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Do you have an old-fashioned sawbuck? Do you have ANY sawbuck? How'd you make it? Let us see it!  RSS feed

 
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I grew up in the boreal forest of Alaska.  Everybody lived in a cabin; everybody heated with wood.  Our first winter (cabin was new and it sucked, and also it got down to sixty below and stayed there) we burned 20 cords of wood.  My sisters like to tell me I was in puberty before I learned that my name wasn't "Fill the woodbox!"

Every cabin in town had a sawbuck in the yard, or what Google tells me is a sawbuck; only I never heard that word.  Everybody called them saw horses.  But a saw horse, properly speaking, is flat on top so you can rest flat trestles and workpieces on it.  A saw buck is a notched contraption for holding round poles and logs while you buck them up into shorter pieces for firewood.  (It's also handy for holding any pole or log still and secure while you work on it; a lot of cabin builders I know make big ones so they can do all their notch work at a convenient height.) 

But anyway, some of these sawbucks were 80 years old in the 1970s; or looked it; the cabins themselves were that old, but like the moose-hanging racks and outhouses and smokehouses, the sawbucks had probably rotted out and fallen over and been rebuilt a few times over the years.  I didn't pay much attention; they were just there.  The one in our yard was something my mom slammed together from black spruce poles and cabin spikes, modeled after the ones she saw around town.  I haven't thought about them for more than forty years, until yesterday, when I bought a chainsaw.  Suddenly, I'm like "Hey, I need a sawhorse, only, no, one of the kind made out of poles with the notch on top to hold stuff while you cut it up."

I figured Permies would be all over this; it seems like basic yard gear for any homestead where trees grow.  But oddly neither "sawhorse" nor "sawbuck" turn up more than a few peripheral mentions in our search feature. 

And then when I turned to the broader internet, I discovered a number of bizarre and puzzling things. 

First of all, everybody makes these out of dimensional lumber now, I guess because it's easier, and possibly because if you do it right, a sawbuck made from flat boards can be designed to hinge and fold flat for storage or transport.  Most everything you see online now is a contraption that looks like this:



But this is all wrong! For one thing, the notch on top is supposed to be a support cradle, not a deep canal into which your work piece is plunged.  If you have a 24 inch log or  six inch log or a two inch pole, four  inches of v-notch sticking up will hold any of them securely enough under gravity to cut; there's no need to build a 24" deep V that you then have to lift everything into and out of.  And yet, that's how all the modern designs seem to be made. 

Much more fundamentally, there are only two crosses (triangle frames).  Every sawbuck in my little town had at least three (for supporting longer workpieces) and many had four.  And there seems to be a modern misunderstanding about how to use a sawbuck as well, or at least, how to make one so as to avoid dropping log chunks on your feet.  I took this illustration from Preparing Wood For Your Wood Stove at the University of Missouri Cooperative Extension, where they say:

The last cut on any log should be made between the cross pieces; first, a down cut until it just starts to pinch and then an up cut to sever the two parts. Be sure your sawbuck allows clearance from the bottom for your saw.



But if your sawbuck has at least three triangle frames, you place two of them slightly closer together than the longest firebox on your homestead (usually a barrel stove or log furnace).  Then you do all of your cutting off the end of the sawbuck (so that gravity drops the cut pieces on your growing unstacked woodpile and not on your feet, which are semi-safely under the sawbuck) and at the last cut, you've still got a piece that is equal parts balanced on the last two frames of your sawbuck (held in place by gravity and your non-dominant hand) while you cut the other half off with the saw controlled by your dominant hand as you've been doing all along.  None of the cooperative extension madness of doing undercuts in the middle of your sawbuck and having two simultaneous chunks falling on your feet while you try to skip away with a running chainsaw in your hand.  WTF?

So yeah, a sawbuck should always have at least three frames (usually not equally spaced) or four (if your obsessive-compulsive disorder insists on equal spacing and you still need the close spacing at the working end for cutting shorter wood, or you're designing for lefties and righties to use the same sawbuck and it's only approachable from one side (some designs have bracing that makes it harder to approach from the other).

So that's all bad enough but what puzzled me worse was that I couldn't hardly find any examples or pictures online of sawbucks made of round wood -- the poles from your own forest.  I did find this one which is really terrible:



The only thing right about that is that it's got a horizontal "spine" but that should be a pole, not a huge great honkin' log.  Otherwise it's ugly, badly made, the notch poles stick up too far and aren't close enough to the ends, and it's just not right.

And then I found this pretty decent video on Youtube:



It suffers from some of the flaws I'm complaining about above (only two frames, notch poles stick a little too far up) but it's well-made and solid.  The dude also "cheats" by using half-cut timbers for bracing that he freehand mills with his chainsaw, which makes his build both harder (that kind of milling is not easy to do, though he makes it look so) and easier (to put together).  Plus, he uses threaded bolts and lagbolts, which makes for a very solid and well-made end product.  But the sawbucks of my childhood were spiked together with what were essentially long nails, and I think that may account for some of the design differences such as the spine pole right below the V notches.  I'd very much like to see a video or instruction set on building one that way with the less-fancy hardware, if anybody knows of such a thing. 

So anyway, what do you think?  Do you have a sawbuck?  How do you use it?  Did you make it?  How is it designed?  What's it made out of?  What does it look like?  Take a picture, post that here!  Do you know of any good internet resources on sawbucks?  Post them!  In my opinion Permies badly needs a definitive thread on sawbucks.  And because this is Permies, the closer to natural building we can get, the better.  Round wood construction, joinery tricks, simple fasteners, I don't know.  But this used to be something that every homesteader with an axe and a hand saw would MacGuyver up within twenty feet of his cabin door.  There have to be resources on this!  Is there something in the Foxfire books?  Is there a definitive article in a 1972 Mother Earth News?  C'mon, we can pull this together...



 
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I am not a huge fan of the sawbuck because it requires lifting the wood onto the sawbuck in the first place. This is not too bad if the wood is smaller in size, or softwood which is most often the case in Alaska, but where hardwood firewood rules, it is a strenuous aspect of firewooding. Most people just dispense with the lifting and buck the firewood right up to short lengths (16 inches) right on the pile with the chainsaw for this reason.

If a person is going to use a sawbuck, why use a chainsaw at all though? Why not just buy a cordwood saw and use one of them to cross cut the pieces of firewood? They can be found for cheap used, and still are being built new. With the right size wood, they are very fast, and a very efficient way to produce firewood.


 
Travis Johnson
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Myself, I cheat. I know all the virtues of having a piece of firewood at waist height for optimum cutting with a chainsaw though.

No dulling of the saw by running it into the dirt.
No bending over.
No fatigue from awkward cuts.
No rolling of wood onto you.
No pinching of the chainsaw chain

There is a lot to be said for getting the wood right up high where a person can see what they are doing, but getting that wood onto the sawbuck in the first place is a person-killer! So I use my log loader. Doing so I figure I can buck up firewood 3 times faster. I recognize that not everyone has one, but as a family we really have come a long ways in firewood production. Years ago having 12 steps in the firewood process, to now being done almost all mechanically. Once I get my firewood chunker, I will be 100% mechanical.


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Dan Boone
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Haha!  Travis, you have just brilliantly illustrated what I am coming to consider a law of Permies.com, which is that when people ask for information on doing a thing, what they will most often get instead is a bunch of strong and smart feedback that boils down to "Why in the heck would you want to do that when you could do something else instead?" And indeed, there often does exist a series of good answers to that question. 

I really do think the humble sawbuck is a forgotten technology that has advantages that will appeal to many in the Permies community, and since there do not appear to be any good information sources about sawbucks either here at Permies or on the broader internet that Google will easily reveal, I hope to make this thread into that resource. 

Travis Johnson wrote:I am not a huge fan of the sawbuck because it requires lifting the wood onto the sawbuck in the first place. This is not too bad if the wood is smaller in size, or softwood which is most often the case in Alaska, but where hardwood firewood rules, it is a strenuous aspect of firewooding.



This is a fair point, and one that my parents "cheated" on by the liberal use of child labor.  They would stand braced against the sawbuck with the running chainsaw in hand and feet well placed underneath, an elder child loading logs onto the sawbuck from the other side and a younger child (always me) clearing away the pile of dropped wood in periodic frenzies during short impatient breaks when it got too tall.  Thus they avoided all of the back-destroying bending and lifting part of the process, though they did trade it for what must have been a brain-melting amount of whining, bitching, and complaining.

Travis Johnson wrote:Most people just dispense with the lifting and buck the firewood right up to short lengths (16 inches) right on the pile with the chainsaw for this reason.



I would say that this is true; I certainly saw a lot of it done, although not by my parents, who considered it -- rightfully, I think -- too unsafe.  We were 200 air miles from the nearest doctor or medical facility, with no road access at all except in summertime, and no modern communications except an emergency radio link of dubious reliability and the possibility of summoning an Air National Guard helicopter airlift; as a consequence, my parents were rather big on safety and we were all raised to take a little more time and think things through, avoiding inherently chaotic situations entirely.  To this day, I pretty much don't mess with any sport that relies on inducing adrenaline through fear, or on reducing the coefficient of friction between my feet and the ground (skiing, skating) -- and I've never had a broken bone or a messed up joint.  But cutting firewood on a pile quickly creates a messy situation, with pieces everywhere, your feet in unstable situations, your body out of balance, and that infernal machine in an ever-changing position with respect to your tender body parts.  A gasoline chainsaw is in my opinion the single most dangerous human-portable tool on any homestead, with the possible exception of a properly-sharpened double-bitted axe; and I exclude the latter (reluctantly) because the skill necessary to sharpen it properly almost always comes with enough experience to render it reasonably safe in use.  Emphatically not so with a chainsaw!

With all of their care, my parents managed a couple of seriously bloody wounds each from chainsaws over the years they cut all that firewood, and went through boxes of butterfly bandages (the poor man's stitches).  They were lucky never to lose a finger or a toe.  But it was always while doing something bizarre and random -- notchwork on a cabin build at a funny angle while working on a ladder, that kind of stuff.  The grunt work of cutting up firewood, they reduced to a system and kept it safe by using a sawbuck and keeping the saw well away from their extremities with a sawbuck leg between the work and their own leg.  I don't think that was at all crazy, or a bad tradeoff for extra labor under the circumstances.

Also, remember that:

1) The sawbuck is, originally, tech for cutting up firewood with hand saws.  You can't easily use a flat-bladed hand saw or a bowsaw down on the ground in a woodpile; you need the pole in the air and ideally a bit of gravity assist to cut wood this way.  Early chainsaws, too, were huge heavy things mostly fit for felling trees; some of them even had a handle on the tip of the bar for a second man, like a crosscut felling saw.  They wouldn't have worked without a sawbuck either for this task.

2) Not everybody wants a chainsaw.   The safety issues are real, and the gasoline ones are noisy and smelly.  The electric ones -- the good ones anyway -- are really quite ridiculously expensive.

3) Not everybody can afford a chainsaw.  Travis, you're awash in farm and logging equipment; and indeed the amount of sheer raw mechanical capital in the rich modern world is astounding. But not everybody is that rich or that modern.  We've got plenty of folks here on Permies who by choice or necessity are trying to get by with hand tools, sometimes because that's literally all they have.  Plus, it's a really good question how sustainable all the motorized equipment is going to be going forward in the long run.  Paying attention to the infrastructure that makes chores like cutting up firewood with a bowsaw tolerable doesn't strike me as a completely insane project.

4) Bucking firewood is not the only reason to have a sawbuck in your yard.  There are plenty of woodworking tasks that involve taking a pole or a log and "doing something" to it.  Stripping the bark, cutting notches, splitting it in half, cutting a point on end, I could go on and on.  Many of these tasks can be done down on the ground if you are young and juicy and have a perfect back, but it's often worth the extra step of lifting the log (one end at a time, it's not so bad) up onto the sawbuck (where you can even secure it with a spike, if gravity and the v-notches aren't sufficient) so that you can work on it at a convenient height.  The sawbuck is, essentially, a workbench for roundwood. 

Travis Johnson wrote:If a person is going to use a sawbuck, why use a chainsaw at all though? Why not just buy a cordwood saw and use one of them to cross cut the pieces of firewood? They can be found for cheap used, and still are being built new. With the right size wood, they are very fast, and a very efficient way to produce firewood.




There were two or three of these infernal machines in the little town I grew up in, where they were called "buzz saws".  My father was actually half-owner of one that was a real antique, although I only recall him using it once.  A buzz saw has very little to do with solving the problem for which the sawbuck is the solution (how to hold logs securely at working height for processing with hand tools whether powered or unpowered) but it truly is a wondrous device for turning poles into firewood, if you have no regard whatsoever for human safety.  The one my father had an interest in had no blade guards whatsoever, and the belt drive on it ran to a drum he put on the rear axle of his '49 Ford flatbed truck.  The day he ran it, we children were banished to inside the cabin on pain of pain, while he and mom cut up four cords of wood in very short order.  But he literally wouldn't let us out of doors while it was spinning.  (He did power it down several times while they took smoke breaks and we cleared wood away from their work areas.) 

Travis, I have enjoyed and admired your threads about logging equipment.  If I won the lottery and had a few million bucks to "invest", I'd probably buy one of those really capable things (I don't know the proper terminology) that grabs a tree with a robot saw gripping head and chops it and limbs it and stacks it on the trailer -- and then advertise my services around here for Eastern Red Cedar removal, which people pay serious money for.  With a minion running beside me towing a huge shredder and chip trailer for all the trees too small for limbing/stacking, I'd get paid to haul away cedar poles and endless wood chips, both of which I could sell for serious money.  Of course, it doesn't pencil out when you figure in the cost of capital, or everybody would be doing it, but it sure would be fun!  But my point is this: here at Permies, if nowhere else, we ought to be able to explore questions of "how do I do things the old-fashioned way?" without having to defend the notion that we might want or even need to do things the old-fashioned way.   Not everybody is sat on a place with a motorized tool for every task, nor prepared to invest in all those motorized tools. 

That said, here's my very specific situation that's got me thinking about sawbucks.

I don't heat with wood, nor am I likely to do so until the zombie apocalypse hits.  In Central Oklahoma our heating needs are minimal, and our current housing is designed to use a very small amount of delivered natural gas to do it, which we sometimes supplement with electric spot heat (actually cheaper at times).  So I don't do firewood, and (given my traumatic childhood experiences) I'm perfectly happy to continue with that.

However, we live on 40 acres of cross-timbers deciduous mixed-hardwood forest (some parts returning from former pasture and heavy abuse by oil development) so we are utterly awash in wood of all sizes from sapling poles to ancient fallen hardwood trees multiple feet in diameter.  And I have essentially nothing but hand tools to manage it with, plus one feeble battery chainsaw and (as of a few days ago) a brand new small gasoline chainsaw.  I'm not going to be cutting firewood, but I have been and will continue to be cutting limbs and encroaching trees at the fringes of the yard, doing trail management, and pulling selected logs and poles out of the woods to make fence poles and structural members for various small outbuildings.  (I really need to get a poultry coop built!)  If I cut down a red cedar tree and limb it and drag it back into the yard and it's fourteen feet long and I decide I want to cut two feet of flaring butt off and then cut it into two six foot poles, sure I can cut it down on the dirt with my new chainsaw, but I don't want to!  Or I can awkwardly throw one end up on a sawhorse or a bucket or something and try to make a square cut at a 45 degree angle, not easy nor safe with nothing to hold the pole in place.  Having a sawbuck to hold it while I make the cuts seems by far the best option.  Remember I'm dragging this log out of the woods by hand ... I don't have a tractor!  So the additional quantum of labor to put the log up on the sawbuck really doesn't matter much in the grand scheme; it's probably less than I'll spend struggling with the uncontrolled log while cutting it another way.

We also have a lot of quite special tree species on the property with wood that's sought after for one reason or another.  I don't have a sawmill or any immediate hope of having one, but I do want to build a little woodshed and start drying some choice logs of Osage Orange, Persimmon, Honey Locust, Hickory, and Oak, against the day that my brother-in-law gets his set up.  Being able to set a log up at working height and study it before cutting off the curved and knotted and rotten/split bits will make that somewhat easier and more efficient too.  Also, I've got a smoker, so having wood at a convenient height for chunking it up (with whatever saw) for the smoker doesn't seem like a terrible idea either.

So I'm being stubborn here.  I maintain that the humble sawbuck still has a place in the world, and I'm fixin' to build me one.  I'd love for like-minded Permies, if there are any, to share what they know: designs, experience, videos, whatever!
 
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I have a Smart-Holder "saw-horse", it seems to be available under many brands (a "your brand here" Chinese made thing).
Here's a link to one that says Stihl...Sthil - Smart Holder sawhorse

I like it since you only need to lift one end at a time to load it, and can cut basically any lengths you desire, working from both ends towards the clamp/dog thingy, then kick out the last log, repeat...
Logs fall along the length of the original log, so the pile is spread out a bit, and there's really no legs or braces to bounce a log into your legs or feet.
It's made of steel tubing, fairly lightweight, and folds up flat for storage and transport, which is nice.

I'm not cutting cords of wood at a time, mostly just dealing with blow-downs and prunings, and logs gleaned from the transfer station... that others cut just small enough to fit into their cars. There's the occasional felling, but then I find it is easier to buck it in place while the limbs are held up by the trunk, and vice versa. I'm on small suburban lots, so I'm only ever 100 yards from where it needs to end up, not skidding logs from way out in the woods...
 
Travis Johnson
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Dan Boone wrote:Haha!  Travis, you have just brilliantly illustrated what I am coming to consider a law of Permies.com, which is that when people ask for information on doing a thing, what they will most often get instead is a bunch of strong and smart feedback that boils down to "Why in the heck would you want to do that when you could do something else instead?"



That is not exclusive to Permies, but describes all internet chat rooms, everywhere! :-)

You asked:
"So anyway, what do you think?  Do you have a sawbuck?  How do you use it?  Did you make it?  How is it designed?  What's it made out of?  What does it look like?  Take a picture, post that here!  Do you know of any good internet resources on sawbucks?  Post them!  In my opinion Permies badly needs a definitive thread on sawbucks.

I answered your questions, describing in detail a variation of a sawbuck, which is the Cordwood Saw (as we call them here as well, Buzz Saws).

I also answered by experience some of the major downfalls of the sawbuck, which was the requirement of lifting wood onto the sawbuck.

After two thousand posts on here I am pretty certain that when people think of me they do not think of me as being negative in demeanor at all, but one thing that really irks me about some of homesteading (in particular certain magazines), they always speak in glossy terms of something like breeds of sheep, a type of implement, or even the lowly sawbuck, but fail to mention the downfalls of those things. This does a HUGE disservice to the people who are considering buying them. They need to know both the pros and cons of something to make informed decisions.

In the case of the sawbuck, the homesteader who is felling smaller wood can note my experience with larger firewood, or hardwood firewood and then determine it would work well for their softwood/smaller diameter firewood. Equally those with more mature trees, bad backs, or hardwoods can see that lifting that much wood is going to be problematic.

One thing I have NEVER forgotten is how much time everything takes. When I worked a full-time job, I had 1-1/2 days a week to get everything done I needed too around my farm (I go to church Sunday Mornings), not to mention family functions, rainy days, etc. There were few days to get a lot done. I lived for vacations and holidays so I could get even more things done. If everyone paints a glossy picture of everything homesteading as some magazines do, then poor homesteaders have a list a mile long of things they feel they have to build because they have not been told the limitations on those items.

I try to be tactful, but also honest.

A sawbuck can be handy for all the reasons I cited for using my log loader to lift a log off the ground for bucking. That being said, as dangerous as a chainsaw is (I spent 4 days in the hospital from a chainsaw cut to the forehead), when I worked full-time, I would not spend the time to build one. If I am going to get tired working, it is going to be from my saw spewing out sawdust, not lifting logs up high so I can cut them. But that is me, other people's situations are different.








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Dan Boone
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No worries, Travis! For what it’s worth I didn’t find your post at all negative, just coming from the very different place of a man solving a different set of problems with a radically different toolbox to attack them with. Where you stand depends on where you sit, as they say. I always enjoy your posts and usually they inspire some combination of admiration or toybox envy...
 
Travis Johnson
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Dan Boone wrote:No worries, Travis! For what it’s worth I didn’t find your post at all negative, just coming from the very different place of a man solving a different set of problems with a radically different toolbox to attack them with. Where you stand depends on where you sit, as they say. I always enjoy your posts and usually they inspire some combination of admiration or toybox envy...



It has taken me quite awhile to gather all this stuff up, but then I can also justify it with a some forested acres too. It is actually ironic as I say I am a sheep farmer (and I am), but acreage wise I have 3/4 of my land base in forest and only 1/4 in fields. Under USDA rules, farmers can log their land and still be considered a farm because inevitable farms will have forestland too. In Maine, the most forested state in the nation, we happen to have a lot of it.

But honestly it is "not all good"; I owe you an apology as I came across as harsh, and did not mean too.

This is not an excuse, but I have been working long days on one of my houses to get my family moved in by winter; fast approaching here in Maine, and from working there and cancer, I am very tired. As I type this it is early morning and I am not yet tired from working, so I must keep that in mind when replying. I would edit my post, but instead will let it ride, and state a pubic apology personally to you in the hopes that you accept it for my rather harsh words.

I hope you know that I always enjoyed your posts as well and actually wished you would post more on here as they always make me think. Should we ever meet in real life, I would apologize again more personally, shake your hand, and buy you a coffee.
 
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I need to make a sawbuck.  I made a couple of draw mules for bowl and spoon making but I use a large log section, turned on end, with a V cut in the top.  I don't have much access to small trees.  
 
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Howdy
Why not invent your own sawbuck?
We have a few different versions of timber jacks  here on the ranch in NM. I like the way they lift a log for cutting. Could you employ the lift idea in your saw buck design? I'm also thinking of the "log dogs" on a saw mill that lift the log onto the track. I don't know if you are up for the challenge of doing it in all round logs...  I imagine some pivot points, lever action...  Viola, log up at good cutting height.
Just working my imagination
Brian 
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Dan Boone
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Brian Rodgers wrote:Why not invent your own sawbuck?



Well, ultimately that's what every homesteader did -- whipped up something from the poles and logs that were handy, depending on whatever fasteners and joinery techniques they had available and were comfortable with.  But I am not particularly skilled at this sort of work, so I neither wish to reinvent the wheel nor to waste a lot of effort tinkering about at failed attempts that aren't structurally sound.

Plus, my dream for this thread is curatorial.  I'm hoping to get people to contribute their experiences and photographs of the sawbucks they have built or encountered.  Because I've found in my own memory one of those tiny lacunae of human technology so obscure that it has no fans, curators, or pages already on the vast internet.
 
Dan Boone
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Travis, apology accepted!  Although I insist none was necessary.

Travis Johnson wrote:It is actually ironic as I say I am a sheep farmer (and I am), but acreage wise I have 3/4 of my land base in forest and only 1/4 in fields. Under USDA rules, farmers can log their land and still be considered a farm because inevitable farms will have forestland too. In Maine, the most forested state in the nation, we happen to have a lot of it.



This reminds me of another difference in perspective that must make an enormous difference.  I've seen you post before about the pressure to make your land pay imposed by the tremendous property tax burden, and the forestry in particular that is a consequence of that tax pressure.  I have always been "impressed" by the incredible unmanaged mess that is this 40 acres I live on.  It's part of a section granted to my wife's great-grandparents after being force-marched to Oklahoma via the Trail Of Tears, so in status it's an individual allotment of Creek Nation Reserve land (think "Indian reservation, complete with tribal sovereignty").  That means, among other entertaining things, no property taxes.  It's not really suitable for farming (there's places where the green sandstone shines through to the sky) but managed right, it's good pasture land and would be excellent for agroforestry, since there are a ton of tree forage/fodder/mast crops that grow well here as well as graze.  Nobody remembers or can tell me what if anything was done on this land before about 1916 when the first oil well went in, but since then, it has just sat fallow, except for the few acres of gravel roads and pads where the oil was being pumped; those royalties are divided 16 ways from Sunday these days (2 wells still active) but the rest of the land has just been ignored except for a strip along the country road where various family houses have been built and lived in and in several cases abandoned or blown down by tornadoes over the years.  For a few decades there was a grazing lessee who ran cows on it and grazed some of the open areas down to the dirt, which caused a couple of ravines that run through the property to notch-cut down to bedrock; but more than half the property remains heavily wooded, and it's been more than ten years since the last cow went home and at least twenty years since that operator bothered to run a brush hog, so the pasture is growing back into forest pretty nicely now.  And in the wooded parts, the lack of forestry management is enough to make a grown man cry.  But until I came along with my silly hand tools, and other than letting a few tribal craftsmen cut Osage Orange for making bows, I don't think a tree had been cut on the property since my wife's father was working with the grazing lessee to get the grazing lease going sometime in the 1970s...
 
Travis Johnson
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Dan Boone wrote:

Brian Rodgers wrote:Why not invent your own sawbuck?

But I am not particularly skilled at this sort of work, so I neither wish to reinvent the wheel nor to waste a lot of effort tinkering about at failed attempts that aren't structurally sound.



No need too!!

Keep in mind all the problems we have today, our ancestors had, but instead of big expensive machinery to rely on, they had to do things by hand. A couple of quick ideas, and ones that are already proven are the parbuckle, and the gin-pole.

I use the Parbuckle to load logs onto my sawmill that are too big for my log loader to pick up. It is a simple thing. Two logs are used as ramps up on to the sawbuck, then a rope is run from the sawbuck itself, down around the log, then back to a point beyond the sawbuck. The rope can be pulled by man, horse, winch, tractor, or come-a-long. But by tugging on the rope, the parbuckle rolls the log up the ramp. Because it is rolling, it takes very little effort.

...

If a person has a sawbuck set up in a particular area, they could also set up a dedicated gin-pole. They are nothing more than a tree or pole stuck in the ground with a swivel and pivot point for a second pole. A winch, comealong, or rope lifts this second pole up like a crane. This lifts the heavy log while it is swung around onto the sawbuck. These were very, very common types of cranes used in granite quarries here in Maine.


A Parbuckle:





 
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Yes, we had a 'sawbuck' but I'm pretty sure called it a 'sawhorse'? for all of the seventies into the eighties.
Crossed oak poles at each end...a flat board to rest the log on and boards/poles as braces, etc.  I think there are pictures somewhere.....I seem to remember resting my foot on a board cross piece while cutting...it's been awhile now.

My biggest memory is of Steve carrying the log in from the woods on his shoulder and dropping it off onto the sawhorse (or onto a pile of logs), mostly what had been standing dead wood from the surrounding forest...back then he cut most of our wood with a bucksaw and sometimes we cut together with a crosscut saw.

I'm in physical therapy for shoulder issues by the way, forty years later and he just had three levels of spine fusion, so I'm not saying we were doing things the best way back then

 
Dan Boone
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Judith Browning wrote:Yes, we had a 'sawbuck' but I'm pretty sure called it a 'sawhorse'? for all of the seventies into the eighties.
Crossed oak poles at each end...a flat board to rest the log on and boards/poles as braces, etc.  I think there are pictures somewhere.....I seem to remember resting my foot on a board cross piece while cutting...it's been awhile now.



Same time frame, same nomenclature, same fuzziness, as my memories! If you come across those pictures, would love to see them.
 
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I was considering going to the Appalachia Museum later this week or early next. If the approaching hurricane permits. Now there is more incentive. Will keep my eyes open for sawbucks. This is a much needed topic.
 
Dan Boone
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Mike Barkley wrote:This is a much needed topic.



I know, right?  I think the way people trying to discuss it keep sliding off into the ditches of "a thousand other modern steel and motorized ways to handle wood" is proof that the very notion of the sawbuck has faded not just from the popular imagination, but even from the conceptual vocabulary of the kinds of hand-tools and roundwood, off-grid, self-sufficient homesteaders and builders and do-ers who frequent Permies. Which I think is a shame.  My notion of permaculture is all wrapped up in Mollison's idea of abundance.  And to me, abundance means meeting as many of your needs as you can from the produce of your own land.  A tool or a technology that you can make from what grows on your land that helps you work the stuff that grows on your land?  That's a tool in the permaculture toolbox.  In this case, apparently and much to my surprise, an almost-completely lost tool.  
 
Mike Barkley
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Just remembered ... daughter & I stayed here a couple days & then hiked to a remote old moonshiner's cabin last Thanksgiving weekend. Was awesome. Not the most detailed pic but I can verify it was very sturdy.



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My sawbuck works well except it does have the problems you mentioned of the upper "arms" being too long. That's a problem I have lived with and will correct on my next one. I don't use it for bucking much for the reasons people mentioned but it is ideal for bucking by hand which I do some.  It is wonderful for working a log with hand tools. I used dimensional lumber because it was what I had on hand.
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My sawbuck is pretty much like Ingram's in the photo.  I make them with long top pieces so I can pile in a huge bunch of smaller wood, like fir branches or small thinned trees up to 6ish inches diameter. (Fir limbs are like 'rocket fuel' in a wood cookstove, and are great when you want a quick, hot fire that goes away soon.)  It's annoying, slow, and dangerous to saw small stuff up on the ground, or in a pile on the ground.  If you put it in a big sawbuck made with long top arms you can safely process an enormous amount lickety-split, and when the area around the sawbuck gets too clogged up with wood you can just pick it up and move it over to a clear spot and keep going.  Big logs are safe and pretty easy to buck up on the ground--I wouldn't lift them into a buck, generally. 
 
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I don't heat with wood these days, or use a sawbuck, but back in the day, my family had a horrible x-shaped thing that could also be used for holding a 55-gallon drum horizontal about two feet off the ground. It was made out of angle iron, which made it even less useful for wood cutting.  It was so handy that we mostly bucked our wood on the ground, or the pile.
It's long gone, and good riddance. 😁
 
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I only use a sawbuck if I have a helper who is advancing the wood forward with each cut. I have a friend who has heated with wood from my demolitions for 20 years. He advances the wood and also turns it over with each movement so that I can see where the nails are. When cutting wood containing nails and screws, I almost always use my cordless Milwaukee fuel circular saw. Much faster than a chainsaw and it's not the end of the world if I hit a piece of metal with a Diablo blade. This has proved to be much faster than using a miter saw or radial arm saw.

We often get hardwood to his place in length of up to eight feet. For those, he advances the wood with each cut, but there's no need to look for nails. I only use my cordless ego chainsaw. No noise and smoke. When working alone, it's great that the saw can be set down and it's not idling. The cutting area is a very sheltered spot where there is usually no wind. If we were using gas, we would be breathing fumes constantly.
 
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I think we need one of these. My husband recently got his first chainsaw...he's never used one before, and it's a little electric. We've got a large pile of red alders to cut up. They're 2-7inches in diameter. They LOVE to roll when he's cutting them with the chainsaw. He hasn't discovered a way to stabilize the logs when sawing. They're all in a nice pile, facing the same direction, but he doesn't know how to keep them from rolling (any tip/stricks for stabalizing logs when cutting them in a pile? I see my dad doing it all the time, but I've never inspected his technique.) So far, my husband has been sticking them into a cinderblock so the cinderblock holds it. He cuts both sides of the log, chucks the cut piece, into the wheelbarrow for me to stack, and then puts the log back into the cinderblock to cut again. He's bending quite a bit doing this, and since the logs are light and small, I'm thinking a sawbuck would speed things up?
 
Glenn Ingram
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A sawbuck can help stabilize round wood; that's its job.  But if you are using a chainsaw, the teeth on the body of the saw should keep them from rolling on you.  Just cut the logs at the base of the blade if that makes sense.
 
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Nicole, that's exactly what I use my sawbuck with the long top arms for.  You jam in a huge pile of small stuff, all the way to the top, as tightly as you can pack it in, and you can safely slice through it all without it rolling all over, and the stuff is at working height so you're not bending over all the time.  If you alternate big ends and small ends it helps, and use the saw dogs to help suck the pile together as you cut.  Load it so the the logs are all even on one end, and hang them out one or two lengths worth that you are cutting.  The other end will be raggedy, but you can eyeball things so as to get the most efficient size cuts there too, and square that end up as you go.  Work in from each outside end, or the pile will imbalance and start falling off the longer end.  On my sawbuck I have marks for the length of wood I need, so once the wood is cut off the ends, I just follow the marks.  See how on the bucks above the arms are not even?  That's so you can cut the final cut between the narrow arms, which should give you exactly two lengths the right size with the last pieces still held securely.  One thing, sometimes I have to switch the side I'm cutting from to be clear of the arms because the bar on my saw is a little short and I run into an arm with the saw body, which is a nuisance, but just don't place your set-up where you can't do that, or use a saw with a longer bar.  I'm pretty small, so there's a limit to what I can control safely in the chainsaw department!  Using the sawbuck like this is just like slicing up a pile of carrots for stew. 
 
Dan Boone
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We're teasing some things out now about the evolution of sawbuck technology in the age of the chainsaw.  What makes no sense at all for cutting individual sticks of firewood with a hand saw (tall arms on the V, which make you raise each pole higher off the ground to set it on the sawbuck) makes perfect sense if you're cutting many poles at once with a chainsaw because the long arms let you basically build a woodpile in the air.  (Cutting a woodpile all at once on the ground with a chainsaw is dangerous because there's dirt under it and because the cut wood destroys your safe footing and because the cut or the uncut wood may foul your blade, causing kickbacks; cutting a woodpile all at once ANYWHERE with a handsaw is impossible.)  So the increased efficiency outweighs the tiny quantum of extra labor. 

(Of course lots of people DO cut many sticks of wood at once with a chainsaw while they lay all jumbled on the ground.  Doesn't make it safe, or smart.)

We're also seeing a lot of dimensional-lumber sawbucks, which makes sense because they are easier to design and tack together. 

I remain interested in roundwood designs, and both construction and use with hand tools/saws.  Thanks for all the feedback so far!
 
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