Archive for October, 2021


October 25, 2021

“Let’s leave our packs here and go ahead down the trail to get the last one. It isn’t far.”  My crew leader motioned me to go ahead of him.  I left my pack, and I felt strange without it.

Worse than strange.  Not right. 

I walked ahead anyway.  We were doing a simple logout of the Betty Lake Trail, a flat, 2-mile long popular hiking and winter trail that connects the Waldo Lake Road to the trail that goes around Waldo Lake, so this was a power saw job, although earlier I started to remove with my hand saw a small 4 inch log dug into ground, and when that bound up, used my axe. The log ahead was our last log of what was going to be an easy day.  

Small unnamed lake near the Waldo Lake Wilderness

Power saw logouts are easier in some ways for me, harder in others. I have not been sworn at on a crosscut logout. Well, almost. We were pulling a stuck saw up out of a log a couple of months ago, not stuck because of what I did, and my partner, the saw’s owner, freaked out that I was pulling too hard and would break the saw. (It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t break it.)  I have been sworn at and publicly shamed on a power saw logout. Everything there is potentially more dangerous. There is a fast moving chain with teeth, rather than a slow moving piece of steel with teeth. One can damage a power saw faster and easier than a crosscut by hitting a rock or ground, and if a bind is not properly appreciated, one learns very quickly, as opposed to much cracking and splitting that precedes the answer when a crosscut is used.

Staying well back. The ribbon on the axe sheath helps me find it.

But break any log under a great deal of tension with either, and the speed of the released log and its kinetic energy, a function of the mass and the square of the velocity, is unchanged.  A large log can move 15 feet in a split second. I’ve seen it.

I hadn’t swamped for several months with a power sawyer, but the rules were unchanged: I stayed 12 feet back; some sawyers want me back as much as 20. Each has his or her own rules. I checked overhead, looked around. It’s easy to get focused on the cut, but I needed to look where the cutter wasn’t looking to make sure there were no snags that could come down, no hikers coming up the trail, the log being cut wasn’t moving inappropriately from some other log we hadn’t seen.  If wedges are needed, I have them available and the axe to pound them in with. A year earlier, as I went by a log a sawyer was going to cut, I noticed another log on a slight incline perpendicular to to the one we were going to cut. When the cut log fell, the secondary might roll, and if so, there was only safe way to deal with it. The cutter didn’t see the secondary log, which was partially hidden from his view, so I yelled to him to move over to my side. Being a bit gun-shy, I couched my words carefully, “You might want to be on this side when you cut.” The cutter moved over, cut the first log, and immediately the second log, much larger, rolled down over the trail where he had just been.  I got thanked for that one.

As I walked, I became more uncomfortable.  The trail went downhill, and the “short” distance was longer than I expected. I didn’t like being without my pack out here. Eventually, I reached the log in question, forty vertical yards below and five hundred trail yards further from where I started.  The log was cut, and there were no problems.

I was relieved and could not wait to get back up the trail to my pack. I had just made a bad decision and had gotten away with it.  Such a result doesn’t retrospectively make the bad decision good. It wasn’t. The probability was low there would have been a need for my pack, and everything worked out.  But it might not have. That was the second bad decision I made with my pack this year, leaving it to go elsewhere.  I dropped it to power brush, because carrying extra weight plus a power brusher, going uphill, was fatiguing.  A mile later, I had no pack and the group was still ahead of me. I had to go back, retrieve my pack, return, then have lunch. It was a short day, and the group was returning after having eaten, so I had to again return along the trail. Bad decision. I don’t like making bad decisions.

Not having a pack with me meant if my partner had an accident, I had no radio, no pressure bandage, no Pulaski (I did bring my axe), no way to get help. A simple day, a simple log, would have just become a major problem, preventable and frankly inexcusable.  I should have spoken up, or at the least gone back and put my pack on. I know better.  Out there, we all do. The only decision I should make is whether to fasten the belt buckle and the chest strap when I put the pack on or leave them unfastened because the distance to the next log isn’t far.  In either case, I have a pack right near me with everything I need. It’s difficult enough to do first aid in the woods; it’s shameful to have brought everything out then not have had it accessible because one was lazy and didn’t want to carry a small weight a quarter mile further.

So from now on, the pack stays with me. I will listen better to my gut feelings and act upon them.  Yesterday, I had a planned personal “this is a drill, this is a drill, saw accident, saw accident” moment in the driveway at home, where I emptied out the first aid bag from my pack to see what I have and don’t have. I really didn’t know for sure.

Turns out that I was in decent shape, but I had a few things I could add to the bag which would make it better: I didn’t have scissors or a knife, I discovered an ice pack I could use, a tube of antibiotic ointment, and some mole skin.  The clotting powder, splint, dressings, two Israeli bandages, and wraps were all there.


October 17, 2021

The first log after lunch, 19 inches across, would turn out to be our last log of the day, before the three mile hike back out of the Mt. Washington Wilderness with all our gear. The diameter didn’t include bark, because there was no bark on it and there hadn’t been any for years. The tree burned in 2010 during the Scott Mountain fire and fell some time last winter. I know that for a fact, because I had cleared the trail in this spot last year and this log was not present.  

Chris took the sheath off his 5 1/2 foot long crosscut saw, laying it by the log. We had about 2 inches of ground clearance, so we wouldn’t be able to cut from below if we needed to. The log would probably have top bind or compression, meaning we would need a hard plastic wedge to keep it open, and being fire hardened, so the wood would be denser as well.  We wouldn’t see the nice “noodles” that the rakers on a saw generate on a greener tree, rather small pieces of sawdust.  Nor would we see the change in color of the sawdust as we neared the bottom of the log, when we were again cutting bark, because there was no bark.

Noodles, Diamond Peak Trail

We planned to do a straight top cut without a miter, or a slight angle to the z-axis or vertical plane, but opening the cut to the south, so we could push the log to the south, which happened to be away from me. Chris moved the saw on the log making a small scratch in the whitish surface, and I pulled back gently. The saw moved towards me then away, as I relaxed and Chris pulled.  I knelt on the ground on one knee, raised the other leg, and made sure I was “giving” him enough length of the saw so he could pull as many teeth through as he could.  Then I pulled back and tried to do the same, keeping the saw aligned with the rapidly forming kerf or cut in the y plane, tilted slightly in the z-axis and making sure viewed from the side or x-axis I wasn’t too low compared to Chris, for I have the tendency to pull down as I cut, rather than let gravity do the cutting.  I was satisfied with my position and my saw position. 

As we cut, the saw had a pleasant sing to it.  The melody wasn’t perfect, because the wood was a little punky, or rotten.  But there was no extra work because of bind, at least not yet, or poor positioning of the saw.  Back and forth, ONE/two, THREE/four, FIVE/six, SAW/ing, SAW/ing, FIN/ish, FIN/ish.  The kerf opened quickly on the top, before opening more slowly as the saw moved through the vertical part of the log, the wide part, where we cut through the most wood, and before the curve of the log at the bottom shortened the distance we had to cut.

So far, so good, I thought.  We almost have the whole width of the saw in the kerf, in the log.  If we can get another inch or two without binding, we can put a wedge in to keep the kerf open.  Right now, the wedge would hit the saw and stop it completely.  Back and forth,
FIFTY/seven, FIFTY/eight. I sometimes counted, other times used song lyrics. This time of day, our legs were tired, we were having trouble holding positions, the ground wasn’t comfortable, although my knee pads helped  I would raise a hand or grunt when I needed to take a quick break. We had a third person with us, but I wanted to do this cut myself. 

The third was 10 feet away, using an axe to try to break the log loose where it had cracked.  Fortunately, his work wasn’t affecting the bind of the log, although finally I noticed that it was getting harder to saw, so I said, “let’s put in a wedge.”  I reached into my back pocket, where I keep two orange Wells wedges, pulled my axe out of the log where I had it, and pounded a wedge in with the poll or back part of the axe, giving the wedge a few whacks with the 1.5 kg Swedish steel poll.  Nice sound, when the wedge moved.  If it squeaked or made a metallic sound, the wedge was too close to the saw. It would hold the kerf open.

If the kerf opens up as one cuts, one can tell because it remains easy to cut.  If there is a grating feeling, there may be a knot in the wood that one is cutting through, either internally or externally. I remember a year ago not telling my partner I had routed the cut on my side through a knot.  I hoped he wouldn’t notice, but the sound and the feeling of the cutting was obvious to him, and I had to ‘fess up. When someone else is pounding in the wedge, I do two things: duck my head so the hardhat is facing the direction the wedge may fly off if it is not struck properly; I also move the saw handle back and forth in the kerf to see if it starts to feel looser, which it should if the wedge is doing the job of keeping the kerf open.  

With a bigger log, 25 to 30 inches in diameter, we replace the top wedge with two at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions.  We may add two more laterally. Each has to be pounded in periodically.  Ideally, one stops sawing to when the axe is used. It is a brief break, and I can feel if the wedges are helping. But sometimes the person with the axe goes ahead and pounds while we are sawing. One of the reasons I spent a little more money on the Hults Bruk axe was that it was the perfect weight for pounding in wedges. Hit plastic with that poll, and good things happen. I noticed the change immediately. Some use the end of a Pulaski handle or a hatchet, but the day I was swamping for a chain sawyer, and took out my axe, he nodded approval.

We were close to the bottom now, and we shortened the stroke and lightened our touch. We absolutely did don’t want the log to drop, carrying the saw into the dirt.  As we got closer, and the sound changed even more, I suggested we pull the handle and remove the saw. This requires loosening the handle, then pushing on the pin holding the handle to the saw, removing the handle altogether. Then the saw may be pulled though the kerf and removed, and the handle reattached.  I took out my KatanaBoy 500 and finished the cut myself, needing only a half dozen strokes, before the log cracked and fell.  We were half way through. 

The second half would be similar, except the log was resting on the ground, and we had to move the handles 90 degrees when we got near the end of the cut, so the handle itself wouldn’t scrape the ground.  We finished the cut with the KatanaBoy.  The log was cut all the way through. We hoped it would be movable, but sometimes the cut part is wedged and has to be cut more.  Or, we hoped with wedges, an axe, or generally with two pairs of arms pushing, two or more pairs of legs if we needed more force, a strap if we needed one, we could move the log. This one moved with a slight push, and we escorted it out of the area. There was now open trail.

The burned area kept on giving us work each year, as wind and rain caused other dead trees to fall across the trail. We finished the 5 mile Hand Lake trail last week. I’d bet money there are are some new blowdowns. In the month interval between doing our two trips on the south side of the trail, there were two new logs. 

Job security. 

Hults Bruk axe/sheath, Pulaski, gloves, KatanaBoy 500, Corona saw, hand saw, loppers, sheath


October 2, 2021

First time I ever wore an N95 in the woods, I thought, puffing my way up the steep trail out of Blue Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness.  I was carrying a Pulaski, my work pack with 3 liters of water and lunch, three different hand saws, work clothes and heavy boots.  We had to climb 1000’ vertical to the ridgeline, where we were going to log out the central part of the Diamond Peak Trail in both directions from the junction. It was not Covid, but smoke that was the issue; humidity, heat, and exertion made wearing the mask impossible. I finally took it off.

Blue Lake

One of the first logs was 5 feet above the trail, which I wanted to ignore. But the Crew leader wanted to take it out. When he put the saw over it, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to cut that without a step stool.  I looked left, saw a much lower place where the log was resting, and convinced my partner we should cut there first.  We did, and the log eventually dropped.  We then worked on the original part, finally cutting it and moving it off the trail. 

The rest of the day included a great deal of difficulty in cutting out each log, which I learned, only the following week, was due to the saw’s not having been sharpened in 3 years. The issue wasn’t necessarily that I was weak; I certainly was affected by the heat. And using a dull tool.

When a 2-man crosscut sawyer bucks (cuts), the blades cut when pulled towards oneself. When the pull is complete, ideally when the opposite handle on the other side is near the log, the sawyer relaxes and lets the partner pull the saw the other way.  Relaxing doesn’t mean letting go but gently guiding the handle back to the log, like the heart in diastole, as the partner pulls. It is important to pull in a straight line, so the saw cuts straight. If one pulls to one side, the saw, being flexible, will bend, but the kerf or cut is narrow, and the saw teeth will no longer cut in the groove made by the rakers or mini-chisels that are on the blade with the teeth.  Used properly, the saw cuts smoothly and sounds better, too. The saw sings when all is right.

The author (back) on the Diamond Peak Trail, 2020

It is easy to pull to one side if one gets tired, the sawing position is sub-optimal, the log is difficult to cut because of bind or type of wood, or the saw itself is not sharp.  Most of the time I cut, it was a good day when nobody commented about my cutting. The most common comment I heard is “you are pulling,” which I took to mean I was pulling right or left. 

I have had a great deal of On the Job Training—OJT—but little teaching, and as a teacher myself, that bothered me. I had no mentor, the logs were plenty, and cutting them out was the priority.  I was then and even now usually the junior member of the Crew. Additionally, I was a newcomer to the state. Oregonians, I learned early from one person in the hiking Club, care about length of time here. In Arizona, where I previously lived, we joked that a native had been there 10 or more years. Nobody cared really how long one had lived there, and I don’t remember anybody’s talking about third or more generation Arizonans, but one hears often about multi-generational Oregonians. For the record, I am a native Californian, when the state was tied with Pennsylvania for second in population, and Kentucky had more people than Florida.  

I did my work, tried not to pull to one side, stayed quiet even when I could see, across the saw, that others were pulling to one side. I thought of mentioning that but stayed quiet, because perhaps I was wrong. Finally, on Diamond Peak Trail last year, I was cutting with my Crew leader while he was trying to carry on a conversation with someone else.  The cutting became more difficult, I saw my partner’s saw pulled far to his right, no question now, and said, quietly, “Hey Boss, you are pulling right.”

“Really?” Oh yeah. He was.

This year, two other issues came to light, both again on the Diamond Peak Trail. The first was dull saw. We proved it the following week when four of us were tackling the same log at the same time, I was on the dull saw, and with a head start, the pair with a good one finished before my partner and I were two-thirds done.

A month later, I was out with a crew member who joined a couple of years before I did, native Oregonian, mentored by one of the most experienced sawyers in the area.  We were cutting a large enough log so we couldn’t see each other, and at one point he told me that I was pulling.  I muttered something, relaxed my stroke slightly, and wondered how he could know I was pulling when he couldn’t see either me or the saw.  It didn’t make sense. I thought about that incident the rest of the day, wondering whether I had reached my maximum level of incompetence for the job, since I seemed to be doing better a year earlier, and 53 days out with the crew on a crosscut event ought to have made me fairly experienced.  

In the middle of the tangle

A week later, we were near the same spot, since there was an enormous tangle of downed trees to remove, along with some 30-inch diameter ones on either side. My group started with a pair of logs, one large and near the ground, a smaller one about 4 feet above the trail. Beginning with the smaller, I thought the cut was too close to the trail, thinking it was obvious if we cut there, when we cut the next log, the first would get in the way. We needed to cut it about 2-3 feet further away from the trail. My partner, an experienced C level sawyer, moved the saw a foot, not enough, I felt. We cut the log. 

Another view of the tangle. Notice the underbuck, cutting from below.

We then began cutting the bottom log on the opposite side of the trail, finished it, and turned to where we had been cutting earlier. It was obvious now to everybody, not just me, that the end of the first log we had cut was blocking the exit for the one we would be cutting. The other two in the saw crew took care of it, cutting it 2 more feet away from the trail.  

Sort of like I had suggested.  It’s like a doctor’s not listening to a nurse. Sometimes, the junior person is right. 

A more significant incident transpired on the following log, 30 inches in diameter. I was sitting as I pulled, and looking back on the incident, the saw was angling slightly towards the ground, rather than horizontal. For some reason, my partner corrected me using a phrasal verb for once: “You are pulling down.”

A light flashed. A voice in my brain, the part that runs mathematics so well, said, “z-axis.”

We were, after all, working in three dimensional space. It’s just that my pulling examples had always meant the xy-plane, left or right, and I equated pulling with that plane.  I was pulling down, and I might do that when cutting if I were sitting. It never seemed to matter. For the rest of the day, and there would be a lot more cutting, whenever I sat or knelt, I let the saw ride horizontally across the kerf, or the cut. Standing, I was fine, automatically.  Sitting or kneeling, I was not. That was the problem I was having.  Maybe there was hope, after all.

Pull is a transitive verb. It has an object that may take an adverbial prepositional phrase.  We live in 3-D space. Wood has three dimensions.  Please give clear directions. I am competent in both English and math.  With time, I may even graduate from an A sawyer to a B one. But I’m old; I can’t keep hiking up hills with a lot of tools and cut out logs many more years, N95 or not.

Occasionally it is possible for two pairs to cut on the same log, although driving a wedge in to keep a kerf open for one pair may increase the bind for the other. The top saw is steeply angled to the log in order to allow the cutter on the left to work.(The hypotenuse, however, is always longer than either of the two sides.)