Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Woodcutter's Daughter

A principal player in the fairy tale genre is the (usually) beautiful young girl who lives with her father who is a woodcutter. Things happen to the young girl involving wolves, witches, goblins etc. and she invariably comes out on top.

It is essential that she is isolated and left to her own devices apart from a bit of help from fairy God mother, a prince, fluffy bunny etc.

The Woodcutter’s Daughter from "The Fairy Book" (1913).
Illustrated by Warwick Goble (I kid you not)
Her father’s solitary occupation is a device to explain why there is no one else around and why he is out of the house all day – after all woodcutters don’t need a factory or shop or anything else involving other people and you can’t fell trees indoors, you need a dense, dark and foreboding forest full of wolves, witches and goblins etc. 

The girl is the centre of all the action and her dad’s job get scant attention which is not only disrespectful, but is a missed opportunity to appreciate the finer points of wood cutting. I hope to redress this injustice right here, right now.

IT’S BLOODY HARD WORK – RESPECT. There, that just about sums it up.

Apropos of nothing, here is a picture I found at Tractomania of another daughter who fancied the life of a woodcutter  – after a fashion…

They say that wood is an excellent fuel as it warms you twice, once when you cut it and once when you burn it. It’s actually better than that. 

Earlier this year, Tricia found that one of our more mature oaks had fallen over.

This is a fallen oak tree, trust me

It was it the top of a steep bank and looks like it just died and broke off at the base.

We have no idea when it fell over or how long it had been lying there as it had fallen into heavy undergrowth and was just about invisible from below...

I inspected the thing with mixed feelings, namely ‘Whoopee! Loads of free wood to burn’ and ‘Bugger! Loads of tree to cut up’. So I put it off until last week. 

As they say in Woodcutting for Dummies ‘first find your tree’. Before I could cut the thing up I had to get to it which involved hacking through the undergrowth. This is hot work

Spot the difference from picutre above.

Getting to the branches was a struggle as the ‘outer layer’ is just twigs. This is hot work. 

Then I start hacking off the limbs being careful not to try and hack off a bit that is supporting the weight of the tree. If this happens the saw blade gets jammed as the cut closes up. It is not always easy to see if this is going to happen.

I chop up all the smaller branches and only get the saw jammed once. Getting it out involves jacking up a tonne or so of tree and using the second chainsaw to make a cut from the bottom of the branch. Getting your chain bar stuck is not something to be proud of and so I do not photograph it, which is a pity because the jacking operation was quite elegant. Needless to say this too is hot work. [But you still said it. Ed.]

Having chopped the branches into fire-sized pieces I then have to roll them down the hill so I can carry them off in the trailer. 

This is not too difficult as they have many of the characteristics of a wheel and roll down the slope to the track very easily. Unfortunately they then carry on down to the bottom of the hill and have to be carried back up to the trailer. This is hot work.

Next I have to load them into the trailer and sort them into a ‘ready to burn’ pile, and a ‘need splitting’ stack. Stacking and splitting is hot work.

Throughout the process I am thankful that I have a couple of chainsaws, a 10 tonne jack, a tractor and trailer and am not a woodcutter with an axe.  By my calculation the wood of this tree has warmed me up five times already and I haven’t set light to it yet.  Bloody bargain! 

Pity its best part of 30 degrees C at the moment – what a waste, should have waited until December.

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