The Perfect Stump

Ask me what the proudest moment of my life has been, and it’s very possible that I’ll think back on my college graduation, or the day I got my first job, or surviving my trail crew summer in the Vermont backwoods, but if I really think about it, it’s probably the day I felled my first tree.

It was the first time I held a chainsaw without my father right next to me to keep me safe. I was geared up from head to toe, chaps, hard hat, ear and eye protection in place. I kind of felt like a ghostbuster. But my fear trickled in as soon as the roar of the small engine started. I couldn’t tell if it was the power of the motor or my hands causing the saw to shake. The wonder of the chainsaw is that it’s completely safe, really. If you use it right. And that’s the thought that kept my head in the game, and my left thumb safely tucked into place.

The project was cutting a tree Game of Logging style. Game of Logging (yes, that’s the real name) was developed by a Swedish logger named Soren Eriksson, whose alleged reason for creating his method was to avoid being tired for his evening boxing bouts. Whether or not that’s true, GOL is considered to be the safest and easiest method to fell and limb a tree today. The secret is in the lack of guesswork, meaning loggers can put the tree where they want it instead of not knowing where it’s going to fall, and use simple physics to limb it and clear it quickly.

The Perfect Stump is the ultimate goal, a beautiful combination of notch, bore hole, wedge space, and trigger that results in a calculated fall away from bystanders or other trees. To achieve a perfect stump, you start with a notch facing where you want the tree to fall. The next step is to turn the saw on its side, boring into the center of the tree. When you’re in the tree, you move the bar forward and backward, essentially hollowing out the tree’s inner fibers, leaving a hinge between the bore hole and notch. The hinge is a line of fibers that will fold when the tree is ready to fall. The width of the hinge is determined by the thickness of the tree, the bigger the circumference of your subject, the thicker the hinge will need to be. On the other side, you clear the fibers to leave space for wedging, remembering to leave your trigger point, the last bit of tree that will need to be cut in order for it to fall.

Between a bore hole and notch, most of the tree is cut, leaving only the notch and trigger to hold up the whole tree. And it does! The GOL method is safe because you can succeed in cutting a tree most of the way while leaving it standing. In theory you could just leave it there, standing indefinitely with only about ten percent of its fibers to hold it up. To finish the cut you use wedges next to your trigger. The wedging reminds the tree which directing it should be falling, and forces physics to favor the logger. The final blow is to cut the trigger and get out, watching the tree fall, leaving a masterpiece in its place. A perfect GOL stump has a notch, hinge, bore hole, and trigger all accounted for, with a tree that’s fallen in the place the logger planned. It’s an art that many of the chainsaw-saavy have perfected. There are even competitions for it; they don’t call it Game of Logging for nothing!

Fear was quickly replaced with accomplishment on my logging day. I felled a tree, the stump engraved with the markings of a saw somewhat skillfully removing fibers until the final cut was made. On this day I had left a pretty good stump where my tree had fallen. It had minimal fiber pull, a pretty straight bore hole, and a trigger that jump-started, at least from my perspective, a spectacular fall. It may not have earned me a medal if I was entered in a GOL competition, but to me it certainly was the perfect stump.

 

 

 

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