In Search of the Right Tree

    In the fall of 2017, while I was locating the right trees for my barn roof rafters, I looked through all our standing timber searching for the right size tree to make decay resistant beams for the future barn's sill plates. It would take one large tree with enough available board feet to hew one 16" x 16"  x 24-foot beam, and one 7" x 15" x 16-foot beam.  Later, I would split these beams in half to fit the sill plate dimensions.  
    These figures translated into finding a large enough tree to provide a 20-inch diameter at approximately 25 feet of tree height. The next 16 foot beam would need to taper from 20 inches to about 17 inches to provide sufficient material for the second, smaller beam. In my search through our small timber acreage, I found only one Douglas fir which barely met these dimensions. It stood straight and tall with a 60 percent crown ratio and had no apparent defects. A crown ratio represents the amount of live, green, treetop present in proportion to the height of the tree. I had observed that lower crown ratio trees grew taller with slowly tapering stems. There were also fewer large knots present on the bottom part of the tree which would contributed to an easier hewing and splitting task. Many trees with small to moderate amounts of sweep, crooks, or other defects still have sufficient value because the shorter 8 to 16-foot lengths of lumber sold today allow for the removal of these defects from the saw logs. The large 24-foot sill plates would require a superior, defect-free tree.  
    As we approached the completion of our building material list,  I found myself standing before this same fir tree in February 2018. I wanted to take a final measurement of its dimensions before we decided to fall it.

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     I wrapped my  tape measure around the tree at breast height and found the diameter of the tree was 23.8 inches.


     Next I used my relascope and took a tree height of 100.65 feet, and a taper height which revealed I had a 20.23-inch diameter 26.7 feet up the tree. The relascope is a small intricately engineered hand tool capable of taking precise measurements in various ways; especially useful for examining variable radius plots. In the real world of a timber cruiser, many obstacles exist upon the ground or in the trees which obstruct a clear view of the tree top or stem of the tree. This is critical in not only taking tree heights but also to determine if a tree is "in" or "out" of the plot under examination. Fortunately, the relascope facilitates in solving this perpetual dilemma by allowing the cruiser to measure tree heights from virtually any distance and slope angle.
    My father came up for the day to help me with this special project. Like many earlier endeavors I'd had in my life, my dad was nearby to give me advice and a helping hand. I knew what it was like as a child to have my father and my mother put our family first over financially profitable career advancement options in their lives. Both my parents again chose this path and made a decision to retire early from their teaching careers and relocate near us instead of accepting a job opportunity in Hawaii. My father came faithfully every week through the fall and winter helping me hew the longer barn beams and rafters. His keen eye for efficiency found an overlooked step in how I transcribed parallel lines on my logs which thereafter saved us a lot of time. He had even purchased his own broadaxe from an antique shop back east, while visiting his parents during the summer.
    My grandfather, a Virginian and retired electrical engineer living in Maryland, was a boy scout master while my dad was growing up. Later in life, my grandfather befriended an older scout master who had given him several old and rusty crosscut saws the boy scouts from Washington County Maryland used in the 1930s and 1940s. He gave me these saws and I had them reconditioned and sharpened several years earlier by David B. of Salmon, Idaho. On this particular day, I had it in mind to cut down our chosen Douglas fir tree with one of these 80 to 90-year-old "pulp" saws, as David had called them. A pulp saw has a narrower blade compared to what a person envisions when the word "two-man crosscut saw" is used. Compared to the 250-foot tall white pine trees first encountered in this area, (one tree having a 4-foot  diameter 90 feet up the tree, according to Judge Bradberry), our 6-foot x 4-inch wide pulp saw was sized perfectly for our task in cutting today's smaller timber. The narrower blade on our saw was important so we had enough room available to put felling wedges behind the blade as we cut through the tree.


    Dad and I started our face cut into the tree, measuring 26 inches at its base. Previously, we had chopped out hundreds of juggles on horizontal logs. Now chopping into a vertical tree from this angle was nearly as cumbersome and uncoordinated as trying to trim a horse's feet flat when it's laid on its side hogtied. Later, my father-in-law, who fell trees during his logging career, (with a chainsaw) informed me that the horizontal part of the face cut was made with a cross cut saw and then opened up with an axe cutting at a diagonal angle. Despite this, we did craft a very authentic looking face cut with our axes which the photographer (my wife) overlooked due to a distraction from the direction of home. (It was a very cloudy, dark day which made the picture taking challenging - thus a couple of these photos have a bit of a blur, but I think you can still get the idea of what we were doing:)


     Next, we carefully started the back cut with the saw, which glided with such ease and speed through the wood that we nearly forgot to place our wedges. Another lesson we learned. The thin blade on the crosscut saw is smaller than a typical 3/8 chain from your chainsaw.


     We did manage to get my blunt and cut up plastic wedges into the narrow gap behind the blade as we finished up the back cut.