Expect the Unexpected

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Maybe its living where and how we do, but nothing ever seems to go as planned. What starts out as a simple task can suddenly become a complicated process. Like this years gathering of firewood for instance. We believed we had a sufficient amount already cut and stacked but decided since we had a few standing dead aspen trees we would get ’one’ more load just to have a little extra on hand. Sounds like a sensible and reasonable plan, but what we found when we arrived at the end of our property was unexpected. Some large green aspen trees were blown down and blocking our access to the prime firewood.

In order to access the 5-6 dead trees we now had to cut 4 large live aspens that had blown over during a recent windstorm. The largest tree was 19.3” at the base and when it broke off at the roots and fell it created a domino effect taking three more similar sized trees with it. For those who think you will never use that math you learned in school we determined the diameter of the tree using Pi (3.14159265) X the circumference of the tree. Pay attention in school — you never know when you will use that arithmetic. We cut parts of the newly fallen trees over a two day period just to access the other trees that were already prime firewood.

We left the base of these large trees intact to mill into lumber. In today’s culture most folks just hop in their vehicle and drive to one of the large lumber yards to get their lumber. When I see a tree like in the photo it represents lumber to me and future projects. There is enough lumber in those trees to produce precision cut lumber that will accomplish many projects. It only takes a few minutes to set up the Lucas Wood Mill and start turning those trees into lumber.
The lumber will then be stacked and air dried. Air dried lumber is just as good as kiln dried, it just takes a little longer to cure. Placing 1” by 1” stickers, cut from the scrap pieces placed between the layers of fresh cut lumber every two feet allows for sufficient air circulation to dry the lumber for use. Since it is semi arid where we live it won’t take the lumber very long to reach equilibrium with the environment. I seal the end grain with paraffin paint so the lumber dries uniformly and slow and does not check, warp or wind (twist).

Aspen trees are a lower ranked hardwood and they retain a high volume of water but they make good lumber. The wood grain is attractive and takes a finish well. I have found the Lucas Mill; which cuts lumber with a circular blade, to cut aspen cleaner than a band saw mill. The band saw mills I have observed seem to leave a fuzzy board face rather than a smooth cut. That means if using a band saw mill you just cut a little thicker boards and then run the board through a planer before use to get the fuzz off the board face. When it comes to aspen trees the circular saw blade and band saw even out in production. Normally the band saw mill will produce more lumber because it takes a thin cut compared to the 1/4” cut the Lucas mill takes.

These are straight trees which will not only provide future firewood from the culls but also quality lumber. It will be difficult work getting the logs out of the woods and I wish the wind had toppled them closer to where I could get a cable on them and drag them. A 20” aspen log 10’ long has to be hand winched an inch at a time until it can be dragged with a choker cable. Just another unexpected occurrence but one I‘m willing to put up with to get the lumber value out of those prime logs.

For more about Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: http://www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com