Here at the homestead, we are situated right where the prairie meets a creek bottom. Wildlife is abundant and the scenery is very pretty. It also means we have some great soil for growing. One of the downsides, however, is that we don’t have many of the typical “firewood” trees around. Most of us in the south instantly think of Oak as the firewood of choice. It burns slow and hot, and one tree usually contains enough wood for a winter of fireplace use. Folks in other parts of the country have their own first choices for firewood. I don’t have any of the “favorites” on my place at all. I’m not even sure where they nearest Oak tree is.
One tree species I have an abundance of is very wicked and hateful Honey Locust. How can a tree be so wicked and hateful? It all has to do with natural defenses. This species has thorns. Big, ugly thorns that will pierce right through the sole of work boots and car tires. It cares not for your denim and cotton duck clothing or leather gloves. The goal of this tree is to make you bleed, and it achieves the goal frequently. Most thorny trees have thorns on the branches. The Honey Locust has them too, but it also grows thorns up and down the trunk. Vicious, multi-pronged thorns that can grow to 8 inches in length.
Most sane people would ask the question, “Why would you mess with a hateful tree like that?” The answer is simple. The wood is very hard, straight growing, and the trees have very few branches. It really makes for some beautiful firewood. Because of the lack of branches and the straight grain, this wood is probably the best splitting wood I’ve worked with. It burns slow and hot, which really helps heat the house on frigid nights.
So how do I deal with getting this tree from a thorny mess to the woodpile? I’ve developed a couple of different approaches.
The first approach is the easiest. The second takes a little more time, but will save you some bleeding.
The first approach is to fell a tree where I can back my Jeep in close enough to strap on to the trunk. Once the tree is down, I will cut the branches off and leave them be for the time being. Then I run a chainsaw across the trunk, which will send all the thorns flying. Once it is de-thorned, I’ll pull the main trunk to another spot to cut it up. This leaves the thorns well away from my new work area. Just remember to be careful if you walk through that section of woods in the future!
The second approach is what I have to use when felling these trees close to the house where I expect foot or vehicle traffic. I try to drop the tree to an open area if I can. This time, I de-thorn the trunk using an axe, so the thorns fall straight to the ground around the trunk. This will keep the work area from becoming a minefield of pure pain. Once the trunk has had all the thorns removed, I take a leaf rake and rake them all to one spot. The rake does a great job of gathering all of the thorns up from the ground. Now I have a safer area to work on cutting the trunk into firewood sized pieces. At this point, you can go back to the thorn pile and shovel them into a box or bucket.
If you get creative, you might come up with some uses for the thorns. I’ve thought about using them in specific areas to deter the local wildlife. Since they are extremely hard, they would probably make for some excellent primitive fish hooks. If your creative side is lacking, they burn completely and very well.