Archive for October 15th, 2020

SAW SENSES

October 15, 2020

Steve and I looked at an 18 incher blocking the trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  It had been down for awhile, the bark gone, which was nice, but needed to be removed. We both looked at the log, with enough space underneath to probably have a slight sag or top bind, meaning the cut from the top might start grabbing the saw as it cut through compressed fibers.  Well, that’s what wedges are for, to keep cuts or kerfs open.  He took the sheath off the 6 foot crosscut, and each of us took a handle.

We confirmed that we wanted to cut mostly straight through, and it didn’t matter which side we started from.  We both got into position, which for me was kneeling on the ground, worked the teeth a little bit into the log so they grabbed, and started sawing, pull smooth and hard, relax for partner, smooth and hard, relax, over and over again, 20, 50, 100, 200, 150, 100,….

It went well. First, I could feel how smooth the cut was. I could hear the saw sing a little, and could see the kerf, or the line of the cut, staying open, not closing, and I noted a good pile of sawdust accumulating with a few “noodles,” thin strips of wood that occur with a good saw.  Still, about half way through the log, I was thinking we could use a wedge to keep it open a little more, and Steve suggested it aloud.  I pulled an orange hard plastic wedge from my back pocket, because I like having wedges immediately available, and with a nearby axe, pounded it into the top of the kerf.

When a wedge opens up the kerf, anyone holding the handle of a saw that is in the cut can feel a decrease of compression: the saw is loose again.  We cut further, and finally got to the end, the log’s dropping part way to the ground.  The saw was wedged in the kerf, so I took off the handle, so I could pass the rest of the blade to Steve to pull it through the narrow space.  There was a time when I took a couple of minutes taking off or putting on a saw handle. Now, it is almost automatic.  Sawing with a well-known instructor, I once removed a wedge prematurely, which was met with one of those comments, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that,” because getting the saw out would be more difficult. Stuck saws are bad.  Sawing into the dirt is a sin. 

We started on the other side of the log, had the same experience, and that end dropped, too.  Sometimes, when both cuts are made, the log drops and if there is a downhill, immediately rolls off the trail without assistance.  That is nice. The trail was flat, and the cut log was still held in place.  I stuck a wedge between the cut part and the rest of of the log, hit it once with the axe, and the whole cut log dropped to the ground.  That was real nice.

We still weren’t able to push it, however, and weren’t sure how stuck it was.  We both sat down on the ground, put our legs against the log and pushed. This is easier on the back and allows one to use the strength of the legs.  The log shot forward about 6 feet.  That was super nice. We finished pushing it off the trail, and Steve sheathed the saw, ready for the next one. 

There are probably thirty folks on the Crew, but each work party has somewhere between 3 and 8. The first group I ever went out with had about a dozen, but this summer it has been mostly 3 or 4.  With three, one can get relief at the saw, which can’t happen with two. With four, one can have pairs leapfrogging each other.  With more, it is possible to do serious trail clearing.  The amount of sawing can still be considerable, as it was last week, when we worked solidly for about 6 hours, excepting a short lunch break.

I’ve been on the other side of a saw with many different people.  When I started, three years ago, any time someone asked me if I wanted a break, I said yes.  This year, I stopped saying yes and began offering my services. I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of times my technique wasn’t optimal; indeed, one of the crew members told me the other day I was “so ready” for the saw certification class coming up, for which he had recommended me. 

A month ago, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the two of us were cutting out a log, when he was trying to give instruction to another guy in the crew.  He started pulling the saw to his left.  I can now feel when my partner’s technique isn’t quite right, and I said to him, “Hey boss, you’re pulling left.”  

“Really?”  

“Yep.”  He was.  It was the first time I had ever told anybody, although I had seen it happen often.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I would share a saw any time and a few where I would just as soon limit my exposure.  Earlier this summer, one guy, who is a lot larger and stronger than I, told me that I needed to give him more saw, meaning that I was pulling more and not letting him pull it back. That seemed odd, since once we are done pulling, we relax, keep our hands on the handle, allowing our partner to pull the saw. With the new position, my hands were slammed into the log every time he pulled back.  I said maybe it was easier for him, but not for me, thinking that this wasn’t supposed to be a competition to see who could slam the other’s hands more.  

A couple of others tend to pull the saw to one side.  The saw has some flexibility, and if it is pulled to one side, it doesn’t cut cleanly through the log, making work harder.  One can’t simply close one’s eyes and pull-relax-pull. The saw must constantly be sight aligned with the kerf, which is the best real-time information we have as to what the bind of the log is.  If there is top bind, meaning the fibers are being compressed, as the saw cuts from the top, the fibers in the log will tend to compress or grab the saw, stopping progress.  If the kerf is opening up, we are cutting through tension, the opposite, and the cut will be easier, which one probably has already noticed.

Not only do I have more endurance, I hear, feel, see, and now beginning to sense what is going on. I can feel different types of wood as we are cutting, the difficulty caused by binding, I can see the noodles of cut log when the saw is sharp and the wood the right consistency, I can monitor sawdust, and I can see the change in color that heralds the end of the wood and cutting into bark. I can hear the cracking suggesting that the log is almost cut through.  Later that day, Steve wondered what he was feeling, looking over at my kerf.  I showed him the knot that we were too close to, apologizing for guiding us there.  I should have started the cut about an inch away.

It’s clear now what I need to take in the woods and where everything is. Indeed, my day pack has changed in part from the one I have used with the Club to one I use doing trail work, which is comfortable, and in which I have a better first aid kit, marking ribbon, extra wedges, clothing, lubricant, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, emergency supplies, a lopper, and a hand saw, food and water, and my Katana Boy 500 mm strapped to the back.

The author (back), Diamond Peak Wilderness. The wedge is keeping the kerf open, which is tending to close due to top bind or compression.

The author with one type of 2-man crosscut saw, S. Willamette Trail, March 2020.

Occasionally, it is possible for two pairs to cut simultaneously. Waldo Lake Wilderness.