Italian Language Blog

Timber! Posted by on Jan 12, 2009 in Culture

Warming oneself by the stufa a legna (wood burning stove) on these chilly winters evenings I have plenty of time to contemplate the importance of wood in our everyday lives, especially here in the heavily forested regions of Lunigiana in the north of Tuscany.

In Italian we have both a feminine and a masculine form of the word for wood: legna (fem.) refers to firewood, hence stufa a legna (woodstove) or caminetto a legna (wood fire). Legno (masc.) on the other hand is wood used for carpentry or joinery.

 If you use legna to heat your house or for cooking it is important to get the right type for the job. There is a science to the use of legna as a fuel because different types of legna produce different amounts of heat for varying amount of time, and the contadini (peasants), who have a lifetimes experience of wood, select their fuel appropriately. 

For heating the house one of the best types of legna to use is cerro (Turkey oak) which gives a lot of heat and burns for a long time but is, however, difficult to get going. It’s good to combine cerro, therefore, with faggio (beech) which burns much more easily. Carpine (hornbeam) is another excellent fuel for the stufa or caminetto as is olivo (olive). We have been told by some of the older inhabitants of our village that for cooking with legna you can’t beat castagno (sweet chestnut) which burns for a long time but without giving too fierce a heat, hence not burning the food! In order to get the fire started it’s really useful to have a good supply of bastoncini (sticks) and we usually make bundles of them in the summer when we prune our trees. We often manage to convince friends who have come to visit us that gathering dried sticks in the forest is great fun, especially if they have young children who are natural gatherers, although not so keen on carrying the fruits of their labor home afterwards!

Last but not least the legna must be stagionata (seasoned) and asciutta (dry), and you need somewhere dry to store it, which can be a major problem. We burn around 60 quintali of legna (1 quintale is 100 kilograms or 15.7 stones) during the winter months, which  takes up a surprisingly large amount of space.

The byproducts of all this legna apart from heat is la cenere (the ashes) which need to be disposed of nearly every day. Fortunately la cenere make a very good fertilizer for the orto (vegetable garden), especially for fruit and root vegetables.

So much for legna now a bit about legno: From the words fare (to make), and legname (timber) comes falegname (joiner, or literally someone who makes things with wood). We also use the word carpentiere (carpenter, from the latin  carpentarius, the person who built the carpentum, a type of wooden cart or wagon). A falegname, therefore, makes furniture, doors windows etc. whilst the carpentiere does larger scale work such as shipbuilding, wooden roofing and so on.

For general carpentry work abete (pine or fir wood) is one of the most commonly used materials. The material of choice for the falegname in our region is castagno (chestnut), a beautiful rich golden brown legname with a distinctive venatura (grain) which, if treated well, will last for generations. Noce (walnut) is another excellent attractive hardwood used in falegnameria (joinery). When we renovated our house here in Lunigiana we used castagno for all the doors and windows, the roof being made with abete supported by three huge tronchi (trunks) of castagno.

All of these materials with the exception of abete are readily found in the local boschi (woods), and are cut by the tagliaboschi or boscaioli (lumberjacks). The majority of the contadini have their own boschi and therefore are able to heat their houses during the winter very cheaply, however there’s a catch: cutting several tons of timber, hauling it up a 45 degree slope with steel cables and pulleys, loading it onto the tractor, driving it home and unloading it, and finally, stacking it up and covering it, is very hard work! Whenever we are out collecting or stacking firewood you can guarantee that one of the contadini will come along and utter the well worn adage: “la legna scalda due volte, una a farla e una a bruciarla”. (“Wood heats you up twice, once when you make it and once when you burn it”). Gia’, e’ vero! (yes it’s true)

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  1. Cristie:

    I just found your fantastic site! My dad (not Italian)used to say the same thing (in English) about wood heating you twice. I told it to my husband (the Italian) when we were cutting wood in our own boschi and he thought it was so silly. I can’t wait to read more.

  2. lisa zanella:

    Any idea if I could purchase one in the u.s.?

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