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Showing posts from January, 2013

Mid-winter Firewood Blues

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Well, it's that time of year when you look out at your woodpile and decide whether you "done good" or not. And what you can do better next year.

If you're in that mood, take a look at this video. This gentleman in Sweden has a routine that makes firewood collection and splitting look downright enjoyable. While it's not the fastest firewood process I've ever seen, it sure makes for a great day in the woods (and on the lake). Just goes to show that not everything has to be fast or big to be productive. And that there's an art to everything woody, even collecting firewood.

So chase away those mid-winter firewood blues and start thinking about next year's haul.



Tip AmountOption 1 $2.00 USDOption 2 $4.00 USDOption 3 $10.00 USD

Perfection in Wood - The Maloof Rocker

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Work took me to Southern California last week. I expected the nice weather I found in Palm Desert, but I was truly blessed when, after speaking with the folks at the Western Pallet Association, I rambled down El Paseo Drive and into a cactus-lined courtyard called The Gardens on El Paseo. I was minding my own business of no business when, inside a trendy gallery called von Wening Art, I noticed wood out of the corner of my eye.

And not just any wood.  I knew as I approached that I was coming into the presence of greatness. There it stood, its well-rubbed walnut gleaming at me, bidding me to approach.


The shop owner smiled at me and introduced us. This is an original Sam Maloof rocker, he said. I continued to stare and take it in, speechless and curious at the same time.

Sam Maloof is one of the most famous American furniture artists of our time. He passed away in 2009, and this chair came into the possession of the gallery owner, who was a personal "friend of Sam". The design…

The Amazing Wood Art of Sergei Bobkov

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Many of you have sent me this story, so even though it has apparently made the rounds, I'll share it with those who may not have seen it. Oddity Central has the best background story I could find...
"53-year-old Sergei Bobkov has patented a unique technique of creating amazing sculptures out of Siberian cedar wood-chips. “It’s not very interesting to do what others can. To create something out of nothing in a completely new way is far more inspiring”. This is how Sergei Bobkov explains the unique form of art that he created. He says many people compare his artworks to taxidermy, because they both look so much like the animals they replicate, but Sergei believes they are as different as light and darkness. Whereas taxidermy is all about death, his wood-chip art symbolizes life. This resident of Kozhany, Russia, has developed his very own technique, that prevents wood-chips from falling apart, in time. After creating about 100-150 chips, from 2-3 inch long cedar stick, he puts t…

Certified Hardwood - From an American Desert

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Here's a nice video brought to my attention by Lew McCreery of the Forest Service. It tells the tale of a hybrid poplar plantation out in eastern Oregon, one of the driest places in the country. I used to drive by this plantation on my way out to LP mills in northern Idaho and Montana. (Pleasant memory: sawmills in Sandpoint and Moyie Springs, Idaho...two of my very favorite places in the world. From the slasher deck in Moyie Springs you gaze out for hundreds of miles over the Canadian Rockies. I told the operator there I thought he had the best job in the world, and he agreed with me. I hope those mills are still running.)

Back to the tree farm. It's impressive...about 10 minutes wide at interstate speeds, if I remember correctly. Seemed longer. And growing in the middle of the Eastern Oregon desert, it looked even bigger. I used to wonder about the economics of planting, watering, and harvesting all these trees for pulpwood...didn't seem possible, I thought at the time.…

January Thaw in Pennsylvania

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Mid-winter is a time of rest and reflection for most of nature. Not so for man. We're busier than ever planning business for the year, trying to get the attention of new clients and markets, attending meetings of the higher-ups who've thought up great things for us to accomplish this year, and figuring out how to do more with less.

Which is why I appreciate life and work in rural Pennsylvania. There's always a nice spot nearby to take a break, eat a sandwich, and reflect on the finer things in life.

Take three minutes to sit and relax with me on the banks of Spring Creek in Centre County. And then get back to work.



Tip AmountOption 1 $2.00 USDOption 2 $4.00 USDOption 3 $10.00 USD

Heating Decision Made Easy (Epilogues)

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Read Part 1 here...

Read Part 2 here...

Read Part 3 here...

Epilogue the First - You Get What You Need

The project was a learning process for me. Was familiar with the theoretical pros and cons of the alternatives, but had to test them in specific application. I had dreamed of converting my over-sized one-car garage to an "energy cabin" since I had visited the Energy Cabin factory in Austria and seen them operating on location.

But life is tough, and we can't always get what we want, as the Rolling Stones used to sing...
No, you can't always get what you wantBut if you try sometime, you just might find You get what you need. My energy cabin dream would have been great. It would have cost me about $40,000 - $50,000, and would have never paid for itself. But it would have been an altruistic venture, and I would have become a Go Wood legend in my own mind.

But with 172, 616 miles on the family Suburban, and five kids still to get out of the house, altruism had to give way t…

Heating Decision Made Easy (Part 3)

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Read Part 1 here...

Read Part 2 here...

Having investigated the wood, pellet, and coal options against the cost of staying with oil, my thoughts turned to gas.

I had ruled it out a couple of years earlier. Although there was natural gas in the neighborhood, my house sits back off the street about 300 feet, and the gas company charges $12 a foot to run gas line to properties. Pretty steep, I thought at the time.

And propane seemed infeasible, also. Since propane is a petroleum derivative, it's price tends to track with oil, and to the high side from a $/Btu standpoint. It's a good alternative for folks who don't have access to natural gas and want to run a fireplace or a barbeque, but it's pretty expensive for a primary heating fuel.

But not having yet found the perfect solution, I decided to re-investigate and crunch the numbers.

Propane was easier to figure. I simply had to figure the cost of the storage tank (which again, would have to be situated in front of the hous…

Heating Decision Made Easy (Part 2)

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(Read Part 1 here...)

Before leaving my wood boiler option, I need to mention another couple of considerations.

First...last winter, while trying to "zone heat" my home without the boiler, one of my downstairs bedrooms got too cold and the copper line for the heating system froze and burst...and when it thawed, left a big mess before we discovered it. Many folks with wood boilers put in a backup oil or gas boiler for exactly this reason...so that when they leave the house for more than a day, and are unable to fire the boiler, the backup boiler kicks on and keeps the house pipes, plants, and pets from freezing.  That meant it made sense for me, if I was to Go Wood Boiler, to keep the old boiler in place for a backup, replace the oil tank, and add the new wood boiler as the primary system. Unfortunately, my boiler room is too small...to make room for a new boiler, the old one had to go. Or else one of the kids had to share their bedroom with a new boiler. Not an optimal solut…

Heating Decision Made Easy (Part 1)

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I've hinted over the past year of so that I was studying my wood heating options at the Ray homestead, and that I would share my experience with you after the project was decided and completed. Well, it got very complicated, but I'll take a stab at sharing it with you with the hope that it will be at least a little understandable.

Since every heating solution is a house-specific problem, let me set the table. Our home is a 1958 vintage 3600 sq.ft. split-level house, cinder block construction, with a vaulted ceiling and no attic. The heating system installed in the home at construction was a baseboard hot water system run by an oil-fueled boiler. The boiler room is in the middle of the lower level and is quite small, just enough room for a boiler and plumbing.

I bought the home in 2005 from an elderly lady who had owned the home with her husband since 1960. The boiler had been replaced in the 1990's, but was functioning poorly due to a bad sludge accumulation in the undergr…