Processing firewood sometimes seems to be a never ending activity around our homestead. It really is a year-round process, but the crunch time is in the spring as we get the next season’s wood felled, bucked, split and stacked. I’ve been looking for ways to improve the process, and I made a change this weekend that I really think is going to pay huge dividends. In short, I built a better bucking station.
This is the way I used to buck – traditional crossbucks, loaded up with four foot long logs. Two quick cuts down the stack with the saw, and a whole mess of 16″ long pieces fall to the ground. Then there’s the stooping to pick up each piece, fishing them out from the legs of the crossbucks, and loading them onto the splitting table, which is something like 15′ away. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It all seems terribly inefficient. First of all, I don’t like all the stooping. That’s wear and tear on the one piece of equipment for which I can have no redundancy – me. I’m in this for the long haul, so the less I stoop, strain and stress myself, the better off I’ll be in the long run. So, my first design criterion for a new bucking process was to do everything at waist level, and to not let the pieces fall to the ground.
The next criterion: reduce the pointless trip from where the logs are bucked to where they’re going to be split. In keeping with my “no stooping” guideline, I long ago built a very sturdy table to go behind my log splitter, which is set up horizontally. That makes it easy to drag logs from the table onto the splitter bed, and then throw the splits into the tractor loader bucket. Easy, breezy, and no stooping – at least until I drop a split, usually on my shin.
So this is what I came up with. It’s a sturdy table built of pressure-treated 2×6 that I had lying around. The table top is about an inch higher than the splitting table, which you can see on the left. The bucking station has walls about 17″ apart, which is just right for the 20″ bar on my saw to span. Each wall has two slots cut in it, and the slots are 16″ apart. The uprights are pressure-treated 4x4s, and they’re offset so that the body and handguard of the saw fits down between them when the bar is in the slot. The walls themselves are just pieces of 5/4×6 pressure-treated decking – I’m not yet sure if they’re actually needed, but they seem to help keep the bucked pieces from shifting around and binding the chain.
To use the station, I load logs into it from the rear. It holds way more than the old crossbucks, and it seemed to work equally well with small or large logs. I really loaded it up at some points, and the station stayed solid, even though I only nailed it all together with 20d galvanized spikes. I probably should consider using carriage bolts at the main stress points, or at least lags screws, but I didn’t want to spend any more money than necessary, and it seems fine the way it is so far. I was also worried that the straight walls were going to be a problem, but not so much – everything loads easily and stays put, with a minimum of chain binding.
Once the station is loaded, two quick cuts down the slots is all it takes to get a whole mess of bucks for the splitter. I had originally envisioned pushing the bucks out of the station and onto the splitting table, but that proved impossible given the weight of the wood in there. Instead, I just stand by the side and push each buck onto the splitting table. It’s a little more work than I planned, but it’s not that bad, and there’s still no stooping.
It takes about two loads of logs through the bucking station to fill the splitting table, and that will yield about two buckets full of splits. I did a little quick math, and it takes about 15 buckets full of wood to make a cord. My seasoning stacks are located some distance from the splitting area, so I drive the splits over to the stacks and work out of the bucket. Again, no stooping – I adjust the height of the bucket to match the current height of the stack, going so far as to put it all the way down so I can kneel on the ground to start a new stack.
Alas, I only needed five bucket loads to finish the four cords minimum I need for next season, so I don’t have a lot of data on how much time this new process saved me. Plus, I was fiddling with the camera and tripod, so it all took longer than it would if I were well and truly in production mode. But in general, it took me about 20 minutes to complete a full cycle – load, buck, split, transport, stack. At that rate, 15 loads would take 300 minutes, or 5 hours, and that would be a cord. That’s working alone, mind you – with help, I could probably get down to 4 hours or less per cord. But even so, time savings was not really a design criterion. Labor saving was, though, and in that regard, I think this is the bomb. Bucking was always a big problem for me, in terms of back pain and general soreness after a long session. It was actually somewhat of a deterrent to getting anything done – I’d avoid the chore, and firewood processing would grind to a halt. Now, the process is super easy, and better still, I never spend more than 5 or 10 minutes doing any one step. A couple minutes loading, 30 seconds bucking, 10 minutes splitting, 5 minutes stacking – I’m always moving, so I stay loose and alert.
So I think I’ve got a winner here. I still have another cord or two to process, so I should be able to get some good numbers on throughput with the new process. Plus, I’ll rope my wife into helping, so I get some idea of how this works with two people. I’ll keep you posted.