This past weekend I sponsored a chain saw safety course put on by Northeast Woodland Training, called the “Game of Logging” (GOL). GOL is a training system that teaches chain saw skills to professional loggers as well as folks who have never held a chainsaw. Developed in the 1960s by Soren Eriksson, a Swedish logger turned training instructor, the Game of Logging uses Scandinavian logging techniques for working safely around trees.
The “game” refers not only to the friendly competitive aspect of the training, but also to the necessity of having a winning plan or strategy for felling trees and working safely. The program breaks apart saw work into steps that are practiced throughout the course. A fun scoring system helps focus participants’ attention on the most important details and allows them to measure their progress each day. – excerpt from Game of Logging website
I had both hosted and taken GOL years ago, and wanted my son Wesley (15) to take the course, but needed to have several more students in order to host it – so, I rounded up six other interested folks to spend the weekend at Under Orion Farm.
Saturday morning, the propane heater was going full blast up in the office of my airplane shed, the coffee was hot, and people were bundled up to spend the day in the woods. David, Wesley’s godfather and the instructor of the course, started right in with Emergency Planning and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). There were gruesome stories of accidents and near misses to give everyone a healthy respect for the chainsaw and what it can do. He also covered chainsaw safety checks and the “Reactive Forces” of the bar and chain.
At noon, we paused for some excellent chili and cornbread and got to know each other a bit better. The group was a diverse collection of future timber cutters that would be guided by David through Levels 1 and 2 of GOL. A father and son duo, Ed and Ben are from Elmore. Ed has been using a saw for years, but his son Ben has had very little experience. Although she had put in her time with a wood splitter, Shawntel from Montpelier had never held a saw. This turned out to be true for a few other students, like my son Wesley and also for Evelyn, a woman from Cabot who came with her partner Roy. Roy had used a saw some, but had picked up many bad habits along the way, so the course was a great refresher on skills and safety. Robert, who works for me at the farm, is from East Hardwick and had used a saw some at Sterling College, but was not comfortable with felling (cutting down) trees.
In the afternoon we headed back into the woods. This is where the fun really starts. David gave a good tree felling demonstration, showing ” 70% notch angle, correct hinge length and thickness, and level back cuts”. Then he makes a “Bore Cutting” station. Using a “high stump”, he squares the sides, and scores marks on two sides of the stump. “Precision Bore Cutting” requires boring the tip of the blade straight into stump between two of David’s marks and come out the other side of the stump between two other marks…..not as easy as it sounds. Everyone was scored on this, not only how they did the cut, but for safety violations.
The most common safety violations were not hooking your left thumb around the handle and not putting down the visor on your hardhat.
Each person then got to fell a tree, for which they were also scored. I loved the satisfied look of accomplishment Wesley had, after his pine tree came thundering down, just missing his target stick (you have to judge where your tree will fall by placing a stick at that spot. Points are then deducted for every foot you miss your target by). Evelyn “hung up” her cherry tree in a nearby maple. This turned out to be an opportunity. David showed us a neat trick of boring a hole above where the tree was cut, inserting a long pole into the hole. Using that pole as a lever, you rock the tree back and forth to free the hung up tree out of the snag. Neat! The group as a whole just so into it! It was wonderful to see.
Sunday, day two, Level 2, started off warmer. No need for the heater. The “indoor” portion of the class covered Routine Chain Saw Maintenance, Carburetor Tune-up and Chain Filing. David remarked that while teaching at tech-schools, he needs to tell his students not to tear their saws apart while he is talking because they may not pay close enough attention. Fifteen minutes later I notice that half of the room has saws torn apart, and the floor is full of sawdust and saw parts.
Robert noticed my saw was missing the chain catcher (small piece of metal on the bottom of the saw to “catch” the chain if it comes off the bar), as well as a new chain sprocket.
We were soon back in the woods with clean, sharp and tuned-up saws, learning about “Releasing ‘Spring Poles’ Safely”, understanding “Stem Compression & Tension, Limbing and Bucking Techniques”. Robert was the master of climbing saplings to bend them over for “Spring Pole” practice. If you were to just cut off a spring pole, the sapling, loaded with pressure, would sky rocket off the stump with deadly force. David demonstrated how to choose the cutting spot, then shave the underside to relieve the tension. Cool stuff!
All day Wesley was keeping close track of the score. He, Shawntel and Evelyn had all been neck and neck. David informed us that this is often the case, the folks with the least experience (no bad habits) score the highest. At the end of the weekend, Evelyn had the highest score, followed by Wesley and Shawntel.
It was a fantastic weekend. Many skills learned, and new friends made.