Herald JournalHerald and Journal, Nov. 4, 2002

The old days of wood cutting

By Joe Kieser

The leaves were just about all off the trees in the big woods. It was time for Dad to get the cross-cut saw down from the wall in the wood shed.

The saw was then clamped firmly into the wooden vice. The saw had been gummed the year before, so that was not necessary this year.

An iron gauge was attached to each tooth and the tooth bent to just the proper amount of set. Then a sharp edge was filed onto each tooth.

With the saw over one shoulder, a double bit axe, pail of wedges, a mall, and we were ready to make the long walk to the woods.

Several different types of trees needed to be cut down. Basswood and elm for quick heat; maple, ash, and iron wood for night burning.

The white oak was a special tree used for many purposes. Boards were sawed from the trunk logs. Several 12-inch diameter by eight-foot long pieces needed to be cut for future use.

The direction to drop the tree was determined by walking around the tree and looking up at the branches. A notch was sawed and chopped into the side of the tree that was in the direction of fall. Just the proper rhythm was given to the pull of a two-man cross-cut saw.

Dad always had to remind us not to push the saw. "Pull your side only and the saw will do the work for you." If the saw would pinch, you could always pound a wedge into the slot.

A hearty "Timberrrrrrr" and the tree came crashing to the ground.

Logs were cut from the trunks, and the branches were chopped into eight- to 10-foot lengths and piled up to dry for one year.

The old saw rig was the next piece of equipment that needed to be used. The wooden frame and wheels always needed some type of repair.

The big circular saw needed to be sharpened. The big "Fuller-Johnson" engine needed the dry cell battery attached to it.

Pails of water were dumped into the large reservoir on the top of the engine. The big fly wheel was turned until you could feel the compression stoke. Then one mighty pull on the wheel and the engine would come to life.

Next was something that always looked very dangerous! The engine would not start with the drive belt attached. The belt was put on the saw pulley and then spun onto the running engine. The saw really hummed when it came to life.

"Harness up the horses and be sure to use the bridles with the blinders," was Dad's command. Even the most gentlest team seemed nervous as they pulled this noisy machine to the woods.

The dry wood from last year was now cut into stove wood lengths. You just pushed the wooden saw buck with your hip and held the wood in place with your hands.

My job was to handle the blocks of wood in place with my hands and throw the blocks onto the wagon. Pinch the saw just once and the belt procedure had to be repeated.

Mom always got first choice when the wood was ranked into the wood shed. She would pick out the wood and split it into small pieces for her cook stove. The fire in her cook stove was constant, 365 days a year. She would always comment that the old pot bellied stove could burn any kind of wood.

Once a year, Dad would climb up onto the roof of the house. He would dangle a log chain down the chimney to break loose the creosote and soot. Burning wood and the removal of ashes took a lot of time and attention.

The very coldest day of the year was the time to shovel out those special white oak logs. The right hand side of all of our line fences needed repair.

The frozen logs split easily with a wedge and a couple of hits from the mall. A double bit axe was then used to chop out nice rectangular fence posts. Remove the bark from the ground portion and you had a post that would last for 25 years.

Our saw rig was the only one of its kind in our area. Many of our neighbors benefitted from its use. It was made into scrap iron in about 1950.

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