Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
My sawmill work is moving in an unexpected direction. The original idea was to use trees available here on our southwest Missouri tree farm. It has been a great source of custom cut trailer flooring, siding, and posts & beams for a few sheds. I have also cut quite a bit of lumber for neighbors, both for farm use, and for woodworking projects.
After milling trees salvaged from the May 22, 2011 Joplin, MO tornado, I have become more involved in reclaiming trees that be otherwise ground up for mulch, cut for firewood, or left to rot on the ground. So when a local farmer called to ask if I was interested in some trees that he had bulldozed down to make a little more pasture, I had to check it out. By the time I got there, a log buyer had already picked up anything he considered of value, so this was a true salvage job. I just didn’t want to see anything go to waste.
The area amounted to about six acres, right next to a creek. I hate to see people doze trees next to a creek. The Dept. of Agriculture even pays farmers not to do it. A vegetation buffer along a stream (known as a “riparian area”) slows the runoff of water into the stream, catches soil that would otherwise be washed away, and is habitat to a number of species. Erosion means more sediment in the water, and the loss of shade means higher water temperature. Still, there was no un-doing the damage. The trees on the bottomland site included walnut, cherry, elm and black oak, with one really nice boxelder—all dozed over.
The walnut and cherry had been pretty well picked over, but there were some pieces that I would be able to use, since my Norwood mill is excellent at making the most out of each log, and I have learned how to cut small diameter and short pieces in such a way that local woodworkers will want them. The roots of the trees had been pushed of into a ditch. Evidently, he had poured Diesel fuel on them to burn them, but all it did was to char the surface. There was one cherry root intact, with a 5’ long, 14” diameter log still attached. It took the better part of an hour to fish the 800-pound log and root out of the ditch and load it. Still, when someone wants to GIVE me a piece of cherry, I’m all over it. Good roots are even more difficult to find.
The other major find was a big black oak that had split when it hit the ground. While of no value to a commercial sawmill, I considered the split an advantage—half the work had already been done. There was also a lot of wood left intact higher up in the tree, and I took everything that hadn’t already been cut off for firewood. The split part was a little over 40” across, and will yield a dozen beautiful wide slabs. The rest will go for smaller furniture pieces, and maybe some much-needed kitchen cabinets.
The bare dirt was still soft and muddy from recent rains, and it was only a matter of time until the old 8N Ford tractor sank down to its front axle in mud with a 400 pound log in the front end loader. It took nearly a half-hour to dig and winch it out with my chainsaw powered Lewis winch. I loaded what I could with the old Ford, but finally rented a Bobcat loader for a weekend to finish up the big stuff. I’ve always wanted to drive one, anyhow. They are amazing little machines. It can, as they say, turn on a dime and give you 9 cents change. That's a cherry root and log in the photo with the Bobcat loader-- the best catch of this job. All told, I made eight trips with my 16’ flatbed trailer, and brought home enough wood to mill about 2,500 board feet of lumber. There is still one more load to go. The next task is to cut the slabs and start the year-long air drying process. Hopefully, I’ll have some photos of it in my next blog.
Meanwhile, I just got a call from nearby Fayetteville, Arkansas about a huge maple tree that a landowner had cut down. More salvage work. On a purely economic basis, it does not make sense to make the 85-mile round trip to retrieve it, but I’ll probably get it anyway, even though my log supply is growing. Every now and then, a maple grows with a spectacular birds-eye, or fiddleback grain. There is no way of knowing, until I look at it. As long as I’m there, I might as well bring it home… And that will be my last log, until I get caught up on the sawmill. Promise (with crossed fingers).