If you haven’t seen it, you really should – Werner Herzog’s “Happy People“, a year long look into the lives of trappers in Siberia. Go ahead and skip to minute five where our hero starts his summer tasks by felling a tree; three years after watching this clip, I finally started my own much discussed attempt at making skis with just wedges and edges. Conclusions: that guy is pretty bad ass. After hours of reading up on the topic (good site, good article), as well as tangential topics such as the finish ski troops, we decided on a hickory tree and a basic approach. Hickory’s strong tensile grain, not only encourages the tree to grow straight but also to have a lot of strength when under duress. My skiing technique is always under duress. Axes were sharpened. David and I rented a PATC Cabin in the Michaux state forest. With temperatures dipping down to about ten degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 12 Celsius, we piled up ten blanks and dozens of layers to to keep our meals, digits and wills from freezing over.
I am cheating here, usually I publish only finished projects – since taking a tree from its roots to my feet involves a lot of steps and as it turns out a lot to learn I decided to publish the harvesting work as a separate post. A 19th century wood shop would often be full of apprentices converting logs into planks, and craftsmen finishing the job. I guess I am breaking this post along a similar grain – with a lot of work on either end
Paperwork, Felling, and staying alive
First step, secured a permit from the state to legal and honestly harvest this tree. Second, step – find a hickory tree, far from the trail, close to the car; Not too big, Not too small; with space to fall and not too tall. We chopped a face cut about half way through the tree in the directions in which we wanted it too fall. Next, we relieved the pressure off the back side, careful chopping a notch above our face cut. After about 40 minutes with the axe, the tree remained standing on a surprisingly little amount of wood – finally, with one hallowing blow it slid from the stump and fell to the forest floor.
We used the ax to buck the log into several eight feet pieces. With a short intermission to tend to our blisters, sores and fatigue, we began the process of hewing. First “v” shaped cuts were cut along the log – than we used the carpenters ax and a broad ax to remove sap wood converting the log from round to square.
The thick layer of ice provided an efficient way to move the logs out of the forest, past our cabin and upon David’s car. After slipping on the ice hills a dozen times or more it was nice to finally use the slippery stuff to my advantage. With a dozen scratches on my back from slipping and sliding on the ice – this may have been the trip from cramp-ons. In the background you can see our temporary abode, a 1930’s log cabin.
I went way back in the archive to figure this out – the woodwright shop – season 1, episode 2 . David and I drove a series of wedges into the log, progressively allowing the grains to pull apart. I fastened a bunch of wooden wedged and “bashed” one in after another. On our first try the log did not separate with nearly the grace that Roy Underhill manages but alas we got pieces. Shockingly, I did not strike my own hand with a sledge hammer. Also after smashing wedge to sledge for an hour or so, I am remind that of how lucky I am to have such understanding neighbors.
Finally to the tools that I understand – among st the shavings I started with the scrub plane to bring the board down to a flat surface free of axe strokes. Clearly I have a lot to learn about doing this work with a broad ax. Next steps – true these pieces up and get them bent.
Update: See some of the projects made so far: