If you start to manage a woodland it almost certainly means that some of the trees will have to be felled. It makes sense to remove the trees that are poorly shaped or overcrowded to give more space to the trees that are of better form and have the potential to grow into quality timber. Therefore you need to do something with the wood from the trees that have been felled and firewood is an obvious solution.
I always fell the trees after the leaves have fallen during the winter months. This way it causes less disturbance to the wildlife especially nesting birds. It is also too hot here during the summer months for chainsaw work. I find that even in winter within a few minutes of starting to cut I am down to my T-shirt. So I stop felling in early April and then spend 3-4 weeks bringing all the wood that has by now been cut into 1 meter lengths out of the forest and to a clear open area where the logs will later be split and stacked. It is essential that this is a sunny spot where the breeze can blow through to dry the wood. If the split wood is not stacked in the sun their is no chance that it will be dry enough for it to be burnt the following winter.
For the last 10 or so years I have split all my wood by hand using a combination of steel wedges and a 2.5kg log splitting axe. I could generally split about 1 cubic meter of wood per hour this way. If it was knotty oak it wood take a little longer or if it was nice straight sweet chestnut it could be done in as little as half an hour. I found that a session of up to 2 hours was about right for me and I split about 130 cubic meters in total during April and May of each year. Splitting this volume of wood by hand however did lead to the development of very painfull tendonitis in both elbows and forearms. It had got to the point where I had to mechanise the wood splitting or cease production.
Not having much cash for investment I looked around for something a little different to the usual log splitting equipment. On Ebay I found a rotary wood splitter called The Stickler (www.the stickler.com)which is bolted by means of an adaptor plate onto the back hub of almost any rear wheel drive vehicle. It costs around $279 and $130 delivery to France, although this was discounted by $50 as they were offering free delivery in the U.S. at the time.
The Stickler in action using my battered 1993 Toyota Hiace as the muscle power
With this extremly efficiant tool I was able to split over 200 cubic meters of wood over the course of 4 weeks working 3-4 hours per day. The cost of this was around 60 litres of red diesel but I saved myself a great deal of fatigue and physical damage. With the help of a second person the wood could have been split much quicker. I lost a lot of time getting the logs to the splitter and then stacking the splits. The finishes log piles are then immediatly covered with plastic sheeting to keep the rain out. This way with our usual hot summer the wood is ready to start being delivered during August to my loyal group of customers.
Part of a finished wood pile, this one represents about a quarter of the total firewood split for this year