The Media Is The Message

Montana Covid Quarantine: Day 23

Welcome to The Ice-House.

When brought low by news of Covid, or arctic blasts of snow blow out a tenuous Montana spring with sub-zero nights and days of ice and white and grey; hand crafting wood for a hand crafted stove, and purposing that wood to the stove is a connection to a seemingly lost world of interconnections.

Here at The Ice-House, we are happy to offer suggestions and advice for your own Covid Quarantine Woodcraft & Stovecraft solutions. We are limiting our Stave production to existing membership clients, or those with strong references from existing members.

Sustainably sourced beetle kill pine (the “blue” outer ring ). From our own forests or from our trusted arborist who thinned our forests from the 1970’s. Central is my great-grandfather’s single-sided hewing hatchet, for joinery. This formed the ends of the log horse barn (no longer standing), and the Ice-House (discussed below). It is not used for the staving process described herein.
After harvest via chainsaw, raw logs are de-limbed and cut to length. The larger log portions are split once mechanically, allowing an even cure, before further hand-work.
Whole log and sections are tightly stacked floor to ceiling, and retained in a period log ice-house, circa 1890. The ice-house stored harvested river ice, stacked in layers with hay as a divider; this provided refrigeration throughout the year. Final aging of the media within a historic log structure is comparable to finishing Scotch Whiskey in an oak barrel.
Two variants of finished media are layered here as staves. The golden top layer is sourced from the wood as described so far. The lower section is sourced from barbed-wire fencing-posts, some older than 100 years, after they fall when the foot rots away in the ground, or elk herds snap them off in the fall and winter, or a snowfield’s slow movement down the mountainside topples them. They are then hand-harvested, cleared of staples, and stacked in the raw elements. Their cure is long completed prior to their final harvest, and requires no finishing in the ice-house. A cedar variety is stacked within a clap-board shed, it is rare and of a character such that it is treated as a fine wine in a deep cellar- more an investment than a consumable.
A copper tub ensures the stave’s character is not impinged upon by the hard touch of steel, as the wood’s memory of cutting has faded, and its temperament remains harmonious if packed tight in a bundled group in a non-ferrous container.
Woodcraft was passed down to me from my father, and from his father before him. Woodcraft is all he used to heat his Montana 1800’s homestead house, where he was born and raised and refined his process til the day he passed. I have taken what I learned and brought new ideas to harvesting, forming, and Stovecraft as well.
The “Chopper One” is my tool of choice for halving and quartering log sections. This was an innovation my Colorado stepfather introduced to my process, and though I brought it to Montana, it never found a place in my father’s milieu. His was always the two-headed axe. Steel wedges and a 13lb sledgehammer were what I used in the field, when cracking asunder trees I’d freshly felled by chainsaw on Colorado’s Continental Divide as foreman of a summer work crew.
A quick split that drives the halves apart is the key to the “Chopper One”. The drop force translates to push the halves apart- the wood will actually fly apart. This cracks the wood with a minimal trauma, usually effected with a singular blow. No base log is needed to split, as the downforce is minimized / optimized. The wood will emanate a sweetness so heady that wasps will emerge from their winter hiding to investigate.
Today we are crafting our Montana Spring Blizzard Small-Batch. Our time tested process consistently ensures its distinctive clarity, known for piercing notes of melting ice coupled with a hint of orange to green lichen.
Organic, Vegan, and Gluten-Free, our batches rely on purity of process to unravel complexity. Our staves are, as always, free of any surfactants, accelerants, or artificial rubbings.
Reducing the quartered and halved sections to an optimal Stave required for high-end Stovecraft requires special handling. The most recent hand-splitting tool I have adopted is invented and sourced from New Zealand: The Kindling Cracker. Also pictured is a 4lb maul with a Hickory handle deployed to split a half-section. Near the wall is the more refined 2lb maul with rubberized neck guard. Protecting the hands from shock are Cestus TrembleX gloves.
Pine is reduced to an optimal size with an ideal amount of force. This “Ideal Force” is best wrought by a person of no more than 5.5 feet in height, with the particular physical acumen of an ability to direct force to a singular spot, as in this instance, through a long background in ballet. This grounding in a physical art form translates to the wood, finding the natural breaking point of the fiber.
Another reason a background in ballet is desired; the unyielding physical requirement also asks for mental presence in alignment to all the moving dynamics. I have already removed more than half of the refined wood stave to the stack, and she is nearly through the larger forms.
The maul-strikes flatten the stave to the left, while the pushing bite of the Chopper One is imprinted upon the stave to the right. Both staves are seated within the maw of the J-Stove, an aspect of my application of Woodcraft to inventive Stovecraft.
The golden form on the left is the J-stove, with secondary connection to a Mass Heater; I created this Stovecraft in the past year. It is a near zero-emission stove, allows no CO2 into the house (or smoke), and is 80% more efficient than a traditional wood stove. The Mass-Heater will gain a stone facade when summer arrives. The stone atop the stainless steel drum keeps the ceiling from overheating, while the old bread toaster from my grandmother’s wood-fired kitchen stove acts as a safety grate over the stove maw. This Stovecraft replaced my father’s cast-iron & steel wood-burning stove that had served for 40 years.
Out the bedroom window at the bird feeder it is a full 70 degrees colder for the Black Eyed Junco’s, of Oregon and Pink-Sided variety.

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