Team Work and Practicality: What a Valentines Gift!

Steel Toe Boots and Helmet?

This is my Valentines Day present? It turned out to be one of the best!

My husband, Jim, and I live on 18 wooded acres in the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau. We partially heat with wood that we harvest from our own property. It’s a three stage process which involves cutting the wood, splitting it, and then stacking it in the woodshed. I am blind from a suicide attempt when I was 26. Since then I have gone on to work in the field of vision rehabilitation for over 20 years and Jim is an orientation and mobility specialist.

The Cutting

Jim cutting wood wearing helmet and ear protectors

We almost never have to cut a live tree. One or more oaks or hickories come down from natural causes every year. The first step in harvesting the wood is to cut the trees into manageable lengths that can be loaded in the trailer pulled behind our all-terrain vehicle and brought up to the wide expanse of concrete in front of the woodshed. Jim uses a chainsaw to cut the trees. My part is to hold smaller pieces of wood still while he cuts them and to load them into the trailer. This is where the helmet with ear protectors comes into the picture. The helmet protects me from any branches that might fall unexpectedly. Chainsaws are pretty darn loud, especially when working in close proximity for long periods of time so the helmet also has ear protectors.

The Splitting

The Splitter in Action

Most of the wood we harvest is quite large and has to be split. In the early days of our marriage Jim did the splitting with a wedge and a maul. A few years ago we bought a hydraulic log splitter. This is a gas powered piece of equipment with a wedge attached to a long arm. The wedge is brought into a long cylinder filled with hydraulic fluid. A piece of wood is placed beneath the wedge which is then brought down on the wood using a lever. Our splitter is pretty powerful and we’ve split logs as large as four feet in diameter.

When we got the hydraulic splitter the fun really began! Although the splitter can be operated by one person working alone it’s a lot more efficient to work as a team, not to mention, a lot more fun.

Here’s what it sounds like.

I lean in so I can hear Jim’s “Okay,” when he has the wood positioned beneath the splitter.


I depress the lever on the splitter and the wedge begins its downward journey. Thunk. I can hear when it digs into the log. The sound of the splitter changes. I feel it with my hand which rests on the lever. Leaning forward I locate the piece of wood that’s being split. Resting my gloved hand on the piece closest to me I try to judge when the wedge has gone all the way through. The sound of the engine changes. The wood falls toward me. I can’t tell every time when the wedge is through the wood and Jim says, “Okay,” if I don’t release the lever when the wedge has gone all the way through.

I push the lever up and it stays in the up position. it begins its upward journey while I pick up the wood and place it on end. I’ll hold this one until Jim’s ready for it. Turning back to the splitter I use kinesthetics to try to judge when to slap down on the lever and stop its upward progress. I try to stop it just above the next piece of wood that Jim will place under the wedge. It’s a game, a little contest that I play with myself. By stopping the wedge in just the right place it saves time.

As Jim positions the next piece of wood I notice that he repositions it several times before giving me the okay. I imagine that he’s reading the wood the way I used to read whitewater when I could see.

Jim says, “Okay,” and I’m rewarded by the bite of the wedge an instant after I push down on the lever. I got that one right!

The one we’re splitting now is huge. I’ve collected two large pieces that have fallen towards me and will need to be split into several more pieces.

“Okay,” says Jim. This time I can’t tell the wood has been split through. “Okay,” he says again. Push up on the lever. Slap down on it when I think it’s risen far enough. “Higher,” says Jim. Darn, didn’t judge that one quite right. I take it up a little higher. “Okay.” Down on the lever.

What a team!

Safety First

I accidentally let the piece of wood I’m holding upright fall. “Ouch!” Jim exclaims. “That hurt!”

“Aren’t you wearing your steel toe boots?”

“No, forgot about them today.”

“NMP!” I crow. Shorthand, “Not my problem!”

Sue wearing helmet and ear protectors and walking with dog guide

Splitting Done for the Day

When the splitter runs out of gas we stand straight and stretch. The sounds of the land settle upon us. The stream at the bottom of the hill. A pileated woodpecker. A squirrel running through the dry leaves.

“Ready to call it a day?”

“Yep.” And we head back to the house where Jim throws another log in the wood stove and we settle down for the evening.

The Stacking

Catch that wood!

This is the most unpredictable part of the whole process. Cutting and splitting the wood holds a measure of danger. As a result, we have carefully thought out processes for both of those stages. Not so with stacking the wood in the woodshed. With the part of this endeavor involving power equipment over we usually get a little slap happy with the stacking process. I stand near one of the piles of wood and toss them to Jim who stands in the woodshed. Since I can’t see him I often heave a piece of wood in his direction but not exactly at him. There are plenty of misses but it’s all good. We laugh and harass each other but we always get there in the end.

Nothing like a full woodshed to give a body a feeling of accomplishment! We’ll be warm for another year.

Boots over Valentine candy anyday!