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Photographs and a video of the high-resolution photographs are provided at the bottom of this web page.

25/Jun/07: Crosscut Saw Training for USFS and Volunteers

Crosscut Saw

This week end was the Crosscut saw training class and what an excellent class it was! Forestry employees and volunteers from around Southern California participated, learning how to safely transport, handle, and utilize these large saws.

A good number of students were from the San Gabriel River Ranger District, the District that includes the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. John and Larry were there along with volunteers Kevin, Wayne, Mike, and myself -- six out of 24 of the students (one fourth of the class) were from the River Ranger District.

The first day of training consisted of identifying saws, learning a bit about the history of the saws and how they were used within the United States over the past two hundred years.

A highly detailed description of how saws cut, the various benefits and disadvantages of various types of saw teeth and shapes were covered as well with a number of sample saws on display for students to examine (and handle if they had gloves.)

Safety is a very big issue for the San Gabriel River Ranger District and during the class, safety -- not only the safety of people but for other animals and for the environment -- was a major focus for the crosscut saw instructors as well.

Dave Michael -- one of our two instructors -- is another kindred soul who loves the wilderness as much as I do and also likes to see hiking trails look as natural as possible.

Dave touched upon the need to remove fallen trees from hiking and nature trails in such a way as to attempt to make the trail look as natural to hikers as possible -- section up the log and move it out of the way; keep it simple and don't use chainsaws to cut things up into firewood and leave it stacked along side the trail... That looks very bad, he said, and I agree completely.

Crosscut Saw

A number of issues were covered with a slide presentation during the first day, including some rather amusing short videos, and including a series of photographs which show exactly what not to do -- some of which were also rather amusing since they were so dangerous. Us students would never do such dangerous and stupid things, right? No, Sir, Mr. Michaels, never!

In addition to the actual saws being covered, a variety of maintenance and support tools were touched upon with some focus on how these saws are sharpened and tuned. A good sharpener is an artist who can take someone's prized saw and bring it to a state of perfection so that pulling on the saw the saw slides smoothly through the downed tree, cutting an efficient percentage of the log with each stroke.

Conversely, it was noted, someone who doesn't know how to properly sharpen and tune one of these saws stands a good chance of butchering the saw -- and a badly sharpened saw can be a dangerous tool.

One particular aspect of the training session that we received was the discussion about vintage crosscut saws as compared with contemporary saws that are created with a variety of modern alloys. The older high carbon steel saws of yesteryear afforded themselves toward not only longer usage but they're in many respects safer to use, easier to carry, and easier to pack in on non-human animals.

Vintage saws can easily cost more than modern saws but that's because there are so many advantages to the ways in which vintage saws were manufactured and the materials they were manufactured with. The same is true for the variety of handles that can be purchased for saws.

The older designs for saws, handles, and even underbucking tools all incorporate centuries of development and experience, drawing from numerous countries from around the world. Contemporary saws may have been designed according to engineering models and theory with exotic alloy metals which don't allow sawers to do certain things with them -- such as bending them into a complete circle without damaging them.

Crosscut Saw

Older vintage saws are best.

Toward the end of the first day we were given a written test of 50 questions. The questions were designed to determine whether anyone fell asleep, and to determine whether we had any complete idiots in our class.

It came to no one's surprise that everyone passed the written test since the class itself was highly interesting and informative, sprinkled with wit and humor.

One other thing that the students did on the first day was to fill out a form describing our experience with chainsaws as well as with crosscut saws. Most of us have experience with chainsaws -- many of us have extensive experience with chainsaws. I would say that about half of us have experience with crosscut saws -- with about half of those people having extensive prior experience.

That information was used on the second day of the class to break us up into two groups, one group for each instructor.

Since this was a two day class, many of us -- U. S. Forest Service employees and volunteers -- had made plans to spend the night close to where we would be holding the second hands-on part of the class. All of the people from the San Gabriel River Ranger District spent the night in the woods, as did a number of other USFS people and volunteers.

This fact says something about the people who work in the District -- USFS and volunteers both. Everyone has a deep appreciation for the wilderness and for our National Forests, and keeping up their skills with training courses like this one is part of such people's love for the "natural world" as I might call it. The fact that the instructors were also long-time nature lovers was a good part of why the class went so well.

The USFS guys left the classroom and headed up to the hands-on training site in the campgrounds were we would use the saws. Mike and I followed as best as we could however we took things a bit slower under the speed limits since we were climbing through six thousand feet and we wanted to keep Mike's vintage vehicle from overheating.

As I usually do, I set my tent up a distance from everyone else and, in fact, everyone kind of split up and found their own place in the campgrounds to sleep.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a woman screaming bloody murder and the first thing I thought of was: Bear! After a half minute more of solid screaming, I eventually realized that it was a horse that was screaming. There were a number of horses or maybe some mules housed at the campgrounds and one of them must have had a nightmare or something. (Ha! Get it? Night _mare_? Anyway...)

Crosscut Saw

Morning came and the second day of training was upon us. Since there were 24 students and two instructors, we broke up into two groups, each of 12 students. Each student acquired a partner so that each group consisted of six independent teams. Experience was matched with inexperience to some degree, it looked like, and the teams worked out very well.

Training for the second day consisted of sizing up a fall across a hiking trail, taking a look at the various downed trees in the area we were in, checking to see which logs had a variety of tensions and binds in them and where they might be located. How and where to cut is an important aspect of working in the Forest, and determining whether to cut at all is a very important aspect of such training.

Reading the land and the lay of trees, logs, rocks, and such was part of the training since cutting a section out of a tree that has fallen across the trail is only part of removing it. A downed tree may need to be cut into many pieces to be removed, or a section right across the path can be removed, leaving most of the tree where it lays.

Some downed trees can be cut and then the sections swung off of the trail while still other falls may require that the trail simply be reworked so that the trail goes around fallen trees. Some trees that fall across a trail can be used as part of the trail's retention wall to help hold in dirt and rock. In all, a great deal of decision may or may not take place when examining a fallen tree.

We all got a considerable amount of time on the saws, with most of us getting an opportunity to do underbucks -- cutting from the bottom up using a specially made tool that gets driven into the log that's being cut. At the same time I believe that we all had an opportunity to use an ax to clear the bark from around the tree section that we cut.

After lunch time the two instructors swapped groups so that both groups got each instructor for part of the day. This was a good way to get a feel for any special considerations or various opinions on how things can be done from both instructors. There are many ways to cut a log, most of them dangerous, many of them safely -- and getting two instructors' worth of experience was an added bonus for the day.

This is something that I greatly appreciate. The time, money, and effort that it took for the U. S. Forest Service to organize this training session, schedule it, locate a training facility, work with the facility's coordinator, provide instructors, and give such extremely valuable training to lowly, unpaid volunteers like me...

Well I greatly appreciate how well the USFS looks after its volunteers and its own employees. Classes just like this one provide volunteers with the skill sets they need to safely and efficiently work within the Forest, and safe, productive employees and volunteers translate directly into safe and open hiking trails and nature trails, something that's enjoyed by countless thousands of Forest visitors every year.

These photographs were offered by other volunteers -- who I will name if they give me permission to do so!

* Some of the saws that we used
* Looking at some of the same tools
* Two students work the saw while other students observe closely
* Multiple wedges are used, often when there is side bind
* Some tie wedges were applied in some of the bucking efforts
* One of our instructors -- Keith -- goes through larger technical issues
* End bind is present in some downed trees that are resting on slopes
* Working larger logs have some technical issues that smaller logs do not
* Keith with a smaller log, keeping some notes on each of the students
* Single bucking -- I am wearing white pants, black shirt, yellow helmet
* Single bucking -- while the instructor takes notes!
* Instructor showing how an underbucking ax can be set -- it's not easy!
* Each of us got some pulls using an underbucking tool with a pully
* This photograph shows the underbucking tool pretty well
* The instructor set the underbucking tool the first time it was used
* An even better look at the underbucking tool
* We all payed close attention to how underbucking is done
* Hey, Moe! The teeth on this saw are on backwards! Nyuck! Nyuck!
* An environmentally friendly lubricant is at times applied to the saws
* I'm partnered with Dan -- who had quite a bit of experience
* A close up of my unsightly, gargoyle face. Eee, gads!
* Dan on the other end of the saw applies a solvant
* I get an opportunity to wield an ax! Oh man, this is some fun!
* In the parking lot of the training site, we go over safety and things
* Ourt two instructors Keith and Dave show how to safely hand off a saw
* All of the students pay close attention
* Still in the parking lot going over paperwork and safety
* More volunteers and USFS employees are shown in the parking lot
* Some of the smaller hand tools we will be using today
* Wayne and some of the other students in the parking lot
* Still in the parking lot getting ready to start the field training
* Day one of training in the classroom -- Dave shows how quality saws bend
* One of the saws in the classroom
* In the classroom
* Some of the small hands tools and maintenance tools we will be using
* Two one-person saws. Notice the teeth on the saw nearest to us
* Some other saws which show how the teeth are aranged -- with covers
* The Forest Supervisor's offices at the Training Center
* A moderately sized fallen tree is sectioned up and rolled away
* Sawing a rock in half -- that's a joke photograph, by the way

These photographs are lower resolution photographs that I took

* A start setting up my camping spot for the evening
* I get my tent set up and then I go from camp to camp looking for food
* Mike is still setting up so he doesn't have time to feed me
* I start taking photographs of the second day of training
* We are in the parking lot going over safety again and final paperwork
* In the field we examine what downed trees would be good for training
* There are plenty of downed trees to work with in the area
* Logs ranged from small to large. We pretended where the trail lay
* Keith in the wild. He's an endangered, protected species, by the way
* Saws, wedges, hammers, rock bars, sweat, cusswords -- it all works
* Another photograph showing a saw being used to underbuck
* More training on mid-sized downed trees
* We train on a somewhat larger downed tree and cut several sections out
* We all got lots of hands-on time with the saws and we also got to watch
* We wanted to work with something that had some amount of end bind
* Pretty much more of the same
* Part of the job is to clear brush and remove limbs
* Some tie wedges are gently removed and the log section rolls away!
* A close-up of an end cut. No harmonic vibration is evidenced here!
* It's lunch time and I walk around seeing if anyone will give me food
* John! Another dedicated wilderness lover like I am
* South Fork Trailhead Parking. That's where we did our second day
* A look at the general area where we're getting training
* After training, Dave the instructor meets with each of us individually
* The rest of us discuss the day's events
* Another student takes the hotseat while Dave and student cover things
* Training is done! We're back at the parking lot
* And another look at the parking lot at the end of the day

The following high resolution photographs were provided by another student. I didn't get permission to use his name but will do so if I get permission.

* A high resolution photograph of one of the saws
* A high resolution photograph of sawing a downed tree
* A high resolution photograph of myself single bucking

The following high resolution photographs were provided by Mike Heard. Thanks, Mike!

* In the parking lot working on safety issues before we handle the saws
* Going through the equipment that will be taken into the hills
* Still in the parking lot
* Still in the parking lot
* Our instructors go over some paperwork and things
* More of the same
* A rough character hoists his equipment and buckles the straps
* Carrying the equipment to the training site
* Working on bucking a large number of logs
* Examining a log and sizing up a safe way to buck it
* A section has been removed from a fairly large test tree
* A wider view of the section of log that was bucked off
* After the training we discuss things back at the parking lot
* John, Larry, and others in the parking lot after the training session
* Still in the parking lot. Everyone hat a lot of fun
* Mike surprises and manages to get its photograph. Yikes!!!
* Resting in the parking lot, getting ready to leave
* One final photograph before we leave

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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This web site is not operated or maintained by the US Forest Service, and the USFS does not have any responsibility for the contents of any page provided on the http://CrystalLake.Name/ web site. Also this web site is not connected in any way with any of the volunteer organizations that are mentioned in various web pages, including the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (SGMTBs) or the Angeles Volunteers Association (AVA.) This web site is privately owned and operated. Please note that information on this web page may be inaccurate.

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