Get in the Groove - Chainsaw Talk

I couldn't resist featuring this post from Anna and Mark's WaldenEffect.org

Do it yourself plank production?
 ripping chain basic chart for chainsaw milling
 "When we first got our 039 Stihl chainsaw we also got a ripping chain with a special adjustable guide that connects to the chainsaw body. The guide helps to make even cuts when you want to make planks from a tree.

I think we cut a total of 15 planks from a pine tree that were each about 2 feet long. They worked good for our foot bridge, but the process was not easy.

We decided making our own planks was a bit too complex for our skill level, but if you've got the time and a remote location that makes delivery a challenge then maybe a chainsaw mill is an option worth considering."

Follow the title link to check out a valuable conversation thread in the comments.

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Working Wood for Gaynor

2010 was ages ago!  For many months I took on the role of doting handyman in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for my dear friend Gaynor and her two ageless Siamese cats, Oyster and Sosumi (named by an attorney).  I was connected to Gaynor through the eccentric artist and conservation botanist Bill Moye, who some readers are bound to know.

I have chosen a couple of highlight projects, with photos furnished by resident Williamsburg woodworker Japheth March.  In addition to the projects below I repaired furniture, doors, frames, windows, sills, screens, storm windows, sheds and sculptures; installed AC units in both vinyl and wood window openings; installed industrial metal shelving; replaced a vintage mail slot and light fixtures; weatherproofed a neighbor's faulty retaining wall; insulated the rear wall of the building adjacent to the mechanical room; cleared ancient doors, paint cans, debris and small corpses from the back yard; planted and transplanted various plants; and performed quite a few other sundry tasks . . .

Upstairs and downstairs radiator covers were built on the cheap from hardwood planks in a rustic style matching the detailed settling of the rest of the house.  The uncovered radiators had previously been a cause for annoyance under the kitchen table and behind the headboard of Gaynor's bed.  Apparently, the cats greatly enjoy the new heated surfaces, which do a proper job of dispersing heat rather than having it collect all in one place.

The tree surround and planter box were also rustic budget projects, assembled with minimal lengths of treated lumber.  My only regret was that I paid too little attention to the fasteners used in the tree surround, but functionality was our main concern.  As opposed to the previous tree surround which was easily pushed around by cars attempting to parallel park, the one is deeply anchored, set on stone and brick, and not going anywhere.  It was also expanded to give more room to the typically constricted roots of a suffering Brooklyn sidewalk tree.  Both the original planter and tree surround appeared fittingly weathered and eroded. I tried my best to impart this look upon the new pieces while ensuring a long lifespan.

Neither of these projects made use of reclaimed material. Unfortunately, time does not always allow for us to be choosy about the wood we use.  Now that I have a little workshop, I am on the lookout for wood to reclaim for use in future endeavors. If you run across wasting wood in Asheville, please let me know!
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EDIT: outdoor projects are heavily treated with Japheth's patented secret blend of Turpentine and Linseed Oil.


Don't Let This Happen to YOU!

Sunday I was on the way to pick up my mother's chainsaw from ACE Hardware in Weaverville.  If you don't know this already, Ed is the man! He can fix anything and he knows how to do it cheap and easy. Fast, cheap and easy should be impossible [2/3 law] but he had the repairs done in 48 hours.

Where was I? Right, on the way to pick up the chainsaw . . . and just around the corner form my driveway I notice a veritable tragedy that I have passed day after day.
Of course on weekdays I am never home during daylight hours so I have an excuse, but still I wish I had known about this sooner.  What's that? Just looks like an ordinary home, with an odd painterly aspect to the photo?  Okay, here is a closeup of that big fuzzy space taking up half of the front yard:
Don't let this happen to you!  Someone somewhere near you will certainly take away your dead wood for free before it goes to rot!  If you don't know anyone, tell me and if I can't come and get it myself, I will find someone for you!

I had a horrible imagining . . . back to the first image with the dumpster trailer in the foreground: there is a little orange loop sitting on the porch roof.  Without the aid of a super-expensive sawdust filter, you can clearly see that this is a power-cord attached to some sort of power-tool, a drill if memory serves.  I checked yesterday and the drill is still up there on the roof, after at least one night of heavy rain.  So I imagine: this homeowner cuts down the tree early in the fall of 2009, then moves up to a project on the roof, and falls to an untimely death in the back yard.  A total recluse living off the grid and having property taxes paid up years in advance, no one is the wiser as feral cats and squirrels feed off of the body until nothing remains but a pile of bones covered in crunchy leaves. Oh, and thus the tree rots in the front yard.

There are more likely explanations as to why a rotted out tree cut into two sections would be filling half of the front yard. 1) This tree was 'recently' felled, but was already rotting from the inside.  2) This is a serious procrastinator who is constantly promising to get to it later. Obviously it is a combination of the two (or my twisted story) — who leaves a drill attached to a power cord on the roof for four days in the rain?

How can you tell your tree is dead or dying?  A) It will stop producing leaves.  B) Large sections of bark may be peeling away / eaten away by tiny bugs or mold. If this happens, find someone who can take care of it for you. Like I said, if you know someone with a CHAINSAW they might do it FOR NEXT TO NOTHING, especially if the wood is nice and thus valuable to someone WHO IS A WOODWORKER WITH POWER TOOLS. And also especially if they already owe you a favor for the time you babysat their kids and also that other time they picked you up from the hospital [HINT Sloan and Kat].

I don't think anyone died!
On Friday the trailer was gone.
Today the power cord is gone.
The rotten dead tree is still there
but my morbid imagination was clearly working overtime . . .

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Farewell to a Wonderful Workhorse

Well I did promise a post about my MVA (motor vehicle accident).  Can you tell I've been on the phone a lot with an insurance claim adjustor?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did borrow this wonderful workhorse my mother's Ford Ranger from time to time for travel and moving things, including wood.

Someone misread an exit from the highway and in a panic did jerk and swerve right into my path and that is all she wrote.  Knowing the age of the vehicle and seeing the damage firsthand, I can say with confidence that the offending driver's insurance company will junk it and opt to pay book, rather than springing for some very costly repairs.

Thankfully, even at six in the wee, my reflexes were primed at NYC bike messenger level and both of us were 'unhurt.'  Unhurt despite the crazy moments when I crunched the tail of the car and charged upon its whirling donut dance. Somehow we both skidded to the right shoulder completely out of the way of cars coming in behind us. And yet somehow traffic on the highway we had just exited eventually reached a 45 minute delay.  [This I learned from the receptionist at my new chiropractor! Oh, the irony.]

Kat was an angel and picked me up from the hospital and also took me out to empty personal effects.
Wipe away a tear.
Diagnosis: Whiplash

Pain is minor but still lingers and obviously doesn't mix well with my line of work.  48 hours later was the worst of it, as predicted.

I eat a ton of ibuprofen.

The chiropractor is recommending treatment far beyond my means: i.e. I can't afford to miss as many days from work.
Oh! His name is Dr. Bart at River Ridge Chiropractic and he is exceptional.

At present, the insurance company has furnished us with a rental. I won't say what it is, but it looks like a clown car, is bright white, and is named after a platonic solid.

EDIT: High Res Images from Kat


Secret Obsession: Reclaiming Cutoffs

It sounds like I'm talking about making a new pair of shorts, but I'm not.
That's fun too - my best pair of cutoffs used to be black corduroy pants.
In carpentry, cutoffs are scraps left over from a project, usually cut from dimensional lumber like two-bys or decking boards.  The most exciting scraps come from larger lumber and timbers.
(bookshelf from found wood)

here is my view across to the nearest mountain ridge
(Interesting . . . not only is my phone filled with sawdust -note fuzzballs- it has also started suffering from some serious data transfer disturbances.  YAY!)

So, I'm eying a stack of material by the driveway behind my new apartment, cutoffs from a deck project.  With only a drafting table and no chair
I need to build a floor-sitting table for reading, eating, writing, and surfing.
A three-point base is best since reclaimed material is often irregular.
Additional challenge: use the scraps as found - no cutting or sanding allowed.
this pile was left long ago when the decks were completed on the rowhouses along my driveway.

On closer inspection the wood is older and moldier than expected.
Even so, digging around yields results.
I come away with only an armload and leave the rest to the elements
(or someone more desperate than myself).
Some of the pieces I've chosen have tiny mold spots, but these boards are pressure treated so a wipe-down with mineral spirits should keep spores at bay.
Turpentine and other solvents are great for cleaning off dirt, grease and grime.
Plus they penetrate and then evaporate to expel much of the moisture gathered while sitting outside.
Downside: this also off-gases the harmful chemicals from your material
and of course the solvents themselves are mild neurotoxins.
I soak the endgrains and knotholes in case critters have gone in to lay eggs.
After the very thorough cleaning, I arrange the boards into a rough design layout.
Here, the layout is shown as I decide how the pieces will fit together to form a table.
"I love it when a plan comes together!"
—Colonel John 'Hannibal' Smith, The A-Team

I've banned cutting and the only leftover is 72" long, so finish nails are out of the question without material for nailers or blocking.
Pilots and countersinks are drilled to receive screws.As detailed as I can manage with poor lighting and a camera lens full of sawdust, screws are being set after the holes are piloted and countersunk.

Assembly provides a few hiccups but I get through it.
Technology failure continues to haunt me: the NiCad batteries are finally showing signs of memory burn and hold almost no charge at all.
Looks like I need to buy a new drill and upgrade to Lithium Ion.
The table is shown near completion (for this round of design).

The table is shown leaning against the wall to illustrate the method of framing, similar to concepts used in framing carpentry.
Now I have a place to sit and eat oatmeal at 5:30 every morning!
Here I can sit, eat, drink and surf.

It's a better bench than a table.  Tiny legs are in order; I will be vigilant.
Carpe lignum!


Wood Speaks

Thanks for peeking into my headspace.  It is mostly about wood and making anything with found material, but really it is about all that we can make with our own hands.

Wood speaks to me the most.  Trees are the anthropomorphs of the plant kingdom.  Like us, they break the plane of the horizon until they eventually fall and meet it, and then decompose into the same soil that we will also make of our lives.  They reach and explore in every direction, seek sunlight and food and water, and express endless varieties of emotions within their forms.

Dead wood is not really dead; it carries a living memory and the alive potential to be transformed by a force of nature, be that the sea or the human hand.  Sometimes wood tells us what it wants to be.  Sometimes I think I know what it wants to be, only  to realize that it's all in my head.   With patience, misunderstood wood will be heard correctly at a later time.  So yes, "seize the wood" when you find it, but also think on it.  Give the wood time to speak to you.

I left Brooklyn needing time to decompress and get my head straight.  My mother invited me to stay for awhile on her land South of Jefferson, NC.  Several projects awaited my arrival, but I was most excited about a tree that had suffered complete erosion of the bark around its base.  Having lost its connection with nurturing soil, this tree was now dead and ready to be transformed!

My mother noted that the tree was old, and described its location along the sloping pasture behind her house.  With so many unknowns, my head swam in the potential of this mysterious tree now large and dead. I imagined a tall straight poplar, the common specimen on that corner of her property.  I imagined razing it down to the height of a man and, centered upon that tall stump, forming the cuttings into a jungle gym with a secret room where my children would lay plans of mischief over visits to Oba's House.

I was a little disappointed to find that it was not a poplar but an apple tree, old indeed and large as they go with a 6 inch diameter, nine foot spread and a 13 foot crown.  After the initial letdown, I decided it should be made into sculpture. I drew the apple in the twilight.  I ran through a few ideas and sketched one out.  To be honest, I was never wholly inspired.  Also, I sensed that my mother wouldn't have the patience for me to play around with it when there were more important tasks at hand: barns to be mended, moldy palettes to be taken to the dump, new recycled palettes to be fetched and laid down, holes to be dug for soil testing, stones to be cleared from a field and hay to be unloaded, loaded, transported, unloaded and loaded again on three separate occasions.

In the end, I didn't make anything of the apple tree by November when I found work in Asheville.  I left several projects unstarted or unfinished and I became a framing carpenter.  Working my new grueling 9 to 5 (in bed by nine to wake at five) time passed quickly and Thanksgiving was fast approaching.  Having borrowed the Ford Ranger for travel, I eventually heard what the wood should be - it wanted to be taken to Wortroot, for the Solstice bonfire.  Wortroot is wonderful farmland with a holler and a storied past, laying across state lines just North of Blountville, not far from Bristol.  It is now the site of a Winter Solstice tradition for our ever-expanding 'family,' a community that has been cultivated for decades in the foothills and mountains of Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina.

The day after Thanksgiving my son, seven, helped with the felling while my daughter, three, watched from a tiny yellow plastic chair.  We started by taking down the dimensions of the tree and truck bed, deciding on acceptable overhangs, and trimming down reachable branches.  For all cutting we used the Japanese-inspired Vaughan Bear Saw, which slices on the pull stroke for greater control and a very narrow kerf.  This makes it a great learning saw for children.  My son insisted that we wear safety goggles.  He was thrilled to give the final push and shout, "Timber!"

I remembered previous Solstices with big sprawling burnpiles, mostly cleared brush with some large timbers crossing the middle.  I envisioned planting the apple tree upright in the center of a pyre to deliver it's final performance and to fall to the earth one last time in spectacular fashion.  Considerable effort was made to leave the tree as whole as possible while still safe enough for highway travel.

The burnpile this year was set closer to the house, more compact and vertical.  It was nearly as tall as the largest section of the tree!  Once again my vision was compromised but I was content knowing that the wood would be pleased to burn in the fire regardless of my silly ideas.  I leaned the main sections up against one side of the pile and spread around the branch cuttings. That night, flames leapt high above the house and Solstice was, as always.

The Story of One Portion of the Wortroot Winter Solstice Burn Pile. And Solstice was, as always.