Sunday, August 21, 2011

An afternoon in the woods

I have run out of lumber to mill. Time to go out in the woods. I am looking for trees that are dead, because I hate to cut down a live tree. All I need is that it must mill down to either 10x10 or 8x8 cm. For a woodshed it hardly matters. So armed with my little chainsaw and my Stihl one-piece Helmet plus ear protectors plus face shield, I went to the woods. As the crow flies it was 200 meters, and on the road. As Alaska bush goes, as the crow flies is an impassable tangle of brush in a straight line. Well, I have felled a couple of small trees, and this one was (a) terminal and (b) the right size. So down it went. Easy, you think. Just cut it down. One pass with the chainsaw! Were I an experienced feller (I mean tree feller, not a "fellow") this is child's play. But note: I work alone. I am very cautious. The chain saw is not your enemy. The forest is. (That is metaphorical. Forests are not enemies. But they are not friends, either). The forest is completely neutral. It's all up to you.

You can find descriptions of felling all over the web. Anyway, there I am. This is not a big tree. Some would call it a "sapling" and it is. But the way you learn to do things these days is to start small and work your way up. The first tree I had to fell was maybe 20 cm across at the base. It fell about ninety degrees away from where I wanted it. What did I do wrong? Earnest thought. My problem was simple. I didn't cut the bottom of the notch parallel to the ground. If you don't do that, why the tree won't fall where it should. My notch was cockeyed. Not parallel to the ground. Lesson number one. This session had several other useful lessons.

So I wear my Filson hat in the woods. I always wear my hat. It is an extremely expensive hat given to me by my children as a present. It costs a fortune, but is worth every penny of it. It will outlive me. But I recently acquired a Stihl combo hard hat, earmuff, and face shield protector. Cheap at a yard sale. Cost you a hundred devalued bucks new. Cost me much less than that. I always wore safety glasses and earmuffs. My eyes are lousy but my hearing is way above average and I'd hate to lose it. The Stihl helmet protects all three. Doubtless there are alternatives. I did not take the camera. Too bad. I have other things to concentrate upon when I'm going to take down a tree. Even a tiny tree like this one. This tree turned out to be a useful lesson.

So you cut your notches parallel to the ground. This is true whether you are using a chain saw or a handsaw. I could have used a handsaw for this, but I wanted some chainsaw practice, because felling trees is no joke, and the problems are exactly the same regardless of scale. OK. put on your high-tech helmet, and cut your notch. This time we have mastered the secret of the notch, so we cut parallel to the ground. I can just hear professional loggers laugh at me, he is cutting a maybe12cm dia spruce, what's your problem? But I start small and work up. Cut the counter-cut or back-cut. . . and the tree did not budge. Of course not, it was hung up. That means that other trees are holding it up. Now let's look at the time involved in all this. Chainsaw cutting: maybe 3 minutes. That is a generous estimate. At that point, of course, I had donned my Helmet. The capital letter is intentional. The reason you need a hard hat in the wood is not because what you are doing is dangerous It is, in fact. The danger is not the tree you are cutting. It is the other forest denizens that are lurking there and are all too ready to fall on your head. That is why you wear a hard hat. It is not because your chain will break, because modern tech has wiped out that possibility, unless you are incredibly careless, and have not a clue as to what you are doing.

So my little forest spruce sapling (moribund, I may add, not quite dead but very, very, close to the end) came down. No it didn't. It just sat there. At this point you look upwards. Of course, the tree is hung up. In a real forest, trees grow up in random patterns. So some get really big and crowd their less fortunate neighbors. At this point all trees are alike. But, you see, they compete with their neighbors and may get hung up in the branches of another tree. OK, the tree did not come down. Hung up, you see. So at this point what I decided to do it the "easy" way. Let me pull it out with the car, which was right next to the road. At this point I spent about ten minutes searching for my hat. So far I am into this about 3 minutes of actual cutting. Since I cut of off low branches by hand perhaps I am into it 5 minutes So we are 9 minutes into the business. At this point I mislaid my hat. You might think this is trivial, but it is not. My hat blends in with the forest. I like that. But once the tree us down, the hard hat is a waste of time. However, the Helmet is nice -- all-in-one protection. Spend the next ten minutes searching for my hat. OK, tie a rope to the tree, pull it out to the car, oops, what is this? Rope not long enough. Back to the car. Get out extra chain. At this point once again I lost my hat. Spend another 20 minutes searching for hat. Then tie rope to tree, attach to car. Pull. Tree down. Minor triumph. Go limb it, total time perhaps 3 min. At this point I mislaid my hat. Well, I bucked to the length I am using, 3 minutes. Now get rid of the limbs. Total time perhaps 10 minutes of sawing, most of it limbing, and half an hour looking for my hat. At the end I hauled the little spruce tree to the road. And then I couldn't find my hat. Total time in sawing: Ten minutes max. Time searching for hat: about 45 minutes. Moral: Leave your hat in the car. Professional loggers, welcome to laugh. And yes, I know all about felling wedges. But I am looking for lessons. This is called learning. They don't teach you how to learn in any school, these days. Dogma all the way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Makin/ lumber

It has taken me 1,000 years to do this post. And all that is user error, because it was almost certainly my mistake. Google, are you listening? Please provide me with a simple "undo" function". Until you do I will have to work around you. Please do not continue to give me advanced features. I don't need them and neither do 99.5 percent of blogger users. A simple go-back-to-last saved post would have saved me half an hour's work. I am certain Google is not listening.

Anyway, we are trying to square off logs. We had built an advanced log holding feature, and were ready to hold the logs.

So next, we mount the log on the holder. Now I try to be really candid about mistakes, so what I did was to mark it out.t does not hurt to mark it out, and it doesen't take more than five minutes. But all you really need is one reference mark on the log. However, we didn't realize this at the time.
So, log is on the holder. The first thing I did was the marking out. Just as well because I hadn't learned the first thing about lumbermakers. But I will try to save you the trouble. You do, however, really need one reference mark, either plumb or level. Now you have to tack a guide board on top of the log. I used a gringo 2x4. This is a real example of a misnomer. Gringo boards are nowhere near 2x4. The "2" for example is 1 5/8" short. The manufacturers claim this is a "milling allowance.". Bosh. They can mill to 1 mm on an off day, so this is a way of cheating you. This warning, of course, applies only to the US and not to the rest of the world.

So now we have to tack a guide board to the top of the log and make a cut. Where should we tack the guide board? Well, a lot of variables, none too hard. Depends on the particular type of lumbermaker gadget that you have and the width of your guide board. But what I did was to put the center of the guide board on my marked-out log..
And away I sawed. Here there is a warning. Several, in fact. First, don't go too fast. How fast is fast depends on how big a chainsaw you have. I am using a Stihl 170. which Stihl regards as an "entry-level " chain saw. This is medium duty for any othe manufacter but Huskvarna. But still, (Stihl?) ripping is hard work for a chain sae. It is not made for that. So stop every half-meter or so and let the chain saw idle. for 30 seonds or a minute. If you are doing this you are not in a hurry. So at the end of the cut,we have...

Now we go to the other end of the log and do the same thing. These are 2.5 meter logs, or about 8 foot for the metrically challenged. It takes me about five minutes to do a cut with Parsifal, my Stihl MS 170. If I would just fire up Siegfried the Stihl 041, it would take less, but Siegfried is much heavier. Siegfried is used when Parsifal would be overloaded. This is bcause I don't like to heft very large weights unless I absolutely have to.

And YAM (yet another mistake). If you are doing guide board sawing, on a one-shot log, you don't need to mark out. You need one mark, either level or plumb. You do one mark with board level. Do two cuts. Flip the log. Leve is now plumb, or vice-versa. Two more cuts. Done.

Final remark. I have been rather vague on lumbermakers, for a good reason. I have but limited experience with them. One, sold by Lee Valley, is the classic "Haddon Lumbermaker" which has a fixed-width "2x4" beam but an adjustable cut. Mine has a variable-length board but a fixed distance from edge of board. Why no one does both is beyond me. However, my $15 lumbermaker is a champ. It so happens that I am milling 10x10cm posts so with a gringo 2x4 guide board it works exactly. Serendipity at last.

You can see the nails. Al teast one will bite into the log and keep it from rolling around. Now put the log on the anvil and mark it up. Well, that's what I did the first time. It was fortunate that I did, as it turns out. It is not necessary with this setup, but it certainly will not hurt. I like to document my mistakes. It may save someone else a lot of trouble. Dog it down. I know, I have the nails for that, but five seconds hammering is cheap insurance.
Behold the homemade log dog holding down the log. And then tack a board across the top. Where? You will see. I centered this log on my reference marks. The board is an ordinary USA "2x4" which measures, not 2x4 but 1 5/8"by something else. The manufacturers cheat, and claim this is "milling allowance." Bosh. This was my first try and I put a wedge into it, but it isn't necessary. Not on these logs.

The lumbermaker holds your saw so that it can go vertical. A chainsaw will cut in any attitude. So you cut away. You will soon learn to stand on the side of the chainsaw that is away from wherever it exhausts chips. I wear gloves, face protection, and ear protection. For this gig you do not need midaeval armor. It is as safe as anything you do with a chainsaw is. Just for educational purposes, the worst thing that can happen with a chainsaw is that the upper quadrant of the bar catches on something. No way that can happen here. But other things could, e.g. your bar was too loose and the chain skipped off the bar. The best protection is your brain. Keep it engaged. So anyway, you walk down the guide board until the cut is done.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Squaring the log, part N

I have been spending an enormous amount of time on simplifying the log-squaring process. One improvement is an improved marking-out procedure. On the other hand there have been a great many, many setbacks But first, let's look at our favorable advances, a vast improvement on the marking-out procedure.
Now this is really obvious once you have done it, but if you have a whole lot of logs to do, you will save a great deal of time by making a pattern. Do one level line, as ultimate reference. The pattern can be made out of almost anything. I used an old sign and it is aluminum. No use for overkill, beer cans would work just as well, plywood even. But I had it and I used it.

At this point I realized that I was spending all my time moving the log around. I also realized that I had a tool I had never tried before, the lumbermaker.

Well, well. For really large stuff, you use a chainsaw mill. The chainsaw mill is terrific. But you spend a lot of time setting up the first few cuts, and it needs a supporting structure, and you need a big saw. And a correspondingly big log to be worth the trouble. Even a really small chainsaw mill requires a half-meter bar minimum. And it is expensive. But I have one (and a saw with such a bar) and I could have used it. But I am cutting small logs say 20 cm or less diameter. Pain in the neck to set up the support. So I said "hey, let me try this". I did. Not favorable. You see, what you do is to tack a guide board on the top of the log. The channel on the lumbermaker rides on the guide board, and the chainsaw cuts. Simple, yes, but when you go to do the next cut you will almost certainly be in deep water, because it is very hard to hold a log. Just try it sometime. Those nice cylinders they show you in the pictures? Hah! Logs are irregular. At this point it dawned on me that the real problem with small logs is not chainsawing, it is holding the thing down in the first place. And thus began the saga of holding the log, which is not yet concluded. Big logs are a horse of a completely different color. But I have very few of those.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brave new broccoli

You will recall that Cassius, the dropout moose, chewed up (among many other veggies) my broccoli. Well, just as I have had my revenge on Cassius (birdshot in the butt, another post) the broccoli -- or some broccoli -- has recovered.
The heads are but two or three centimeters across, hardly a contribution to my pantry. Their value is symbolic. They will get bigger, maybe. Other chewed-up broccoli will not head by now, I think. On a normal head, one would have harvested the big heads. Then broccoli will obligingly produce smaller heads up to first frost. But I think this performance is simply amazing.

I am tired. It was a busy day squaring logs. But that's another post.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Rain, rain

Not much to report today. The game has been postponed on account of rain. It has rained more in the last week than in the whole year, about 40mm. I have been quite housebound, because it is hard to do things in rain. When I look at the Weather Radar, which you can do yourself on the 'net, I am not encouraged:
Of course, you may not be interested in the Kenai, AK weather radar. Google on "Weather Radar" to find a more applicable image. That's if you live in the USA. If you don't, perhaps there is an equivalent. But NEXRAD (as it is called) is much better than the TV forecast and very easy to interpret. I far prefer the "lite" image. It shows reflectivity and nothing else. Loads in a nanosecond. Fine by me. The higher the reflectivity the higher the water content. It is color-coded, so blue is heavy, green is worse and yellow is a disaster. So you see above an amoeba moving south to north across an area perhaps 1000 Km end-to-end. It will also go east-to-west a little. This is called geostrophic motion and I won't bore you with it. With a little practice at correlating what you see on the radar with what you see out your window, you can do much better than the TV weather. This is local forecasting, do it yourself. The TV weatherperson is not a complete idiot and often has relevant degrees -- but sometimes they don't seem to notice their own noses.

The kind of weather we are having is a consequence of the North Pacific Oscillation, or NPO. The weather cycle lasts 35-40 years. No one knows why. There was sun last evening and this morning. It did not last. It's raining again. And it did the same thing last year. The NPO seems to produce very dry springs, cold winters, and wet Augusts. Fall is always wet. A forty-year cycle is very difficult to dope out. Need far more data than we have.

Just for laughs I always read the official forecast, in impressive capital letters, produced by the National Weather Service. I have coined a term for some of their forecasts. It is a Mongo Forecast. This is a forecast for a planet called Mongo, very similar to our own but in some other universe. I will say that our forecast office (in Fairbanks) has a very difficult task. They are forecasting for an area Wasilla to Cantwell, about 300 miles - 500 Km or so. Much too big. So Mongo forecasts are quite common.

Well, I weeded the whole garden again. Could be worse.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Marking out a log for sawing

So I am I working on the woodshed, and we have been squaring timbers freehand with a chain saw. I thought it might be of interest to outline the marking-out process. I have only found one place where someone tells you how to do this. That is the invaluable Will Maloff's book Chainsaw Lumbermaking. This book is out of print, and last time I looked it was around $70 in used-book markets. Not a trivial investment.

Marking out is not at all hard but it has its, erm, flats and sharps. You will need a level and a felt-tip pen or soft crayon. The level is better if it is longer. OK, look at your log and decide where the center of the thing is. There are, surprisingly, two alternatives. You can mill to the heart of the wood or you can mill to average center, or center of mass. In my example I will be milling to both at the same time, because my spruce is symmetrical. More or less.
So take your pen and put a dot at the center. Then with the level you strike a horizontal line across the log, as above. Hold the level vertical (you could use a plumb line, too) and strike a vertical line. You now have a coordinate system established, with a level axis and a plumb axis. Now with a square, a ruler, or whatever, mark out your corners. A square is much better than a ruler because you can mark square to the reference axes. I use a Japanese framing square. Much neater than cumbersome western squares. But any square will do the job.
Now recheck your measurements. I spotted (and you can spot) an error immediately. Measure twice, cut once. The opposite strategy does not, repeat not, work. So once your measurements are correct and checked, draw the square (or whatever) on the end of the log.
Now move to the other end of the log, which you have, of course, held securely so it doesn't move. I will come back to this. Repeat the process. Do not let the log move because if you do, you will have lost level and plumb.

At this point I forgot to take a picture, so the pictures will go in out of the actual sequence. You will need a chalk line. This is an inexpensive gadget, basically a string that gets dragged through some powdered chalk, with a reel to hold the line. The reel, by the way, makes a dandy plumb bob. Following Japanese practice, I took a short piece of branchwood and sunk a sharpened nail into it. The line is held taut by the weight of the reel. Modern reels are made of plastic, and are very light. If you can find one, the old steel reels work much better. I have two.
The peg and its nail are driven in at one corner and the reel is adjusted to fall over the corner on the far side of the log. Perhaps you should cut out a notch with a knife, to make sure it really stays put. You now have a nice straight line. Notice that the log is spiked down to the hewing bench, which is holding the whole thing up, by a homemade log dog, a giant staple. This preserves level and plumb. There is also a flat side on the log. That's where I forgot to take a picture. Go to the middle of the log, pull the line out and let it go. It will snap back and give you a nice straight chalk mark where you must saw. Now saw your scoring cut right down the chalk line and go for it. I described this a couple posts ago.
As you go on, constantly refer to your level and plumb marks, or you will have a rhomboid and not a rectangle or square. If you have to, use wedges to preserve level and plumb. For smallish logs like this, I far prefer the freehand method to using a chainsaw mill. But even if you do use a chainsaw mill, and I may get to that yet, marking out makes the difference between a hack job and something halfway decent, and the marking-out process is very similar. I am using Parsifal, a Stihl MS170, the smallest Stihl in the inventory. It is beautiful on ripping cuts. It has a very narrow bar, small waste, and even without a ripping chain it makes perfectly adequate cuts for my purposes, since I am building a woodshed and not cabinetmaking. Of course you have to keep the chain sharp, but that's another post.