Chopping Wood

Get Chopping

from Becky

Before I moved to New Zealand, the sum total of my wood chopping experience was zero. Now, after 15 winters of practice, where if you want heat you make a fire, I can chop a tidy stack of toothpicks for kindling. My parents call NZ a “frontier” (at least in the places I’ve lived- sorry Auckland, not you, of course!) I think one of the reasons they call it that, is because it’s darn cold in the house in the morning.

For most of us, by September, the wood stack is getting pretty low. There have been some nights that we haven’t had a fire- yippee! We can see that spring is here, and maybe that woodpile will JUST last. Although, especially in the South Island, a cold snap and a new dusting of snow on the hills can happen in any month of the year.

Dave made me laugh with this article. I’ll be interested to hear how many of you chop wood for heat. And the ones of you who don’t, is Dave still funny?

In health, Becky.


Chopping Wood- The Finer Points

by Dave Ritchie

Gnarly Bits for ChoppingThis will not be a piece on the usual Zen-like aspects of carrying water and the sound of one hand clapping, for surely if you have only one hand, then your wood chopping has been somewhat less than effective. This is about the ever-present and ever brutal need to chop wood.

If you live in NZ, or more correctly in a house built in NZ any time before the 21st century, you probably have a fire, you probably have a firewood guy, and you are probably familiar with the relentless reality of which I speak. This is not so much about tips and tricks, but more a chance to become familiar with the little intricacies of cutting wood that fill your brain, while you are actually cutting wood. Appreciate the finer points you might say….

Size matters, and if your wood guy is anything like mine, his tape measure has stretched, so when you ask him for 12-inch rounds, you get 14ers. On the face of it, quite frustrating I agree, however, treat this as an opportunity to slice those rounds up into ever smaller pieces so that they will, in fact, fit into your firebox on the diagonal. Think of the extra practice you will get, the number of times you will be forced to bend down, reaching quickly for the newly trimmed block, before it falls to the ground and you have to bend even further. You can probably feel your lower back right now just thinking about it.

Think of how cleverly your wood guy angles his cuts so that the block is almost impossible to balance on end, forcing you to wedge a small sliver of wood under the edge, and then rush your swing, so that you strike before your block topples. Ah, the risk involved in a hurried swing, the quickened aim, the glancing blade, and the hastily lifted foot. Picture the look on the emergency room doctor’s face as you limp in to her waiting room, mangled jandal in hand.

Think of the quality of the wood. Is that small spurt of liquid that erupts on strike the sweat of your brow? Or the last remaining piece of moisture making its way out of your “dry” block, before you pop it into your firebox for “final drying”? To no avail, you cast your eye across the pile looking for the straightest piece from which to make kindling. The knots, so artfully placed by a higher power, cause your heart to sing(k) at the thought of the thousand extra strikes that will be required simply to keep your Little Lucifer bill down.

And finally, there is your mighty blade, forged from cold steel by an 8 year old master craftsman in the valley forges of the Guanxan province, legendary for its exquisitely wrought edges. The hickory handle has been purchased, (yet again) from Sir Steven Tindall’s house of handy stuff, sharpened lovingly on your foot powered stone wheel, kept in a cover to protect it from the evils of the nearby ocean spray……..sorry, the blissful mind state that chopping wood invokes overtook me there.

Cup of tea over, time for some chopping.

I think I saw a few straight dry blocks in the back of the pile.

I’ll get them last.


Dave Ritchie

Dave was looking forward to a career in the health and fitness industry (personal trainer to the stars!) when he went paddling. Hold the phone! You mean I can get paid to do this? That’s when his eyes really opened up and he discovered parts and people of the world that challenged his perspective and expanded his horizons beyond anything previously understood. Eventually landing in Hokitika with his wife Clare and two girls Georgia (5 ) and Abby (3), he now runs the Outdoor Education programme at Tai Poutini Polytechnic. Dave is the video talent and project facilitator for D-fa, gear for dogs. He translates “project facilitator” to mostly mean looking after his two girls while Clare works on the business. The girls now serve the same purpose as that lifestyle of living on the river; keeping him open to new things, constantly refreshing his sense of discovery and reminding him what relentless (6:30am, bright and shiny, excited day after day after, you get the picture, I’m sure), really means.

From You

“I fell in love with New Zealand and the people. What struck me was how the people were in touch with nature – so much fresh produce everywhere and New Zealanders love to support their own. Recall feeding ourselves stupid over 2 days with all sorts of berries we’d bought roadside! You’ve retained and embraced your love of the land as well as all things crafty – homemade is well-made. I commend you on your project – it’s easy to see your passion.” Karen- Sydney


Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. Zen Proverb

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