Stump speech

Today was a little different flavour of woodworking: I was using power tools!


Okay, so maybe it’s a little…coarser than I normally work with, but it was still wood, and it was definitely working, so I’m going to claim it.  Four years ago, I had the ailing eastern cottonwood trees cut down in my back yard.  Lacking funds (some things don’t change), I elected not to have the stumps ground out at the time.  I’ve been gardening around them since then, using improvised raised beds.  But today, il Duce and I decided to make strides for a more cohesive garden.

The stump grinding attachment for the BCS 853 is not a flimsy tool.  In fact, it’s downright hefty.  Even so, it does take a while to chew through a 48″ diameter stump.


But eventually, the stump is turned into a mass of woodchips.  The pile you see extends about 6″ under the soil level.  This is plenty if you had a tree downed and wanted to put soil and grass where the stump was.  Once again, little Benito proves his worth!



A split personality

Usually, I like traditional tools.  Hand tools, by the 1910’s, were at their zenith.  The forms had evolved and been refined for centuries.  They were effective to use, and much more comfortable than today’s iterations.  Don’t believe me?  I have a modern crosscut saw with hardpoint teeth and “ergonomic” handle (I hide it in the truck).  I also have a vintage Disston panel saw from right around the turn of the century.  See which one feels better to use, especially for something more than cutting a 2×4.

But on occasion I get smitten with something new.  Invariably, I don’t want to like it.  It’s not traditional and it’s all…new-fangled.  Bah!  Get off my lawn!  But eventually certain tools win me over because they just work better.

This is one  of those tools.  I use a couple of cords of firewood every year.  Most of it I split by hand.  I’ve used a splitting maul before, but they were always pretty mediocre in my experience.  But now, in spite of the stainless steel head and plastic handle, I use the Fiskars X27 splitting axe.


It’s all modern looking, I know.  But it works better than any maul I’ve ever used.  And it splits better than using a regular felling axe.  It’s pretty light at only 5 pounds or so.  That seems a little wimpy until you remember the formula for muzzle energy from the “9mm vs. .45ACP” forum flame wars: E=½mv².  Or, to apply it here, if you can make that axe head swing faster, it squares the velocity value, whilst the mass of the head only increases linearly.  Now that plastic handle (which takes a little getting used to, looks wise)  is so light that the axe feels unbalanced…until you realise that the handle is a full 36″ long, and all the mass is up at the sharp end.  Hello, lever arm.  You can get it to swing fast.

If you’ve spent any time in the woods with other people, you know that you should NEVER swing any hafted tool in line with another person.  If the head comes off the helve (and if you haven’t had that happen yet, you’re in for an interesting experience), it will fly straight out from where you’re striking.  If another person is there, it gets…unpleasant.  This Fiskars axe, though, molds the handle over the head.  Much safer, as it can’t come off in anything resembling normal service.

In summary, if you are using hand power to split your winter’s heat, this is the tool for the job.  Even if it isn’t vintage.

Archimedean Woodworking

I’m talking here about Archimedes of Syracuse, who once (perhaps apocryphally) stated “Give me a place to stand, and with a lever I will move the whole world.”.  While many times in woodworking we don’t want to lever things (a chisel is for cutting, not prying), occasionally it comes up.  A froe, for instance, uses a lever arm attached to a wedge to force a split.  An English “pigsticker” mortice chisel is shaped the way it is so that you can lever chips out of a mortice, especially a blind one.  And when it comes to moving logs around, there is a very helpful lever called a peavey.


A peavey is named after its inventor, Joseph Peavey, who came up with the idea in 1857.  The company (Peavey Manufacturing) he founded is still around, still in America, and still producing quality tools.  Take that, China!

One of the problems I have when I’m dealing with fresh-cut timber is that trees don’t come in boards.  They come in logs.  Logs are heavy.  Moving them around by yourself can be nigh-on impossible, especially as they usually aren’t round.  Roundish maybe, but branch stubs hang them up a lot.  And moving several hundred pounds of wood around is a minor chore to move anyway.  But using the leverage that a peavey provides, it is a lot more doable.  It also keeps your chainsaw in better condition because instead of cutting all the way through into the dirt, you can flip the log relatively easily and cut on the other side.  In the winter, if you get log rounds frozen to the ground, there’s enough leverage to pop them free so you can split them.

If you routinely deal with whole logs, especially from larger trees ( >18″), and certainly if you do it alone, the peavey is a definite must-buy.


Chestnut, Elm, Ash…

All of these trees have had it rough, here in the US.  Chestnuts are down to a handful of individuals.  I don’t remember the last time I saw an elm tree.  On the other hand ash trees, at least around here in central Ohio, are easy to pick out: they’re the dead ones.  All of these species have been the victims of one thing:


Now, I know it sounds like I’m about to run off on some tinfoil beanie rant about how the UN wants to force everyone to wear the Mark of the Beast, and line up to receive their Soylent Green ration before trudging off to the local collective farm.  But that’s not it!  At least, not at the moment.  Anyway, the point is that none of these native trees would have suffered the fate that it did except for globalisation.  All of them suffered attacks that came from literally oceans away, to wit: East Asia.  Chestnut Blight, Dutch Elm Disease [described by a Hollander, not from there], and the Emerald Ash Borer all come from East Asia.

Now there are other trees suffering similar fates like dogwoods and white pines.  But those mentioned are the big three around here.  All were thought to be infected by accident.  Packing crates are the usual suspect.  There are “analog species”, e.g. the Chinese Chestnut, in East Asia for all of these afflictions, but they have immunities not present in American species.  So when these beetles and fungi got to America, it was like opening a buffet, to the detriment of our native species.

How this ties in with me here in central Ohio is with ash trees.  The Emerald Ash Borer is present here, and you can certainly tell.  Trees just about reach sexual maturity, and are struck down (about 10-20, usually).  Remember a picture like this from science class?


The part of the tree that’s still living is the cambium.  All that wood is previous layers of cambium that have been laid down over the years.  But that cambium is incredibly thin.  The borers eat only the cambium, leaving trails full of frass (bug poop) behind.


Eventually, all those little trails munched through the living part of the tree meet up around the trunk.  This girdles the tree, severing the connection between the roots and leaves, and the tree dies.

So all these dead trees have to go somewhere.  Blowdowns occur, but they’re wasteful.  I heat with wood, and all those dead ash trees keep me warm in the winter.  But at the moment, they’re keeping me excessively warm.


That’s three ash trees back there.  I HATE doing timbering in the summer.  It’s hot and muggy and the bugs make life miserable.  But where these had to come from was across a field that is pretty swampy most of the time.  After a recent dry spell, I was able to get the truck over to them without getting stuck, so carpe diem and all, before the winter winds knocked them over in an inconvenient manner.  I’ll use most of this for fuel, but I should be able to get some nice timber out of it for use in the woodshop.

And what about the slash?  Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

If it’s stupid, but it works…

…then it’s not stupid.  It’s innovative!  Sort of like how a weird person with money is merely eccentric.  Guess I’m doomed to be weird.

Anyway, it’s been pouting buckets lately.  Since my garage is all woodshop, and little room for that, I have a wheelbarrow and a mower that usually sit outside, cable-locked.  Good as I get at the moment.  But I didn’t want water ponding in the wheelbarrow, or getting in the motor of my mower.  Soooo…..


This is not an attempt to make a hybrid!  What would that be, anyway?  A lawn-barrow?  But it works pretty darn well.  So if you find yourself bereft of sheltered storage space for your equipment, this might work!