City blokes are sal­vaging wood for their fire­places, bra­ziers and pizza ovens. Amy Wil­liams is at the coal­face.

City folk are sal­vaging wood for their fire­places, bra­ziers and pizza ovens. Amy Wil­liams is at the coal­face.

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When sum­mer’s just around the cor­ner, a cu­ri­ous type of ur­ban­ite walks the streets push­ing a wheel­bar­row, fol­low­ing the sound of chain­saws, in the hope of tak­ing home a haul of wood to chop, stack and dry.

These are pro­fes­sion­als who spend the warmer months stock­ing up their wood piles with for­aged fire­wood to heat their pizza ovens and later, wood burn­ers. Neigh­bours and friends send tip-offs about branches or logs for the tak­ing — where there is a chain­saw, there will soon be a wheel­bar­row.

You can spot a wood-burn­ing en­thu­si­ast by their crispy fringe. AUT se­nior chef lec­turer Alan Brown ad­mits his got singed when he was tend­ing to an in­cin­er­a­tor on the life­style block he shares with his part­ner in Kerik­eri.

The clas­si­cally trained chef com­mutes to Auck­land for work and has writ­ten two books fo­cused on the joy of cooking over fire — his first, The Com­plete Kiwi Pizza Oven: Wood, Fire, Food and Friends, cov­ers what type of wood to use and how to stoke and main­tain a pizza oven and a range of recipes.

“It’s no dif­fer­ent from an oven at home, ex­cept there’s no ther­mo­stat and you have to be aware of where the flames are lick­ing. This is where the

The way a per­son cuts and stacks wood can tell you a great deal about him. Wood­piles are a re­minder that wood is a con­nec­tion be­tween the for­est and the home.

Lars Myt­ting

wood con­trol comes in,” says Brown, who has cooked for sil­ver ser­vice at the Lon­don Ritz.

All his wood has been sourced on their prop­erty, a for­mer laven­der farm.

For a pizza oven he sug­gests us­ing small pieces of bone-dry hard­wood that has been split to re­veal sides, but says there’s no need to be pre­cious about the type. He of­ten starts his pizza oven with pine be­fore mov­ing on to a hard­wood.

Hard­woods are ideal be­cause they burn slowly with a high heat, turn­ing to char­coal and hold­ing heat rather than dis­ap­pear­ing into ash. It’s best to gather po­hutukawa, to­tara, manuka, kanuka and the likes of po­plar, dou­glas, fir, oak, eu­ca­lyp­tus, puriri, wat­tle and fruit trees.

“If you’ve got a few peo­ple round and don’t have any wood, just go up to the gas sta­tion and get what­ever’s there, it will work,” says Brown.

He cooks ev­ery­thing from pizza at 350C, to meringues when the flame has died down.

His fa­ther, Ash, taught him a healthy re­spect for fire. Now 88, Ash used to be a fire­fighter, and it took him time to get used to his son cooking on open flames.

“For me it’s some­thing in­nate in hu­man na­ture,” says Brown. “There’s prob­a­bly a lit­tle ro­mance be­cause it re­minds me of my child­hood where we’d have a bar­be­cue and light it up in the back gar­den.”

As for bra­ziers, he says they’re not only for toast­ing marsh­mal­lows. He sug­gests putting strips of ten­der meat such as skirt steak on long metal skew­ers and turn­ing them once or twice over the heat.

“You do get a dif­fer­ent pro­file of flavour with nat­u­ral wood than you do on a bar­be­cue with metal bars, def­i­nitely.”

There’s no ar­gu­ing that a roar­ing fire feels like the sun shin­ing. Just think of a camp­fire at night and the warm glow on your skin. And there’s some­thing ro­man­tic about a fire­place — “Let’s make love in front of the heat pump,” said no one, ever

“Flames and glow­ing em­bers re­lease elec­tro­mag­netic, in­frared ra­di­a­tion that has much the same char­ac­ter­is­tics as sun­light. Warm­ing oc­curs, feel­ing of well­be­ing and se­cu­rity, air cir­cu­la­tion,” writes Lars Myt­ting of wood burn­ing in his book, Nor­we­gian Wood: Chop­ping, Stack­ing and Dry­ing Wood the Scan­di­na­vian Way.

“These fac­tors, com­bined with the smell of wood and a lit­tle woodsmoke, and the sight of the ever-chang­ing play of flames, con­nect us with the pri­mor­dial magic of the fire­place.”

OUR WOOD burner is mag­i­cal, our back­yard

... not so much. We live in sub­ur­ban cen­tral Auck­land, and when­ever there’s a storm or the sound of chain­saws, my hus­band Euan grabs his wheel­bar­row and dis­ap­pears down the street — this is the time to weather wood for next win­ter.

Look­ing out the win­dow I can see tree branches on the drive­way wait­ing to be sawn into lengths and stacked. Big rounds of wood are piled up on the deck ready to be split. Po­hutukawa, manuka, lemon­wood and gum.

Why go do peo­ple for­age fire­wood all year long, when they could pay for a truck­load to be de­liv­ered?

Myt­ting writes that chop­ping our own wood con­nects us to the sea­sons and na­ture it­self, and brings the “same deep sense of sat­is­fac­tion that the cave dweller knew. The way a per­son cuts and stacks wood can tell you a great deal about him. Wood­piles are a re­minder that wood is a con­nec­tion be­tween the for­est and the home.”

It’s also cheaper if you’re not pay­ing for elec­tric­ity for heat. Con­sumer New Zealand es­ti­mates a house­hold needs 10 cu­bic me­tres of wood, so get­ting free fire­wood saves us at least $800 a year.

Euan tells me he en­joys the hunter-gath­erer feel­ing and can get quite sin­gle­minded about bring­ing home the wood: “It’s for­ag­ing, so it takes an ef­fort but it’s very sat­is­fy­ing.”

A few years ago, he no­ticed a pile of freshly split wood pil­ing up on some­one’s drive­way just around the cor­ner from our place.

Grant Perry, 67, en­joys split­ting wood with an axe and it wasn’t long be­fore he and Euan were tipping each other off when there was wood left on berms around the neigh­bour­hood.

When a street­side tree came down on our road in a storm ear­lier this year, to­gether they chain­sawed and wheel­bar­rowed it away to their re­spec­tive wood piles like squir­rels cart­ing nuts away for the big freeze, ex­cept it doesn’t even snow in Auck­land.

Like me, Perry’s wife tries to pour cold wa­ter on such out­ings when the wood pile reaches a peak. His has manuka, po­hutukawa, to­tara, gum and cherry wood.

“She tries to rein it in. She says ‘we’ve got enough, we’ve got enough’ — but we’ve never got enough,” Perry says.

Wil­liams fam­ily, the fire­wood dis­ease as we call it, runs deep and has been passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion like a ba­ton in a re­lay.

.When our 9-year-old son, Liam, ar­rived home from stay­ing with his grand­par­ents with a box of fire­wood he’d hand-sawn, I be­gan to feel pride in this fam­ily pre-oc­cu­pa­tion.

One thing lead­ing to an­other, I found some stal­warts who find fire­wood in the most op­por­tune places.

Physi­cian Matthew Far­rant, 44, lives in Mount Al­bert and sources all his fire­wood from skips left out­side neigh­bour­hood ren­o­va­tions.

“In these es­tab­lished sub­urbs some­one is go­ing to be ren­o­vat­ing at some stage and I see it as my civic duty to save tim­ber that would be go­ing to the tip,” Far­rant says.

He burns kauri studs, kwila deck­ing, even un­treated pine from leaky homes. He’s a dump­s­ter­div­ing doc­tor.

Far­rant found his best haul last year when a house at the end of his street was be­ing ren­o­vated. He vis­ited their skip most days to re­trieve old kauri studs. Be­cause they’ve been in­side homes for decades, they don’t need to be dried.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing that I’m burn­ing some of Auck­land’s his­tory re­ally, these kauri trees which could have been hun­dreds of years old went into build­ing Auck­land,” he says. “Some peo­ple, when

Keen wood-hunters Grant Perry and Euan Wil­liams.

Matthew Far­rant, dump­ster-div­ing doc­tor.

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