Posts Tagged ‘wood’

My New Project (Knock on Wood)

We’ve been away from Maine for 3 weeks now.  But just because we’re in our hometown on the East Coast for a family simcha, Chanuka, and Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean that we don’t have Maine-like adventures!

Today we went on a nature walk along a river located about 2.5 miles from my home.  The packed-dirt path is frequented by lots of people walking their dogs; joggers; and families out for a stroll.  It’s a very beautiful area with heavy tree cover (unless you are hiking in late Fall, of course, and the leaves have dropped), and even though it’s off a main road, after about a mile you lose the sound of traffic completely and instead  hear only birdsong.

So there we were, walking with our dog, when we noticed several downed trees due to a nasty storm a few months earlier.  In order for the path to remain unobstructed, the branches and trunks had to be chain-sawed and pulled off the side of the path.  But in some cases the trees were so massive, that a chainsaw would not do it.  Clearly heavy equipment had been brought in, and alongside the road the trunks, more than 36″ across, had been sliced neatly into 3″ thick pieces and stacked.

I suppose most people passing by would have thought, “wood,” but I thought, “Table!”

I convinced my husband that we really needed a coffee table and this would be so easy to make.  I could rent a belt sander from Home Depot and smooth out the surface; I could use a pressure washer to clean the mud from the craggy bark; I could polyurethane the table top,  and we could take one of our thicker unsplit logs from our woodshed in Maine and mount it to the newly envisioned table top as a base.

Lately I have been a woman on a mission, cleaning out my house.  Like so many Americans, I just have way too much “stuff.”  The way I’ve been successful in giving away things or throwing stuff out is to ask myself the question, “If I moved to Israel tomorrow, would I take this with me?”  and if the answer is “yes” then I keep it.  So my husband, who has been amazed at my recent proclivity for tossing stuff, was surprised by my sudden need for a coffee table.  “What do you need it for?” he asked.  “Why would we drag a piece of wood to Israel?”

“Are you kidding?” I said.  “Who in Israel has even seen a solid piece of wood 3′ across?  I mean, they don’t even have trees this big in Israel!  It’s going to be such a conversation piece!”

The only problem was that by now we were about 1.5 miles from the trail head and the massive piece of trunk weighed about 150 lbs.

“No problem!” I said, “we’ll just roll it!”

The only things that were rolling at that precise moment were my husband’s eyes, along with a look of utter disdain.

Despite the look on his face, my husband (says he) loves me!

Despite the look on his face, my husband (says he) loves me!

“You have got  to be kidding,” he said. But one look at me and he knew that I was most definitely not kidding.  I was going to make this happen!

There was a small detail.  It was 33 degrees outside, the path and wood were uneven and muddy, and I lacked gloves.

“Not to worry,” I told my husband, “I will roll the entire 150-lb  piece of wood by myself back to the car.  But I will need to borrow your gloves.”  Prior to this I had been keeping my hands warm and toasty in the pockets of my down vest, but the weather really was too freezing cold for log-rolling without gloves.

“How can I let you do that?” my husband said, exasperated and knowing he was about to get a lot more exercise than he had planned on.  Honestly and truly, I was not being manipulative.  I had been doing some strength training at the gym to combat my osteoporosis, and I was kind of looking forward to the challenge.  I figured as long as I kept the wood very close to my body and walked slowly, I could manage rolling  this unwieldy, wicked-heavy,  monster piece of wood.

My husband wouldn’t hear of it.  “You go waaay too slowly, and I don’t have the patience.”  It was true — but what about the old adage of the tortoise and the hare?  True, he did manage to roll it with some momentum and covered a lot more ground in the same amount of time as I could, but sometimes that big chunk of wood got out of control, careened wildly, and toppled to the ground.  Let me tell you, picking up and righting  a 150-lb piece of hardwood was no picnic, and it fell more than once.  Also, because my husband was going faster, he had to stop and rest every 30 or so feet — so I’m not sure pokey old me was all that much slower at the end of the day.  As we made our way through uneven ground, mud, and uphills, my husband became more and more distressed.

“Please,” I’d beg, “let me take over!”   But just then some people would meander by, and his macho side would take over.

“I am too embarrassed with all these people around,” he admitted, “to have you do the work instead of me.”  I couldn’t believe it!  My husband was never one for false pride.  Such gallantry!  (Or was it chauvinism?) (And besides, how did it make me look, to be strolling carefree and unburdened alongside a grey-haired old guy  who was struggling mightily?)

By now he wasn’t looking too good.  The rest stops were more frequent, and his face had a rather alarming ash grey tone.  One strapping young athletic  hunk passed us with his Swiss Mountain Dog, and offered to help.  (“Yes!” I thought.)  But my husband waved him off.

Meanwhile, during the rest stops, people passing by were only too happy to contribute their remarks.

“Way cool!”



“What are you going to do with that?”


“What a great table!” (That person obviously “got” it!)

With every positive adjective I beamed with delight, and my husband grew increasingly despondent.  Finally an older woman passed us, looked us and the wood up and down, and said to my husband,

“Doing penance?”

My husband liked that one.

So with his cross to bear, so to speak, we made it to the car in about 45 minutes of rolling, grunting, and resting.  Luckily at that moment someone else was parking their car at the trail head and offered to help lift the slab into our car.

My husband was still grumbling when one of the passersby commented, “Wow, every time you look at your table, you’ll have a story!”

“I know, right?” I replied.  My husband gave her a dirty look, but I only grinned my happiest grin.

P.S.  When we got home I measured the beast:  34.5″ x 37″ x 6.5″ of solid hardwood.  Yippee!

S’mores Are in My Future

Next week is a momentous occasion:  eleven of my grandchildren ages 1 – 12 and two of my married kids and their spouses will be joining us for a fun-filled vacation at our house in Maine.

We devoted today to getting ready for the happy onslaught.  We thoroughly emptied and scoured our attached garage, unrolled an area rug and put several futon mattresses on the floor.  Our garage is now The Bunkhouse.  Better yet, the kids can make noise there, downstairs, during their week-long slumber party, and not disturb the rest of us.

Last year we cleared some more of our land for a future garden patch, but hadn’t yet gotten around to splitting the wood from the trees we chopped down and chunked into logs with a chainsaw.  Our procrastination paid off for a change, as the logs would come in handy for seating.  We chose several hefty chunks and rolled them (they were way too heavy to carry) to our campfire site (our fire pit is little more than a bunch of large rocks in a circle of gravel that my grandsons hauled for me during last summer’s visit, but it functions beautifully).

On Friday I visited Lovell Lumber and picked up several 12′ planed  pine boards, which were cut for me by the owner into 6′ lengths.  What’s kind of neat about Lovell Lumber, besides the fact that it is just down the road, is that you really appreciate the story of where wood comes from and get to see the process of turning a tree trunk into a wood board.  Huge, heavily loaded monster logging trucks  (open tractor-trailers) full of newly cut pine from local forests rumble in on a daily basis.  Lovell Lumber has many outbuildings in their always-busy lumber yard, each one filled with loud machines geared to a specific purpose in the lumber-making process, with sawyers and planers (workers) wearing sound-cancelling headphones who operate the heavy, very dangerous  machinery.  The object is not only to strip the bark from the logs and cut it into wood used for flooring, framing, furniture or paneling, but also to keep all human limbs and digits intact.

My husband is drilling the hex bolts into the boards to secure the benches; while I'm busy swatting mosquitoes.

After drilling holes into the wood, my husband ratchets the hex bolts into the boards to secure the benches.   I’m otherwise occupied swatting mosquitoes.

Next it was off to the hardware store, where I bought 4 1/2″ long hex bolts and some Thompson’s Water Seal.  While fighting off mosquitoes, my husband then drilled the bolts through the pine boards into the logs, and voila!:  instant benches.  I’ll coat the wood with Thompson’s Water Seal tomorrow.  These benches should come in handy when we sit around a campfire and roast hot dogs and toast marshmallows and of course, make  s’mores.

We are very excited about so many kids coming!  But undoubtedly by the end of their stay we’ll relate to this comic a little too well:

For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston

For Better or For Worse

A Jill of All Trades (Not!)

Alas, I suffered a huge disappointment today when I found out that I would not be attending a class given at a nature center:  Chainsaw 101.

Years ago, we bought a big, gas-powered chainsaw on the cheap from a Sears Outlet that was going out of business – doesn’t everyone need a chainsaw?  It remains unused in its original box.

Here in the Maine woods a chainsaw is as much a fixture of one’s tool collection as a carton of milk is to one’s refrigerator.  We paid handsomely for all of our downed trees to be cut in chunks and then split for firewood by a local handyman.  We only did the stacking.  It hurts to know we could have done the chainsawing ourselves, if we only knew how.

Oh sure, I could read the chainsaw’s manual – but there really are tricks to doing it expeditiously, by angling the cut with or against the grain just so, not to mention sawing safely.  That includes wearing not only safety goggles, but chaps and steel-toed boots.

I was anxious to enroll in that particular session of Chainsaw 101, since other similar classes had always been offered on Shabbos, and this one was the only one given on two consecutive Sundays.  Admittedly, I dawdled, because I figured that everyone in the Maine woods knows how to use a chainsaw except me, so how popular could such a class be?  When I finally got around to calling to reserve a spot, I was dismayed to hear I was far down on the waiting list, with little hope of attending at all.

Turns out that anytime they announce the formation of a Beginning Chainsaw class (and they even have separate classes for women!!!) they fill almost immediately.  The next class to be offered will be in the Spring, but unlike the Fall, with its clear, cold and bug-free days, the Spring class will be held amidst swarms of biting blackflies.

Apparently there must be a lot of wannabe woodsmen and homesteaders that are new to Maine.  As I said in a previous post (albeit in a different context):  I thought I was the only one . . .


If Mainers were pagans, the preferred god of worship would certainly be the tree.  Here in the White Mountains, people live and breathe wood, be it pine, maple, oak, beech, birch, ash, hickory or larch.

This view was taken 10 minutes' drive from our home

It seems like everyone is in some way connected to wood:  foresters, woodsmen (loggers and sawyers), builders, carpenters, cabinet makers, fuel sellers (cordwood and pellets), landscapers (mulch), chimney sweepers, paper mill workers and artisans.    Property taxes are reduced significantly if one owns 10 acres or more under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, if one designates part of one’s land as forestland, used for growth of trees to be eventually harvested for commercial use and then replanted.

On a sunny day our solar panels generate 1200-1400 watts of electricity, usually adequate for our needs

I admit to feeling sad when we had to chop down so many trees (75 – 100) to prepare our building site.  And when we decided to use solar to power our home, it meant another 50 – 75 trees had to go:  their shadows were preventing the solar collector panels from doing their job.  But Mainers have no room for sentimentality, only sustainability.  Indeed, our downed trees provide a crucial resource that is the key to winter survival:  heat.

Make no mistake, a broken heating system in one’s house is treated like a 911 call by one’s heating contractor, because without heat, pipes freeze and burst, causing horrific flooding, damage and mold, not to mention the actual possibility of freezing to death in one’s own abode.  Heating contractors work under deplorable winter conditions, sometimes 25 degrees below zero, to restore heat to afflicted homes.  Summer homes, or “camps” as they are called locally, are big business for heating contractors who make part of their living shutting down seasonal homes for the winter (turning off water, draining pipes with air compressors and flushing them with antifreeze) and opening them up again in late spring.

Nearly everyone has at least two ways to heat their home, and most homeowners have backups to their backup systems, whether it’s wood, oil, propane, kerosene, or electricity.  But for economic and practical reasons, wood as a heat source is king.

We furnished our house cheaply (thank you craigslist) but we spared no expense on our soapstone woodstove.  The soapstone stays warm and radiates heat long after the last embers have cooled.  It is an airtight, high-efficiency stove that qualified for a 30% tax credit, and so far it seems well worth the cost.  It weighs 525 lbs and took three strong, struggling men to bring it into the house.

The woodsplitter in front of the woodpile next to the shed

Once all that wood was cut into logs and split, it had to be stored.

Splitting the wood

the massive and powerful gasoline-powered splitter, up close

I spent about 4 days stacking it into the woodshed.  It’s heavy, tedious work, but I kind of enjoyed it.  I have always admired a neatly-stacked woodpile, and there are many ways to stack and store the wood to maximize ventilation (good airflow so the wood can dry out) and weather protection (from snow, rain, animals and insects).  Besides the esoteric beauty of the pile’s pattern and design, and developing a healthy pair of biceps, stacking wood gave me a chance to think about all sorts of things (or not!) without distraction.  By the fourth day of this focused toil, I was convinced that we could lessen the affects of juvenile ADD by having schoolchildren stack wood for a couple of hours every day!

the now-split wood in front of our 12' x 16' woodshed (note the mezuzah!) Now it must be stacked, a log at a time, inside the shed.

At this point our woodshed is only 1/3 full; the wood is piled 6' high. Our Standard Poodle is wearing a blaze-orange bandana in case he is mistaken for a bear during hunting season - a genuine concern!