Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Portable Sawmill 101: Step by Step Basics

This is a photo- documentation of Carl cutting 407 board feet of 2x4s out of a white pine log that was about 3 feet in diameter and 10 or 12 feet long.

1) He used the tractor to pull the sizable log down off the hill from where the tree was cut.

2) He loaded the log onto the sawmill using a lifting device which is attached to the mill.

3) The chainsaw had to be used to cut out a chunk that wasn't going to fit through.

4) The rounded edges with bark, called slabs, were shaved off by the sawmill blade. This required the log to be rotated several times. Finally a square of log remained. This was to become the boards.(Note- Carl had to cut off another chunk with his chainsaw in these photos- I can't remember why.)

5) Boards 2 inches thick were cut by setting adjusting the mill and then running the squared off log through. Each run produced one board. The boards were stacked to the side, and then run through again, this time set up on their side to cut the 4 inch width, thus making them 2x4s. All the scraps were set aside in a pile and either became 1 inch stickers (used to seperate the layers when stacking the boards) or will become bonfire wood this fall. (Come over and get warm!)

As the 2x4s came off the mill, Carl stacked them neatly to the side, and it was my job to load them in the truck, take them to the piles and stack neatly.

Before Carl started, he judged by the look of the log that it would have 400 board feet of lumber. At the end, we measured 407 board feet cut. Pretty close, Mr. Rice!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Don't hate me because my stacks are beautiful

One more day left of cutting and stacking. Carl still rocks steady, and so does Moonie, as it turns out. She's a killer stacker helper. And thank god for some stacking help... I'm still having a blast.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday evening at quittin time

If the weather holds, we have about 2 more days of sawing and stacking. Before he left, Carl pulled 5 logs off the hill to start on first thing, and there are still more logs up there. I'm having a blast! Check out my stacks! (Oh yeah, I'm getting seriously worked trying to keep up with Carl...)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Man Can Saw: Carl Rice 649-0345

And he rolls with a cooler of sharable cold drinks and a sack of cookies and cakes in his truck at all times. He is learning me how to level stacking frames and stack the boards right, and I am trying my darnedest to keep up. Last night when I got home I stumbled up the stairs and fell into the bed...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stacking some boards, in my Jonathan Youngs

Carl Rice arrived Wednesday afternoon at the land to set up his portable sawmill. Thursday and Friday were spent getting the logs down off the hill and beginning to saw them into gorgeous boards that will become part of my house. A few things about Carl: a) He's awesome, from the solid facial chops to the various mountain oriented skills he has mastered, b) He works at a pace that I am really enjoying- somehow the ratio of work to rest in a day matches my natural rhythm, so working together has been really enjoyable for me, c) He is a great conversationalist, engaging in topics ranging from logistics of logging, to wine making and proofing homebrew with cornmeal, to cock fighting. Carl has done several extra things for me that he didn't have to do, such as cutting down a large black walnut, cutting posts for frames for the stacks, helping us stack, and teaching me how to do things properly- because he "likes to help someone who is helping themself." I am finding him to be very hard working and generous.
Today Moonie and I, with the mentoring and assistance of Carl, stacked the first batch of walnut. I got a load of sticker wood from Randall (up Spring Creek) yesterday so that Carl wouldn't have to spend time and wood cutting stickers. We used those to lay between the layers of boards to create air flow for proper drying. We are stacking the boards on a southwestern facing hill so they will hopefully dry nicely. Enjoy the photodocumentation of the first segment of sawmilling at my place. There will be more action photos of Carl next week when we get back to work.

Note: I did stack boards in my Jonathan Youngs today, and as pimpin' and stylin' as they were, they are starting to make my feet hurt due to not offering enough arch support... Sometimes it hurts to look good.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

News Alert: Osprey on Spring Creek

The other night at Nauni's birthday dinner, my uncle stepped out onto the deck to warm up from the AC. He gazed out over the creek and spotted a very large bird on a rock. Little did he know that would become the central focus of the evening (second to my grandmother's 83rd, of course). I immediately identified the osprey by its black cheek stripes- dramatic across its white head. It had a large silver fish in it talons, and let me tell you, readers, that bird went ahead and settled in with that fish. It started eating it at about 8:00 at night, and I am here to report that bird was still out there eating that fish in the middle of the muddy, rain swollen creek 12 hours later. We have never seen an osprey back here in the creek. They prefer larger bodies of water- like the the ocean or the French Broad or Beaver Lake. I have seen them sometimes at the Laurel River (my friend Worm told me once in an email from the war in Afganastan that there was some sort of osprey release program at the Laurel River back in '94- who knows what kind of info that is, but usually I have found his tall tales to be true....) I guess it was just a birthday treat of sorts for Nauni that this guy or gal came up the little creek for an all night long dinner.
The osprey took flight away from its feasting spot at approximately 9:30 am.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Visitors

The first visitor of the day arrived with a thump on the window. 'Dammit!' I thought, 'Another fallen soldier.' I stepped outside to see who it was. Sure enough, he (or she) was laying awkwardly on the deck underneath the downstairs window which was casting a perfect reflection of the blue morning sky. It was none other than the Lousiana Waterthrush who I have been watching and listening to all season. (At least that is the best guess my identification efforts have allowed). He (or she) flew all the way up here from Central America this spring to nest and mate in the creek bank right behind this house. What a journey to accomplish just to fly into some stupid window. Well, it was alive but stunned, so I brought it inside to give it a protected place to try to recover. It was really out of it and its eyes looked strange. I left it alone to chill out for a few hours and then checked on it. It was looking much better so I picked it up to test its response. (S)he was responsive enough to fly out of the box and into the room. Crap. I gently grabbed it so I could take it outside, and in the process a few tail feathers came out. Dammit- that really sucked. I decided to let it go anyways. It knows what to do for itself better than I do. It flew up to a hemlock branch, and I am hoping for the best for that little beauty. I hope the tail feather thing doesn't throw off the flight equilibrium too much.

Visitor number 2 (pun intended) quickly mosied by me up at the land this afternoon when I was taking a sweaty break from mowing and reading an article about chainsaw sharpening. I noticed some odd movement by my feet and looked up from my reading in time to spot a shiny black dung beetle busily rolling a turd ball down to god-knows-where.

It made me think of Jessie because she had an epic dream about an oversized beetle. Well this beetle was not oversized, but the dookie turd it was rolling along was fairly epic. I immediately wondered: whose dookie is that? Could it be mine? That's kind of gross. But I doubt it's mine because I did not drop a turd up where that beetle was coming from. Maybe it was a dookie collaboration of the two beagles that have been running deer in big circles through the woods for the past week...

There is rarely a dull moment.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Day I Became a Lumberjack

The day I became a lumberjack was Saturday, August 14, 2010. As most of you readers know, I have been fairly intensely involved all year with clearing the bottom 2 acres of the land I purchased last November. Most recently has been clearing the actual house site and dappling in some selective logging in and behind the house site for lumber for the house. Up to this point I have had the help of various kind men-folk to cut down the large trees in preparation for the portable sawmill which will be arriving to cut the logs this week or next (I hope...) I have been familiarizing myself with the dangerous art of chainsaw operation for the past year, gradually increasing the size and severity of the cutting I do. When I decided that a very large black walnut which was in the site of the future orchard needed to come down- for the use of lumber and also so it wouldn't inhibit the growth of my future fruit- I decided I wanted to be the one who cut it. It was leaning downhill aimed for a clearing, so I thought it would be a safe first large tree to fell my own self. My trusty neighbor and friend Todd, who I figure can do pretty much any practical thing (and who is an Amercian Hero in his own right) came to assist me as a mentor. (He actually also cut down 2 other large white pine first for lumber for me). Todd hooked me up with his larger chainsaw and with some very good and safe practical instructions for felling the tree. He stopped for a moment to appreciate the tree before we got started, which is the type of the thing that makes him a true American Hero. He rigged some chains and a come along to the tree and the base of another nearby tree just in case the black walnut I was cutting started falling in a way that would damage a large nearby hickory we could redirect it.
I cut the notch in the front of the tree, getting used to Todd's big chainsaw and using heightened awareness to watch for any movement or sounds coming from the tree. After that, I went around to the back of the tree and cut from the back- opposite and parallel to the notch in the front. The saw was heavy and difficult for me to maneuver. Halfway through the process I almost stopped and asked Todd to take over because I had fear pulsing through my veins and sweat pouring from me. I was scared of the mass of the tree and the force with which it would fall. As soon as it started moving, I stepped back and watched it fall.
The sound was tremendous. It fell slowly, cracking loudly many times and finally crashing to the earth with the force of an army of grown male sasquatch. My eyes popped out and looked at the tree, then Todd and I finally said, "Holy shit." The placement of the drop was perfect, and I have my mentor and Jesus himself to thank for that. Not a leaf of the nearby hickory was touched. The only thing that was imperfect was that the base of the old boy walnut split pretty significantly for 6-ish feet- but I am hoping Carl (the sawmill man) can cut boards anyways from that section.
It was a big day for me. 10 years ago- hell, 5 years ago- hell, one year ago, I would have never imagined myself lumberjacking. Seriously. When did this happen? I was visiting with Susie and Todd and G.C. in G.C.'s tree-top shanty in the woods this evening and we were talking about me cutting down the big tree. All the clearing and cutting down of trees and brush burning is such a destructive phase of the house building and farm starting process. I could not do this forever- it is difficult emotionally and physically to cut down trees and thereby disturb (or arguably destroy) the section of forest I am working in. But on some level, it is deeply satisfying to be involved in a process where I am required to take full responsibility for all that goes in to building a home and living somewhere. The project is schooling me about what it means to live as a human the way we do here in these parts, and I am accountable for all the decisions the dictate what is done to and for the land here in this spot I am calling my own. It seems like stepping deeper into human-ness than I have been before.

For the record, I counted 38 rings in the cut tree. And that doesn't include the center where the bad split occurred. I am guessing the tree was close to 50 years old. Next time I go out there, I will cut the logs and get a clean cut and will be able to count all the rings. My mentor taught me that it is polite and respectful to abstain from using chainsaws and other motorized tools on Sundays- so I listen to him and didn't do it today. After all, he is a kick ass mentor...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Slash and Burn Operation?

I think what I am doing borderlines a practice of what is called slash and burn. We are cutting down trees (selectively), burning the tops and branches, stacking some for future firewood, and preparing some to be milled into wood for my house. So, yes, there is some slashing, and yes, there is a bit of burning. So therefore my work buddy Paul can call my operation a slash and burn and not be incorrect. However, the definition in my dictionary (which is Random House Webster's College Dictionary) is: 1. of or noting a method of agriculture in the tropics in which vegetation is felled and burned, the land is cropped for a few years, then the forest is allowed to reinvade. 2. unnecessarily destructive or extreme.

I could argue that my operation is not really a slash and burn because a) it is not occurring in the tropics, b) while the cleared land will be used for agriculture, the forest will not be allowed to reinvade in a few years (depending on what is consided a few), and c) I do not consider the clearing unnecessarily destructive or extreme (although that is subject to opinion.)

Enough of semantics, let's get on to the good stuff. Assuming you the reader agrees with me in that my clearing work is not unnecessarily destructive or extreme, and that I am making "progress" in selectively clearing a site where I can live and raise food, this past weekend was another good push in the project. Friday I had Zoe and PJ helping me clean up from the last big wave of work. We moved and re-stacked some firewood, cleared debris from some of the trees that were felled last time, burned a bunch of brush, cut a couple of small trees down and cleared them out of the site, and then relaxed to shoot the breeze, laugh a lot, and shoot upside down plastic plant pots with my Mossberg 20 gauge (single shot pump action shotgun.) It was a fun, hot, long, hard and productive day. Thanks Zoe and PJ!

Saturday was another big day of cutting down trees and cleaning up the debris. White pines are messy trees to cut down! Lots and lots of clean up ensues. Eduard was the tireless Belgium work horse who did all the cutting, and we were joined by some impromptu helpers and visitors who came, hung out, chilled and pitched in a hand when they could. We got 2 more large white pines down and almost ready for the mill. I am hoping to get all the wood for the siding of the house from the white pines and wood for window framing and such from the black walnuts. I will probably have wood left over, so hit me with ideas (like does anyone want to buy any wood for any projects of your own- cheaper than the lumber yard?)

At the end of the day, Eduard shot all the upside down plastic pot targets down, and we chilled and ate and drank. Once again, I am so grateful for my friends and family who come and help and support me while I am working on making my home. It is really fun to have people come by and get involved in one way or another. Jenna is a really good commentator to goings-on and keeps everyone entertained and informed of the events of the day. Todd randomly shows up with much needed equipment to help at just the right moments. KB shows up from various states and countries periodically to help with whatever is going on at the time. Eduard of course does very heavy big labor work horse-like things and sings while doing it. It is a down-right scene over there... Enjoy the pictures:

Here's Zoe. She's tough. Maybe because her momma had to slide down a snowy hill in Maine on a sled while in labor with her to get to the road to go to the hospital...

Here's PJ. He wears all manners of do-rags (like this one inspired by Tupac). He dreams of someday building a 6-story tower to live in...

Here's me, tidying up the burn pile at the end of the day.

Some stacks of wood:

Target shooting at the end of the day is like the carrot for these work horses.

For Meg

serotinal: pertaining to or occurring in late summer
(Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1991)

ps More to come soon about the exciting work progress on the land...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Joyner Community Garden

At the risk of getting a little slap on the wrist for nosying around in someone else's garden, I am going to tell it all here on the public domain of our generation. I had a heyday yesterday in West Asheville's Joyner Community Garden, one of Bountiful Cities' projects. I was working landscaping across the street, with the Dirty Hoes of course, and at lunch, I performed a little self guided tour of what proved to be a rather impressive community garden. Contrary to what I might accidentally think of when I think of community gardens (weeds, chaos, bermuda grass, etc.), this garden was a meandering little world of abundance and wonder. I was delighted at every turn to discover a diversity of healthy looking plants tucked into every (relatively) neat little nook and cranny of the place. First I followed my excitement into one of the sweet potato patches and sneaked a little peek under the many layers of various organic matters- to find a plethora of stout and intact white sweet potatoes- pretty admirable for Asheville. (Don't worry, Community Gardeners, if you are reading this- I didn't damage the plants or steal any of the tubers...)

Then I cruised around and oohed and aahed over what I believe was orach, or climbing spinach- it was fresh and vibrant in its summery succulence.

My biggest surprise was when I rambled into the bean patch to find rows of seriously LONG green and purple beans. I picked three and wore them as jewlery. (To make up for it, I pulled a few weeds here and there.)

Also present in the garden were tomatoes, sunflowers, various herbs, squash of some sort and giant muppet-like amaranths of various colors and shapes. I am tickled pink that this community garden is so lovely and productive. Years back I sat on the board of M.A.G.I.C. Gardens as a student representative of Warren Wilson College. M.A.G.I.C.(Mountain Area Gardeners in Communities) was a long-standing non-profit organization whose mission was to create and support community gardening in Asheville. Sadly the organization folded after 15 good years of work. For the past I don't know how many years, Bountiful Cities has been the main force in the Asheville community gardening scene, and I have to say it seems they are rockin' it. Good work, Bountiful Cities!