A Tale of Two Sawbucks: Designs for Firewood Cutting Racks

Two readers share their designs for stands that make cutting firewood go more smoothly: the folding wood rack and the log rollway.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1989
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"Using the rack, I can convert half a dozen or so 8' timbers to stove length in a matter of minutes."
PHOTO: MILO LAMPHIER
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Just over a year ago we featured an Alaskan firewood cutting rack designed by longtime homesteader and contributor Ole Wik. Plagued by the familiar problems of pinched chain bars, precariously stacked timbers, and sawteeth dulled by contact with the frozen earth, Ole poked two lines of saplings into the ground, stacked full lengths of narrow logs between them, and tied the tops of the saplings together so they wouldn't splay open.

His vertical rack allowed him to turn about two dozen small-diameter logs into firewood in less than 15 minutes—without the worry of dancing over tumbling rounds or the waste of wrestling a large piece into place while the saw idled.

Yet what's good for the goose may not be so for the gander—at least not according to Milo Lamphier, a woodcutting Montanan who submitted his design just after we'd accepted Ole Wik's. Milo may have been disappointed when his submission was returned, but he was confounded when he saw the setup that was published and promptly resubmitted his offering with a challenge to compare the two sawbucks.

But the story doesn't end there: Not too long afterward, another wood burner, Canadian Harvey Mitchell, mailed us his description of a simplified bucking rack—one that he'd built in about 10 minutes using some of the timbers waiting to be cut. It was, he wrote, the perfect solution to a temporary log surplus.

We're thankful for all this correspondence. Cutting firewood is enough of a chore; if committed wood burners among MOTHER's readers have a tool or technique that makes their woodcutting hours go more smoothly, we're happy to share it!

The Folding Wood Rack

By Milo Lamphier  

I just invested two hours of an afternoon and about $15 worth of materials to make a firewood-cutting rack that's already proved to be one of the biggest time-savers on my place. It's a 6' × 8' stud-lumber frame that folds flat for storage or transport. Unfolded, it takes up a space about 9' deep and supports the logs in a safe and comfortable sawing position.

All told, I used just ten 2 × 4s for the entire project: seven 8- and three 6-footers, plus a handful of 16-penny nails and seven 1/8" x 3 1/2" carriage bolts with hardware. You wouldn't notice this at first, but I also planned my lumber purchase to minimize waste and thus keep the cost down. How? I purposely bought 8' studs so I could trim them down and use the tails as log stops, rather than paying a higher price for odd-length pieces that are less likely to be on sale.

Putting the rack together was easy. First, I cut five of the long pieces down to 72", and drilled a 3/8" hole in the center of each leftover tail. Then I bored a hole 1' from the end of each of those 6' pieces, and sank two more holes 12" from the ends of the two remaining full-length studs.

Next, I put the rack platform together by spacing the 6' uprights 16" apart and nailing a cross-board to the ends. Then I bolted the five log stops in place, and cut and fastened the second cross-board to the top of the rack (just below the stops, so they'd lock when rotated perpendicular to the uprights).

Finally, I attached the two 8' legs to the sides of the frame, after first drilling a bolt-sized hole about 4" from each upper corner. To brace them, I nailed another cross-board between their lower ends.

Using the rack, I can convert half a dozen or so 8' timbers to stove length in a matter of minutes. First, I trim the ends of the logs, then make a full-length cut between each of the uprights. I usually leave the bottom log uncut to protect the lower crosspiece from the chain saw. The tilted platform keeps the logs from binding up, or from tumbling down once they're cut. It also takes the strain out of loading and unloading the wood, which can take a real bite out of your workday.

The Log Rollway

By Harvey Mitchell  

Last summer, through a stroke of luck, I was given five truckloads of green wood, cut in lengths of 4' to 8'. As it turned out, some of the pieces were rather large to try to heft into the kind of vertical rack recommended by Ole Wik, so I devised a much simpler temporary version, which took a lot less work to install.

I first laid down a solid log to act as a support for the ends of several long logs, set at a perpendicular and spaced side by side about 24" apart. At the opposite end, where the logs met the ground, I drove stakes into the earth and nailed each one securely to the log adjoining it. They serve as stops for the timbers ready to be cut.

The rack works just as it would appear: You feed logs onto the rollway and stack them two or three deep at the lower end. By cutting consistently to the left of the stakes, you'll be assured of obtaining stove-length billets as you buzz through the pile. As an afterthought, I later placed all the stakes to the right of the parallel logs, nailed directly into the side of the trunks. That made a stronger connection and also put the rollway logs square in the path of the saw blade, to prevent the teeth from digging into the ground when nearing the end of each cut.

As you can see from the photo, I can cut and stack wood of any size using this simple method. What you may not be able to see clearly are the several dozen lengths of dry timber stacked upright against a crossbar tied between the trees. I pass that along from my Alaskan experience; it prevents cured wood from getting buried in the snow or freezing to the ground. You can easily carry it indoors to be cut when you need it.


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