Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hodgepodge 222/365 - Crosscut Saw (6/8/17)

Chris explaining saw anatomy
Thursday and Friday were the big event—what brought me to this wilderness academy in the first place: crosscut saw certification, a requirement for working with saws in the wilderness areas of our national forests. I've missed the various saw trainings that were offered the last few years (they aren't all that frequent), so as soon as I heard about this ranger academy, I went online and signed up. It didn't hurt that the academy was being held at beautiful Lake Tahoe.

It's hard to see, but the left
side is all crosscut saws; the
right side, all axes; plus radios
I wrote about saws a while back, here. Crosscut saws are an especially pleasing sort of saw, aesthetically, in part because they remain part of the old traditions, and so help us honor the old ways as well. They are also quiet (unlike chainsaws) and slow and allow us to listen to and feel the wood as we work it.

On Thursday morning, you should have seen the long (four- and five-foot) saws heaped in the back of ranger Chris Engelhardt's Forest Service pickup, every one of them vintage (more than 30 years old, some as many as 100 years old). Any sawyer worth his or her salt uses vintage saws, highly finessed, with teeth set at slight angles and individually sharpened, compared to modern saws, which are simply stamped out of sheet metal.

I met up with my two instructors, long-time saw partners Tim, from Sierra NF, and Weston, from Sequoia NF, and my four fellow students, Ken and Bryce from my unit (Los Padres NF) and Renee and Artie from Inyo NF.

Weston and Tim cutting an offset
Renee and Artie are just starting their forest service careers and will probably have lots of opportunity to use their saw skills. Ken works actively on the Pacific Crest Trail with his wife, Deb, and has a wealth of experience: he was hoping to certify as a C-class sawyer. Bryce is the Youth in Wilderness coordinator for the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and he also goes out on trail crew often. He, too, was hoping to certify as a C. Me, I've sawn many dozens of trees, mostly with my usual trail buddy Lynn, but I just follow her directions. I was eager to learn how to size up a saw job—and was hoping to skip straight into B certification.

Our "problem tree"—which turned
out to be not too much of a problem
After a briefing, we grabbed our tools—a couple of saws; a dozen or so wedges, which you pound into the kerf (the cut created by the saw) to keep it open; a couple of axes, one double bit, for chopping and clearing bark, one single bit, useful for hammering the wedges in with the "poll" end—and slogged off into a very soppy meadow. A beautiful meadow, but nonetheless: not even the breath of a chance of keeping our feet dry. It didn't help that it kept raining sporadically during the day. If I'd paid attention to the weather forecast before jumping in the car with Steve, Beth, and Lynn, I would've packed more than just jeans—including, perhaps, a pair of long johns. But never mind: sawing and chopping is one way to stay warm in a swamp.

"Problem tree" closer up
The overall planning logic one uses when confronted with a down log has an acronym (of course: it's the government): Objective, Hazards/obstacles, Leans/binds, Escape routes, and Cut plan—OHLEC.

For my unit's purposes, the Objective tends to involve "bucking" a tree out of the trail (that is, cutting a down tree—vs. "felling," which is the old tiiiiiiimmmmmbbbbbeeeerrrrr business of toppling a standing tree). This usually involves making two cuts and rolling the cut part down a slope or somehow out of the way, to free up the trail again.

And closer still: cutting one of the
four stems
Hazards include tree hazards (leaners, dead trees, rotten trees, widow-makers) but also such variables as fatigue, weather, poison oak, and so forth.

The L in OHLEC refers to Lean/bind. Bind applies in bucking; lean in felling. Bind refers to the tensions and compressions the tree undergoes when it falls and lands on the ground. There are four basic kinds of bind: top, bottom, end, and side. These result from the final position of the log: resting suspended but with two solid points of contact (top bind); resting with one end in the air (bottom bind ➘); laced between two solid points of contact, such as trees or boulders (side bind); and lying on a steep slope (end bind: the weight of the log causes compression throughout). Compression wants to grab the saw and never let go. The objective is to keep the kerf open so the saw can keep working. This is done using tools such as wedges and various cutting techniques.

Bottom bind
Each person on the two-person crosscut team needs to identify which way they'll run if the log starts to shift or do something unexpected, for safety (the Escape routes).

And the Cut plan identifies the number of cuts needed, the location of the cuts, what needs swamping (cutting off any stray branches), and any additional tools, such as cribbing logs or hanging wedges.

I am reviewing this partly for my own purposes: trying to get OHLEC firmly embedded in my brain.

A bottom bind problem (that also
ended up not being a problem)
In any case, on our first day, we found what looked like a gnarly tree to work on: a single rootball, but four stems with a lot of cracking from the fall. Ultimately, the cuts were completely unproblematic: no bind, simple sawing, and boom, the pieces were on the ground, and light enough to simply manhandle out of the way.

Tim and Weston's perfect
offset cut (it protects the saw)
The second day, we practiced such techniques as single bucking (only one person on the long saw blade—necessary, for example, when a tree is on a slope and the tree will drop and possibly roll downhill), underbucking (coming in from below, usually because of top bind: not as easy as you might think), and offset cutting (which protects the saw; see example ➚).

All in all, it was very stimulating—so much so that I barely even noticed that it kept raining! And my feet were cold! But fortunately, my head was nice and dry thanks to the hard hat, and my hands—well, wet deerskin isn't exactly warm, but it's probably better than bare hands.

Final roundup, at the first USFS cabin
in the Tahoe district

And thanks to all the hard work, I am now a B-certified sawyer! Now all I need is a saw of my very own. I guess I'll have to start haunting eBay.

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