Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A stronger axe?

Just finished hanging a new handle on a 4 pound axe my brother got me from a car boot last year, A nice simple shaped head, is marked with SJ and a small crown like symbol, also stamped with 'made in england'. The steel seems to be of good quality, the angle of the bevel was clearly set for it to be a felling axe and with a little work it holds a very good edge, although some large chips had to be worked out of it first. A quick buff to remove the surface rust makes a dramatic difference

For the handle I decided to go for something a bit more traditional. In colonial America the professional forester and tree feller would have used a straight handled axe, all the way up until about the 1840's and they didn't replace them with curved handles, they were phased out with the development of the double bit axe which gained much popularity throughout the later part of the 19th century. The curved handles would in all likelihood not have seen that much use from the men who depended on the axe for their livelihood.

A straight handle is stronger than a curved one, there are no sections of short grain, as the grain is continuous from the bit to the end. Also surprisingly a straight handle is more accurate. This is because the 10° curve at the end of the curved handle alters the axis of pivot (how the handle aligns with centre of weight of the head) without going into to many angles and calculations it basically means that any inaccuracies in your chopping are magnified with a curved handle. (for further reading/information:The axe book, the lore and science of the wood cutter by D. Cook, or Advanced axe selection)

I carved this handle from some ash that I cut down earlier in the winter, it has been split for some time and was really nice to work with, hardly needed and sanding at all. finished with linseed oil.

I mentioned a while ago how I had the chance to use a friends Gransfors carving axe and how I instantly wanted one! well...

It was my birthday recently and funnily enough this was top of my list of things I wanted! It is a joy to use, a really solid feel to it, quite heavy but balanced so as you don't really notice it. It holds an incredible edge, and arrived sharper than I could ever get it! Took a little bit of adjusting to get used to the single bevel, but now I've got the hang of it I can do so much more before turning to the shave horse and draw knife. As someone once told me the more you do with one tool the less you do with the next.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Tall trees!

Was set a bit of a challenge this week, how to climb and deadwood big trees, that have next to no branches for a significant proportion of the trunk, and no branches that will support weight after that, without using spikes! Ordinarily with tree climbing you pass your main rope over a branch, ascend the rope to that branch that pass your second line over another branch higher up, then ascend that line. This is repeated until you reach a point where an anchor point can be set and ideally all the work that needs to be completed can be carried out using that line. (This is obviously a very over simplified version of the process) 

Now I knew before I turned up to do the job what was in store for me, so in anticipation I brought a 'big shot' basically a giant catapult used to get a small line high into the tree to then pull your mainline through, thus allowing you to climb the tree. Unfortunately there were no branches, even in the upper canopy that you would want to trust your life to! So to counter this I would use the smaller branches to support the rope, send the end back up to the tree thus 'choking' the rope around the tree, this enabled me to climb the rope as a fixed line, with no worry of it slipping down. 

From this point on I then had to use a fairly complicated system of ropes, pulleys and ascenders to progress any further in the tree, this system was more akin to aid climbing or caving than anything you'd normally see being used in a tree, but certain trees do require you to think outside of the box! The system was by no means quick or perfect, but it worked and it was safe, and it enabled me to climb trees that 3 other firms had either refused to quote for or tried and failed! And I can now say with some confidence that I could climb any tree without the use of spikes. Providing it was safe to climb of course. 

The trees were part of the go ape course at sherwood forest, the course has been open since 2003 and had not been effectively deadwooded in that time. As customers on the course spend a good deal of there time under the trees it was imperative that the dead branches were removed, this was made even more obvious to me when some out the branches I was removing would break off with only the slightest touch. 

Another job tackled this week was at the go ape sight in Bracknell near london, a bit more straight forward this time, just required 2 scotts pine trees to be dismantled to allow room for a container. Pretty simple stuff really, just needed spiking up, removing all the branches on the way, untill there was about 6 metres above me, this is then felled out, and the remaining trunk taken down in sections. The last 10 metres of the trunks we felled in one piece as we needed large sections to build a bridge over a small ditch, for all terrain segways to cross over! Get to do all sorts in this game!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Busy week

Have had a very busy week, began working on a job that should last about 3 weeks or so, coppicing very overstood alder along the banks of a small river that runs not far from where I live. It is grant funded work for a local farmer, over 3 fields there are approximately 80 stools to coppice, including some quite large willow pollards.

Unfortunately the grant is not paying to coppice the whole area, it has limited the numbers, which is not an ideal situation as the coppiced stumps would respond much better given the light that would come from coppicing all of the trees. So to counter this I have tried to concentrate on particularly dense areas, opening them up to allow more light in, or going for the trees that look like they are going to be splitting out from the base at some point.

Our saving grace this week has been using a tractor mounted winch I recently purchased, to extract the trees from the river bank, sometimes up near vertical 3 to 4 metre high slopes. Without the winch this would have been impossible, we also used it to pull the trees in the direction that we wanted them to come, as quite frequently they were leaning out across the river.

To many people this will seem like drastic work, but these trees would have been coppiced on a rotation for generations, its only in the last 30 - 50 years that this has fallen out of practice. the stumps will grow back vigorously, providing a sustainable source of timber and actually prolonging the life of the tree as well as preventing erosion of the river bank. Its a shame there aren't more people making use of the grants available.

Not a bad place for a cup of tea

Have really enjoyed having a big job to get stuck into, as quite often with private tree work it is quite bitty, small garden trees, usually half/one day jobs. Although I'm not going back to finish off until next week as this week I am dead wooding a Go ape course in Sherwood forest, which is a pitty as I was just getting into a rhythm!

My office