Growing up I spent many a fall Saturday delivering firewood for one of my father’s businesses. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had – my Dad still talks about how much I loved the work. Firewood season was in September, October, November, so I would only really work on the weekends because I was still in school. Most of the firewood would end up at homes on Cleveland’s affluent East side. Places like Pepper Pike, Beachwood, Shaker Heights, Waite Hill, Chagrin Falls, Orange and Russell Township. It was in these places that I mastered the art of stacking firewood and it was on those roads in which I cut my teeth driving a dump truck. I can still maneuver a truck in reverse down a curvy 200 yard driveway, loaded to the gills with firewood. Surprising that that doesn’t become more handy living in Manhattan.

People would inevitably want us to stack the wood as far away from the truck as possible. So we would hand carry a cord (about 10 pieces at a time and around 400 pieces of wood total, which would make a 4 x 4 x 8 foot stack) or two across decks and yards and through garages. Past their Saabs and Range Rovers and Porsches, it was awesome.

All of the wood would have to be counted, twice. We would load the truck and count every piece, planning for however many deliveries we had. Many times we would have to come back to the yard and reload several times on a busy Saturday. Then, when back at the delivery spot we would have to count each piece again as we unloaded. This made it difficult to bullshit with your coworker, because you would lose count and that was a major pain in the ass. But the work was good and you were your own boss. Once the wood was all delivered you were done and it was easy to see the progress and gain a sense of accomplishment. That is the real beauty of manual labor – you have a job to do for the day and when it is done, so are you. Every fall I remember those firewood delivery days fondly.







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Comments on “Firewood.

    Andrew on November 3, 2009 2:21 PM:

    Great subject, but how could you write about firewood in the Midwest without mentioning the smell? Maybe the best part of all.

    Alexander on November 3, 2009 2:27 PM:

    There is nothing better than splitting firewood in the fall, and using it in the dead of winter.

    John Lugg on November 3, 2009 2:50 PM:

    I went to school with a lot of kids from families in those areas. Kids from those neighborhoods usually went to either University School or Western Reserve Academy. They’re very sweet people, though occasionally out-of-touch with the real world.

    Jeremy on November 3, 2009 2:53 PM:

    Firewood as an aesthetic for marketing…

    Derek on November 3, 2009 3:42 PM:

    The question remains: Was all that wood hand or machine split? I spent a few summers doing the same thing. Its not an exaggeration that the people always wanted it stacked on the backside of the house…the furthest point from the truck!

    Michael Williams on November 3, 2009 3:59 PM:

    Derek — Good to see some fellow Midwesterners here. Most of the wood was split with a hydraulic machine. Does that ruin it for you?

    And you guys are right about the smell, awesome stuff. I always make sure we have a fire for Thanksgiving and Christmas…

    yuko on November 3, 2009 4:26 PM:

    wow… that brings back memories i had forgotten.. going to get ‘dead-n-down’ trees for firewood with my dad. I wasn’t very good (only able to carry a few pieces at a time) and probably slept to and from the mountains in our truck.

    L.A.S on November 3, 2009 4:54 PM:

    Mr. Williams – I saw on your twitter you are gonna be in the Queen City next weekend. If you have time you should probably have a burger and some friend pickles @ Penguin…I wish I could recommend some cool shops too, but alas all we’ve really got is Billy Reid.

    MH on November 3, 2009 5:22 PM:

    I grew up in Chagrin Falls, but my brothers and I split our own firewood with our big, safety-orange axe. My dad would let it sit outside for two or three seasons before he deemed it “aged” enough to bring into the garage for use in the fireplace.

    Good stuff – can’t wait to head back to NE Ohio for the holidays.

    Dan on November 3, 2009 6:55 PM:

    This story reminds me why I read this site. While this article won’t get as many views or comments as the latest thing at J. Crew or whatever, it was very well-written and hit the mark in terms of tone. Thanks dude.

    yamalink on November 3, 2009 7:02 PM:

    My father forced us to spend all day in the frigid Idaho winter driving an old cattle truck around narrow mountainside roads looking for, falling, cutting and stacking wood. Come home late at night, too late, and hear the words “tomorrow I’ll split and you boys do the rest.”

    Part of our chores after school was 50 pieces through the basement window and stack it. I was the guilty party for all broken basement windows. That’s what you get for having a window 10 inches down and only 14 inches wide! Laziness + apathy + poor basement window placement = broken glass each and every time.

    When I visit my father these days I always ask if he’d like me to stack any wood; he’s old and stricken with ailments we’ll all have sooner rather than later. Gives me an excuse to don one of his much-too-large Woolrich shirts, roll up the sleeves and make perfect tight stacks.

    Dad on November 3, 2009 7:34 PM:

    The hard work never hurt you taught you how to count. You were good at it. I truly miss those days yelling at you to be faster.

    jfox on November 3, 2009 8:01 PM:

    awesome stuff. 4x4x8. would you like a small cord or a large cord (to the second home owners…) Gotta echo Dan above; wish you weren’t so damn successful ACL and could continue to post more like these.

    Draplin Design Co. on November 3, 2009 8:04 PM:

    Just watch out for those damn spiders while you carry a load.

    christopher on November 3, 2009 9:28 PM:

    There is something to be said about a hard days work. There is no better way to build character and a strong work ethic.

    Andreas on November 3, 2009 9:54 PM:

    I agree with Mr. Lugg. Many people I went to school with in Shaker Heights were out of touch with the reality of firewood. Mostly because many of them didn’t have fireplaces to begin with. Save the “sweetness” for Columbus suburbs.

    Citizen on November 3, 2009 10:14 PM:

    I remember fondly splitting and stacking wood with my uncle in New Hampshire as a kid… The sound of split wood being stacked onto a pile is so unmistakable and sweet. Such a perfect job for a boy, like lincoln logs, legos, and tetris rolled into one…

    yamalink on November 3, 2009 10:32 PM:

    And then there’s the entire load of wood that’s wet; you have to dedicate an entire section of floor to spread the labor of love out in hopes it dries enough so it doesn’t smoke all winter long. Stoking wet wood sucks.

    Once Upon A Time on November 4, 2009 2:15 AM:

    You mean to tell me the guys who delivered all the wood and dumped it in my driveway growing up would’ve actually stacked it too, instead of my Dad making me lug it around to the back of the house and stack it over the course of a weekend? Noted.

    Joe on November 4, 2009 2:34 AM:

    Isn’t there some saying about ‘wood warms you three times – once when you stack it, once when you chop and split it and finally when you burn it’? Here in the UK there’s a resurgence in the popularity of firewood as sustainable fuel – we put wood-burners in to do our heating and hot water when we renovated out house.

    Can’t say our wood supplier stacks here either though – spent a day last week moving and stacking enough oak and chesnut for the winter.

    Paul on November 4, 2009 7:36 AM:

    Summers in Maine, my brother and I needed to chop wood for the stove and for heat. Roxbury and Andover were still pretty chilly in August and when your bare feet hit the cold linolium – brrrrrrr!

    DAM on November 4, 2009 8:53 AM:

    There is something really romantically masculine about this post. I can smell the wood, the feel the rough bark and splintery chop marks and see the art of the stack.

    Erik Wallace on November 4, 2009 9:04 AM:

    I have a gas fireplace and since I moved in I’ve planned on converting it to a wood burning fireplace. Nothing beats the smell of burning firewood in the fall and winter. Great post.

    Logcabineer on November 4, 2009 9:45 AM:

    Oh yes! Nothing beats oldschool firewood saunas and preparing food or bread on a cast iron Husqvarna. Hell there’s even something meditative about taking an outside quick shower out of a 15liter bucket of hot water from the stove. I log, cut-to-length in the winter, split them in half and put them upside down during spring, summer and then chop them again next winter. I just love the clean crisp sound of frozen wood falling apart.

    GaribaldiRomeo on November 4, 2009 10:43 AM:

    I remember being a kid in central Iowa and a family friend would call us up saying that the DOT cut down some big trees on some county blacktop. My mom and I would get our gloves and drive our beat up pick up truck (only used for mulch in the summer and firewood in the winter) miles and miles through nothing to find some nicely felled trees. Always split by hand with a big orange maul; I still have yet to find anything more satisfying than finally getting that log to split that’s been making you sweat as you repeatedly hit it with more force than you knew you had. The sound, the smell, the reward. Great post ACL.

    geoffrey cecil on November 4, 2009 12:10 PM:

    god, how fondly i recall early fall saturdays–good friends pitching in to split, run and stack the small mountain of rounds that kept me under parental thumb ’til the trailer was empty.

    Brett on November 4, 2009 2:54 PM:

    We lived in a log house in Iowa and heated it using about 12 cords per season. All split by hand. It was no fun while doing it, but the memories are delightful.

    Classics Patriot on November 4, 2009 4:11 PM:

    Great post–again. I, too, have fond memories of splitting firewood as a boy, and long to do it again. Soon, soon….

    I also remember splitting wood at Y camp, and telling some kid who was playing nearby to stand back, because the wood flies when you split it. Some dumb lady counselor suggested that I might try splitting the wood “differently.” I gave her a “you don’t know what you’re talking about” look and went back to splitting it the only way possible: with force.

    yamalink on November 4, 2009 6:18 PM:

    Split the wood “differently”?

    “Uh, lady, you mean with the other end of the ax?”

    karen brown on November 4, 2009 6:48 PM:

    andy goldsworthy. wood.

    karen brown on November 4, 2009 6:48 PM:

    and he wood (would) love this post too i’m sure.

    Al James on November 4, 2009 7:26 PM:

    I agree with everyone else. Great post. Growing up in rural Oregon made woodcutting and woodstacking a constant part of daily life for my brother and I. Funny how it all ties in with the rest of ACL… Memories of Redwing Boots, the smell of Huberd’s Shoe Grease, itchy Pendelton shirts, and the taste of Dad’s thermos mug — a mix of old coffee and ice cold spring water from the coast range… This seems to really touch a nerve with a lot of us… Thanks for the memories.

    Mason on November 4, 2009 9:14 PM:

    Iowa wood choppers unite!

    Gille on November 5, 2009 10:09 AM:

    chop chop… this seems like a fair compromise between hydraulic and traditional: … Top-notch shop, Filson & Redwings featured on the front page at the moment, brilliant stuff! That Finnish wedge-axe can be got here: and here:…. for axe-men of the northwoods…

    doane on November 5, 2009 11:42 AM:

    I remember a dead hedge apple tree in our backyard growing up and my dad taking a chainsaw to it. It seemed like the wood from that tree produced more heat than any other wood brought into the house.

    Logcabineer on November 5, 2009 2:38 PM:

    Don’t miss out on Gränsfors Bruks free brilliant Axe-book.

    BP on November 7, 2009 12:34 AM:

    I hated putting on the boots and whatnot and missing college football every gd Saturday, but my bitterness would eventually shed and now I can’t imagine not having that time with my Dad and brother.

    Too bad the Shaker Heights folk didn’t demand more “all-nighters”, less counting.

    Chris on November 7, 2009 2:14 PM:

    I’m a new reader to A Continuous Lean and really enjoyed this piece. I grew up in SE Ohio and now live in NE Ohio. I can remember many fall/winter weekends spent in the woods loading our truck with wood to be split once we got home. My dad liked to use a maul and a wedge to split the big stuff and I recall standing back waiting to see which way the pieces were going to fly when he hit that wedge so I could dart out of the way and protect my shins.

    It only takes one time of stacking the wood wrong and having a whole pile fall over to learn how to do it right. (After getting chewed out by your dad.)

    Someone above said three times, but my dad always said “He who cuts his own wood gets warm twice.”

    Sarah on November 7, 2009 10:49 PM:

    I love all of these photos. My father’s wood pile is always ridiculously impressive..

    i took some crappy iphone shots last time i was there.

    charlie on November 12, 2009 11:29 PM:

    go see “antichrist”

    it will give you a new perspective on firewood.

    Andrew on November 14, 2009 3:33 PM:

    Growing up in Maine, my family relied on wood as the proprietary method for heating the house. I remember the delivery guy would dump four cords every spring directly in our driveway, essentially trapping us in the house until it was all stacked neatly in the garage. I hated doing it then, but now miss the opportunity it gave me to spend time with my family, in silent, driven meditation.

    Matt on November 27, 2009 7:32 PM:

    Every few days after school (and track and basketball practice) I had to come home and split wood for our wood-burning stove. A big axe-awl thing I would swing for 20 minutes or so, load the wheelbarrow, and take the wood from the barn to the house and stack it. Not fun then, but looking back now…it still isn’t fun!!! But unique among any of my friends.

    Graeme Cameron BMCo. on December 31, 2009 11:13 AM:

    Splitting wood when it”s super cold – Finding that dry crack. Watching the too large quarter rounds explode under the slightest wrist flick… a solid mauling. Great memories of bonding with my old man. Courage, Fortitude, Compassion and Grace…all rolled into one.


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