FELT, HEARD, SAW


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

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