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Archive for October, 2009

Spud bar work

While planning September’s fence building project last summer, I decided early on to try and use materials cut from the property, and knew I’d need tools to peel logs.  I didn’t know exactly what I’d be up against, so I bought an 8-inch drawknife and a short-handled bark spud, thinking what one couldn’t handle the other maybe could.

They were the perfect tools.  I got lucky, really, getting one of each, as the drawknife couldn’t get into the flutes of the cedar logs like the bark spud did, and using the spud alone would have been murderously slow.  But together, between Skidder and I, we peeled logs like we’d been doing it our whole lives with those two tools.  I was very pleased with how they worked out.

Was it hard work?  Depends on what you consider to be “hard,”  but yes, we worked up a sweat.   Was it slow work?Peeling posts  Again, it depends on what you compare it to.  We caught on pretty quickly and learned how to position the logs against a sturdy picnic table, and let the tools do most of the work instead of our backs.  The last couple of rails I peeled went much faster than the first two.  We weren’t putting up hundreds of feet of fence, so peeling the logs and rails by hand wasn’t a show-stopper for the limited amount of time we had; I’d say it was neither slow nor fast – just right.

Alene and Bobby got back from their trip to Oklahoma two days before we left, so Alene came out to the shop one morning to watch me finish peeling the last of the rails.  By this time I was getting pretty handy with my little drawknife, and thought I was working along at a pretty good clip with very little wasted effort, but I guess that’s all relative, as her only comment was, “You’d think there would be an easier way to do that.”

I just smiled and kept peeling.

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Buttoning up for Fall

hilltop pastures in fall

I will finish the fence-building story soon, I promise.  First though, an update from last week’s trip out to the Farm to button it up for the season ahead.

It was a very short trip:  only a day-and-a-half to transfer utilities, set up and program the inside lights, visit the bank and the Farm Bureau offices, put up some outside signage and secure all the gates, and set the alarm.  I arrived late Thursday night, and got everything done on Friday and Saturday morning except meeting with a guy to talk about mowing the grass around the house and down by the road next summer; he didn’t show at the arranged time, nor did he call, which tells me he wouldn’t have been reliable.  I’ll find someone else. 

I am pleased to report that you wouldn’t know the house is unoccupied unless you read it here.  The lights and radio come on and turn off in the morning, and again in the evening, including porch lights, and in a random enough pattern not to look like they’re on a timer.   Anyone driving by on the state road wouldn’t notice a bit of difference between now and when the folks lived there.  The place looks cared for, inhabited, and snug. 

With only a few precious hours left before I had to hit the road for Louisville to catch my return flight,  I headed up on foot Saturday morning to lock the gate at the top of the road, and check on things up top.  The trees were turning, not flamboyant this year, but colorful enough.  It was a drizzly, blustery day with grey skies, not ideal for landscape photography, so I snapped a few quick pics with my point-and-shoot Olympus and stomped on back down the hill after making sure all the equipment tarps were still secure.  Glad to have a few moments, though, to experience the changing season up on the pastures.

A flurry of last-minute details crammed my final hour at the farmhouse:  shut off water, turn heater all the way down, flip circuit breaker for water heater, turn down fridge and freezer.  Then it was out the door, set the alarm, drive out the gate and lock it for the last time, and a quick detour up the hill to touch base with my next-door-neighbor Mike, whom I’d not met yet.  Pleasant surprise, to find him watching TV with Clarence, my eastern-boundary neighbor, whom I’d not yet met either; we stood and talked a few minutes, long enough to exchange phone numbers and gain an instant friendship with both of them.  Mike will mow the grass next summer, and Clarence offered to bush-hog the pastures if I can’t get to them. 

Both men assured me they would keep an eye on the place and walk over and check things out once a week or so.  Call anytime you need anything, they both said.  We shook hands, exchanged good-bye’s and I hit the road for Louisville, grinning a little, and feeling very fortunate.

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fence posts almost

Building a fence out of your own trees isn’t the easiest way to do things.

 My li’l ole fence out front along the road has garnered many compliments because it looks damn nice, and really stands out among the pressure-treated, milled lumber, commercially-installed versions in the area; but its true beauty in my view is its humble, local origin.   And that it was built by my own hands.  From my own trees.

Most folks around here probably think that viewpoint’s a little off.  Too much work, nicer materials right down there at Lowes; why go to all the bother.  I admit, it would have been much easier just to call someone out and pay them to slap something up.  It would have met the minimum objectives as well, which was to keep vehicles from driving up to the house and shop building, thus making the place more secure.

But it wouldn’t have been a thing of beauty, or have the potential to last 25 -30 years like this one will, or given me any of the satisfaction I’ll feel every single time I lay eyes on it and remember how we built it from cedars and hardwoods cut off the hill above. 

Arguments for saving time and effort aside, I’m just not interested in paying someone to do work that I enjoy doing and can do well myself, especially on a project that designs itself as it goes; nor am I at all keen to buy mass-produced, trucked-in, chemically-treated materials when I have raw materials in abundance in my own backyard.

Sounds a little pious, perhaps too idealistic, I suppose.  I will readily admit that this commitment to doing my own work and using my own materials as much as possible has its drawbacks, not the least of which is the multiplication of effort and time in any project equation.  But I’m pretty stubborn, and not afraid of slow, hard work, and so I accept that building something from scratch means doing things “the hard way” with hand tools, sometimes, and a great deal more effort than needed with “modern” methods and commercial materials.

I may not be able to take this approach every time.  The porch, for instance, was built with pressure-treated lumber, after much thought and deliberation about the pros and cons of using non-treated lumber in that climate for that type of application.  But my pasture fences will need to be non-toxic, in the big scheme of operating a certified organic farm, and so this small section was a test bed for my ideas of how to use locally harvested, untreated posts in the Kentucky soil without compromising on fence longevity.

What I didn’t know before Skidder and I took that first walk up the hill to survey for materials, was that I had a good number of mature eastern red cedar trees (Juniperus virginiana) at their climax of growth potential, having been overtaken by taller hardwoods and fairly begging to be made into fence and gateposts before their wood began declining as they lost the battle for sunlight, water and nutrients.   And while this tree is not a true cedar, but a member of the juniper family, it does have superior rot-resistance – especially in the red heartwood – not as much rot resistance as black locust, but more than any other hardwood species I might have had to use.

We took four 8 – 9″ gate posts and nine 6 – 7″ fence posts off the south-facing hill just around the corner from the shop.  I believe I felled a total of eight trees, for the posts.  One was quite large, leaving me a lovely 10-foot timber that will make some fine slabs for sign-making and bench-building.  Skidder pulled most of them down the hill by herself while I cut.  We worked furiously in the morning rain, thinking it might go on all day and wanting to get the logs down to the shop so we could peel them inside.  But the rain stopped as we finished, which wasn’t a bad thing. 

Next:  peeling with spud and draw knife.

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