The old disparaging remark, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” will never hold water if you ever pick up a copy of Professor Brett McLeod’s book, The Woodland Homestead: How To Make Your Land More Productive And Live More Self-Sufficiently In The Woods.
THE MAN: McLeod is an associate professor of forestry and natural resources at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York. Inspired by other creative farmers and foresters, McLeod uses his 25-acre, drafthorse-powered mountain homestead in Vermontville, New York, as a living laboratory for self-sufficiency. McLeod is also a professional lumberjack competitor and a former producer of the Stihl Ironjack series and the Stihl Timbersports series. On top of all that, he coaches the Paul Smith’s Woodsmen’s team and founded the Adirondack Woodsmen’s School and the Adirondack Rural Skills and Homesteading Festival.
THE BOOK: Readers can reap tons of traditional but relevant know-how from McLeod’s 240-page, illustrated Woodland Homestead book, which will, without question, have you optimizing the productivity of your wooded land. He drives home the fact that properly managed wooded land provides often untapped potential for greater self-sufficiency. For instance, in one year on a 1-acre homestead forest, a landowner could grow a face cord of firewood, harvest five bushels of fruit, make 2 gallons of maple syrup, produce $100 of wild mushrooms and save more than $300 on feed by using natural forage!
In layman’s terms, McLeod explains how to take stock of the forest makeup; use key tools such as axes, peaveys and chainsaws; build living fences and shelters for livestock; grow fruit trees and berries in a woodland orchard; prune and coppice trees to create fuel, fodder and furniture; and make syrup from birch, walnut and boxelder trees.
TNP editors are proud to bring you the following excerpted nuggets of wisdom from a true been-there, done-that (and still doing it!) expert.
While lots of options exist for housing pigs, the pig-o-tiller offers a portable alternative that promotes both healthy hogs and pasture improvement. For a pair of pigs, 8×11 feet is ideal, with the option of an additional “pig porch” constructed out of an old hog panel. Because of the stress of being moved, and the fact that pigs have a penchant for scratching on posts, use wood screws instead of nails—they’ll do a better job of holding things together.
1. Start with a pair of 2″ x 6″ x 12′ boards. These will become your skids for the base of your handy pig-o-tiller. Cut the ends of both boards at a 45-degree angle to make the skid tips.
2. Place the skids on edge 8 feet apart and screw a 2″ x 4″ x 30″ upright on each of the rear corners. Screw two identical uprights on the front of the pig-o-tiller 1 foot back from the front.
3. With your four uprights in place, use either 1-inch rough-cut boards or plywood for the sides. To entirely enclose the pigs, you can board up both ends as well. If you want an open pig porch, simply use a 2″ x 4-” x 8′ board as a brace at the top, and attach the hog panel as shown in the illustration.
4. Cover approximately half of the pig-o-tiller with corrugated roofing. It’s a good idea to permanently attach one piece; however, you’ll want to have additional pieces that you add or remove, based on the weather.
5. Finally, attach a rope long enough to allow you to drag the structure easily.
6. Lift the front of the pig-o-tiller and prop it with a bucket when you need to let pigs in or out. Unnecessary doors simply invite fugitive behavior.
Bucking Like A Beaver
Begin by standing on the opposite side of the log from where you plan to chop. If the log is larger than 10 inches in diameter, it will be most efficient to chop halfway through, and then switch to the other side. If you are on a hill, start on the downhill side and finish on the uphill side in case the log rolls. Make sure your feet are firmly planted and well outside of the axe’s path.
As in felling a tree, the most efficient chopping angle is 45 degrees, and the face of the scarf should be equal to the diameter of the tree, assuming you’ll be chopping from both sides. On smaller logs you can buck from one side; simply make the notch wider so that it doesn’t “vee out,” or close, before cutting all the way through the log.
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Bring the axe directly over your head, dominant hand on top. Do not drop the axe behind your head; this creates fatigue, not additional power. As you swing the axe, throw it out to create a larger arc.
As with felling, use a clockwise pattern to remove chips. If you find that you’ve veed out before cutting entirely through the log, simply move your kerf to one side, giving yourself a fresh chopping face. As you near the bottom of the log, use shorter, less-powerful swings to avoid contacting the ground.
Attracting Native Bees
Attracting native cavity bees is an important part of encouraging a diversity of pollinators. Select dead or dying logs and stumps in areas that are unlikely to be disturbed, are protected from wind and have good southern exposure. Use a 3⁄8-inch drill to bore a series of holes 1/2 inch apart in a grid format. Each hole should be about 5 inches deep and at least 8 inches above the ground. Encourage colonization by spraying the holes with a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water.
The Perfect Splitting Block
Splitting blocks serve several important purposes. First, by splitting on a wooden block, you’re preserving your axe by avoiding rocks. Second, splitting on a block is safer since it gives the axe a known landing spot well away from your feet. Third, a splitting block can save you from having to bend over as far. Your back will thank you!
Begin by selecting a block that is a minimum of 15 inches in diameter and 12 to 16 inches high. The knottier, the better; the knots will prevent it from splitting prematurely. Any species will work, but I prefer elm or sugar maple.
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Find an old tire that’s just slightly larger than the diameter of your block. Drill four 1-inch holes in one sidewall, evenly spaced (this will allow water to drain). Use four 3-inch lag bolts with fender washers to screw the sidewall of the tire to the top of the block. You now have the perfect splitting block that will hold your wood securely as you split it. No more standing up fallen pieces or chasing runaway firewood! If you’re splitting small-diameter wood, you can pack the pieces inside the tire; they will support one another while you are splitting.
Beside your tire-topped splitting block, you may want to have a second block without a tire for large or odd-shaped pieces. I also recommend putting a slight angle (about 10 degrees) on this second block so so that you’re able to match an uneven piece of firewood with the angle of the block.
Building With Stumps
Three hundred years of taming nature in the name of pastoral agrarianism has largely erased the fact that millions of stumps were pulled to create cropland in America. The process was slow but straightforward for early homesteaders. First, the house site was cleared, with the wood being used for home construction and eventually outbuildings. Like ripples in a pond, homesteads expanded outward, from kitchen gardens and chicken yards to pastures and eventually cropland.
Grazing and browsing livestock on freshly cleared land was an efficient arrangement as new growth was controlled, and livestock happily grazed around stumps. After a couple of years, the best growing sites were converted from grazing areas to cropland by pulling the now partially rotted stumps. These stumps played an important role in segregating potentially damaging livestock from the newly created cropland. While stone walls were erected over time, with stones “growing” from the soil each spring, the early fences needed to be erected quickly and economically; stumps fit the bill.
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Stump Removal: As you can imagine, much of the labor associated with building a stump fence is in the pulling and moving of the stumps. Although such an endeavor is the epitome of grunt work, you’ll be gaining a fence and clearing land at the same time. Like the early homesteaders, you’ll want to wait at least a couple of years before attempting to pull any but the smallest of stumps. While an ambitious homesteader may choose to extract a stump or two by hand, building entire fence systems with them is a proposition that requires some serious horsepower, literally.
An old truck rim makes for a perfect stump-pulling device. As the stump begins to loosen, it rotates over the top of the rim, popping it out of the ground. Whenever possible, leave tall stumps to create greater leverage for pulling.
A Girdle For Woody
Girdling can provide habitat for woodpeckers and cavity nesters while creating growing space for neighboring trees.
Skidding With An ATV
Given their popularity, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) often offer a practical solution for removing logs from the woodlot. If you don’t already own an ATV and are considering purchasing one for logging, you’re better off selecting a large 4×4 model (500+ cc) since hauling and skidding logs requires a substantial amount of power. Also, because of the heavy hitch load, it may be necessary to add additional weight to the front of the ATV. Finally, make sure you use extreme caution when skidding with an ATV, particularly on uneven or hilly terrain. If you’re unsure about whether a load is too heavy, err on the side of caution and make an extra trip.
The three most common ways of skidding or hauling wood with an ATV are skidding pans or skidding cones, skidding arches and forwarding or utility trailers.
Rusty To Trusty Axe Restoring
Seeking out old axes and restoring them is well worth your time. It is estimated that from 1850 to 1950 more than 10 million felling axes were produced by more than 100 different axe manufacturers. During this period, manufacturers had easy access to quality steel, and competition among forges meant that the quality of axes produced remains unprecedented to this day. Relatively few high-quality felling axes are still made, but barns and basements continue to be great places to find a quality vintage axe just begging for a second chance.
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Finding a vintage axe to restore is easy if you know what to look for. First, don’t get hung up on the state of the handle. In most cases, the old handle will be brittle, cracked or rotted near the eye. Instead, focus your search on finding a salvageable axe head. Consider how you’ll use this axe: Will it be for felling large trees? Maintaining trails? Or splitting firewood rather than chopping wood (cutting diagonally across the grain)? If your goal is to have an axe for splitting, even the most chipped and abused axe can be resurrected as a trusty splitter. If, however, you want a chopping axe with a keen edge, find an axe with a gentler past and perform the all-important five-point axe inspection that’s detailed in The Woodland Homestead.
Editor’s Note: After you find that perfect, but rusty, axe during your next flea-market jaunt, TNP editors can vouch for Evapo-Rust (evapo-rust.com) products to help you whip it back into shape.
Pick An Axe For You!
Axes come in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit a range of tasks and users. The smallest member of the axe family is the trusty hatchet. Its small size makes it easy to stow and carry, while the short handle affords control. However, since the size of the axe is roughly proportional to the size of the job, you’ll find the hatchet most appropriate for light chores like splitting kindling. A step up from the hatchet is a “boy’s axe,” which typically has a mid-length handle (about 28 inches) and a 2- to 2.5-pound head, making it ideal for a variety of woodlot chores. The full-size felling axe typically has a long handle (31 to 36 inches) and a heavy head (3.5 to 6 pounds) but is capable of handling larger jobs on the woodland homestead.
Credit notes: Excerpted from The Woodland Homestead © Brett McLeod. Illustrations by © Steve Sanford. Used with permission of Storey Publishing. For ordering The Woodland Homestead and a plethora of other great homestead-, self-reliance- and gardening-related books, please visit storey.com.
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Winter 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.