Tag Archive | white

Skidding Logs Without The Ruts

I always think I am going to do a short post, especially late at night, but I never seem to pull it off. This will be an exception. Introducing, my first, official, quick short post.

Logs in back yard, truck with winch in front yard, nice lawn between the two.

My job:
Get logs out without tearing up the yard.


Roll the logs on to 3/4″ plywood with the cant hook.

Hook plywood to the cable and pull.

Now… if it was just that easy, short and simple I would have nothing to talk about, would I?

(Stop reading here if you don’t have a  little extra time and a tiny violin to play.)

This tree was only two houses away, and I have had my eye on it since it started dying last fall. It was a nice white oak that had a 11′ long veneer-grade log in it and two lower-grade 9′ long logs (the logs in the skidding pictures are the upper logs, not the veneer quality log). The tree was quickly declining through this summer of death and was totally dead when I got to it. It was still solid and the heartwood looked good, but the sapwood had started spalting (rotting), and the bugs had moved in. Even though I wouldn’t be able to sell the log for veneer because of the lack of freshness, I still deemed this tree worthy of a little effort to procure. Notice I said a little.

I got out to meet the tree crew early on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Chris woke me up. She was telling me that the tree guys were there, but all I needed to hear was the word chainsaw, and I was out the door in a flash. I trust no one to cut a tree correctly. It goes back to when a friend of mine cut a 30″ diameter walnut tree 24″ up from the ground and turned a $1,500 log into a $300 log. He knows all of the best wood is close to the ground. He just got lazy. Now I remind everyone to cut low and tell them, “Get your chainsaw dirty.”

As far as the felling, things went great. The guys were accommodating and cut the tree perfectly (I think they were happy to leave the big parts on the ground and still get paid). I headed home to let them wrap up and returned in the afternoon with my log truck to start skidding the logs.

From the spot where I set up I had a straight shot to two of the logs, but the stump was still there and in the way of the main log. I figured I would get those two logs and stop by the next day to pick up the last one after the stump was ground up.

The three logs were in the back yard and down a pretty good incline. I wouldn’t call it steep, but it is strongly downhill and the logs needed to go uphill. My normal skidding technique is to hook a cable up to the log and pull. This works fine, but it can also tear up the yard. It does a lot less damage than driving a log truck in the yard, but it can still scalp the lawn when it is soft. I had told the apprehensive homeowners that I would use my “improved” normal method, which was to put a piece of plywood under the log and skid it like a sled and not tear up the yard. I have done this many times in the past, but always on more level lawns. Still, I figured it shouldn’t change things too much. It’s just a hill, what’s a little hill? A big problem, that’s what!

The gravity opposing operation proved to be quite time-consuming. Just getting the logs on the plywood took awhile, even with one of my neighbors helping (he was watching out the window and couldn’t handle it). It seemed like everything we did was uphill.

Once the logs were on the plywood the sailing should have been smooth – pull them up and go home. But, they kept hanging up in the yard, and since I was working alone and couldn’t see the logs I would just pull until something obvious happened. By then I had pulled the plywood out from under the log and had to reconvene with the logs at the bottom of the hill.

After a few attempts I figured out what the problem was. It was simple physics. The logs were long and straight(ish). The hill had a couple of dips in it that would grab the nose of the log or the leading edge of the plywood. In the woods, I would just pull through it and move the dirt out of the way, or if it was an episode of Axmen, I would break something and yell down the hill, “Are you guys O.K.?”, even though I knew they were fine.

I did a little of both (pulling and yelling). I pulled and re-rigged and pulled some more until I got a log out. Then, home I went. I had worked on the logs for hours, now it was dark, and I only had one of the top logs out. The one I really wanted was still in the back yard behind the stump and behind another log.

The tree guys were supposed to come first thing Saturday morning to finish grinding the stump. They didn’t finish friday night because they had an issue with the stump grinder. I got to work because the stump wasn’t in the way of the second log. Again, it was going to work out perfectly. I would pull out a log while they fixed the grinder and then I would pull out the last log.

The second log turned out to be just as cantankerous. More pulling. More yelling (I don’t really yell, but you get the picture).

The entire time I was working on the second log the tree guy was working on the grinder and he was yelling. He put in two new starters on Saturday after another guy put in a new battery on Friday night. I tried to be as helpful as possible because I needed him out of there at some point. We looked at what was happening, and even though I am not much of a mechanic, I offered some advice. It seemed like the starter was working, but not engaging. I have messed with my share of starters, and it acted like it was running backwards. I told him to check to make sure the new battery was hooked up right. I wasn’t sure if that would make the starter spin the wrong direction, but it made sense in my head. He checked it out and said the it was hooked up correctly. I had no other ideas, so I left him alone.

I got my second log out, and then the tree service mechanic asked if I could move my truck so he could drive his Chevy Trailblazer down and try jumping the grinder. I have no idea what that was going to do, but I didn’t have a better idea, so I went with it. I handed him my jumper cables, moved my truck and he moved his Trailblazer down the hill to the stump. It didn’t take long for the mechanic to yell, “The battery’s hooked up backwards.” That was a bonehead move, but I was happy that he got the grinder working and was getting out of my way. Well, sort of.

He went to back out and his tires started spinning. This is a common problem for guys like me with two-wheel (I call them one-wheel) drive vehicles. If you spit in front of my trucks the tires spin, but not on a Trailblazer. “Hey idiot, put it in four-wheel drive,” I thought almost out loud. But his truck didn’t go in to four-wheel drive. I couldn’t believe it, something went wrong, amazing!

“Can you pull me out?” he asked me.

I was a little irritated, but a little relieved because it is usually me asking to be pulled out (I can bury a truck in the mud like nobody’s business). I pulled him out and packed up to finish my Saturday morning project, which started on Friday and was now going in to Monday.

By the time Monday rolled around I had it all figured out. The stump was out of the way, and all I had to do was pull out the best log. It was about a 26″ diameter (on the skinny end), 11′ long white oak log, and it did not want to go on or stay on the plywood. I used straps, wraps, blocks and schmocks (don’t forget locks) to try to keep it on the plywood, but everything just kept digging in and the log kept coming off. This last log was longer than the others and that didn’t help a thing. Every little contour change in the hill sent the nose of the log plunging down and digging up the dirt. By this point I started to care less and just kept pulling. I knew I could pull through the dirt and I did. I almost flipped my truck a few times, but I finally did it.

After I got the logs on my truck I spent another hour cleaning up. The yard went back together pretty good, not perfectly, but pretty good. I just told myself with a chuckle, “Well, at least there were no tire ruts, those are a real pain to fix.”

Here are some photos of what we got out of the logs. I think it was worth the effort.

Roger Branson getting ready to cut the biggest and best log from this tree. A bigger and better one is in the background. Both are veneer quality, but they are a little old.

Roger Branson getting ready to cut the biggest and best log from this tree. A bigger and better one is in the background. Both are veneer quality, but they are a little old.

Trimming the butt end of the log to clear the first cut.

Trimming the butt end of the log to clear the first cut.

This was the first cut to get things going. Besides the wide, spalted sapwood, this log was nice and clear.

This was the first cut to get things going. Besides the wide, spalted sapwood, this log was nice and clear.

This log produced a lot of good quartersawm material. It need to be edged heavily to remove the wider-than-normal sapwood that was infested with bugs.

This log produced a lot of good quartersawm material. It needed to be edged heavily to remove the wider-than-normal sapwood that was infested with bugs.

Most Awesomest White Oak Treehouse Tree Ever!

I drive by this tree often, and I have always admired it. For years, I thought that I would take some artsy photos of it and hang them on my wall. I wasn’t sure how to handle the houses in the background (besides photoshop), so I never did it. The other day it was very foggy in the morning, which made the day seem more like England than Missouri, and it just felt like it was time to take some photos. The fog was getting thinner when I started shooting and what was there really added nothing to the event, but I went ahead anyway. I expect I will be back again under different lighting conditions and maybe at different times of the year.

This white oak is right next to a large four-lane road in a back yard. It is easy to see, but not super obvious,since it is in a small opening with trees on both sides. My attention was first attracted by the shape of the base, which is unusually tapered, especially for a white oak. White oaks get big, but they usually have much less taper in the base. Trees that grow in the woods specifically, are much more consistent in diameter, while his one, which grew in the open, flares out like crazy. It is such an unusual shape that I had to drive by several times before I agreed with myself that it was a white oak. This is an old tree, and I think that wide base has served it well.

While the base is uncharacteristically white oak, the top is textbook. The branches are big and crooked and there aren’t a lot of them. It looks creepy, like it should be in front of a haunted house (where any self-respecting white oak would be found). I can’t help but feel like the tree is just going to reach out and grab me.


While I usually picture myself cutting down trees or making them into lumber or a project, this one I only envision standing. I look at it, and besides the fact that I wouldn’t know where to start, I just don’t see cutting it up. I think about moving it to my backyard, so I can build a treehouse on that giant first branch. Then, I think about getting a new house with a bigger back yard, so it will actually fit. After I settle in to my new house I would put up a swing on the other low branch. Then, of course, I would enjoy a fresh pot of honey from the happy little beehive that resides in the nubby almost-healed-over branch right outside the tree house (directly above my head in the photo below).

And, after I finished my pot of honey, I would think to myself, “This is the most awesomest treehouse tree ever!” (even if it has houses in the background and isn’t in my yard).


This tree is even bigger than it looks like from the road (I am not a tiny person).

Sanding White Pine: Avoiding A Sticky Situation

I love, love, love Eastern White Pine. First of all, I love the way it smells – it can make even the nastiest of shops smell like new. I love the way it cuts –it cuts great on the sawmill and in the shop. I love that it’s lightweight – even, the widest boards are easy to handle. I love that is dries flat – most boards can just be run through the planer without any flattening. I love that it is soft – I can work it with hand tools and enjoy every minute of it. I love that when it starts to decay it gets lots of bugholes and blue-stain – it’s great for rustic work. I love that it makes great planer shavings – I want to roll in them just like the animals that use it for bedding.

There is, however, one major problem with white pine, especially air-dried white pine. It’s name is pitch. Pitch is the sticky transparent yellow goo that can ooze from the boards. In lumber that has been kiln-dried at high temperatures to “set the pitch”, this is less of a problem. As long as the lumber stays cooler than the temperature that the kiln was run at, the pitch will remain hard. But, once that threshold is passed, the wood starts to get sticky. And, since air-dried lumber hasn’t reached a very high temperature in its life, the stickiness is almost immediate.

Now, couple this setup with a large job and large boards and a lot of surface to cover with a power sander and you have a recipe for potential disaster. In fact, some air-dried white pine will be so sticky that you’ll start to wonder if there is enough sandpaper in the world to get through the job. There is, of course, a secret to working with white pine and an orbital sander. The secret is turpentine or mineral spirits.

I read somewhere that turpentine is made from pine trees, and I figured if it came from pine trees, it should be a great solvent for pine pitch, which also happens to come from pine trees – and it is. A rag dampened with either turpentine or mineral spirits will clean the pitch right off of a sanding disc or off of lumber where it has built up. To make it work in an almost automatic mode, I keep a sacrificial rag next to me soaked in the solvent and simply run the sander on the rag when it gets clogged. Just a few seconds running the sander on the rag makes the sandpaper look like new.

As I now get ready to sand a project that is all white pine, with wide boards and big, pitchy knots, I know the first thing I will do is get out the mineral spirits. Hopefully, this lumber cooperates and I won’t need to use it. Happy sanding to all!

For fun, I have some photos of the wide white pine (up to 20″) being used for shelves that inspired this post.

White pine was used for these closet shelves.

John Stevens and Scott use the bandsaw mill to resaw wide white pine for the cabinet backs.

Rotten Wood or Good Wood

It isn’t my main business, but I mill lumber for customers on occasion, since I have all of the equipment and I have a hard time saying no. Often they will have a log in mind that they found laying in the woods or even one that they intended to mill sooner, but just never got around to it. Anyway, the log looks less than fresh and they want to know if they should spend the money having it milled.

Of course, I need as much information as possible before I can answer them, but there are some rules that I use to decide. First of all, think of logs as produce. For the color to be the brightest, with as few defects as possible they should be milled quickly. If they have been sitting for a while, I try to determine, in this order, what species the logs are, how long they have been on the ground, what seasons they have been through,  and the environment they have been stored in (shady and wet, high and dry, etc.) and finally what it will be used for (hopefully something rustic).

This white oak looks worthless on the outside. But, looks can be deceiving...

Species is first because logs decay at different rates. For example, silver maple starts to discolor in just a few weeks in the summer, while walnut can sit for years and the heartwood will show no signs of its age. Woods that are white are the first to go, because, as noted in an earlier post, the white wood is the sapwood and it rots

... the heartwood was like brand-new

much faster than the heartwood. Next to go are some open-pore hardwoods like red oak and honey locust. Last to go are logs like cherry, walnut and white oak.

This little, tiny, cute beetle was very close to having his day ruined by a sawblade.

For fun, I have photos of a white oak that I just quarter-sawed that inspired this post. Notice that the sapwood has turned to foam, falls apart in your hands, and has big beetles in it (I have regular size hands).

The difference in the heartwood is amazing. It was like a brand new log on the inside. I don’t know how long this log sat, but it was definitely years.

After considering species, time on the ground is the next indicator as to the soundness of logs. Here are some estimations based on three groupings. White woods will be absolutely no good after about four years, show considerable age after just one and be off in color after a couple of months. The open-pore hardwoods like red oak will be worthless in about five years, show their age after two years and start to be off in color in the heartwood after four. The heartwood of the third and final group can definitely go much longer. White oak and cherry heartwood will begin to discolor after six years, but have sound lumber for much longer. Walnut, as far as I can tell, never rots. I’m sure it does, but very slowly. Walnut is the last log I cut because I know it will not go bad on me.

All of these logs can start to show some signs of age after a short time depending on the season. During the summer the logs will get bugs in them and the heat can quickly cause discoloration. These problems will be worsened if the logs are stored in a wet spot versus a spot that is dry. The

winter is the best time to store logs. If it is cold enough, almost no degrade happens and the bug issue is moot. If stored in a shady and dry spot, off of the ground, and in the winter the logs will last the longest.

The last thing to consider is what level of degrade is acceptable, knowing that logs that have sat for more than a couple of months will have some “character”. Worm holes and spalting are common and can happen quickly in the summer, but still leave the lumber stable. Even lumber that is structurally impaired can be used for panels and other areas just for show. If you are alright with less than perfect lumber than you can easily use logs that have sat for a long time.

When checking on a logs condition, simply cut the ends back a couple of inches to see what is inside. Logs rot more quickly on the outside and from the ends. Trimming the ends may reveal wood in the middle that is still good, or it may not. Look at the color and check the hardness of the wood. If the color is marbled or there are soft spots, the wood is decayed. If it seems too soft/rotten, trim back further, a foot at a time, until you get to solid wood. If you get done trimming the ends and the remaining log is firewood length, your log is too rotten to mill.

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