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Timber tales

Getting finished lumber today is difficult, but there was a time when just getting the timber itself was a Herculean effort.

World events have made many types of lumber scarce, both plywood and hardwood, due mainly to the difficulty of getting it from one place to another in current political climates. But once upon a time just getting the trees from the forest to sawmills used just a few sharp edges and a lot of muscle.

Axes and two-handled saws were the name of the game back then, and old-timey loggers had a penchant for documenting their work, especially at one point of the process. Before felling a tree, they first cut a large notch on the side of the tree in the direction it would fall. That’s when the cameras came out.

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I love browsing the Internet for vintage woodworking images, and I’m always amazed by the strength and ability of teams – yes, it took teams – of loggers felling a single tree. And they loved taking photos of finished notch cuts. More specifically, photos that included at least one person lying inside the notch itself.

Personally, it would terrify me to crawl inside that space. With my luck, the moment I got comfortable the tree would choose that moment to “let go” and flatten me like a pancake. But I can see the allure.

For one thing, finishing the notch cut is a transition point for felling one of these monster trees. Everything before that is prep work like removing branches, topping the tree, and getting ready to bring it down. But once the notch is done, all that’s left is to cut from the other side and down it comes. So, it’s only natural they’d like to document this point and all the work it took to get there. What better way than to give everything a sense of scale by cramming as many workers inside that space as possible?

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