The month of January frees most farmers from field work, and if the snow is deep enough, even my husband, John and I stop pruning our blueberry bushes. Some farmers plow snow for extra cash, but traditionally, others head to their woods for a winter paycheck.
Along the back roads, stacks of split wood border driveways, and signs advertise firewood for sale. John totes home plenty of wood for our stoves, but he also harvests trees for lumber. He clears our woodlot of windfalls, mostly wild cherry, tulip poplar, and sassafras trees that toppled during summer storms. The dead trees now block paths or crush younger trees.
After severing the tree trunk, John cuts off branches, hauls the logs to our barnyard and stacks them. Come some mild afternoon, he greases his Woodmizer sawmill and prepares to turn logs into lumber. This type of sawmill works like a band saw. It is much safer than a circular saw and also wastes less wood.
With a forklift, John loads a log onto the platform, adjusts the blade, a steel ribbon with strong teeth, and begins. The blade whines as it moves down the log, slicing off an inch at a time. The scent of cedar fills the sawmill shed. With a peavey, John turns the log and repeats the procedure until it is squared.
Sometimes the blade breaks when it hits a nail hidden beneath the log’s surface. John stops, slips off the covers of the carriage, and removes the snapped blade. Then he lifts a neatly coiled steel ribbon and pitches it on the ground. The blade sings as it flies open. Deftly, John threads it through the carriage, checks gages, and returns to sawing.
The size of the boards he mills depends upon the type of wood and the planned building project. Recently, John sawed scores of one inch boards from pine, spruce and poplar that became the siding on our new home. He also sliced wild cherry into boards that eventually became door and window trim. One time, friends wanted pine trees transformed into flooring for their cabin; another friend needed several eight by eight beams for a shed.
John stacks the rough sawn lumber on four by fours, with sticks between the layers so that air can circulate and dry the boards. Once, he constructed a plastic hoop house as a solar kiln and utilized the summer’s heat to bake the lumber. When John finishes with one log, he loads on another, and the blade drones, again.
Because John and I harvest wood, we recognize the need to plant trees and renew our resources. Hedgerows of pines and spruce trees stretch across our farm along with thickets of thorny black locust trees. A line of maples fringes the driveway; hemlock seedlings flourish in our woods. We know that these young trees add beauty to our land and will provide a future farmer with a winter harvest.