A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 23 January 2012

Hooptedoodle #41 - The Tale of the Eucalyptus

What a laugh - this weekend's farce here at the Nature Park was me trying to get the biggest bits of our old eucalypus tree split into stove-sized logs. We've burnt all the small stuff now. I had a go with a big axe a week or two ago - depressing - I could hardly make a mark on the wood. This weekend I meant business, and borrowed a pneumatic splitter capable of 8 tons pressure. Wouldn't look at the eucalyptus, thank you very much. Didn't mark the stuff any more than my efforts with the axe (which doesn't help, but is a slight comfort).

Eucalyptus is obviously special. You may cut it, though not easily, but it will not split. Today I am going to negotiate with the farm to see if they can hire me a tractor-mounted hydraulic splitter, which will produce 20 tons. If that doesn't work either then I'll see if they can hire me a young man with a chainsaw.

So what is/was a eucalyptus doing here in Scotland, the Land of Mud? When I bought this house, nearly 12 years ago now, there were two hefty eucalyptus trees, one either side of the garden. I know they were planted in the early 1980s, because I have an aerial photo from 1985 or so, with some little, wispy trees just visible, but by 2000 they were big and beautiful. The more northerly of the two had a bad accident in my first winter here. Because it had grown in the shade behind the building, it was spindly - what tree-specialists call "pencilling". In a gale one night it split, and about half of it fell across the garden. Maybe a couple of tons of timber - if it had fallen in another direction it would have altered the house substantially.

I had it sawn up, and the remaining section taken down, and I spent the years afterwards looking sideways at the survivor. This, however, was a much more robust specimen. Growing in what passes for full sunlight here, it grew to about 70 feet high, but it used to alarm me waving about in high winds. In addition:

* it kept having to be cut back to clear the power cables

* it overshadowed the patio, and provided a very popular pigeons' toilet in the same spot

* its roots kept getting into the village drains, an expensive nuisance and a source of potential unrest

* its leaves fell all year round, blocked up gutters, cluttered flower beds, stained paintwork and never, ever showed any signs of rotting

* as it grew larger it sucked all the water out of the garden - it became hard to keep the lawn alive, no plants would grow within 40 feet of it

* its roots were beginning to crack the garage floor, and ruin the paving

* most importantly, one day it was going to break and fall over - if we were lucky, it would hit the garage and the power lines, otherwise the house was under threat

On the other hand, it was an absolutely lovely tree. After some years of footling about, not making a decision, eventually we realised that it had to go, so we hired in a contractor and had a very entertaining day watching the circus act that is required for tree removal. Fantastic. It was cut into logs, but the biggest pieces were just stacked at the deep end of the woodshed, for future reference.

The large, dark green object to the right of the electricity pole is the longer-lived of our eucalyptus trees - this picture was taken about 5 years before it was taken down, so it still had a good way to grow...

After the tree was gone - and it came down in about June 2010, I think - we went into a strange period when we didn't like the garden any more. The heart had gone out of it - though, of course, it was now safer and more practical and less maintenance and we could actually use more of it. We've now put in some baby fruit trees, and made a feature of shifting our bird feeders to where the big tree used to be, and we are sort of getting the hang of it, but it hasn't been easy. This Winter I've been working my way through our stock of eucalyptus wood for the stove, and very good it is, but we have now reached the point where the big pieces are going to have to be cut up - this, of course, is where we came in.

The one really bright spot from the weekend is that I might have bought an 8-ton log splitter if it had turned out to be cheaper than a full load of logs, and then I would really have been very upset indeed.


  1. You have to wait until the wood is bone dry, then it will split, but you need to have an angle grinder nearby to keep an edge on the axe, won't bore you with a similar tale but I did convert a Eucalyptus into firewood about 18 months ago and it was one of the hardest days work I've ever engaged in! Good luck...

  2. Hi Hugh - interesting - thanks for that. When it was newly felled I split quite a lot of it with a sliding splitting hammer - it was hard work, but it did the job. These were smaller logs, mind. As it has dried out, big radial cracks have appeared in the wood - it's like the inside of a giant banana, but cracked(?). Looking at it, you would think these big cracks would make it fall apart, but it's iron hard and also fibrous. I suppose it will dry a bit more than it has in the last 18 months, but not a lot. The sliding hammer hardly marks it now - it appears to have changed into some kind of synthetic building material!

  3. If it's had 18 months...you're sunk! I found the same thing, you could split it 'on the day' but a year later it looked like I was going to hurt myself! I seem to recall that I cut them from 18 inch'odd slices into 9 inch slices with a chainsaw and they then split quite easily, except where a branch came out - I ended up 'chunking' them with the saw!

    It does set like steel, and jars your arm if you don't get the axe strait, no matter how sharp it is!

  4. The axe jarred my arm every time whatever I did - I tried to relax at the point of impact, but I still felt like a Tom & Jerry cartoon - cracks running up my arms and my glasses crazing into little bits!

  5. We have what we affectionately call a Whomping Willow towering over our house. It has been know to send 80 lb limbs over or through the garage when a tropical storm blows the right way but its been nice enough to leave the house alone and voluntarily sheds combustible kindling and tinder. The bigger bits convinced me to trade in my Swede saw for a chain version.

    A cherry farther down split in a storm. My plan at the moment is to cut slices rtaher than trying to split it by hand.