THREE DIMENSIONS


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.)

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