mardi 22 août 2006

Le Suisse

The morning began with the task of splitting the logs from yesterday to make them manageable enough to load into the trailer. There were about 30 of them each about a 12”-15” in diameter.

I’ve split plenty of logs for the fire but these were about 3ft long, so this was new territory. Once they’re dry you can cut a three foot log in half for the fire or into three for the rayburn.

I started with the biggest. The felling axe was clearly not the tool to use, so out came the 7lb maul and some steel wedges I’d found when clearing the old shed. After about 15 minutes of axe swinging and wedge hammering I finally managed to split it in half. The remaining logs would take ages, so clearly a different approach was required. I decided splitting these long logs must be like splitting shorter logs only more force would be required, so I picked a medium sized one, stood it on end and took the biggest swing I could at it with the maul, aiming dead centre – crack!! I cleaved it clean in half and the two halves flew apart in opposite directions. Oh the satisfaction. After about an hour all the logs were split and loaded. Excellent exercise too.

At this point Philippe arrived and after unloading the trailer at Quelebu we returned to the ruin and I set to work on the four big ash trees which needed to come down. Each was about 100ft with 16”-18” diameter trunks. As all four grew almost from a single stem and they were situated with a 3 feet foot drop between the west and east sides of the trees they weren’t going to be easy.

The first was awkward to making the felling cut (the last cut that fells the tree) because the second was in the way – but I managed and down it came exactly where I wanted it.

The second had a slight lean but I thought it would go without having to adopt any special felling techniques. At the moment it fell the trunk split for about twenty feet up the tree. This is because of the tension in the timber being released on the upward side of the leaning tree. If the split occurs before the tree falls it can be very hazardous and as control of the falling tree is lost and the trunk can break at almost any height – this is called a ‘barber chair’ in the US.

The third also had a significant lean but I had to fell it slightly away from the direction of lean because of the telephone lines which were just within reach. There is a technique for felling heavy leaning trees to prevent ‘barber chairing’ whereby 2 sink cuts (the wedge shaped cuts that control the direction of fall) are made at 60 degrees to each other and the felling cut completes the equilateral triangle. Unfortunately, I’ve never done this before where the direction of lay needs to be controlled away from the lean. I couldn’t see how it would be possible to exercise any control with this technique so I decide to adopt the normal technique again – but with great caution as I now knew that the tree would ‘barber chair’. As I expected it split just as it fell and although this time the trunk snapped during the fall, about 10 feet up, all was well and it fell more or less where I wanted it a safe distance from the telephone lines.

We stopped for lunch.

The last tree seemed the most straightforward. There were now no other trees in the way and it was almost vertical. There was the slightest of leans towards the nearby ruin perhaps half a degree, if that, but the canopy appeared lob sided enough to easily counteract this. The sink cut was made (the wedge shaped cut that controls the direction the tree falls) and just as I finished the felling cut I heard the normal crack as the tree starts to fall. I removed the chain saw and retreated to the safe zone but just at that moment a freak gust of wind blew and rather than fall in the intended direction the wind blew the tree back the exact opposite way closing the felling cut and leaving the tree inclined in the wrong direction supported purely by the hinge (the bit of tree trunk left in place pivot the tree as it falls). Now here was an almighty problem. The tree was dangerous as it was - cut 90% of the way through - and there was no way I could think to bring it down with the chainsaw except in the direction it was now leaning but that would drop it onto the ruin (which isn’t very ruined at present but would be if the tree fell on it!!). The only solution would be to pull it over but had we enough rope? Philippe and I got all the rope we could find, tied it all together, lassoed the tree high up then tried to pull it over. Not a chance, the tree probably weighed 4 or 5 tonnes. We had another go, this time with the Suzuki pulling but the rope broke. Time for outside help.

Yves (Claude’s son) has a landrover with a winch on the front but he was out. Patrick had some more rope but not enough. John suggested we try Philippe at Biech (he was out and his wife could only lend us some more rope) or ‘Le Suisse’ at La Trape.

John hadn’t been there for a few years but we knew we were at the right place when the gate was guarded by two garden gnomes waving Swiss flags! ‘Le suisse’ looked how you would expect a Swiss woodsman to look (I’ll leave this to your imagination), which is fortunate as that is exactly what he is! After a few questions he agreed to help and fetched his cable and hand winch.

Back at the site he set up the winch about 20 feet away from the tree and exactly under where it should have fallen, then leaning against the tree (my heart was in my mouth at this point - surely it would topple over with him attached) he threw cable around it as high up as he could. Returning to the winch he took up the slack. I couldn’t believe he was going to pull the tree down on top of himself. A couple of ratchet clicks the tree gave out a ‘crack’ and visibly moved back into the position it was in when it was about to fall. Two more clicks and it started to fall as originally planned. Le Suisse watching the tree all the time moved quickly to the side and it crashed down beside him. Applause rang up from the now gathered crowd of neighbours and after much hand shaking and praise from me and it was time for L’apero at John’s house (cold beers all round).

First I returned to look at the stump of the tree and my cuts are absolutely ‘text book’ as I was taught on my course felling course – but there’s more to felling trees than any text book/course can teach you. Today I learnt a huge amount about tree felling. Tomorrow, thankfully the trees are much smaller!

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