The hard way – so typical of the way I learn


As I have said many times, living off the grid is a huge learning curve.  And I am just barely graduating from kindergarten.  So much to know…………..

My friend, D, has a portable sawmill.  But, of course, there is nothing portable about it.  It is about thirty feet long with a twenty foot bed and sports a pretty big engine turning a six-foot or longer horizontal band-saw.  It weighs what a two ton truck might weigh.  He bought it.  Shipped it.  Carried each piece and assembled the whole damn thing in the middle of the forest.  Then he cut all the wood he needed for his homestead and for that of his cousin.  That is a lot of lumber.  And that is a lot of work.

Just the milling is a lot of work.

Even tho D has some standing trees on his property he occasionally purchases logs from the local logging outfit.  It’s easier and no one gets injured.  He had about a dozen twenty-foot lengths at his work-site and none were less than 20″ in diameter.  Each was only a quarter or a fifth of a tree but they were still very big and heavy.

D had agreed to mill some siding and some beams for the community project and only requested a bit of assistance.  Like a fool, I squeaked when I should have kept quiet.  Yesterday we headed out in his beat-up pick-up in the rain to make macho in the woods.  Like lumber-guys.  But he remembered to wear his red-plaid heavy flannel logging shirt and a filthy cap.  I was dressed in a clean hoody.  I have so much to learn!

The second thing I learned is that it is pretty bloody hard to move those logs around a muddy field.  So, real men use real trucks and real ropes and they drag them into approximate place.  Some of those real men stand around and watch.  Those ones pull up their hoody instead.  Then the real men use peaveys to roll the log onto the bed of the mill.

And we begin to mill.

It is truly a fascinating concept, actually.  We, as a species, have decided to carve out square sticks from big round ones.  Or, more accurately put: we make rectilinear boards from round trees.  Waste is prodigious and inevitable.

“Hey, D, now that I see how this is done, wouldn’t it be more efficient to make octagonal beams from round trees?”

I heard him say, “(The other guys warned me about this)…………Just push the log and you can work out the philosophy of it all later, OK?  And when you do, ask yourself how do you fasten octagonal ends?”

So that shut me up for a while.

When we had finished milling we stacked all our fresh-cut lumber on the truck kitty-corner across the bed.  Had to.  The wood was all longer than the bed of the truck.  We ‘stuck out’ six feet on either side.  That is not so much a problem when you are going down a two lane paved road.  Scrambling a mile or so over a heavily rutted dirt road with strong saplings growing right into the road way was like negotiating some kind of weird forest-guy slalom.  And to keep the wood relatively in place and because the passenger side door would now not open, I sat atop the load.

Next time I will scootch across the driver’s side and sit inside.  I kept seeing saplings just miss the load as we whizzed by.  Catch a sapling and I would be sent airborne.  Been there.  Don’t need to learn that lesson again.

But, just as the skies really opened, we arrived at the project and unloaded.

“Geez, man!”, I said, lying through my teeth, “That was great.  What a great day!  Great experience!  Yeah!  Just great.  Have to do that again some time……….but, well, I think I’ll go home now.  We done?”   All the time I was saying that, I was also vowing to pay whatever the price was for milled wood without ever even thinking of complaining about the cost again.

And I have shelved my plans for getting my own mill.

I learned my lesson.

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