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On the wisdom of Patience

January 8, 2012

For the past few weeks I’ve had it in my head to split some oak. Back in October I saw a video from Fine Woodworking Magazine about a guy in England named Adrian McCurdy, who splits these enormous pieces of oak and then uses the slabs to make furniture. Since the wood is split and not milled the wide faces have more of the rays that one sees in quartersawn wood and they undulate as the split follows the grain rather the saw blade. I’ve been impatient to get started, so yesterday I went down to the farm with my splitting wedges. Fallen trees are plentiful around the woods. When they come down and block paths or fall into fields, they have to be cut up right away. Ideally, they would be cut up and split and sold for firewood to supplement the farm’s income. But often there just isn’t the time or manpower to do the splitting then and there so the wood is stacked along the edge of the path or field to be split at some later date, and where, over the years it sits and slowly rot back into the forest floor. I had my eyes set on a four foot long log frozen into the mud a hundred yards or so into the woods (perhaps a bit over a quarter of a mile from my shop in the barnyard.) I decided to drive my truck into the woods and see whether I could retrieve the log to bring it back to my shop. I got to the sight and immediately realized I needed and cant hook or peavey and some chain. I decided to walk back to the barnyard and get the stuff. A short while later I was doing my best Jacob Marley impression and carrying 50 or so pounds of chain over my shoulders back into the woods. I lay the chain down beside the log and rolled the log over it with the peavey. I hitched the chain and hooked it to the block and tackle I had attached to the hooks in the bed of my truck and pulled. After an exhausting 30-40 minutes I had succeeded in dragging the log about three feet across the ground and hoisting it all of a 1/4 of an inch off the ground. If I could only lift it the last 3 1/2 feet (less 1/4 of an inch) up to the back of my truck I’d be golden. It became obvious the was not going to work, so I threw my chain into the truck and pushed the log back off the path where it could continue its slow decomposition, and drove back to the barnyard to contemplate abject failure. I had succeeded in loading two shorter logs (about a foot and a half long, and thirty inch diameters) so I decided to split them. I got a few slabs which will take a couple of years to dry (being in the range of 3-4 inches thick.)It was fairly easy to split these, and then it hit me, split the big log in the woods and bring it back in pieces. So I grabbed the wedges and the sledge hammer and went back. It is one thing to split short logs on end on flat ground. It is another to split a long log lying flat surrounded by other small trees on the forest’s leafy litter as my log was. Several times my wedges (I only had two) got stuck in the log until I made some improvised wooden wedges to rescue my steel. Eventually I got the whole thing split into manageable pieces which I loaded into the truck and got it all back to the barnyard. I did get a couple four foot slabs to put into the barn for seasoning – though how many years these will take I really can’t say. I felt both exhausted and foolish for taking so long to come up with the answer to my challenge. It reminded me of the time my cousin Justin and I were trying to figure out how to take down a tree limb which was hanging over one of the farm’s flower beds. We didn’t want to drop the limb onto the flowers, which the farms sells at the farmstand. We were thinking pulleys,we were thinking hoists, we were thinking scaffolding. Then we went to discuss it with Justin’s crafty old uncle Bob. Bob’s eyesight was going and he wasn’t as spry as he once was, but he’d built a couple of bridges and a large tractor shed for the farm more or less by himself and his wits. We explained our plan, he listened politely, then asked why we didn’t just wait till fall when the flowers were gone. This is the sort of wisdom that comes from years of experience. Maybe in a couple decades, I start to get the hang of it.

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