If you recall, last December we had a huge windstorm that felled a 103′ tall Douglas Fir tree in our back yard. This happened literally days after we finished the cleanup from the big snow storm a few weeks before. That storm had most of our trees breaking branches off and falling (due to the weight of the snow) and we hired a landscaper to come saw them up and put them into a huge pile. We tried to do it ourselves but it was just too much work and we are short on time and the tools required.
The tree was another matter. My friend and coworker Shawn Hammer came and sawed up the tree into manageable chunks a couple of months ago. The remaining work is to just split and stack it to dry for use as firewood (for next time we lose electricity for a week!) I can do this job myself. But unlike other jobs, where it was important for issues of safety or whatnot to get it done swiftly, this job can be done at a leisurely pace.
An odd fact about me is that I don’t really like power tools. I’m not a luddite by any stretch of the imagination, I just don’t really mind using hand tools for a task like this. I was thinking about this while I was splitting these very heavy logs with an axe, a splitting wedge, and a 5lb short sledge hammer; we invented power tools to make human effort scale to meet commercial need. Power tools enabled us to get things done more efficiently. In this case, efficiency would be a luxury, not a NEED. I don’t have to have this wood split and stacked anytime soon. It could literally wait forever. My family might not want to have this stuff littering our yard, but in reality there is no pressing need to get it done. So why haul in some gas-powered splitter or something? The physical act of using hand tools to do the job is so much more engaging for me mentally. Looking at the wood grain, and knots and finding the just right spot to place the wedge. That moment of Zen-like calm as I relax, adjust the grip on the handle of the Collins Axe as it dangles behind my back… concentrating on the spot of wood that I wish to strike, before snapping it through the arc and (hopefully) through the log just right. The rhythm of the hammer on the wedge, and the tell-tale changes in pitch as it digs deeper into the wood, and then changes again as the pressure releases and the splitting starts. You cannot get this sort of VARIABLE connection to a task when just feeding a machine. The rhythms of feeding machinery can be theraputic, but it isn’t quite the same as doing the work by hand.
So I wandered out after breakfast and spent the better part of the day splitting wood. After I started I thought it would be fun to capture it in a timelapse; so I went and set up my laptop and iSight camera on the deck and fired up iStopMotion and got what you see above. That is about four and a half hours of work, condensed into a few seconds. Sorry about the out of focus-ness about it, but the iSight is obviously not really meant to be a long-range lens! My duct tape “tripod” also failed me, as you can see the camera shifted over time.
You can see the logs vanishing from the lower right and the pile of split wood growing in the upper right as the day goes on. Each log segment would yield about eight bits of firewood after splitting. I vanish about a third of the way in for a while… off to the barn to sharpen the splitting wedge (with a Dremel tool… see I’m not completely averse to power tools!) I’m also joined by Nick & Sue later in the day, and eventually they convince me to stop and go inside (but not until I split two more logs!) Sue brought me some iced tea at one point, and she runs the mower for a while too. Nick helps collect and stack the wood for me. The dogs just wander around being useless… and occasionally steal bits of wood to chew on. Christopher is no doubt very happy to be six-thousand miles away right now, or he’d be helping me too!
I managed to get over half of it done, so maybe next weekend I can wrap it up. Then we’ll have to stack the big pile.
The camera is pointing SW.
You would think that I’d be really sore, but I’m not. We’ll see what tomorrow brings! It helps that I’m ambidextrous (another little known fact about me: I can do just about everything with either hand. I write right-handed, as for some reason when I write left-handed I write backwards. The handwriting looks pretty much identical, but just backwards. I can draw, paint, play sports, swing a hammer or use other hand tools, operate a mouse, etc with either hand just fine. I usually go months at a time using the mouse with one hand or another… then suddenly switch. Lately I’ve been mousing lefty.) For me there is a sort of mental switch of gears when I change hands… it is really an adjustment to how I SEE things more than concentrating on my arms and hands. This allows me to work longer at things like swinging a hammer as I can just swap hands if I get tired. I never told my dad that when I was a teenager though. Funny how that works. 😉