Just think...: The Old Finn Method

The author’s wood rick — not as plumb or straight as Mr. Beasley’s, but still serviceable.

Old Chinese hotel: That’s what the Lonely Planet guidebook to Southeast Asia recommended for safe, inexpensive and clean places to stay in Singapore. So, we took their advice and stayed in an “old Chinese hotel,” but we never figured out whether the moniker meant “old hotel, run by Chinese people,” or “hotel, run by old Chinese people,” because both definitions worked. The hotel was all it was racked up to be, plus very noisy. Each floor had an old Chinese man who slept in the hallway on a cot and would greet each new arrival in raucous Chinese even if at 3 a.m.

I was reminded of the “old Chinese” conundrum when thinking about a recent debate with a young neighbor about curing firewood. I use an “old Finn method,” and am not sure if it’s because I’m rapidly becoming an “old Finn” or if it’s because it’s an “old method, practiced by Finns.”

Our young neighbor, Brian, is an inventor to a degree. He has kluged together a mix of plumbing parts and a couple unglazed flat plate collectors into a solar water heating system. He and my husband, who has built more of these systems than he can remember, had a vigorous debate about whether the solar heated water should go into the bottom of the holding tank (the old Italian’s method) or into the top (Brian’s method). The Italian says it’s standard practice to bring the water from the panels into the bottom of the tank and it will thermosyphon to the top of the tank, gradually heating the entire tank of water. Brian believes you get quicker results by putting the hot into the top of the storage tank, which would create just enough hot water for a shower almost immediately on a sunny day.

After exhausting the water heater topic, we switched to firewood. Green wood, especially alder, will never produce the BTUs we’d like; in fact well-cured alder produces more BTUs than fir, according to firewood charts. Again, Brian has come up with a somewhat novel approach: A 6x15 shed, with solid walls on the east, west and north, and a south wall covered by re-used glass sliding doors. He then crams the structure full of green, cut and split firewood, closes the glass doors and believes he has a sort of wood drying kiln. Brian is convinced this should work, given there is ventilation out the north side of the shed, but I have my doubts. I use the “old Finn” method, which we (me and the old Italian) learned from my dad.

Well, we could have learned it from any number of old Finns (well, even some younger than I am) in the Ilwaco area. The method is straightforward but labor-intensive ... but then you have plenty of time for messing with firewood while unemployed or after retirement. That’s probably why “making wood” occasionally shows up as a leisure time activity on obituaries for people who have lived in Pacific County most of their lives.

The premier exemplar of the “old Finn” method is Don Beasley’s approach to his wood supply: A year before it is needed, split and stack long ricks of green firewood so that the ricks face south. (This type of stack has formed the south property boundary for Don and Nellie’s lot for decades.) Make the stack as stable as possible and cover with plywood or other impermeable material to keep rain from penetrating from above. No tarps! Not only do they catch the wind and attempt to fly away, they trap moisture in your stack. The whole point is to get air movement through your rick to cure the wood.

Next, in the summer before you’ll be using the wood, during a period of nice, dry weather, move the wood into a covered woodshed. The shed should be closed to the south so that wind driven rain doesn’t dampen the wood, although superficially wet wood will still burn nicely. Next bring the wood into the house for its intended use.

You can see this method practiced all over the Lower Columbia region and I think it’s the best, partly because it follows the laundry maxim: You can dry laundry outside on an overcast day if there’s a breeze. You don’t need sunshine … just air movement.

But after debating this “old Finn method” vs. Brian’s solar kiln, I asked myself, “Am I just stuck in my ways? Is there nothing new under the sun or is Brian onto something?”

Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer who’s been stacking firewood as long as she can remember. Send her your favorite wood curing method at anthonyvictoria1@gmail.com. Maybe she’ll learn something new.

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