Felling Follies

By , April 21, 2012

As so often happens with my firewood harvesting, a recent felling effort turned into a “situation,” dangerous and frustrating at the time, but not without its humorous aspects after the fact.

The birch grew at an angle over a steep slope on the homestead. Its bole rose about 15 feet or so, then split into two main branches, both of which have entangled in surrounding trees. I knew it would likely hang up if I tried to fell it. I decided to get up into the crotch and cut off the main branches, then fell the remaining stump.

Because of the slope, the crotch between the two branches stood 20-30 feet over the ground beneath it, as the lumberjack falls. Loathe to test this distance myself, I took necessary precautions. I threw a safety line up over the crotch, and secured one end to a nearby tree. I have a sectioned tree ladder that snugs up against the object to be climbed with webbing straps. I set it up and strapped it down as well as I could. I made a loop in the safety line and attached the clip of my safety harness to it. I finally felt safe to climb up to the crotch with my bow saw.

Once I got there, I found the angles were bad. It’s not an easy thing to cling to that ladder. It’s designed for scaling, not for standing on while working. I had to hug the tree, rest my body against its sloping bole, reach out and saw in ridiculously short strokes.

I immediately began rocking the tree more than it seemed I should; this gave me pause. I continued sawing, working on creating a wedge in one of the large branches. Despite my restrictions, I made surprisingly good progress. I discovered why as soon as the wedge popped out.

The branch was hollow. Likely, the entire tree was. I was high in an unstable tree, monkeying around in a way that could bring the whole thing down under me unexpectedly. Time to leave.

I clambered down, removed my ladder, and accessed the situation. I decided that if I felled the tree at the proper angle, the weight would fall against the wedged branch, which would likely collapse inward. The tree might pivot on the other branch as it fell, and drop through a gap in the forest.

I set to work on my face cut, but the weight of the tree soon jammed the blade, trapping the saw. I swung the safety line up slope, secured it to another tree, and threw my weight onto it, hoping the saw would drop out. No good. I hiked back to the cabin, and soon returned with a smaller bow saw and my felling ax.

I can often cut out a jammed saw with a second saw, but I couldn’t keep my footing on the steep slope well enough to cut carefully, freeing the saw without banging it up. I gave up, went around the tree, and began sawing there.

I didn’t hope to cut the tree down with such a small saw. I was just keeping busy while considering my next move. I was shocked to hear a deep cracking sound from the bole of the tree. I seemed to be making progress, so I continued.

I alternated between chopping and sawing until the stump had been cut almost all the way through. I scooped out handfuls of rotten wood from the hollow so I could see the cut more clearly. Every additional loud crack sent me scurrying away, to either lean on the safety line again, or to cautiously return for more cutting.

I found that by hanging on the safety line in rhythm with the bouncing tree, I could work on pulling the weight off center. It took a long time, but finally the shifting weight broke the upper branches. Then, in a startling rush, the tree collapsed; the notched branch broke as I’d predicted, falling uphill but not toward me, where I cowered, safely shielded by three other trees. The other branch crashed down as well, followed immediately by the trunk.

I didn’t time the job, but it took me most of the afternoon. As I gathered my tools and headed for home, I felt exhilarated, ready to celebrate another successful, if complicated, felling.

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