Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Inner City Lumber Jacks

So Long, Mountain Ash...

This past Sunday I spent the morning with my friend Douglas, limbing an old Mountain Ash tree in his yard here in Toronto. We basically climbed the trunk like a pair of spider monkeys and with a Japanese style, Ryoba saw and some line made quick work of removing the limbs. Some of these were up to 6" in diameter and about 12' to 16' long so a couple of more friends were on hand with a little electric chainsaw, a few 'cold drinks' and some determination. All that was left was the trunk to deal with and we tackled that last night. We decided that instead of simply throwing it into landfill or the fire wood pile we'd try splitting some up for possible future projects. I haven't heard of anyone using Mountain Ash for furniture but hey, why not try? At best it'll be a nice little bench or the like for the backyard.
The first step was dropping this thing and we began with an old buck saw Douglas had...we shared the duties and then settled in with both of us at either side of the old frame. Between a slightly dull saw and the wet wood we were cutting it soon became clear that the little electric chainsaw was in our future. A couple of 'cold drinks' and we were off. It probably didn't save us much time but it did save our backs and arms. A relief cut here and a little wedge cut there...timber!
Even a tree on the small size like this one gives a mighty thump when it finally lands. From here we cut the remaining limbs off and blocked up the trunk into a few lengths. I wasn't sure how or if this would split for me but a couple of wedges and my Swedish made, Gränsfors axe I began the process. I started at the top end of the piece and drove in the first wedge; I wish I had a tape recorder because the cracking and splitting noises were amazing! I'd give the wedge a knock and stop...the wood fiber would continue to split and crackle for a few seconds longer every time-a very cool audio display to say the least.
The first spilt went pretty well although where the limbs once grew the grain had some irregular patterns and it went a little off. No problem though, from here I would quarter the two sides and then quarter those again. The second split went much better due to the fact that I ended up shortening the length just behind the knots and swirls where the limbs grew. We had a good time dropping and splitting this tree. The 'cold drinks' helped as well and I wondered through the entire process about woodworkers of the past doing this kind of job for all of their wood stock...it's not terribly hard work but I'm sure there's a knack to do right. I think I discovered a few tricks in this first session and will keep my eyes out for any more inner city 'gems' needing disposal. Funny this morning thinking about limbing the tree, falling it and splitting it, a few hours spent with a few more hours to go in a year or two when it dries.

I just ordered some Quarter sawn white Oak for my next project but took a slightly different method...it involved sitting in front of this computer, typing out a cut list and faxes it over to a local saw mill; not quite the same work out but hey, it's not how we get our wood onto the bench that counts, but what we do with it from there that really matters. Time for a 'cold drink'


  1. Uh - Tom, I notice you've safety-related reminders on your site. You might want to remind your readers that "A few cold drinks" and an electric chainsaw don't mix. Electric chainsaws are considerably more dangerous than the gas-powered kind - they have significantly more torque.


  2. Thanks for the concern David,

    You're absolutely right, 'cold drinks' and power tools don't mix...'cold drinks' and any tools for that matter.
    The whole 'cold drink' thing was used to add a light heartedness to the article. The chainsaw had about as much torque as an electric pencil sharpener and it was actually one of the two other friends mentioned in the post that operated it...you know me- I'm all thumbs when it comes to power tools!

  3. Tom, it sounds like you had a good time taking the tree down and splitting it. I too enjoy the process of splitting the pieces apart, and seeing how cleanly and accurately it can be done. There is nothing like watching and hearing the wedge do its work.

  4. Thanks for the comments Don,

    It was a ton of fun and I'm looking forward to doing it again.

  5. Hey Tom, Love the blog. I've been following it for a while now.

    You've mentioned this "local sawmill" a few times in the blog. I'm in the Toronto area and am curious to know who you're referring to. Would you be able to say?


  6. Hey Mike,
    Nice to hear from a local!
    I guess 'local saw mill' is relative to most readers being elsewhere but in this case I was referring to A & M Wood Specialty out in Cambridge. They have a great selection and are super friendly to deal with. Their web address is:
    Thanks for the comments and keep in touch.