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'The Backyard Lumberjack'        Send a link to a friend

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[JAN. 17, 2007]  "The Backyard Lumberjack: The Ultimate Guide To Felling, Bucking, Splitting, & Stacking." Frank Philbrick and Stephen Philbrick, Storey Publishing, 2006, 160 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

What does it take to bring a tree from the forest to the fireplace? In their book "The Backyard Lumberjack" father and son woodsmen Frank and Stephen Philbrick explain how to fell a tree and the reasons they enjoy lumberjacking: the rigorous exercise, saving money, the social aspects of an open fire, and of course, a warm house. Their description of the lumberjacking process follows five basic steps: felling, bucking, splitting, stacking, and burning.


Before you venture into the forest to bring down a tree it's recommended that you acquire the proper gear and equipment. The most important piece of equipment is the chain saw. The authors explain how to select the best chain saw for your needs. Some of the specifications to consider include the saw weight, bar size, and the RPMs (revolutions per minute). Other pieces of equipment include chaps (protective leggings), head gear (the head, eyes, face, ears), gloves, assorted handsaws, axes/hatchets, mauls (for woodsplitting), and heave-hos (to roll the lumber). The authors also provide a handy chart that rates different trees as "best bets for BTUs," or units of energy for heating. The winners? Hickory, black locust, and ironwood with BTUs over 26 million. The authors also demonstrate through a series of photographs the proper method of making the felling cut and how to safely fell a tree.


Bucking is a lumberjacking term for reducing a tree on the ground to stove length pieces. This involves a two-step process: limbing (cutting off any limbs/branches to gain access to the trunk) and cutting the trunk into the desired pieces. When bucking a tree, remember an important safety tip -- if you're working with a sawing partner, don't relieve the trunk pressure points he's counting on. Many of the pieces of gear and equipment mentioned earlier are used during bucking.


Depending on your point of view, splitting the bucked wood is either the most enjoyable or most miserable task in the lumberjack experience. Splitting the wood with your maul reduces large sections of the trunk into smaller, faster drying pieces. The two common techniques for wielding a maul are the overhead explosion and the sideways slam. The overhead uses more power from your upper back, while the sideways relies on increased torque (as in throwing a baseball). When you're splitting an unusually large or difficult piece you can try a technique known as peeling. Peeling works around the edges of the lumber; in other words you are using your maul to peel away slices of the wood until you have a manageable inner core.

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Stacking your wood serves two purposes: it allows the wood to air dry and it makes the wood accessible without the woodpile collapsing and causing an injury. Wood stacks can be reinforced with walls, posts, or standing trees serving as "bookends." More elaborate stacks include cribbing (a freestanding pile that spreads the pressure forces through crosshatching the pieces) and wood chimneys (hollow beehive shapes that draw the air in, up, and out). For the serious lumberjack or wood-burning enthusiast the authors include designs for an attached or detached woodshed.


If you're going to expend this much energy and effort to secure wood for burning, you will want to make the right choices for your method of burning and heating. There are several options to consider -- outdoor furnaces, masonry heaters, fireplaces, and woodstoves. Outdoor furnaces are external units that burn wood to heat water for your household purposes. Masonry heaters are more costly but are extremely efficient and can heat large spaces. Fireplaces are entertaining and lend atmosphere to a home but are less effective at heating a given space. Depending on their location and maintenance woodstoves can be very reliable sources of heat. Your decision on a particular heat source will depend on the area you're trying to heat, the kind of wood you'll be burning, and the amount of time you devote (or choose not to devote) to tending and maintaining the fire.

"The Backyard Lumberjack" is an entertaining and informative book on a subject that has been somewhat overlooked in the current literature. According to the authors the book is intended for "anyone who has the regional resources, the physical wherewithal, and the desire to take down trees." The allure of this activity was poignantly described by Henry David Thoreau, who once noted that "firewood warms you twice, once when you split it, and once when you burn it." This book is recommended to anyone interested in learning the safe and efficient methods of lumberjacking and tree felling.

[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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