Saturday, October 22, 2011

lumberjackin' 101

I was showing Tim the shoats in the barn when Ian Daughton (ten) walked in with this announcement. "Everyone wants to see Jenna throw and Axe!" I looked at Tim, looked at Ian, and then back at Tim. "Everyone wants to see Jenna throw an Axe!" was Tim's smiling reply.

I have never thrown any wood splitting devices any distance before. Timbersports, while retaining their own gritty appeal, were the realm of men in my mind. I'm a traditional girl. I'll happily hunt, fish, and chop rounds into stove splints but I draw the line at dangerous projectiles as a form of backyard entertainment. It's not about sexism: I'm just a complete klutz. I wish I could tell you that I have obtained the grace of a mustang mare on the Alberta prairies but the truth is I can barely get a cup of coffee back to my desk without spilling it. Around me, things break. I am always cut, gashed open, or scratched. The delicate life, is not my life, and the chances of me throwing an axe without a body count seemed slim. Nope, not for me sir. The men throw the sharp pointies and the women have the babies, this is a model that has stood the test of time.

I walked over to Brett's workshop anyway. Peer pressure, simple as that.

Everyone clapped encouragingly and I sheepishly took the handle. Brett showed me how to hold it, over my head with the right choke on the wooden handle. After some basic instruction I reared back my hands and let it go.

I missed. It slammed into the target's wooden legs and plopped on the floor.

Undetered by my first chuck, Brett made some helpful suggestions and asked me to try again. I lifted the axe over my head, let my hands understand the toque and the mission, looked right at the red center and SLAM! I hit the target not inches from the bullseye! I literally jumped in the air, this was the epitome of the anti-klutz! I had just experienced a hurdling metal grace! I hugged Brett and hoped Tim caught it on camera. He certainly did.

Well, now I was hooked. I had planned to go in and check on the cheese making, but I changed my mind. I have made soft cheese in that kitchen more times than you could chuck an axe at, so I opted to join the dozen people outside interested in wood lot management. With the crowd already excited by the target practice, Brett had us in the palm of his hand. He grabbed a cross cut saw and an specialty felling-axe and walked us back into the woods to the cherry tree he planned to fell.

Brett explained why the tree was going to come down. How the split so early in it's growth made it poor lumber, how it was fighting the old orchard for light. He then demonstrated the techniques of using a good axe to create the notch that tells you where the tree will fall, and gave us in the audience a chance at cross-cutting. Jason and Vaughn were amazing at this, a true team. I watched them work together and communicate. They check the saw level, just as Brett instructed. There was a plan in place for when the tree fell. Vaughn would take the saw, and Jason would back up. Both knew the escape plan, and both had a good idea of when the cherry would fall.

These are things I never thought about: escape plans, communication, who takes the saw, etc. All practical and important in the business of making lumber and firewood, but until someone showed me the steps and reasons, it remained a vague notion. Brett called the moment the tree would snap and it started to crackle. What a sound, what a sight! The 30+ foot tree fell to the ground with an autumn crash, leaves sputtering everywhere. I realized, as it fell, that I just acquired a few weeks of warmth. it'll take a year to season, but fall we'll likely be chopping and stacking this very tree.

What a system. What a perfect system. And throughout the day men and women watched as the tree went from a large living thing to a wood stove sacrifice. Then, they watched Brett saw it down into pieces, using a chain saw. Then, a few hours later, they watched a farm pony pull some smaller logs out from the forest into the chopping area. They spent their afternoon coming back to that wood pile, too. Jason, I think, fell in love with Brett's Axe and probably was responsible for a cord of wood with his own hands. Every time I looked outside the kitchen window, there was Jason, chopping away.

Can't blame him. Can't blame him for a second...


Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

L-O-V-E that first picture of you and Brett. You have a wonderful "Am I doing this right?" type of look on your face, and his is a stance of guidance.

October 22, 2011 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

Loving these updates from Antlerstock, and learning stuff to boot (didn't know decent firewood is seasoned a year first). As always, thanks for sharing and educating us!

October 22, 2011 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Love the pictures of you throwing the axe! You *may* be a klutz, but there's no shortage of gracefulness in your words.

October 22, 2011 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger LindaSue said...

Great read Jenna. I am so glad the weekend went well. You can always expect a few glitches now and then, but sounds like all went great. Maybe someday I can get to come. At 64 I still got a lot of learnin in me yet.

October 22, 2011 at 11:53 AM  
Blogger jenomnibus said...

Who knew all that stuff about wood? I didn't. What exactly does it mean to season wood - is that just letting it dry out, or is there something more complicated? I'm hoping that someone took video of this workshop - I'd love to see it.

October 22, 2011 at 12:19 PM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

You look very comfortable and strong with that axe!

October 22, 2011 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Lovely photo (love the fall foliage). Jenna, you might not feel it, but you look like one hell of a strong graceful woman in this pic :)

October 22, 2011 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Yay Jenna! Shucks, I can barely even use an ax; much less throw one and hit the target! Great job!

October 22, 2011 at 5:51 PM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...

Great story, Jenna!

October 22, 2011 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger jim said...

newly cut wood should be cut up and split and then stacked outside in a single row to let the air circulate through- drys faster outside then if stacked inside. We cover the top of the row with a tarp but not the sides---green wood will not burn well and creates cresote a dangerous thing to have build up in your chimney-can cause really bad and very hot fires. hope this helps

October 22, 2011 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger jim said...

and we do let ours set outside a yr if its green wood=

October 22, 2011 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger Indio said...

I'm not too big on doing the wood chopping thing either. My chainsaw got a good workout after Hurricane Irene blew through town. My neighbors were very happy that I had an extra can of gas and knew out to use the chainsaw. We had several big trees down on our street, that blocked the exit/entrances and it was going to be days before someone came to "save" us.

October 22, 2011 at 11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, if you ever end up on Vancouver Island you must visit Ucluelet.

Every summer during "Ukee Days", a two day festical celebrating the fishing & logging roots of the town, there is a day of "logger sports"

And women are a big part of this competition. It's my humble, biased opinion that women make better axe throwers - or at least the best ones I've seen have been women.

There are other contests - sawing through loggs, or cutting chinks out of an upright log, sticking a board in the chink, standing on the board to cut another chink and place another board and so on until you reach the top of the log where you chop the top off.

You'd get a kick out of it. If there's anything like it in your region, go. You'll have a blast.

October 24, 2011 at 11:30 AM  

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