I was further behind than I wanted or expected to be and needed to catch up with the rest of the Crew as we worked north from the start of the Diamond Peak Trail, near Emigrant Pass and Summit Lake. We were leapfrogging each other, and I took the first blowdown, four smallish firs across the trail, by myself.  They turned out to be a bit more difficult to remove, having fallen deeply into the ground, and I used my axe and three saws—small hand saw, Corona, and KatanaBoy 500— liberally to where I could cut them, dig them out, and pull them off the trail.

Unnamed Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, at the southern end of the Diamond Peak Trail.

At last, everything cleared and I moved on up the trail passing by a nice, small lake, where I saw Josiah checking out a 14-inch log over the trail.  I liked working with him; he had a wealth of experience about cutting and the superb judgment that came with experience.  The log was resting on a stump at one end and supported on the ground a good 10 yards’ distant.  I thought one cut on the opposite side of the trail from the stump would work, and I was half right.  I knew the log would have top bind, but it had been lying there for awhile and looked like it might be easy to cut from the top.

“Let’s underbuck,” said Josiah, quietly. “It will be easier.”  I was a little surprised, but I also realized there should be no binding at all from below, as we would cut through tension. We started working and I watched the kerf open up from below, exactly as it should.  We got almost to the top, pulled the saw out, and Josiah tried stepping on the log with no effect, then I hit it 3 times with the 1.5 kg poll of my axe, and still nothing happened. So, we cut all the way through, held the saw up so the falling log wouldn’t carry it into the ground. I grabbed the cut end and wrestled it off the trail, using the stump as a pivot. 

Not all crosscut saw work is cutting from the top through the log. Some is done from underneath, underbucking. While it is easier in principle to buck (or cut) from the top, because gravity pulls the saw into the log, the bind or compression of the wood is a more critical factor. Logs suspended between two points are likely to sag slightly in the middle and have compression of the fibers on the top side or top bind, which will tend to grab and hold the saw. If the top bind is not too extreme, then it is possible to cut through, using hard plastic wedges to keep the kerf or the cut open, assuming enough of the saw is in the cut so that a wedge may be placed, without striking the saw.  

Standard top cut with wedges placed. The poll of the axe in the background (the part without the blade) is used to pound wedges in. Notice the axe is in the log, not lying on the ground.

If there is top bind, then there is tension on the bottom, and cutting there should be easier. Underbucking is one of those tasks that I seem to do right, without knowing exactly why.  I learned that two years ago, out in the field with one of the more experienced sawyers in the region.  We were underbucking a log, and because I was with a good sawyer, I didn’t want to mess up. I was gently guiding the saw upwards, not pulling it up hard against gravity but just enough to let the saw cut. That was the trick. As I did that, the saw cut through well, and the man on the other end gave me the first compliment I had ever received in the then 47 times I had been out with the Crew. He told me I was one of the top three underbuckers he had worked with.  The Crew leader heard that.  It was a good day.

Since then, I have done a lot of underbucking, most of it good, occasionally some not. Having to underbuck a 21 inch green log the entire cut is torture. Some logs are on the ground and can’t be underbucked. Others should be underbucked early in the cut to remove compression and prevent slabbing, or having the log split longitudinally as it is cut in two.  It’s a matter of judgment and art.

There is another reason to underbuck, and that is to keep the saw from striking the ground. Nothing dulls a saw worse than cutting into dirt. When I got my certification last fall, one of the other candidates accidentally let the saw go Into the ground. I was looking elsewhere at the time, but I sure remember hearing the owner/certifier yell at the cutter.  Typically, when we get close to cutting through from the top, we slow down, make the cut shorter and have our hands ready to pull up the saw when the log drops, so as to not carry the saw all the way through to the ground. 


On my third time out with the Crew, three years ago, I remember instruction being given to one of the members about underbucking after part of the top cut was made. What struck me odd was that coming from below, one does not want to aim for the kerf at the top but slightly off to the side of the log that is not going to drop. I later read about this, understood the reason, and then I did it when I was cutting smaller logs by myself. I didn’t need to underbuck, but I did it anyway, aiming as described.  By doing that, when the saw reaches the top part of the cut, even if a half inch away, the log will likely fall, and the saw is within the safety of the stable part of the log and will stay away from the dropping log. It’s kind of neat.

Last summer, we had a nephew of one of the Crew members for the season, and I worked with him a lot. We bucked out many logs last year, and we underbucked several. I liked working with him. He didn’t have a fast cadence, so I could keep up and work on keeping my end of the saw straight, letting him have enough saw to cut with, two important factors in bucking.

This past week, I found myself with another member of the Crew on an underbuck. We had enough room to get the saw under the log, and as we cut upwards, he kept saying his cut was perfectly aligned. Mine was not, but I noted with some pleasure that it was only about a half-inch offset in the proper direction away from the upper cut.  A little after the two cuts met, the log dropped, and there was the saw, protected inside the half-inch offset that I had made. It’s just slick, doing it right, and having everything turn out according to plan.

Notice how the left end of the saw is protected from the falling log by the offset of the underbuck.

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