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Human chainsaw

 
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Luke Mitchell wrote:Those fibers are sometimes called "straps" and are the origin of the expression "strapping lad" (meaning "strong young man", for those unfamiliar with the expression). Cutting the straps with an axe was considered to be the hardest of the tasks when splitting logs.



Cheers Luke - I didn’t know that and love to find out the meanings to words.

And here’s some straps!


And my trusty tool for removing them. I’m sure the original lads would have used a much bigger axe. I love this little hand axe and keep it super sharp. Makes this kind of work easy.



 
Edward Norton
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Nancy Reading wrote:Thanks for sharing this Edward - very impressed also by that saw.
It's nice to know the tree was obviously felled for a good reason. I was going to ask if you had a use for a big pipe or trough when I saw that hollow trunk, but I guess you're past that stage now.



Cheers Nancy. That’s not a bad idea. I’ll have to mull it over as nothing obvious pops into my head. I’m impressed with the saw but I have thought many times, I wish I had an electric chainsaw! It’s the best saw I’ve used but it’s still hard work.
 
Edward Norton
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C. Letellier wrote:Another type of system to look at.  Froe and Maul.





Cheers. If I had a couple of acres of woodland to manage I’d definitely add a Froe to my arsenal. I’d also want a small blacksmithing workshop and make one myself. It looks like a good beginners tool to make.
 
Edward Norton
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This might sound a little odd, but one thing that got me really excited was the prospect of making a chopping block, something I could split wood on. I don’t have one, don’t have any trees on my urban property and one end of the cherry tree looked perfect. I had already spent three hours sawing up the bigger one into 18 inch sections and then splitting for firewood, so figured it would be the last task today. It took me nearly an hour and I did wish I had a chainsaw. The wood here was a lot harder and I knew it was good as all the sawdust was white - no red rotten heart wood.



Eventually I had a big chunk that I could use for a chopping block.



It’s 18 inches across and just over two foot high, to heavy to lift but I can roll it. I’ll bury one end and give me a level surface about 18 inches of the ground, which is about right for my height.

I was so happy to see the beautiful clean wood, I pressed on and split the rest. I went for a line that passed between the fork. It took forever to get the first wedge in and I ended up with two right next to each other before a hairline crack opened up for a third wedge six inches away. It took over an hour to work my way along. About two thirds of the way along it started to deviate and twist around a large knot. Even though I had a good split right along one side, I had to roll it over and work along the fracture on the other side before it eventually fell in two. There were lots of straps.



I think I have just over six feet before it starts twisting. I’d love to get two boards, six feet long, two inches deep and full width, which is just under 16 inches once the bark is removed. I have plans for a rocket mass heater in the basement and would love to use the boards for a corner bench. The issue I have is I don’t have a sawmill or a chain saw. So what next apart from cross cutting to give me two six foot sections? I have a saw and two axes . . . I guess I’m going to need a froe and draw knife?
 
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Are you saying you want to make two boards, or just want to flatten the one side and leave the other side rounded? If you want to make boards, I'm afraid you have a lot of work ahead. You would either saw it into boards, or use an axe to chop away most of the cant. If you just want to flatten one side, you can do that with an axe and plane and straight edge. I'm not sure how you would use a drawknife or froe in either scenario, though.
 
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I feel like I've seen a split log half with one end in some kind of a brace or a jack off the ground being split again with a froe to make boards. I'll see if I can find some photos, and I've never done it. I actually can't imagine running a froe through that though.

I think traditionally to get the most stable lumber out of a log by riving one would not try to use full width but instead split again into quarters and then eighths, and so on.

I want a chopping block too... I've been using an old half-rotted igo board, but it's way too low.

edit: Found a picture, looks like a much smaller log, but this is what I remember seeing. I think there's even a BB for building a lumber processing station with a riving brake.
042934a739261d150e98a629a8233cc0.jpg
using a riving brake
using a riving brake
 
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You have some discussion about chain saws in here, but appear to be adverse to gas units.  I find I use both, depending on condition.  I must say, I was surprised when the local power company service truck showed up to remove a tree on the line and the fellow pulled out a Milwaukee electric chain saw.  Apparently, they have changed over from gas saws and find the battery powered unit has all the power they need for basic cleanup!

I have had very good luck with the power and longevity of the Milwaukee lines (no ties to the company, just personal experience), and have found electric chain saws much easier to control since I can adjust the chain speed and still get good cuts.  Remember, it does require lubrication, so you aren't completely divorced from petroleum products.

As far as getting more logs in your stash, if you find some you want to have milled, check with your local co-op (or Permies) contacts and see if you don't have a small portable mill in your area.  Commercial loggers and mills are very wary of logs with unknown origins, but the little guys are sometimes set up with specialty blades for just that purpose.
 
Edward Norton
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Thanks chaps for the feedback. I’m definitely a total greenhorn and your answers are a great help.

I thought with the right tools I could flatten the split face and then make a parallel split , say three inches down and have a nice board to work with, which after processing should be about two inches thick. I also thought I could do this with hand tools, but that is a big leap from where I am now. There’s plenty of videos using what are considered primitive technologies, not a great description, but they’re mostly dealing with well seasoned softwood blow downs. This is very green hardwood and much bigger. There a far higher number of videos of people doing just what I want in under twenty minutes using a chainsaw. Ho hum . . .

As for milling . . . I have first hand experience on why mills don’t like urban / garden timber. So far I’ve discovered four lumps of metal.





Good to know about riving, I’ll add it to my growing glossary which recently includes yarding and bucking.

And I don’t have any local co-op or permies contacts, something I need to fix, but much like this problem, I’m a bit clueless as where to start.

 
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Randy Butler wrote:Commercial loggers and mills are very wary of logs with unknown origins, but the little guys are sometimes set up with specialty blades for just that purpose.

For good reason! My neighbor with a mill bought a quality metal detector after running into a decorative bracket someone had hung off a tree and forgotten to remove - the tree had grown completely over it and he broke several teeth on his big blade. Luckily it was the sort of blade that he could replace teeth on, but it still cost him a half a day removing, fixing and remounting the blade!
 
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Hey I see portable milling on Craigslist from time to time. It wouldn't hurt to drop an ad on there in the services wanted section. But if you are finding metal...

 
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Ouch. That will sure mess up a saw. Possibly a face if a chainsaw kicks back.
 
Edward Norton
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Just found this interesting Blog post

This looks a lot what I’m trying to do. They advise working with the wood while it’s still wet. Alas, my log has just had a full day of baking sun.

 
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Good work on splitting that log. It looks like you have a decent chunk of wood to work with there.

How easy did you find the straight section to split? Assuming it is reasonably clean grain, you might be able to run another split parallel to the one you've already made, giving you a rough board that could be flattened with a plane/sander/router sled.

There is obviously some risk in attempting this as it's harder to steer a split made with wedges than one made with a froe. Perhaps scribing a line and running down it with careful axe blows, giving you somewhere to seat the wedges (like a stonemason does) might help a little.

Alternatively, a you could try and hew the sides flat with your axe. I think it would take you a long time to reach a board of 2 or 3", and arguably it's a waste of wood, but it would be a good way to develop a skill.

As for the wood being wet/green, I would imagine it will take more than a few sunny days to dry it out. It will dry much faster now that it has been split but the centre of each half-round will still be quite protected

I also appreciate your excitement for a chopping block! I liberated my last one from a woodland on our way back from a trip to the mountains - we had a tiny garden and only a couple of small trees.
 
Jordan Holland
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If you look at the pictures of riving so far, you may notice something they all have in common: They are splitting down the middle. From my experiences with logs and shakes, this is basically essential. If you try to split a thinner piece from a thicker piece, what almost always happens is the thinner piece gets thinner and thinner until it tapers to nothing. I imagine this is due to flexure. The piece that is flexing the most tears the fibers away more or something. Even trying to go down the middle can sometimes do this, probably due to the fact the wood is not perfectly homogenous and even if sized the same, one side may be more rigid than the other. If you look at the fourth picture down on the link above, it appears that this is happening even though they started dead center on the end. You are always at the mercy of the wood. I suppose it could be possible to calculate the exact center of rigidity of a half-round, and maybe there would be a better chance of it splitting straight, but there's still that x-factor that may pop up. I don't even know what type of equation that would take to calculate. Or maybe there are people out there with so much experience they have found it by trial and error. I haven't experimented with trying to find out myself, after doing it enough to realize it didn't work the way I wanted. Perhaps there's also a critical mass where the piece is so thick that there is so little flexure it may split true. I've never tried anything too large, for fear of wasting it.

To anyone who has not used a froe, I can say the thought of trying to split a log with one does not tempt me much. It might be handy to start a solid, straight split on the end, to be replaced by wedges. But to drive one down a log would very likely be impossible from all the use I have experienced. I usually split three foot red oak pieces, and it is one of the most abusive tools on my hands and wrists I know. I usually break a round into fourths or eighths with an axe first. The wood splits easily enough that one hit from an axe can split it. The froe is much more work. I have found I do not want a solidly mounted handle in a froe. The handle is mounted 90 degrees to the direction of impact from the mallet. A hit to the back of the blade creates terrible shock side to side in the handle. A handle that barely touches the eye helps prevent this. After the blade is driven flush into the wood, I lower the handle halfway and use one hand on top and the other on the bottom to wrench the two pieces apart. It usually doesn't work fully, so it must be twisted back and driven deeper and twisted again. Often there are little knots or stringers holding things together, or it simply doesn't want to split, and must be cut. This is the worst part. Hitting the protruding end of the froe makes the handle end (and handle) want to violently move upwards with the same ferocity as you hit downwards to drive it through the wood. About an hour is all I can take at once, and my hands and wrists will be sore and numb. I can definitely see nerve damage being an issue if done a lot, unless the wood is much easier to split than I use. I have seen some softwoods, like cedars, in boards that split extremely easily with a hatchet, but we don't have any here for me to have tried on a larger scale. I imagine cherry would be rather tough with a froe, especially 16".

And think, if people were willing to take a saw and cut the entire length of a log multiple times to make boards in yesteryears, it is likely because it was faster/easier/better than riving them. Food for thought.
 
Luke Mitchell
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Jordan Holland wrote:If you look at the pictures of riving so far, you may notice something they all have in common: They are splitting down the middle. From my experiences with logs and shakes, this is basically essential. If you try to split a thinner piece from a thicker piece, what almost always happens is the thinner piece gets thinner and thinner until it tapers to nothing.



I've had this experience as well - although I have managed to make shorter boards on one or two occasions. I believe that is possible to run a second, parallel split given 3 things:

1) very straight, clean-grained wood
2) the splits are made several inches apart, ideally an inch or two further than the desired thickness of the board to allow extra material to remove and flatten the board
3) a bit of luck!

Splitting in shorter sections may be easier. I've not attempted to make boards longer than about 4'.

Jordan Holland wrote:
To anyone who has not used a froe, I can say the thought of trying to split a log with one does not tempt me much.  



I had similar thoughts! Using a froe on smaller rounds can be quite unpleasant and I typically opt to use my axe if possible. Using a froe on longer lengths does teach you to control the direction of the split - but it isn't easy and, as you say, it is hard on the wrists.

A long length of hardwood or a piece of steel that can be inserted into the (wedged) split and force applied laterally to steer the split might be useful (which is some of the function of a froe) but I don't think it would get you very far as the tool for starting the split.

Jordan Holland wrote:
And think, if people were willing to take a saw and cut the entire length of a log multiple times to make boards in yesteryears, it is likely because it was faster/easier/better than riving them. Food for thought.



A good observation. Sawing does provide some advantages that offset the extra effort: any log can be sawn, regardless of grain; there is less cleaning up (and this waste) and boards can be made at a precise thickness, to suit their desired use. I agree in general though.

Finally, a video of someone making short planks using subsequent splits. He talks about the importance of straight grained logs and wedge placement at the 11:30ish mark.

 
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Would a riven board be significantly stronger than a sawn dimensional equivalent given that it is not being cut through its grains?
 
L. Johnson
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Coydon Wallham wrote:Would a riven board be significantly stronger than a sawn dimensional equivalent given that it is not being cut through its grains?



The theory is yes, but more stable than strong. The main advantage of riving is getting extremely dimensionally stable wood. You end up wasting a lot of material in riving. That's why round wood is even better for structural work. Just harder to work with.
 
Jordan Holland
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L. Johnson wrote:

Coydon Wallham wrote:Would a riven board be significantly stronger than a sawn dimensional equivalent given that it is not being cut through its grains?



The theory is yes, but more stable than strong. The main advantage of riving is getting extremely dimensionally stable wood. You end up wasting a lot of material in riving. That's why round wood is even better for structural work. Just harder to work with.



And if a board is riven, and then planed so the sides are perfectly flat and true, it will basically have the same cuts through the grain as one that had been sawn in the first place. Of note is also the tendency for rough split surfaces to rot less quickly because cutting through the fibers to make the sides perfectly flat gives many opportinities for water to be absorbed deep into the wood due to capillary action, since it is the ends of fibers that most readily absorb water.
 
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Jordan Holland wrote:Of note is also the tendency for rough split surfaces to rot less quickly because cutting through the fibers to make the sides perfectly flat gives many opportinities for water to be absorbed deep into the wood due to capillary action, since it is the ends of fibers that most readily absorb water.


I've heard this too but don't the torn/ripped rough fibers still have just as many exposed holes that can capillarilly absorb water?
 
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Returning to the original question about cutting big logs without a chainsaw. Back in 1989 I was a cook on horsepack trips into the Wyoming wilderness. The two outfitters were contracted with the Forest Service to clear the trails we used, and since it was designated wilderness no power tools were allowed. They had a two-person crosscut saw strapped to one of the mules. Every time we came across a log, they dismounted, took off the saw, and cut the log in no time. Counting the time to start a chainsaw, fuel it, oil it, etc., I swear the two-person saw was faster. It takes practice, though. I did some cuts with one of them, and I was lousy at it, couldn't get the timing right.

Anyway, if you're set on not using a chainsaw, get a good two-person saw, find a partner, and practice. You'll cut through the logs quickly.

I checked out a few Youtube videos of people using two-person saws. It strikes me that some of them are working too hard, not letting the saw do the work. I like the rhythm that these two have:
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:

Jordan Holland wrote:Of note is also the tendency for rough split surfaces to rot less quickly because cutting through the fibers to make the sides perfectly flat gives many opportinities for water to be absorbed deep into the wood due to capillary action, since it is the ends of fibers that most readily absorb water.


I've heard this too but don't the torn/ripped rough fibers still have just as many exposed holes that can capillarilly absorb water?



Overall there would probably be about the same amount, but the pores would be mostly at the ends on one that's riven. I saw an excellent example on a video of some people in the UK who built a period building with the facade shakes being riven and the other side of the roof being sawn. You could actually see on the underside where the water had soaked all the way through the sawn ones but not the riven ones.
 
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Randy Eggert wrote:
It strikes me that some of them are working too hard, not letting the saw do the work.


The cutting teeth on those saws generally have a rather shallow angle of cut as they are meant to simply slice the ends of the fibers while it is the job of the rakers to clear the severed fibers. On most antique saws I have seen, the rakers are too long. If they are too long, they will try to act as cutters, and since they do not have the proper profile for cutting, they dig in and make it much harder to use. This is a likely reason some people may be working too hard. Another is if there is not enough set to the teeth there can be too much friction on the blade. People often underestimate how well hand tools can work because they have never used one that was properly set up.
 
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Pearl Sutton wrote:Edward!
Money making opportunity! Find out what sizes people on permies need, and sell cuts :D
Cherry wood is SO beautiful!  Imagine wood spoons out of cherry....
I know there is a wood turner local to me who would probably buy wood like that if it were here, bet there are some near you.



I have a desk and matching dresser made of cherry that I made several years ago.
I personally cringe at the thought of those nice logs going up in smoke.
I'd wonder about finding someone with a portable lumber mill.  Or maybe get them hauled to a mill.
 
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Randy Eggert wrote:Returning to the original question about cutting big logs without a chainsaw. Back in 1989 I was a cook on horsepack trips into the Wyoming wilderness. The two outfitters were contracted with the Forest Service to clear the trails we used, and since it was designated wilderness no power tools were allowed. They had a two-person crosscut saw strapped to one of the mules. Every time we came across a log, they dismounted, took off the saw, and cut the log in no time. Counting the time to start a chainsaw, fuel it, oil it, etc., I swear the two-person saw was faster. It takes practice, though. I did some cuts with one of them, and I was lousy at it, couldn't get the timing right.

Anyway, if you're set on not using a chainsaw, get a good two-person saw, find a partner, and practice. You'll cut through the logs quickly.

I checked out a few Youtube videos of people using two-person saws. It strikes me that some of them are working too hard, not letting the saw do the work. I like the rhythm that these two have:


I think in Edward's case, the smaller 1.5 person crosscut saws would offer better functionality. They are the same shape as the 2 man above, but a bit more than half as long and the handle can be moved from the far end (for when you do have 2 people) to just out from the main handle (to give extra leverage for a single person utilizing the saw). I found a decent one for $30, then one in better shape for $70. The key is to be able to sharpen them properly, a disappearing art. The USDA FS had an excellent PDF all about these saws and the method of tuning/sharpening them to make them "sing", but the link to it has broken in the last half year. I hope the forest service isn't selling out to Stihl or DeWalt or something to meet it's wilderness needs. Mine are in okay shape, but I think they need a bit of work to "sing". I'd post a picture of them if my new phone's camera didn't suck at night...
 
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I think you can see the hole at the end- the peg handle unscrews and can be moved there.
ACTIVATE TEAM CROSSCUT POWERS!
IMG_20220831_165941.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20220831_165941.jpg]
 
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Nancy Reading wrote:Thanks for sharing this Edward - very impressed also by that saw.
It's nice to know the tree was obviously felled for a good reason. I was going to ask if you had a use for a big pipe or trough when I saw that hollow trunk, but I guess you're past that stage now.



I haven’t been able to get this thought out of my head. I really like the idea of making a water trough and there’s a Badge Bit . . .

So I’m going to use half for a bench, three log style using the large hollow off cuts as supports. As they’re hollow it will make nice shelter for wildlife, especially amphibians.

And then make a trough from the other half. It will be a massive birdbath as I don’t have livestock. My mind is bussing with other uses. I was reminded yesterday that in permaculture everything should have multiple uses.

I’ve nearly moved both loads of chip, so I’ll be signing up for more with logs and see what comes next.
 
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Phil Swindler wrote:
I have a desk and matching dresser made of cherry that I made several years ago.
I personally cringe at the thought of those nice logs going up in smoke.
I'd wonder about finding someone with a portable lumber mill.  Or maybe get them hauled to a mill.



There’s too much metal buried for me to risk using a mill. Instead, I’ll be making some garden furniture - an oversized bird bath water trough and a three log bench.
 
L. Johnson
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Location: Japan, zone 9a/b, annual rainfall 2550mm, avg temp 1.5-32 C
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I was looking through here and re-read our earlier discussion and realized we didn't really talk about old-school human powered milling!

There are some wonderful illustrations of how folks used to rip-saw boards in the olden days.

Wikipedia has two good articles here:

The saw pit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saw_pit


And the whip saw: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whipsaw
 
My pie came with a little toothpic holding up this tiny ad:
full time farm crew job w/ housing
https://permies.com/t/178213/jobs-offered/experiences/full-time-farm-crew-member
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