Cutting Wood

The trees are turning in earnest, and the shoulders of the gravel roads I frequent are thick with fallen leaves. In my spare hours, I cut firewood, amassing a pile for the winter that lies on the other side of the one that’s soon to come. I’ve always wanted to be a year ahead. This might be the year I actually make it.

A week or so ago, I took my younger son with me into the woods, and we found the perfect tree, a gently leaning ash, nice size and not in good health, practically begging to be cut. I showed him how take measure of the situation, to identify his path of escape, to make his notch, where to place the back cut. Then I stepped away and watched as he took the big tree down, his first felling job. It landed precisely where it needed to land, with an enormous whump I could feel through the soles of my boots. The boy looked pleased, and was right to be. I remembered cutting wood with my father, or rather him cutting wood, and me loading the rounds into the open hatch of the little Honda Civic he drove at the time. I was young, then, younger than my boy is now, too young to run a saw, I suspect, though I think my father wouldn’t have wanted to teach me, anyhow: I’m pretty sure he ran his on a wing and a prayer. It was a red Jonsereds, back before they took the “s” off the name, when they were made in Sweden. My dad still has that saw, though it hasn’t been started in probably two decades or more.

My son bucked the ash, while I pretended not to watch too closely. He did fine. We loaded the rounds into the bucket of the tractor, the air suffused with the smell of fresh cut wood and chainsaw exhaust. Once the bucket was full, we rode slowly down the hill, back toward home, the late afternoon sun slanting through the trees to land in bright patches on the forest floor.


11 thoughts on “Cutting Wood”

  1. Hopefully he was wearing chaps and eye protection? Ken’s nephew just tore a big gash in his leg cos he didn’t have any to wear. Rough lesson and (thankfully) didn’t cut to the bone, but he now owns a pair – thanks to his dad!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Mr. Hewitt….Reading this post on a Saturday morning in China brought back memories of the days when wood was the primary source of heat in our Cape Cod home that devoured
    six cords per winter. Despite the hard work of hauling, splitting, stacking and chimney cleaning I always found peace and relaxation in these chores, my dogs as observers. The grand culmination was putting a torch to the kindling, placing myself on the sofa leaving the doors open on the stove and watching the fire all evening. What a wonderful reward it was.

    Congratulations to your son on his first felling. Many more to come, Thanks for this post!

  3. Mr. Hewitt….I just want to say that I started my day today at 5:30 reading an old post, ‘Lemmy and Jim.’ Had a flood of tears before my first cup of coffee. Really fine tribute to your good friend. Sorry he was gone at just 43. An incomprehensible loss for all involved.

    Your writing releases many emotions within me from rollicking laughter to heartfelt feeling. In 12 weeks I’ll look back on 2019 and my first point of gratitude will be directed toward your blog here, that I stumbled upon it this year. I’ve read a ton of stuff in my 69 years and I’m convinced yours is the best, at least for me it is. I’m very grateful. Keep up the good work.

  4. We’re second generation to use an ancient Sears and Roebuck furnace originally meant for coal. We brought it with us when it was our turn to move into the family homestead. Our son ended up at our old house so dad felt obligated to find a replacement furnace and recognized a pile of metal in a for sale ad. My husband required we also install a Charm Royal cook stove in the kitchen but we fully renovated and insulated the room so it’s impossible to get the fire hot enough to bake biscuits without opening windows. Our son however learned to bring in “biscuit wood” for his grandmother. I hope your sons enjoy the benefits of learning useful skills like our son has. He was a welcomed guest when a friend needed help roofing a cabin in Alaska. I’m glad I only had to participate in tree felling back when we cleared to build our first house. I listened to safety instructions and it was always heads up when a tree was going to fall. One time a tree came down sooner than expected due to internal rot. I ran like heck and the borrowed chain saw got bound up. We were lucky last year when a much younger friend needed wood and we had too much tree length that needed to be cut and split. A deal was made. This year we requested our yearly wood delivery be already cut and split. It took the logger’s son less than a day to do six or seven cord with the equipment they have.

  5. You didn’t mention anything about limbing up the tree. I guess you either didn’t process the whole thing or you were out in the woods where it doesn’t matter if you limb it up or not – just cut off what’s burnable.
    I’m usually limbing what I drop. I only have one saw, a Stihl 271 with an 18″ bar. It’s heavy as heck for limbing, but with a full chisel chain, it’s the best at felling and bucking. It’ll wear you right out limbing, which is of course super dangerous. So yeah, I wear chaps. Don’t let the boy get worn out using the saw. (I know you know, but I have a to say it.) I’d love to have a tree saw (top handle) for limbing work.

    1. Not many limbs on the ash around here… they tend to be real straight and clear right up to the tops. We have two saws: a 64cc Makita (actually a Dolmar, great saw) and a 346 Husky, which is 51cc, super light, great for ground work. Chaps, always. I read somewhere that the average chainsaw injury requires 300 stitches. Not sure if it’s true, but that’s 300 more stitches than I’m interested in.

      1. Aren’t Kevlar chaps standard lower body protection when chainsawing these days? If so, the probability of cutting yourself with a chainsaw seems pretty remote if you keep the work area clear of obstacles.

        Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s I probably cut and spit around 100 cords of stove and fireplace wood while wearing jeans. The only protection that I wore was a pair of earmuffs in a attempt to protect/preserve my hearing.

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