By Ron Gosnell
Editor’s note: Ron Gosnell is a retired forester who lives in the Lyons area and who has helped owners manage their forests for over forty years.
With summer coming, many forest landowners will soon be hard at work to make their homes, property, and family safer from wildfire. This usually involves cutting down excess trees and brush. Often the lower quality trees are selected for removal in a “fuel reduction” process. The result is that in many cases, the crooked logs of cut trees look to be worthless. Landowners or contractors end up cutting them into random-length pieces for easier handling, to be manually loaded and then dropped off at a place that accepts this material.
This may be the easiest thing to do depending upon circumstance. However, when there are enough trees of reasonable quality to be thinned, that presents an opportunity to cut wood products. To do so is not that difficult. Wood posts, rails, poles and saw logs must be fairly straight, branchless with flush cuts, and have straight-end cuts to specific
lengths. It is just as easy to cut at an optimal location on a log as anywhere else and to cut off branches close rather than to leave stubs.
When one landowner cuts enough, or a group of landowners cooperate when cutting trees to protect a whole neighborhood, a truck load of products makes it worthwhile to be skidded, yarded together, and picked up and loaded with machines. This can save time and backbreaking labor.
There is a simple but effective tool that will help you see, and then cut, a good product from a crooked log. The tool is called a woodsman’s (or woodswoman’s) measure stick. A measure stick is easy to make. All you need is a straight stick exactly 8 feet 3 inches long. Paint it a bright color and then mark it with three highly visible lines that circle the stick. The first line is at 2 feet, the second line at 4 feet and the third line at 6 feet 6 inches from the thickest end.
A small diameter (roughly 1 to 2 inches) lodgepole or aspen stick works well. The measure’s diagram shows a stick with its correctly located marks. Its bright color keeps it visible when laid down. A stick is easier and faster to use than a metal tape measure. Plus, a straight stick helps one visualize any potential products in a log. If you decide to make a measure stick, make several at once for spares.
With a branchless or trimmed and full-length tree log on the ground, find a straight section in between bends, crooks, or other log defects. On this relatively straight portion of the log, lay the stick on top of the log. To avoid cutting the stick, remove it from the log and set it aside after carefully making small saw nicks in the log’s side at the intended cut locations. Then cut the log through with straight cuts at both nick locations.
A one-stick long product is determined by its smaller-end diameter. If it’s less than 10 inches in diameter, it will be an 8-foot pole; over 10 inches in diameter, it is an 8-foot saw log.
If you can’t see at least one full 8’ 3”stick-length of straight log, try using the marker on the stick at 6 foot 6 inches. Cutting a straight log section at this mark gives you a standard length fence post. If there is more than one stick-length of straight log, nick a beginning location and then move the stick by its 2 or 4 foot marks to determine the longest end cut location for a straight product.
Softwood lumber, timbers and construction poles are sold in standard even-foot lengths. The raw material to make them must be 3 inches longer for mill trim purposes. Fence post and fence rail material is also sold in even foot lengths but must have 6 extra inches of length standard. Six inches extra on each fence rail provides 3 inches of rail extension beyond fence posts, which are normally set in the ground 2 feet deep (4 and ½ feet above ground) at even-foot on-center intervals.
You can cut a variety of raw forest products with just this stick measure and your saw. For example:
The full stick length plus the two foot and four foot marks help you to make 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 foot saw logs and poles with 3 inch mill trim.
The 6’6” mark is to make standard length fence posts.
Two full stick lengths are to make 16’6” long fence and corral rails.
The 6’6” mark plus the two foot and four foot marks help you make 8, 10, 12 and 14 foot fence rails with 6” extensions standard.
Keep in mind that a mill’s mechanical peeling process removes all the bark and minor wood surface blemishes very nicely from posts, poles, and rails. The big head-rig saw blade removes a log’s “outsides” in the process to make straight boards and timbers. Raw material forest products therefore need not appear perfect, except their dimensions must be correct.
Here is a little tip about quality control. When you look at the products you cut, decide: “Would you purchase that item?” If you answer “no,” then you probably are not doing as good a job cutting as you can do. Before you do any cutting of products, check first with an intended buyer for their product standards, preferences, and transportation options.
There is a certain satisfaction that comes from making products and avoiding waste as you manage and improve your forest. If there is enough quantity with good quality, your wood products can be sold. Non-merchantable wood material, the stuff that is left after cutting straight sections into exact lengths for products, makes good firewood.
Cutting raw forest products of value is how you straighten a crooked log.