Saturday, October 29, 2011

Chainsaw vs. beaver

The last few weeks have been full of chain saw work, as we try to fill up the woodshed for winter. Well, a few days ago I walked in an area that I had driven over many times, but not visited it on foot. There is a tiny meadow with a sluggish stream running in it. And close to the road, there was an odd-looking tree stump. You observe many, many more things when you walk.
This is the obvious work of Mr Beaver, that true backwoods lumberjack. He has cut a notch so that the tree, an aspen, will fall right into the sluggish stream. Excellent aim. The swiss army knife is 6cm long, to give you some scale. In the direction the tree will fall there is a pile of branches, a lot like a beaver dam. Looking around I found a whole bunch of felled trees:
They all point the same way, toward the pile of branches. Mr Beaver is indeed an accomplished lumberjack. He does not seem to need a chain saw. Must save him a lot of money! Beavers do not use the whole tree. They use the tastier upper branches for food and some for the dam. Perhaps the Beaver family will extend its nest into the culvert that runs under the road.

And, as a change of pace, when I got home I beheld (out my living room window) the following amazing sight:
There, lying peacefully not five meters from the house, is an undeniable moose. This has got to be Cassius, who we have met before. No one else would have the nerve. He was ruminating quietly (I had no idea that moose chewed their cud, but we live and learn. He was certainly not chewing bubble gum). Cassius was totally unperturbed. Every so often I would go check on him. He stayed about two hours.
Next morning there were three moose in my driveway. We live, as John would say, in a moose-rich environment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Filling the woodshed

One thing is building the woodshed. But now it must be filled, or else it is quite useless. So the emphasis shifts. It is a little late, but thankfully the weather has cooperated. So, cut wood. Fortunately I discovered a stash of wood on the Power Line Right-of-way, where the ever-beneficient Matanuska Electrical Association cleared out some trees several years back.
Best thing about this is that I can put my trusty Vicky, the Vitara, in four-wheel compound low and drive to it. Makes things much easier. Now we have to cut it. So pull out Parsifal, the trusty Stihl MS170, and go to it.
Some people think you should have a huge chainsaw. I disagree. My little chainsaw will easily cut any log in this operation. If push comes to shove I have Siegfried the 041; but Parsifal weighs half of what Siegfried does and is much easier to use. Chainsaws are a lot like chisels. It maes no sense to use a slick to cut a furniture mortise. John stacked wood for me, and put it in the car. An extreme luxury. Usually I'd have to do that myself and it is no joke. It is in fact a workout. So after a while, we have a full carload.
Now we drive back home and stack the wood to be split, which John kindly did for me. Another enormous relief.
So the log pile grows. There is some left over from last winter; we may actually have enough for winter by the time this is over!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Birchbarrow redux

When I first came to Chalupy almost a decade ago, I spent the first summer making a bunch of stuff inspired by Drew Langsner's Country Woodcraft, unfortunately out of print. One of these projects was a wheelbarrow that Drew used for hauling wood. I built a copy with a modified wheel arrangement. Drew used a solid steel wheel and a rod for an axle. Such wheels are not obtainable in Alaska, so I used a wheel from a kid's bike thrown out in the trash.
I posted on this very early in the blog. Archeology, really, as blogs go. I called this guy the birchbarrow. I learned a lot from my mistakes. The barrow was too wide for firewood transportation. For that job, you need a narrow barrow. And behold, the season for firewood transport is upon us, and we are very lucky not to have been snowed in! So I had to build the barrow again from scratch. The first job is to put together the lower "stretcher" that holds the wheel.
My system of wheel mounting is radically different from Mr Langsner's original. When you use bicycle wheels, the axles are very short, and unless you could find 8mm threaded rod somewhere, you can't extend the axle. So I used the original fork, and made backstays out of castoff steel pipe. This baby is nailed together. No time to make mortise-and-tenon joints. It requires you to drill three holes, a big one for the fork and two small ones for the backstays.

Next job, nail together a second stretcher, a bit wider than the first. It will go outside the first stretcher. That gives you the width.
All poles are peeled. The intention is to paint them with old motor oil, not esthetic but good weatherproofing. Fit the outer stretcher, which you just made, over the inner one, nail on some cross-braces, and you have the semblance of a barrow.
OK, obviously need longer crossbraces. I was getting tired and it was time to quit -- or else you start making too many mistakes. So next day I went out, and nailed up some longer crossbraces, and put some wood on it. Voila:
It, or I, handled the load with ease. Some operational adjustments are in order. It flexes a bit too much; a bit more cross-bracing is needed. But it will handle quite a lot of wood. Drew's version handles 200 lb or 100 Kg of wood. That is a lot more than you can lift by arm! Handles too long. Easy fix. On the whole, I'm quite pleased. I took absolutly no measurements. All done by eye. All poles I had lying about. I have named barrow Luggy Freelance. If you are a Sluggy Freelance fan, you may get the reference. If not, doesen't matter!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Moosical interlude

Yesterday we were very proud of ourselves. We had finished nailing down the tin roof on the woodshed, and made a grocery run, tiedied up assorted affairs, and were relaxing indoors. At dusk along came a pair of moose to snuffle around the garden. It was mommy and offspring. Let's call this one Junior:
Junior is almost as big as my faithful tractor. Mommy is larger:
I wonder if one could domesticate moose, the way the Lapps do with reindeer. One could have a two-moosepower tractor, and it might be easier than keeping horses in winter. When the gas runs out, it's something to consider.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Woodshed, the end game

We left our woodshed with the rear beam up. Technically a plate, but no matter. It's horizontal. Next job is the front plate. Here's John nailing up the thing. These are 8" spikes, quite a lot of effort to nail!
Next job is the rafters. Off I went to the forest and secured some dead spruce for beams. Time pressed. We did not bother to square them off. Up into place they go. We were somewhat limited both by time and the suitability of dead spruce. So we look like this now:
Obviously these things have to be nailed down. I did that next day. Then came the tin-fetching episode, previously posted. Now the tin has to be cut to size. If you are brave you can use tin snips. Be sure to stock up on band-aids (or plaster, as the British say) if you do because you will incur many minor cuts. No... I have my trusty Makita saw, $5 at the thrift store, with an Abrasive Cutoff blade.
And talk about Just in Time! Note the snowfall in the background, This was just a flurry, but it emphasized the relentless passage of the seasons. Next, of course, we placed the tin on the roof.
And finally...
She's as done as she's going to get this winter. Come next spring we will remove the roof, pull out the posts, set them in concrete, and replace the roof. And clean some things up. But it will do very well indeed. All local lumber, not a sawmill in sight. Cost about $15 and I'm very proud of it. A great learning expereince, squaring logs, digging holes, and tomorrow we'll nail on the roof. Woodshed, she is fini. We now turn to putting wood in it. Not to mention all the other fall chores; the sun waits on no man.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Scavenging tin

The woodshed, my main concern for this fall, is almost complete (as Darth Vader would no doubt say). But there remains the roofing. Now, many years ago, there was a family homestead a bit beyond my driveway. The original homesteaders, according to what I have been told, came to an untimely end in an automotive accident. Their house degraded with time and eventually was pulled down by the surviving villagers. I call it the Ghost House. The villagers salvaged what they could, or wanted. The roofing was piled up willy-nilly and has sat there, perhaps 20 years. Well, said I, an ideal source of roofing for the woodshed. So several days ago, I went up to the Ghost House to see what I could salvage. I immediately ran into a problem: the stuff is piled up like jackstraws, wth one big sheet of "tin" (actually galvanized steel) pinching another. Each sheet weighs perhaps 25 Kg or if you must, about 50 lb. You can muscle it about. But it has no handles, and is very hard to manage. If it is pinched by another piece, it is impossible to move it. (For me, anyway. If you are Superman, ignore this.) A quarter century of leaf mold on top of the top pieces. Couldn't budge anything. So I went home and thought about it. Finally the solution appeared.
The solution to the jackstraws problem is not so hard. Tie a wire loop to the top piece. Last year at a yard sale I found a big pulley for about $2.00. The yellow rope goes from wire loop to pulley to car. The pulley is tied to a convenient tree. It makes the pull straight, parallel to the way the tin is piled. Rev up the car, and Bob's your uncle (remarkable phrase, that. Wonder where it comes from). Out it comes. I had to use the pulley trick several times, but eventually I fished out five sheets of tin (galvanized steel, as I said but people speak of "tin" roofs). The same trick can be used to pull logs around corners, or move heavy objects when the pull is at odd angles to the direction of pull.

Then I pulled the whole lot home. Alas, not without a casualty: at some point I drove over a sharp object and got a flat tire. The cost of fixing the flat must be added to the cost of the woodshed. I think so far we are a gallon of gasoline for the chainsaw, about ten dollar's worth of nails, and of course an awful lot of labor. A flat can be fixed for about $15-30 if you don't do it yourself, so on the whole I think the woodshed is a marvel of self-sufficiency. The flat tire will be the most expensive single item in the woodshed.

Quantum mechanics is fascinating. I love it. But for woods use, good old Physics 101, "Simple Machines" such as levers and pulleys is far more useful!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

More woodshed

Progress continues. The rear beam is in place. To my horror I miscounted the number of squared beams we would need. So this morning there was some hasty improvisation.

I used Handy Bandy, the portable bandwaw, for this work, as a trial. You can see the unsquared log at center left. The posts have been smeared with used mtor oil, of which I have gallons. Come spring the offending log will be replaced. No time now. The front posts are in place but not filled in. They must be propped in place and then cut so as to have the same length. The holes, of course, are not uniformly deep, and the field measurement of the length (2.5m nonimal) is subject to many errors such as tape slip, so a bit of tuning is in order.

Handy Bandy worked quite well, but slow. It has a steel-cutting blade in it, and I am unable to locate a wood-cutting blade. I will have to get on the 'net for that. Most people use it for cutting pipes! But it may yet be a useful tool.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Woodshed vs. Winter

Winter is almost here. It freezes most clear mornings. The woodshed must be completed. Or at least cobbled together. I have abandoned the idea of setting the posts in concrete. But onward! The first thing to do is to finish sawing out the last few 8x8 (cm, of course) -- by a curious coincidence this is the same as a commercial 4x4 in this metrically benighted country. Anyway, you have seen the process before, but here is John sawing out a log.
Our trusty lumbermaker is doing quite well. And little Parsifal, the chain saw, is a real champ. After that session, we dug three holes. This is easy -- once you get past the first 10cm or so of tangled roots. After that, it was easy, with the clamshell digger.
And there is the first vertical post in place. More to go. This night, forecasting "rain and snow west of the Parks highway." Well, we are west of the Parks all right but not by much. My guess is rain. (I look at the radar).

It's a little tense. Usually it does not snow till about Nov 1.. But I have seen snow on the ground in mid-October. Let us hope.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fall is here, and almost past

If you go to the east coast of the USA, and especially the northeast, you will find all kinds of fall colors. Alaska, however, has only one fall color: yellow. The birches and the aspens turn yellow, and we have no maples to turn red. However, we have very pretty scenes.
I took this picture one cold morning (about 4C) by Little Lonely Lake. This is a mix of aspens and birches. They both turn yellow. A few bushes do go to red, but it is not obvious in the picture. Meanwhile there is little Lonely Lake itself:
I love shots with elaborate reflections, courtesy of Mother Nature, and this one has them all. Look at the cloud reflection!

As I write, the wind has been busy blowing off the leaves. Birches and aspens are ready for winter. My lilac tree is ignoring these warning signs. We will hope it is right. There are lots of things to do before winter sets in and I'd hate to be caught short. I am not quite up to snuff yet and my son has been helping, thank heavens.

Usually in Alaska snow does not come until the end of October. But again, you do not know. This is the "cold" season of the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation), which should be caled tridecadal. There is a La Nina running, so who knows!