6 Silver linings of winter

Feet Warming By Fireplace

Look on the bright side…

If summer and winter went head-to-head for the honour of being the most popular season of the year, then it would be no contest and summer would win easily with its sunshine, ice creams and suntans.

But hold on just a minute. Winter shouldn’t be written off quite so easily; there are lots of overlooked benefits during the snowy season.

Summer has its perks for sure, but no season does comfy time quite like wintertime. Allow us to remind you of what’s in store when the nights draw in.

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7 Winter fashion characters

man in winter storm

Which one are you…

Sunbathing, swimming in the sea, barbecues … all gets a bit repetitive after a while. Yep, summer is overrated.

Winter isn’t too far away though! And that means more opportunities to grow a beard, wear long overcoats with the collars up and bring out your winter fashion alter ego.

Check out our winter fashion characters, which one are you?

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The pros and cons of green energy

Green forest

Image source: Oleg Kalina
What do you think of green energy?

Are you plugged into green energy or do you think environmentally friendly power is a costly gimmick?

Do you think wind turbines are an elegant addition to the countryside or a blot on the landscape? Are solar panels a sign of positive change or a way to make your roof look ugly?

Here we take a look at some of the most popular forms of green energy, and ask – is all it’s cracked up to be?

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Essential winter gadgets

These days there is a gadget for everything, but some are more useful than others. The laptop desk that attaches to your steering wheel is a certainly rather stupid idea, and the less said about the iPotty the better.

But there are plenty of gadgets that make life easier, and in the cold winter months that’s just what we want.

So to make the festive season go smoothly this year, here are our top winter gadgets. Enjoy!

Dehumidifer

peltier-dehumidifier-AquaDri.

Say no to chesty coughs this winter

In the months that end with ‘R’ the air is moist due to low temperatures. This can cause damp, which in turn can cause mould spores and dust mites, both are bad news for your health.

With a dehumidifier however that risk is diminished. It works by collecting moisture either via a fan, electric current on crystal and turning it into water. Simply dispose of the water, and job done.

Log splitter

D3803 Dual Logmaster Logsplitter 2 Cj

Fire the fast way

Chopping wood is always a hard task, but especially in the depths of winter. No one wants to stand in the cold swinging a rather dangerous axe around! That is where a log splitter comes in handy.

Simply put, log splitters make better fires. This is because wood that has been split into smaller pieces burns better. The oxygen needed to keep a fire going has more access to the wood as there is a larger surface area, and this in turn means a brighter, warmer fire.

Instead of a sharp point being swung at speed, a hydraulic or foot operated log splitter works with a splitting wedge, meaning you don’t have to strain your back and you can split more wood than you could by hand.

Halogen oven

Halogen Oven

Impromptu roast dinner anyone?

With winter bills rising, we’re all looking for ways to save money, and a halogen oven will slash bills. Based on a 1300w 12 litre halogen oven cooking a chicken in 40 minutes, you’ll only have to spend 9p on electricity!

You may be wondering how a chicken can cook in 40 minutes? Well, because of hi tech halogen bulb technology and a fan to ensure all of the bowl gets heat, a halogen oven is able to cook tasty food fast.

Potato peeler

Electric potato peeler

How do you like your spuds in the morning?

Stews, roast dinners and soups are the epitome of winter warming food – and potatoes are often an important part of the meal.

When shivering and in need of a winter warmer, like the traditional Welsh dish of cawl, peeling potatoes can be a time consuming task. And for those with joint problems, it can be painful too.

But an automatic potato peeler uses a rotating blade to quickly take the skin off your spuds. Meaning those with poor dexterity needn’t be in pain, those that get cold hands needn’t get numb fingers and those who have a huge Christmas dinner to make, can get on basting the turkey!

For hands that don’t ache, a fire that burns well and fully functioning lungs our gadgets will see you right. And if you do want to research halogen oven recipes online, avoid the steering wheel lap desk, the M1 is for driving after all.


How to use log splitters

The cold snap is here, summoning months of runny noses, numb body parts and frosted car windows. Whilst some will shiver at the thought of being chilly, for many it’s simple an excuse to get the fire going.

Fire needs three things; oxygen, heat and fuel and by using wood with a larger surface area, the oxygen and heat have access to more fuel.

So how do you get this larger surface area? With a log splitter, and here is how to use them.

Foot powered

D3953 Foot Operated Logsplitter Cj

Simply split

Simplicity be thy foot powered log splitter. They are simple work with, make quick work of logs and require very little labour.

First, get a level working area and place your logs near the log splitter. Then get a wheelbarrow or garden cart ready for easy transportation.

To start splitting, simply place a piece next to the splitting wedge and pump the lever. The hydraulic force – over a tonne – will cut through the wood with ease.

Hydraulic

D3803 Dual Logmaster Logsplitter 2 Cj

Super splitting

Just like the foot powered option, a hydraulic log splitter needs a level area to work. But unlike a foot powered one, you don’t need to do anything other than load and unload logs.

Many hydraulic log splitters have handles, and if yours does then make sure you use them. It will make the machine more stable and stop you from endangering your hands!

To get chopping, place the wood next to the wedge, hold the handle and watch as wood is driven into two bits. Wearing goggles is also a good idea, as when the wedge hits a knot in the wood, splinters may fly.

A Maul

Hand maul and firewood

Sweaty split
Source: Wikipedia

Despite the invention of the log splitter, many still prefer the backbreaking work of preparing wood by hand. So if you are a glutton for punishment, here is some advice on how to chop your wood the old fashioned way.

First, get a maul – which looks like an axe, but has a wider head – this forces the wood apart instead of cutting through it. Make sure you have plenty of space, then find a large piece of wood to use a big chopping board.

Then comes the fun and/or hard part, depending your fitness levels! Rest the piece of wood you want to split on the chopping surface and drive the maul down into it. Look for grains of wood and aim for these lines, it will be easier to split this way.

There are many ways to save on rising energy bills and a warming fire is one of the best. And unless you like the manliness of hand splitting wood, save yourself the hassle and use a log splitter instead. After all, if you’ve already got a runny nose, a sore back is the last thing you need.

Top 10 ways to beat rising energy costs

Rising energy bills are a hot topic right now in the UK — if only the same could be said for much of the shivering population struggling to pay them.

Winters seem to be getting colder — nice one global warming — so it’s time to get savvy to lower your energy costs. Here are your top ten tips!

1. Change providers

gas flame

Image source: Nikkytok
Don’t be afraid to chase the best deals

There is an ongoing price war happening between the energy providers, which is good news as it means they will be offering reduced prices to attract new customers. Keep an eye on any deals you could benefit from if you switch to another company (and read the small print). And don’t be afraid to keep on switching and chasing the discounts.

2. Wear more clothes indoors

wrap up for winter

We’re talking thermals, jumpers, hats all wrapped up in a wooly blanket.
Source: OMG Images

An easy one really, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t wear enough clothes when indoors. If you’re relaxing on the sofa and not moving, then you’re not generating heat, so wrap up a little.
You don’t need to wear a fur coat, but bring out the woolies and make sure that you’re preventing your body heat from escaping.

3. Improve insulation

Heavy curtains

Image source: Alexandru Nika
Make your own heavy duty curtains to keep the cold at bay

Would you keep pouring water in a jug if it had a leak? No. So why throw away money heating a house with bad insulation? It’s madness. Locate and destroy any draughts by insulating them in whatever way you can afford.
Windows and doors are the chief suspects so if you can’t afford to buy new ones, then insulate them better. Any cracks can be fixed with draught excluder sealant, invest in a good pair of thick thermal curtains which can improve energy efficiency by as much as 25% and use draft excluders for the bottoms of doors.

4. Move and keep active

Crunch

Image source: Wavebreak Media Ltd
You can’t be cold whilst doing crunches!

Movement equals energy and energy equals heat. Move and your body will generate it’s own heat and also get everything firing up and flowing — a bit like starting up the boiler.
Buy a fitness video and take up home aerobics, get into a bit of festive DIY or increase your quota of rumpy pumpy sessions — guaranteed to provide enough heat for two.

5. Wood fuelled heating

log splitter

Save time with one of these handy log splitters
Source: Clifford James

Plan ahead and take into account the savings over a few winters. With that in mind, invest in a wood burner or get your fireplace and chimney back in working order.
And avoid all the axe work on Christmas morning with your very own hydraulic log splitter, which will get through the big stuff quicker than it takes the youngsters to open their presents.

6. Meal preparation

Jacket potato

Image source: Olga Miltsova
Is there anything more appealing during winter? Answer: no

Eat. Your body needs food to generate heat, so don’t skimp on meals and make sure you’re well fed. Stuff like jacket potatoes, soups and comforting dishes like cottage pie are reasonably cheap and will warm you up too.
And save money by preparing stuff in the microwave (which is far more energy efficient than a gas cooker). Or how about throwing a foil-wrapped potato in your new wood burner?

7. Choose your room

sun light window

Use your south-facing room as a winter snug
Source: The Frugal Girl

When the freeze kicks in and the heating needs to be on — then it’s time to get tactical. Ideally you want to be using a south-facing room as your winter hideout as it will trap some of the heat from the sun, which can go a long way to keeping the room warm all day if it’s insulated well.
If you don’t have a south-facing room, then choose the smallest room, as it will be much easier to insulate and keep warm and put some foil behind the radiators to reflect the heat back into the room. And you don’t need the heating on in all the rooms — just your living space and sleeping abode will do the trick, so turn some of those radiators off and save money.

8. Invest in a super quilt

Duvet

Image source: BCFC
So toasty you won’t want to get out of bed in the mornings

Ask a granny to knit you a toasty blanket or invest in a super winter-spec quilt, which can be picked up cheap enough. And use it! Have it with you on the sofa and then snuggle up in bed. It may be frosty in your room, but under that quilt it’s summertime.

9. Energy efficient products

lamp

Go green when buying lightbulbs
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Using energy-saving light bulbs will save you money in the long term as will opting for the more economical white goods like washing machines and freezers.
And upgrading an uneconomical boiler is also an excellent investment that could save up to £300 per year. The initial outlay for more efficient products is likely to be costly, but if you were to work out the total costs over a few years, then savings would be made.

10. Spend more time around friend’s houses

Football friends

Image source: Monkey Business Images
Cheeky but effective

Bit of a cheeky one, but hey, what are friends for? Pop around their houses and hang out in their sub tropical lounges (for as long as you can manage without appearing to be unofficially couch-surfing).

How to make a good bonfire

Already, the pungent odour of burning wood, dense clouds of smoke and sound of crackling fire fills the air. Yes, many people have already jumped the gunpowder, but tonight is the night for real bonfire action.

But whilst a fire may create a comforting glow in your garden, for many the task of lighting a fire leaves them hot headed.

Fear not though, because with this guide you’ll soon be the boss of the bonfire. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain.

Safety

Fire fighter

Don’t let this be your garden
Source: Wikipedia

There aren’t any laws against having a fire, there are some rules to follow.

Whilst there may be a temptation to get rid of household waste, doing so creates pollution, so it is best avoided.

You should also watch the wind direction and location of your bonfire, as smoke can be a serious obstruction to road users. If you live next to a busy road it might be best to skip the bonfire making.

Failure to follow these rules, could not only make you an annoying, unsafe neighbour but also result in a £5000 fine!

Not annoying neighbours and authorities is one thing, but staying safe is another. As a safety precaution ensure you have water to hand, either a bucket or hose will work. You should also keep the fire away from flammable structures, such as fences.

It is also a good idea to surround your fire with a circle of stones, which creates a clear boundary for children and helps stop the fire from spreading.

Preparation

Tinder pieces

Pick n mix tinder
Source: Outdoor Life

The foundation of any decent bonfire starts with tinder. Small amounts of bark, whittled bamboo or dried leaves make great natural tinder. Newspaper is the best synthetic tinder, but should be used sparingly. Too much newspaper and you will cut off the oxygen needed for a fire.

Small sticks and twigs, known as kindling should also be added. As long as the kindling is dry and no larger than 30cm, it will help kick start the fire and keep it burning

If you want your bonfire to last, you’ll also need bigger pieces of wood to keep the fire burning. Whilst kindling is good for getting the fire started, it soon turns to ash, so you need something more substantial to keep the fire alight.

With a hydraulic log splitter you can get the larger pieces prepared without breaking your back, and produce the odd bit of kindling too.

Construction

Teepee fire burning

Burn baby burn!
Source:Wiki How

There are several different structures of bonfire, such as the lean-to, the log cabin, the pyramid and the aptly named random pile (you may want to avoid that one).

But it is the teepee that creates the best looking fire. Make a tripod with three larger pieces of wood and put tinder and kindling underneath. Once lit, either place wood on the side, or in the middle on top of the kindling.

Note that a teepee fire can be structurally unstable as the logs in the “tripod” can burn at different rates. With a log splitter though, you can easily gauge the size of the wood you’re using.

Ignition

Lit match

A match made in fire
Source: Flickr

If your tinder, kindling and construction is correct, you can light a fire with just one match. To get started light the tinder and then gently blow at the base of the flame. Don’t blow too hard as this will extinguish the fire before it’s started.

Slowly add more wood, but not too much as this can stop oxygen fueling the fire. Dampness, green wood or poor tinder may hinder the “one match” theory. So if this is the case, place firelighters around the base of the fire. Do not use aerosol, petrol or other highly flammable liquids as this can be extremely dangerous.

For many homeowners a back garden bonfire is a yearly event. The crackle, aroma and dense smokey fog combine to create a warm glow in our cheeks and the air. And with a log splitter, some wood and a bit of know how, the crackle and spark of warming bonfire can be had with great success.

Why you should use a log splitter

Flickering flames, sizzling sparks and a comforting crackle, there is no denying the magic of a fire. But for many, it’s a magic that is very hard work. Chopping and splitting logs by hand can be a very tough task, but a log splitter can change all that, meaning a comforting fire is wonderful again. Find out how…

Speed

Cold snaps can appear out of nowhere, so for those reliant on fire for heat, it’s handy to have a stack of logs ready for action. But preparing your wood by hand can take ages.

With log splitters, preparation time is chopped down dramatically, so that comforting fire can be ready and roaring in no time at all. Powerful dual log splitters can get through up to 150 logs in an hour, which is over two a minute. Something that these guys would be envious of.

Neat and Tidy

Messy log splinters

You’re going to need a bigger bucket
Source: Fimby

Chopping wood with an axe might make you feel powerful, but using an axe creates mess that will need tidying. So if picking up splinters isn’t your idea of a good time, use a log splitter which forces the wood to split cleanly, meaning less mess for you.

Not all of us are blessed with acres of space, so chopping wood by hand isn’t always a viable option. As well as being tidier, a log splitter also provides a compact solution to preparing wood – it doesn’t even require the space to swing an axe!

Safe

First aid kit outdoors

You might have sun block, but you don’t have axe cream
Source: Peak Mountaineering

Splitting wood by hand will help you build core strength, namely your lats, abs and gluteus maximus – otherwise known as your bottom! But for some, using an axe or maul will just compound old injuries, or create new ones. So negate this risk by removing the physical labour aspect. You just have to load the logs.

Forget pulling a muscle though, one missed stroke of an axe could result in serious injury! A log splitter offers much more protection as there are no swinging sharp edges. And to make it extra safe most log splitters have a safety cut out, eliminating the risk of electrocution.

Better fire

Wine_by_the_fire

The only thing that makes fire better is wine
Source: Flickr

Fire needs three things to flourish: heat, oxygen and fuel. The easiest way to improve the amount of fuel you have, is by using wood with a larger surface area, allowing more access to burnable materials.

If a log goes in whole it won’t burn as well, and knotted or moist “green wood” is hard to split, so may have to go on in one piece.

But with hydraulic log splitters, or foot powered ones, most pieces of wood can be used, meaning a larger surface area, and a better fire.

A fire is no good if you can’t enjoy it. Log splitters also cut down preparation time so you can sit back and listen to the crackle and snap of burning logs.

Green

A_deciduous_beech_forest_in_Slovenia for forestry

Grow your own wood
Source: Wikipedia

Green wood may be harder to chop, but finding green fuel for heating is even harder. If you’re lucky enough to have your own source of wood, or have a local sustainable source, then your fire can be a little bit greener.

Many buy firewood, pre-split and ready to go, however this is costly and you don’t always know the true source. By splitting local, sustainable and traceable wood at home, you know exactly what you are burning, and saving money in the long run too.

A log splitter may not be magical, but a fire is. So get the magic quickly, without the risk of pain, and without having to clean up lots of bits. The benefits are plentiful, and even go as far as improving your love life.

What size log splitter do I need?

For cosiness, nothing beats the warmth of a winter fire. But before you relax, you need to prepare your firewood.

There are several ways to do this, and one of the most popular is with a log splitter. There are hydraulic log splitters, foot operated log splitters and of course, the simple axe/maul. Remember, size matters, but which size is for you?

Maul/Axe

Maul on wood

A lumberjack’s best friend
Source: The Department of Style

Mauls look like a sledgehammer with the face of an axe which widens quickly. As you drive through the wood, the wider face forces the wood to split.

Axes and mauls are without doubt the simplest way to split logs into manageable pieces. So if you have a small wood pile then a maul may be for you. They are extremely portable, relatively inexpensive and make you feel like a lumberjack.

Those with bad backs might struggle to use a maul, and if you find a knot in a log, then it will be almost impossible to split. Axes and mauls are dangerous tools and injuries can happen. People with children, pets or unsteady hands should exercise caution.

Foot powered log splitter

D3953 Foot Operated Logsplitter Cj

The wood is at your feet

Foot powered log splitters are essentially a jack with a piston that pushes the log onto a splitting wedge. Each pump on the foot lever results in around 1.2 tonnes of force, effortlessly splitting logs.

By using a log splitter, wood can be turned into burnable chunks far quicker than with a maul or axe. Like a maul, a log splitter is easy to transport and store, so it won’t be in the way when not in use. Unlike a maul, a foot operated log splitter is extremely safe.

Because no upper body strength is required, those with bad backs can still enjoy a warming fire. And frugality is assured as it’s foot power rather than electricity that moves the piston.

Splitting green wood? Unseasoned wood is denser and harder to split, so for this task you may need something more powerful than a foot powered log splitter.

Hydraulic log splitter

D3803 Dual Logmaster Logsplitter 2 Cj

Serious log splitting

Up to your neck in logs? Then this is probably the choice for you. Hydraulic log splitters plug into household sockets and pack around 6 tonnes of force.

Without a swinging blade, they are incredibly safe, and labour is minimised because all you need do is load the wood.

Older wood has less moisture content and is easier to split. But with the force of a hydraulic log splitter, even greenwood won’t be a problem. And knots are no match for this sort of power.

How to describe a hydraulic log splitter? Big, powerful and easy to use.

Champion log splitters

Chopping up wood might seem like a mundane task – boring but necessary if you want to keep your home warm. But that’s where you’d be wrong.

In the world of competitive sports – you’d be amazed what you can do with wood. We thought we’d ‘chip’ in with a selection of the world’s best contests for elite log splitters.

World Logging Championships

world log splitting championship

Where all the best log splitters hang out
Photo: UK Loggers

A ‘fine fella’ can prove his or her worth in all aspects of log splitting at the world logging championships. Last year they were held in Belarus.

Those who made the long journey to the former Eastern block country were treated to a test worthy of any woodsman. Precision chainsawing, limbing, chain replacement and tree felling are just some of the challenges set.

World Lumberjack Championships

log splitting competition

The biggest log splitting show on earth?
Photo: Paul Walsh

As fine a spectacle as the World logging champs must surely be, nothing compares to the high drama of the American version. The World lumberjacking contest is held annually in Hayward, Wisconsin.

The showdown sees elite woodsmen clash head to head in a series of stunning high octane events. Think logrolling, block chopping and the blue riband event – the 90ft log climb – the ultimate test of strength, agility and speed.

College log splitting

And there’s no need for budding young woodsmen and women to miss out. In America and Canada, lumberjacking is a college sport with roots in the backcountry.

Logging was a job that paid piece rate, so the ability to prove your worth with flair was much to be admired. Today, students from colleges across the continent and internationally compete for honours in axe throwing, the pulp toss (throwing pieces of wood) and the hard hit chop (number of axe strikes needed to hack through a log).

English open chainsaw carving competition

national chainsaw carving competition

The Kraken – Winner 2012
Photo: Exmoor Chainsaw Carving

For the creative wood splitter why not take in the annual chainsaw carving contest? Held annually at the Cheshire County Showground, think kitch on a grand scale.

Whether you aspire to a garden feature of a mermaid, monster or mythical creature – you’re sure to find something you like. Many of the competition pieces are available to purchase – the perfect gift for the person who has everything.

Christmas tree throwing

And finally – though no wood splitting, whittling or carving is involved, we couldn’t resist chucking in this unusual annual event.

Held in the German town of Weidenthal, the Christmas tree throwing contest is a great way to get rid of unwanted spruces. As you’ll note from the youtube clip below – ‘fir flinging’ is not a distance sport…