PAT NEAL: The joys of cutting firewood

THERE ARE FEW outdoor recreational activities I enjoy more than cutting firewood.

Maybe it is the roar of the saw, the heady mix of exhaust or the pull of a sharp chain into wood that takes one back to a simpler time when people lived off the land and loggers ruled the Earth.

When all you had to do was show up at a logging show at quitting time with some smoked salmon and a case of beer to wrangle your way into a firewood cutting adventure of a lifetime.

People like to argue about what is the best firewood.

Some say it’s Douglas fir and I would agree.

Others insist hemlock is the superior fuel with long lasting coals and a habit of crackling like popcorn when it’s thrown on the fire.

I would agree with that also.

My favorite firewood is the stuff that is dry, handy and doesn’t crumble when you grab one end of it.

Generally speaking, there are three types of firewood depending on where you find it.

Firewood is either in the road, above the road or below the road.

Firewood in the road would be our first choice but of course, these opportunities are soon exhausted.

From there we would look above the road where gravity is your friend.

Throwing rounds of firewood down a cut-bank in a logging road is one of the more traditional outdoor sports on the Olympic Peninsula.

To launch a wooden wheel down the steep embankment staring with child-like wonder as it bounces down the hill gathering speed until it slams into the side of your truck is one of the greatest thrills of nature.

Often a few raps with some common firewood cutting tools such as a splitting maul or an ax can easily repair minor damage and restore that show room finish.

Then again, if you were worried about how your truck looked you wouldn’t be using it to haul firewood in the first place.

More extensive damage to your vehicle, such as a fender bashed against a wheel can often be fixed with the aid of a peavy.

This is a logger version of a medieval pike with a wicked hook near the end that can be used to pry most anything apart once you get ahold of it.

People like to argue over what is the best saw to cut firewood.

I personally don’t care as long as the saw has a sharp chain.

Anything beats a misery whip.

If you don’t know what a misery whip is you’re probably not from around here and you are lucky.

Also known as the “Swedish Fiddle,” the misery whip is like a hand saw on steroids with big gnarly teeth and a handle on each end of it.

Using a misery whip is an art, science and torture all rolled into one.

It teaches teamwork, exhaustion and loathing for the person on the other end of the saw.

The only thing worse than a two-man misery whip is the one-handled version where you have no one to blame but yourself.

Sharpening a misery whip is no more complicated than say, brain surgery or launching a ballistic missile because once you file the teeth they have to be set at precise angles seldom accomplished out in the woods by amateurs.

Just be glad you have a chainsaw.

Unless you have an accident.

Read all safety instructions for your chainsaw.

Especially the ones that mention injury, dismemberment and death.

Then when adding up the medical bills and damage to your truck you’ll know why firewood costs so much.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal

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