It is not a secret that Scandinavians love their firewood. A couple of years ago, when Norwegian TV broadcast a 12-hour programme on how to burn firewood, one of the guests on the show was Lars Mytting who has sold over 230,000 copies of his book Hel Ved, (loosely translated as “pure wood” – Norwegian for clear wood, or when applied to a person “the real deal”) all about the Norwegian love affair with firewood. Someone clearly thought we could do with some advice, as the book has recently been translated into an English edition.
First things first, I really enjoyed this book and I would thoroughly recommend getting a copy. I found it engaging, readable and, if nothing else, lovely dark winter evening escapism. I was mildly apprehensive that he would contradict things I’d said in the Log Book (which I would then have to justify) but I’m pleased to report that we seem to be in broad agreement about most things. I also learned some new stuff that, while it might not translate perfectly into a UK setting, could become very useful. I particularly liked the “stoking from the top” method of firelighting and look forward to trying it out.
The book itself is beautiful, full of pictures and by and large the translator has done a really good job. Instead of getting bogged down in waffle, Norwegian wood cuts directly to the heart of the matter. The content was very useful, but you do need to bear in mind that it is written for a Norwegian audience. This might not sound like much, but some techniques which don’t really take place in the UK are described in detail, and some which do (coppicing for example) are glossed over very quickly. That said, this difference in focus meant that I learned some new things, and there really are some very useful elements in the book which I don’t recall having seen before. The book is far from nostalgic, and there is a clear indication that this sort of culture is still very much alive in Norway.
There were a couple of minor issues. Firstly, the book was clearly translated for an American audience. This is understandable, as it is probably far larger than our own, but it has led to some rather unhappy compromises. Units are an awkward fudge between metric, imperial and traditional units (like the ‘cord’). I don’t know how this will sit with a US audience, but I certainly had to stop regularly to work things out and visualise them. For example temperatures are quoted in Fahrenheit and Centigrade in the text; this interrupts the flow and I think it could have been handled better by simply have adding additional units as footnotes. Secondly, there is an issue in translation of technical terms. I don’t know whether this was because the translator was unfamiliar with them himself, or because it was assumed that the audience would be unfamiliar; but there are a few translations in the book that are just wrong. For example, syrefelling (felling a tree and then leaving it with foliage still attached) is known in the UK as sour-felling, but it is translated in the book as ‘leaf-felling’ a term that I have never encountered.
Having said all of that, the book is basically great, and I would very much recommend that you get a copy. If you struggle to understand any of the terms, there are plenty of other books around that will set you straight, and Norwegian Wood is a great read in its own right.
What do you think? Why not give me a shout and tell me!
+++ Will Rolls is an independent consultant with expertise in forestry, biomass and sustainability. He is the author of The Log Book: Getting the best from your log burning stove and co-author of Getting started in your wood. He gets interested in all sorts of other things which results in this kind of article. Minor edit 26/11/15 correcting my “translation” of Hel Ved (turns out it wasn’t quite what I thought) and tightening up the text (thanks to Judith at SWOG)