Aug 31 2015

Logging in the Redwoods – 1946

As woodworkers, we are always using our tools in ensemble to overcome challenges. What we need to make and the materials we seek to make things from are part and parcel of the challenge, but we must acquire the skill to wield our tools and we must learn the ways of wood.

For many woodworkers, it has been beneficial to go back in time and reacquire the skills and tradecraft knowledge that previous generations evolved, learning that both the tools and methods from the hands and eyes, which make for deeper craftsman skill still retain all the quality, productivity and capability they always had in today’s small shop.

Yet in today’s world, we all work on parts of things. It is only infrequently true that any craftsman works on a process from beginning to end. For many woodworkers, unless green woodworking is within the scope of their work, the woodworker is not the lumberman or the logger. In an ever productive bottom line world, where the lands where wood is grown is heavily managed, speed efficiency and maximum yields have become the realm of professionals who have harnessed every latest technology to bring lumber to our shops.

In 1946, the world was still a cross between old technology and newer. The Old Growth Redwood Forests of California were being logged, and some of the largest trees that ever grew were being felled by axe and saw. Choked and hoisted by steam donkey winches, with cables and pulleys suspended from spar poles which have since given way to diesel-hydraulic yarders and shovel loaders. Chased with axes instead of chain saws or processors before being hoisted onto steam engine powered trains and roaded to mill ponds, which have mainly given way to log yards.

The following documentary is a time capsule of the way it was. It may not ever be again, but the knowledge is there and there are parts of it we all can steal with our eyes and employ in our own understandings, should we ever pass this way. We live in an interesting time, where we can choose from a wide range of modern and time tested technologies and combine them as our preferred method(s) of workflow.

Video Courtesy wdtvlive42 – Archive Footage and YouTube

It is still fascinating to see how we harnessed enough power to accomplish things we did.

Imagine how a modern logger would deal with a Giant Sequoia tree today with OSHA regulations, environmental use permits, modern chainsaws, diesel equipment and logging trucks that are limited to hauling 80,000 lbs. I am sure the companies who go in to salvage the Redwood and Sequoia trees that die and blow down do so with very specialized equipment, and high production isn’t their first priority. In certain situations, maybe the way it was done back in the day was actually easier than the ways we use today. But that time has truly passed for it all to work in ensemble. Mills today have geared towards smaller, sustainably farmed timber, and are not geared towards logs to mill that are that large.

Modern logging in the woods is both like and unlike this, with much more power and efficiency, and a company eye on the productive bottom line. The basic methods shown in the documentary are the father of modern work, but have given way to tools that offer more speed and production from less labor. During my career in construction, I was involved on more than a few occasions where older technology had to be brought back out to the field to solve certain problems. Viability in any method just depends on the circumstances.

Those of us may still wish to process our own logs from time to time, and many of the ways our ancestors sorted out, with tech and tooling that is still very affordable and viable for a small operation. Much of the old-tech methodology still applies. If this is your want, and you have a market for specialty lumber that you harvest, then invest in the skills and equipment that are scaled and appropriate to what you hope to do! There may be some clues in the way we did it then, and sometimes the older tech solution is more cost-effective and doable than you think.

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