“I want you standing next to me next time I play the lottery.” When he saw my puzzled look, the old Swede smiled and continued, “You cut trees like that and you’re still alive? You’ve got to be one lucky SOB!” The other loggers picked up on the joke with raucous laughter, and I felt lower than the stump of the tree I had just cut down using the techniques we were learning at the “Game Of Logging” class. I had pretty well cut through the hinge and the tree, in deference to Newton’s Law of Gravity, had taken the path of least resistance to its resting place. Not too far from its intended spot but, as the Swede noted, that had more to do with luck than skill. After a group evaluation of my technique, the instructor picked out another tree, and another logger tried his hand.
Thus began the second day of a seven-day series of classes designed to help professional loggers work more safely and productively in the woods. Soren Erikson (the Swede) had, over time, developed a technique known as “directional felling”. As a life-long logger, he well knew the dangers of working in the woods. He also knew the competitive nature of loggers, and developed a training program based on competition to motivate them. This training program is called “Game Of Logging”, though the first time I read about it, the space between words was in the wrong place, and it came out “Game O Flogging”. I signed up anyway. Most of the experienced loggers there really didn’t think there was much they could learn, but needed to take the class to bid on state timber sales. Game Of Logging changed the way every one of us cuts and trims trees.
Emphasis is on safety. We were required to have steel toe boots, chaps, and hearing/face/head protection. Before even starting our saws, Soren went over the basics. Tree evaluation includes checking the tree for lean and looking for overhead hazards such as dead branches. Next is determine the exact location the tree should fall, and the safest exit path once it starts to go. Finally, each logger describes exactly how he plans to cut the tree and how much hinge should be left. After having had this drilled into us so many times (ten loggers, three trees each), it became automatic and I still think about each of those five points—tree lean, hazards, felling direction, exit path, and cutting plan—each time I cut a tree. The felling technique itself involves a wide “open face” hinge that holds the tree for most of its fall, a bore cut behind the face cut to make the hinge, and cutting back to within a few inches of the back of the tree. At this point, the tree is held by the hinge and a strap of wood at the back of the cut. A quick cut of the strap, and the tree starts to fall. Engage the chain brake and follow your escape route.
By this point, western loggers are protesting that the “Humboldt notch” is the best way to cut a tree. I won’t argue with something that works for someone else, but here In the Missouri Ozarks, this directional technique works. Every time. Other techniques such as using wedges to drop a tree against the lean, safely dealing with springpoles (saplings bent over when a tree falls on them), and bucking and trimming complete the training program. One of the most surprising parts of the class was how to properly sharpen a chain. It is amazing how much less effort sawing takes with a truly sharp chain!
Every year, each state holds a Game Of Logging competition where loggers demonstrate their skills in precision chain saw cutting in a variety of situations, such as precision bore cuts, notches, springpole cutting, and felling accuracy. Winners go on to the National competition. I placed second for my division in Missouri, and came away with a brand new Husqvarna 365 chain saw, which I still use. Not bad for someone who doesn’t even play the lottery!
I still get a tree hung up once in a while, but not as nearly as often as before. Practicing the technique as made me a much safer logger, and I am much more confident with my saws. And on those rare occasions when I get the saw pinched in a log, it takes less than a minute to free it with a wedge. I don’t cut a lot of trees. Just enough to keep my portable sawmill supplied for my own projects and an occasional customer, and a couple of cords of firewood, but use the techniques, and safety gear every time I start the saw. Game of Logging also offers a series of skidding classes. Although they are geared toward professional skidders, I was able to apply a lot of the information to my old Ford tractor and log arch.
It took every bit of my training to help clean up trees blown down by the Joplin, MO tornado. Those trees had every kind of stress imaginable, and moved unpredictably when cut. Some volunteers bought new chain saws just for the occasion, and wore no protective gear. I learned to stay well away from them. At least one had to be rushed to the hospital for stitches.
Even if you only cut wood occasionally, the chain saw is a tool to be used with respect (but not fear). You don’t need to be a professional logger to take advantage of the “Game O Flogging” program. In many ways, the occasional user stands to benefit the most. The safety gear takes no training to use, and you can figure out for yourself how to use a wedge to free up a saw when it gets pinched in a cut. The cutting techniques, however are best learned hands-on. For more information about this valuable program, check the website gameoflogging.com.
Keep your chain sharp and be careful. - Dave Boyt