A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I came, I sawed, I conquered

A few weeks ago my cousin Sam picked out a chainsaw (a Husqvarna 55, or a "Husky" as we woodsmen call them) and some gear for me. At first I was a bit skeptical - it seemed like a lot of gear. However, the more I read and talked to people, the more I realized that this was a dangerous tool, and that I'd better Wear the Gear.

This is me wearing the gear. Laugh all you want, but I felt pretty tough in my Kevlar chaps.

Managing a chainsaw requires some common sense (as the manual indicates here) but there are some good lessons and practises to learn before trying anything.

I had already read the manual, but then our good neighbour Wally came over and reinforced the advice:

  • don't fall a tree when it's windy, or gusty - it can completely surprise you by pushing it in an unexpected direction
  • don't run the saw during hot weather - sparks from the muffler can easily start a fire
  • clear an escape route
  • keep children and dogs far far far away
  • don't over-exert yourself - the saw is heavy (~30lbs) and your holding your arms at odd angles
  • expect to be scared a few times

My first tree falling did end up scaring me. I'd picked a falling direction, and also ensured that if it were to fall in the opposite direction the way was clear. An opposite direction fall is always possible, as the "hinge" you create by notching on one side then cutting into the other promotes a fall along a 180-degree path. Your goal is to have it fall towards the notch. In this case, however, I'd mis-judged the tree's centre of gravity, and late into the cut towards the notch, the tree leaned backwards. Not a lot, but enough to pinch the saw blade. With my heart thumping in my ears and sweat burning my eyes (Kevlar chaps may look cool, but they are hot!) I flicked the saw's switch to off and leaned against the tree towards the notch, trying to pry the saw out. The tree was heavy (I'd guess over 500 lbs) and not easily swayed, but I was first able to get the bar out, then another push freed the chain too - somehow without damaging it. The tree then fell, exactly away from where I'd intended. All this happened in about 5 seconds.

I recovered by picking and eating some nearby Saskatoon-berries. (Joanne's right - they are pulpy, mealy, seedy and taste vaguely of pine tar, yet they are delicious!) I was then able to limb the fallen tree, gather up the logs, and do the same to a second tree that DID fall where I'd planned.

So some lessons from my first tree-falling outing:

  • chainsaws don't start when the switch is in the STOP position (it took me 30 minutes of frustration to figure this one out - incidentally, I also have trouble getting my cards into ATMs the right way around)
  • chainsaws are very heavy - my arms were shaking after this hour of work
  • newly cut trees, and thus their logs, are also very heavy - I'd estimate that a log is twice as heavy when it's fresh as opposed to when it's had a year to dry
  • work in cool weather
  • ALWAYS make sure the opposite falling direction is clear - I knew this before, but know I really know it
  • limb the tree before bucking it - logs with big branches are that much harder to handle

I have a lot of trees to clear, but I'll be waiting for cooler weather. There's no rush - we have stockpiles of beetle-killed pine all over, good enough for ten years of firewood we figure - so the only urgency is to clear land for whatever beast Joanne come home with next.


  1. Very nice Erich, I like the co-ordinated orange helmet, chaps and chainsaw! It's a good idea to take care - you only want to cut the trees, not yourself. Happy sawing!

  2. Thanks Nicola!

    The camera missed the subtle detail - who knew there were three (that I know of) different shades of neon orange?

  3. Love the gear.

    He is a lumberjack and he's ok...

    I did a lot of woodcutting in my youth, actually - my house was half-heated by a wood furnace.

    Two items of advice.

    1) Don't try to get a chainsaw unstuck by running it out (i.e. pulling the trigger). Kick-back could be very dangerous. Sounds like you didn't do that, so that's good.

    2) Pine for firewood? Stick with hardwood. Pine burns super-fast and can actually be a hazard if it has too much sap.

  4. Hi Adam...

    1) the kickback thing is very well covered in the manual, and I'm being overly cautious (I think) in completely avoiding the kickback area

    2) Unfortunately we only have two kinds of tree on our property - pine (all beetle killed or on their way) and Trembling Aspen (aka Quaking Aspen, or poplar as the locals call it - it's actually an interesting tree, and I'll blog about it one day). Beetle killed pine is often very resinous as the tree tries to defend itself during it's death throes by pushing the little critters out with sap... Our fireplace does have a very controllable flue, though, and I've not had it overheat yet - I'll be watching though... The Aspen is probably considered a hardwood, but it's a tricky. It's known for not being very flammable, and thus often used for matchsticks! We can only use it when the fire's been going for a while. (We do have some birch and spruce, but I'm not eager to cut those down.)