News from Stark Raven Studios: Dan and Saga's blog about blacksmithing, art, and daily life and  work on their tiny Wisconsin Northwoods homestead.

It's All About Wood - Fueling the Machine

Wood gathering February 1, 2014

Wood gathering February 1, 2014

It was the last day of January and it has been a pretty cold winter across the country. Dan and I don't mind the cold and snow, in fact we rather like winter. But, a long cold winter also means the need for more wood. The need to keep "fueling the machine" has kept us from actually getting a whole lot more done. Winter poses a multitude of challenges when you live the way we do.


We gather wood year round. For us it has multiple uses. We heat with wood. We have an old wood cook-stove in our kitchen, so we cook with wood. We make our own charcoal for the blacksmith shop. We need wood for broom handles and we also need wood for green wood working projects.

We had quite an adventure earlier in the week while going out to gather firewood. We had intended to get an early start and gather as much as we could while it was still light. But, not all things go as planned. It was a day of fighting the effects of the bitter cold and what it does to some of the machinery that we still must rely on. 

We had a number of mishaps with vehicles that day. We got Dan's Toyota Tacoma all loaded up for our wood gathering trip: snow shoes, chainsaw, wood-sled, etc. We were dressed for the subzero temps and the -25 to -35 wind chills. We got out to the county forest only to find the truck couldn't be budged to park in a safe spot at the side of the road. We figured maybe it was the ice on the dirt road just under the snow, so we threw on snowshoes, stomped into the forest and collected dead boughs and such to put under the tires for traction. We got it "unstuck" but realized that the back tires were a low, so we drove into town to fill the tires so we wouldn't get stuck again.

Once we were in town, we decided to treat ourselves to a "toffee coffee" (a mix of toffe cappuccino and strong black coffee) after filling the tires. By this time, we realized it was going to get dark while we were in the woods, so we decided to pick up an extra headlamp. We picked up the lamp, then stopped at home to pick up our other headlamp so we would both have one. By this time, it was just past dusk. 

We got into the truck, we both had headlamps and all our gear was ready. The truck wouldn't budge. We tried rocking it. We tried putting it in four low. Dan got out and I goe in the driver's seat. He ccould see that the one of the rear wheels has locked up. We unloaded the truck. It is full dark now.

It was time for a change of plans. We still needed enough firewood to at least get us through the night and into the next day, so we start loading our gear into my Ford Focus sedan. Luckily, the back seat folds down on my Focus. Unluckily, the back hatch and one passenger door are either frozen or broken - guess we'll know which by spring (which may not come 'til July). We loaded up snowshoes, the chainsaw and exchanged the big wood-sled for our little blue plastic sled.


We'd been going to the same spot in the county forest all winter. The snow is waist deep now, so snowshoes are a necessity. With headlamps in place, we stomped to the spot where we know we'd already scouted out some dead-fall that we'd planned to harvest.

It was a rather exhilarating and surreal experience to be in the forest in full darkness. The wind was howling through the trees, but where we were gathering wood, it is dense enough that we weren't affected much by the wind. It was bitter cold, but we were dressed for it and only our faces were exposed. What hair we had exposed did freeze to our faces, but it was more comical than critical. So, as with most things we do, we made it into an adventure. It was well after 9:00 pm when we finished with our forest adventure and filled the back of my Focus. 

Saga Tying Brooms at the Wabeno Steam Show 2013

Saga Tying Brooms at the Wabeno Steam Show 2013

We've had a few friends ask us why we don't gather wood during the summer? The answer is, we do. We gather wood year round to fuel the machine that is our life. The thing is, we're also working on making a living as artists and maintaining as sustainable a life as we can, which means dividing our time between making our art, filling orders for our work, doing the homestead chores, and attending shows/demonstrations to build a customer following for our work. 

Wood Camp inthe Iron County forest

Wood Camp inthe Iron County forest

We love it when we actually have the luxury of a few days to set up a wood camp in the county forest and do nothing but gather wood for a couple days straight, while camping under a starlit sky. This year, we hope to do more of that and schedule our shows more selectively so next winter, we won't have to work so hard to fuel the machine.