There’s always a sense of adventure when ordering untreated, un-processed fresh from the wood timber. I needed some untreated chestnut fencing posts (chestnut doesn’t rot easily so lasts longer in the ground than any other UK wood apart from oak) and after several weeks of trying to track down a local supply (it felt like I was trying to buy something illicit) I found some being sold from a wood about three miles away. Absolutely perfect! Totally local! Practically zero carbon emissions. Just what I wanted. So I ordered 14 fence posts, gave instructions for the delivery team to leave them in my front yard and went away for the weekend…And when I got back I found not 14 fencing posts but what I can only describe as 14 nightmares. They had delivered me 14 felled trees, ranging from 20-30cm in diameter. Anyone who’s ever looked closely, or even not that closely will notice that the girth of a fence post is considerably smaller. “What the bloody hell am I going to do with those” I thought to myself as I imagined a burly Scot tossing these cabers over my house and into my back garden. To get anything up there I have to take it through the house, up the stairs, out the back door and then up the steep garden path. So I phone the man at the woodland. “Oh its fine, they’re dead easy to split”. “Right, and how do you do that?” After he explained I still didn’t understand. Luckily I was about to do the coppice craft course at CAT and I knew I’d find out. In the meantime my friend Emily came round with her chainsaw and we carried them up to the garden in 6ft and 3ft lenghts. I had to stay in bed the next day I was so bloody exhausted! Never mind my promise to carry only light things up to the garden! Anyway I learnt how to split the wood and its a total bonus. I now have far too much chestnut and I’m trying to work out what to do with it. I’ve got enough fence posts to do the whole garden, instead of just the small section I had planned to do. I’ve made a massive table and four giant seats. I’ll be making a giant cold frame, and I’m going to have to work out what to do with the rest. I’ll put the table pics up when I next have a moment but here’s how to split the wood.
You’ll need three or four heavy metal wedges – at least one of which should be smaller than the others. Bob Shaw, our woodland teacher had a whole heavy hessian bag full of the things I could hardly lift. You can sometimes pick wedges up at car boot sales but they can also be bought from specialist suppliers and sometimes in local ironmongers. I doubt whether Focus don’t do it all will have them but you could see. Apart from that you just need a strong wooden mallet, a firm grip and a good eye. You could cheat and use a metal mallet and sledge hammer but in general its not good to hit metal on metal.
Some wood splits more easily than other wood. Willow for example twists when you split it. Ash and chestnut are good to split. That being said you still have to guide the split to avoid getting split drift which results in one half being thicker than the other.
To split the wood in half you need to find the centre of the rings at the end of the wood. Place your smallest wedge dead centre and whack in with a mallet. It takes a few whacks to get it firmly set in the rings. Like so.
Once you have hit it in far enough you will notice that the wood starts to crack in the centre of the ring and also on the top of the wood. Once the crack is established you can place another wedge in the top crack running along the top of the wood. Like so.
Bash this in and the split will continue beyond the wedge and along the wood. Sometimes you can split the wood with just this one wedge positioning but on a longer piece of wood you will have to carry on placing wedges further along the split, guiding it and making sure you don’t get split drift. Like so.
Wood seems to split easier once its been seasoned for a few months. I got this delivery back in the winter and split some then when the wood was still quite green. The splits were hard won. Now the splits come more easily. Also get a good set of wedges. I borrowed these from my friend Grace and she got them second hand a bit worse for ware. They should be well pointed and have good firm heads. It took about five minutes to split this wood.
After splitting it into half I did the same again, splitting it into quarters. This was much easier.
Yesterday Grace took a few us round the wood from whence my chestnut came, as part of it has been bought by The Centre for Alternative Technology to manage for biodiversity and woodland products and to teach courses. It’s great to see where my wood came from. As you can see it’s a really beautiful spot.