Coppice and Pollard

Bing creative commons image of coppice woods
Bing creative commons image of coppice woods

No, that is not a local law firm. Don’t call if you’ve been injured in the workplace. Or suffered whiplash.

These terms refer to woodlot management practices that have fallen into disuse, as have woodlots for most Americans.

Both these ways of treating your trees result in a larger volume of smaller and straighter (versus heavier and irregular) branches. I am considering these methods here in my 38th year burning wood for heat. [Serving suggestion: Fragments / Wood If I Only Could]

In coppicing, the cut is at ground level. In pollarding,  it typically happens above the wildlife browse line. [A short video of a man pollarding his trees.]

The wood these measures produce (from the selected trees that respond well to these treatments) can be used for fence posts, various withy uses, for roofing support in some parts of the world, for for firewood. If you’re interested, here’s a good piece at Resilience about coppicing.

I am thinking more about how those of us who are committed to burning wood might do so in the event of future inconvenient breaks in our access to spare parts for our saws and trucks, or for fuel for them. How would we deal with a 14 inch oak with a bow saw, carrying the massive chunks home on our backs?

I had a go at cutting “sissy wood” a few years ago after a stouter tree almost took me out of this world. The link will carry you to yet another in the recent list of “Fred Checks Out” series of near misses.

But there is merit in thinking about woodlot management such that a year’s supply of firewood could be cut with manual tools (a good bow saw is an item on my to-buy list.) These smaller and straighter lengths can be bundled into “faggots” (used to be a good word) and drug from field to farmhouse.

Our land, except along the creek where we have abundant spicebush, ironwood and witch hazel, is too steep to make much use of this practice. But if you own a woodlot and burn wood, or know somebody who does, this information is worth a look.

There is much to be gained by looking at “appropriate technologies” and not just for those of us who live more remotely. I’ll be featuring some of those in coming posts, and even hope to have a separate but Fragments-friendly place to house such topics soon.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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