Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Greenwood Furnace: The Woodcutter

Piles and piles of wood. Does it sound like our yard now that my husband is ready for the wood burning season? No, I’m referring to the piles and piles of wood prepared by long ago employees of Greenwood Furnace, woodcutters.

First, woodcutters visited the company office in the fall to get their contracts. Since the furnace shut down in winter, iron workers sometimes turned into woodcutters. Greenwood Furnace paid for 5,000 cords of wood each year to be made into charcoal to fuel each of its furnace stacks. That much wood came from approximately 150 acres of woodland. The best cutter from the previous season Read More
got first dibs on which plot of woodland he wanted to work at.

After receiving his contract, the woodcutter traveled to the lot, built himself a temporary shelter, and began to work. At best, a cutter made a log cabin, but usually just a wooden hut made out of wood unusable for charcoal making. If close enough, the cutter’s own sons brought him food from home.

Most woodcutters preferred to work alone. They found that working with others could sometimes get distracting and having fun become the object instead of working.

Using a double edged axe, the cutter cut trees down, preferably laid down in rows for easier work. He cut each tree into four foot lengths. Since the woodcutter’s pay was calculated on a cord of word, he split and stacked the wood into a pile four by four by eight. Once a week, the wood boss visited to measure and mark the cords with his own mark. He kept an account book so the cutter could be paid by the company, 30 cents a cord in early years up to 50 cents by end of furnace days.

On average, each cut two cords of wood a day. A cutter could make extra money from cutting wood from his personal property, owning a team to use to haul wood, and driving the team.

Trouble happened when a wood boss would find a deceptive pile. The cutter may have formed his stack around a stump, used crooked pieces, or loosely stacked the wood to make it look like more than it was. If the wood boss noticed, the cutter’s pay got docked. 

Being a woodcutter could not have been easy work, dealing with the cold and the danger of falling trees, living away from home in primitive conditions, and working very hard—but it fed and clothed many families at Greenwood Furnace from 1833 to 1904.


Fagley, Paul T. “Greenwood Furnace, Huntingdon County, PA.: The Rise and Fall of a Juniata Valley Iron Industry. Canal History and Technology Proceedings, Vol. XII, March 20, 1993. Easton, Pa: Canal History and Technology Press.

Greenwood Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, “Making Charcoal at a 19th Century Iron Furnace,” Pamphlet, Aug, 2010. 

Walker, Joseph E. Hopewell Village: The Dynamics of a Nineteenth Century Iron-Making Community. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966.


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