How can you naturally incorporate strength training into your story using wood? What is estimated to be 1,700 pounds and kids can move it? What dangers could your character run into with chainsaw? What weird stories do I have for you today? Find out on this episode!
Welcome to Writing Rural with Alley, the fiction writer’s inspiration station for rural life and lifestyles, from historical to post-apocalyptic, helping you bring your rural stories to life! I’m Alley, and this is episode #55; 5 Unexpected Workouts (Part 2). Stick around to the end to find out all the ways things could possibly go wrong. Now, let’s get into this.
Many things are physically demanding that people don’t think about on a farm, homestead, or similar place. Last week, we covered endurance exercises, and this week we will cover strength exercises. One very important thing that almost all rural places in every era have in common is that they will need wood for heating or cooking. So, today, we will cover five unexpected workouts involving wood.
6) Running a chainsaw
Running a chainsaw is first on the list today. One unexpected thing most people do not think of is the terrain that has to be walked through to even get to the tree they will be using it on. Another thing is that they might just be taking a few limbs off that are in an unsafe place, but not the whole tree. This could include limbs over homes, barns, fence lines, and more. If your story is during the time of electricity, there is the chance they will need to cut it out of power lines too.
All of these things mean one thing. Your character will be going up the tree to cut the limb. Climbing a tree requires arm, legs, shoulders, back, and the core. It’s a full-body workout. Grip strength is important for this too.
In the tree, your character will have to hold the tree with their legs if they don’t want to fall while running the chainsaw. I don’t know about you, but I would be holding on extra tight in the air with something that can cut my head off in my hands. I don’t want to fall on it.
An interesting story to go with this one. As a teen, my father did this very thing to help my best friend’s family save money with a tree that had to go. I do not know what type of tree it was, but the bark kept sliding with him sitting on the limb. He would have to stop what he was doing and readjust before starting again. It was like watching a punch balloon you know is going to fall over and he would be hurt, but he just kept popping back up!
If your character is on the ground, they might still have to use their legs, and core, as they could be working on hills, in a valley, on rocks, or any number of awkward positions. If possible, people will move downed limbs to safer places, but sometimes they must be cut into smaller pieces for that to be possible.
The last thing I will mention is arm strength. There are many sizes of chainsaws, and that means different weights and bar length. They now have mini chainsaws, but that isn’t what we are talking about today. The smallest of the ones I am speaking about has a 14-inch bar. These are for little saplings and smaller limbs. As a very short person, I would stick with a 16 inch if I could, but if it was needed, I could go up to a 20 inch if I was careful. The reason being is that sometimes a chainsaw gets ‘pinched’ or hits a knot, and will jerk back at you. You have to have the arm strength to control it if that happens.
Please keep in mind that in most rural situation, chainsaws are used for fallen limbs, property management and making firewood. Unless your character is a lumberjack or works for a tree service, it is unlikely they will be felling trees.
Just for fun, the largest chainsaw I can find as of the beginning of 2024 has a 41-inch bar. These are for falling enormous trees. That’s barely shorter than me, and I will have to take a hard pass!
Taking a glance through several online exercise sights, I see that they say chainsaws work gluts, legs, chest, back, and the core.
7) chopping down trees with an axe
This is one that many gyms and workout programs try to mimic, the act of swinging an ax to fell a tree. This type of ax usually weighs between 2 1/2 to 3 pounds (1.13 kg to 1.36 kg). The movement twists the body in an abdominal rotation pattern. The exercise does not quite give justice to the amount of force a person puts into that momentum to get the ax in as far as it can cut. Nor does it quite mimic the small muscle adjustments needed to hit the correct place and angle repeatedly to fell a tree.
However, it is great for abdominal and back muscles that help with stability. A person’s arms are used in the action, and their legs are used to switch the body weight and momentum from one part of the body to the other without losing control. Some gyms will have as close as they can get with a sledgehammer and tire set up vertically.
8) Hand-sawing wood
Hand-sawing wood is the act of using a hand saw to cut the wood. This can be small twig-sized pieces to two-man saws to cut a full tree down. Old lumber mills used to do this too. These saws were placed vertically, and with a guide, so they could cut the wood at the appropriate height.
Today, outside of strict Amish communities, hand sawing is mostly done with a bucksaw. These are one-man saws, although two men could technically work together with it. The handles are most often made of mostly wood and have a blade of no smaller than 24 inches. There is a gap between the blade and top of the saw that allows for large logs to fit. This is the type I used to use. In my early 20s, I used to be able to cut a half a rick of wood by myself in a day. For my Canadian listeners, that is one fourth of a cord of wood.
9) Splitting wood
Splitting wood is a great exercise. So great, that our modern day gym and exercise programs aim to mimic this with an exercise call the wood chop, or sometimes the wood chopping, or even the wood chopper. Sometimes this is done with weights, and other times it is done with a tire and sledgehammer.
The ax itself is between 3 pounds (1.36 kg) to 10 pounds (4.5kg), the average weight being between 6 and 8. In our home we use seven, but it can depend on the person and main purpose of the ax. The length of the ax handle will be 28-36 inches or 71.12 cm to 91.44 cm.
The reason that people like this as an exercise so much is that it covers many of the major muscles. This includes, but is not limited to, core, hips, calves, shoulders, lats, abs and more. With the weight being without a counterweight, it means that it helps with usable abs, and that means balance. This is also a good cardiovascular exercise. That means it not only helps with heart health, but other health benefits include lower blood pressure, improved sleep, lung help, managing diabetes, decreased stress, boosts mood, and can help in weight loss, but it is unlikely your character will be chopping wood for that reason in a real farm or homesteading situation.
10) Hauling or stacking wood
Hauling or stacking wood is fairly self-explanatory. In this episode, we will focus on firewood. I will guesstimate the average piece of firewood to weight between five, and twelve pounds. Keep in mind, the lower end will be for most of the wood, and the bigger ones are saved to use overnight to keep the fire going longer. Not all modern woodstoves can take them that big either.
According to usvintagewood.com, the average rick of wood weighs 1,700 lbs. but depending on how closely or loosely packed, along with the density of the type of wood, can vary from 650 lbs. to 2,750 lbs. That’s a lot of wood and a lot of weight.
In my part of the world, it is widely known that for a fire to stay running full time in a woodstove or fireplace on cold days or nights, it will burn roughly one rick of wood per week. That means if there are ten weeks of winter weather, your character will need ten ricks of wood. That averages 17,000 lbs. of wood that your character will have to move at five to twelve lbs. at a time. Now if you break that into days, that is 242.8 lbs. per day. Most people carry several sticks of firewood in their arms at a time, but that will depend on your character’s strength level. Just remember, kids and everyone help with this chore, and even a toddler. Although I admit to giving my toddlers the bark that fell off and pretending it was part of the wood. What? Bark is great for helping start the fires or bring dying fires back to life.
Fun fact: As of 2023, it is estimated that only 1.7% of the USA still heats solely with wood.
What could possibly go wrong?
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Likely to go wrong: Your character is running a chainsaw, and it kicks back at them. This could be dangerous if the chainsaw is too big for them, or they were not paying close enough attention.
Likely to go wrong: Your character gets splinters moving the firewood.
Likely to go wrong: Your character is chopping down their tree on their own, and it falls a way they didn’t expect. This could cause damage to any people, animals, buildings, vehicles, or anything else it can crush.
Possible to go wrong: Your character drops the firewood as they are moving it, and it hits their leg, bruising it.
Possible to go wrong: Your character is using a bucksaw that is old, when the wooden handle snaps, and they get a huge splinter through their hand.
Possible to go wrong: Your character is using a bucksaw to cut up a log for firewood when the saw blade breaks, and they have to find a new blade or new way to finish cutting the firewood.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is felling a tree, and the energy used to fell the tree caused them not to be able to get out of the way of the falling tree fast enough. This could be deadly.
Unlikely to go wrong: Your character is chopping firewood and they miss, hitting their foot instead. Ouch!
Unlikely to go wrong: While chopping firewood, your character’s axe head comes flying off and hits someone else with it. This could be painful or even deadly.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is up in a tree cutting a limb and didn’t wear a safety harness. When the wind picks up, they fall out of the tree, landing on the chainsaw.
Improbable but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character is running a chainsaw as they work with others to cut down a tree. The chainsaw gets stuck, and after some wiggling, they pull it out, only to hit someone they didn’t know was standing so close. This could be deadly.
Thanks for listening! You can find the show notes and helpful links to learn more on my website, alleyhart.com. That’s A-L-L-E-Y-H-A-R-T.com. Subscribe or follow for more episodes. Connect by dropping me a comment on my YouTube videos. A new episode comes out every Monday. Until then. Happy wordsmithing.