Dangerously Beautiful Days

Weekends are weird once you have a house. A secondary labor regime takes over: there are weeds to kill, stumps to remove, bathtubs to re-caulk, closets to clean, bookshelves to make and so on.

A beautiful day like today is especially dangerous, as the yard calls insistently. I finally decided to split a huge pile of logs from a big oak branch that fell last year. I had chainsawed them into usable firewood-sized logs but I hadn’t gotten around to splitting them yet with a maul.

Splitting logs is kind of fun, actually, though I’m feeling the aftereffects now. On the other hand, stumping things is no fun. I finally took out a huge old stump I’d been meaning to take care of for a long time.

Hey, for anyone who is reading who is a reasonably skilled chainsaw user, by the way (not you, Michael Berube!) , any tips for when you’re dealing with smaller branches that have a tendency to move or roll while you’re chainsawing them down to firewood-splittable size? I’ve used old cinderblocks to try and restrain the branches, but it seems clumsy somehow. It feels kind of unsafe to use my right leg to clamp down on the branch while I cut, though the stance certainly amplifies the phallic imagery of the whole thing.

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5 Responses to Dangerously Beautiful Days

  1. back40 says:

    I use the larger rounds to do the smaller limbs.

    I use them under the limbs to prevent chain contact with dirt – which instantly dulls the chain, once is enough – and to control the limb so that it doesn’t move while cutting. Often I just lay the branch on the pile of rounds I’ve made and slice it up.

    My chain is very sharp of course. I recommend Oregon chains since they seem to hold an edge pretty good and are widely available. I’ve come to understand that many folks have never experienced a sharp chain and so don’t know what I’m talking about. If your saw will not cut through a log with no more pressure than the weight of the saw then your chain is dull.

    Dirt isn’t the only enemy of sharpness. Dry wood is hard on chains too. If your oak limb was dead and dry then it dulls a chain faster than if the limb was green.

    A sharp chain makes a safer saw since you aren’t straining to apply pressure, which causes your work to move around and gets you off balance. A dull chain makes your back and arms sore too.

    There’s some tension when you use a tool infrequently. It is dangerous so you do need to be alert and focused, and when the tool is performing badly it takes effort. It all adds up to sore body and perhaps even some tension head ache. But when the tool is a source of pleasure – runs well, sharp chain, oiled and true – the tension is balanced a bit. It can be energizing as much as tiring. You walk away with a glow rather than under a cloud.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Yes, avoiding dirt is the other problem with the small limbs. I’ve got to sharpen my chain as a result, as I’ve contacted dirt two or three times. I’ll try to cut limbs faster as well so that they’re still somewhat green–I wasn’t aware that dry wood dulls a chain more.

    Also some wood seems almost impossible to cut even with a sharp chain–I have a dead holly trunk around and it might as well be solid iron.

  3. SamChevre says:

    Agreeing with back40–use the pieces of firewood you’ve already cut to stabilize what you are cutting. Also, it’s often easier to cut the small limbs up while they are still attached to the large ones.

    Holly is very valuable to carvers and wood-turning artists. I would try to give it away, rather than cut it up for firewood.

  4. Timothy Burke says:

    Really? I had no idea that holly was used for carving. Must be difficult to do, it’s terribly hard. But it is certainly durable: I don’t see even the least sign of decay in the trunk and I cut it down over a year ago.

  5. SamChevre says:

    Holly is used for carving because it’s very fine-grained, and very white–it’s also dyed black to make fake ebony.

    Here is a picture of some turnings incorporating holly–the white in the goblet stems is holly.

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