ratio of bending down to wood collected gets all out of whack and we invent ways to make the process more efficient and less painful.

I now have a table where the branches are laid down and cut with a circular saw. The saw is suspended by bungee cords attached to an overhead tree branch. They make the saw as light as desired, which enables me to work until my neighbors call my wife to let her know that it’s too late for normal folks to be cutting wood and could she please get me to stop. The cut wood falls into a wheelbarrow which rolls neatly into my woodshed, eliminating most of those youthful calisthenics.

While Jeff the small-twig processor is on one end of the spectrum, Liz Hand from across the street is on the other. Liz uses only handsome, picture-perfect hardwood sections for her woodstove. Of course, she gets her wood delivered from people who sell and deliver stove-ready wood, but that’s only because she has realized the cost-effectiveness of purchasing ready-to-use firewood.

I too dream of someday getting a load of cut and split firewood delivered to my woodshed, but that day will come only after Jesus returns and my credit card balance is paid off. So, I’m off to stack more firewood in the heat of summer.

Next time we will discuss how to split those inconveniently large logs and how money saved there can be used for therapy and pain medication.