An Ode to Chainsaws

by Eli Hacker, Heather McSherry, Loni Jean Rodrigo

In Shawnee National Forest we were serving in a wilderness area using antiques. Our project was to log out trail in the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area, meaning that we were clearing all the logs off of the trail to make it more accessible for users. Being in a wilderness area, no mechanized equipment is allowed. We left our chainsaws at the office in favor of crosscuts. Using crosscut saws for three weeks in a row has given me a much greater appreciation for chainsaws.

Chainsaws are often a very solitary tool. Even if you are working with a swamper you are still the only one operating your saw. Two person crosscuts are very different. They require a lot more communication and cooperation. You have to really understand the strength and rhythm of the person at the other end of the saw. In order to effectively make a cut you need to talk about your plan and as the cut progresses you need to constantly reevaluate the situation with your partner; a lot more involved than a chainsaw cut to say the least.

Reading binds becomes extremely important. The stakes are a lot higher. If you damage a chainsaw chain in the field, you can repair it in less than 15 minutes. The risk of damaging a crosscut is greater because it is an antique and repairing them is a lot more challenging. There a very few people who can properly repair and sharpen an antique crosscut.

Newer crosscuts seldom last more than five years of heavy use due to the quality of the steel. It is truly a testament to American craftsmanship that we can still use these antique crosscuts 100 years after they were made. A well maintained chainsaw can only last around 10 years of heavy use before it has to be retired.

Not only did I gain a greater appreciation for mechanized equipment, I learned about the importance of clear communication with team mates. You are never in the field by yourself, you always need to the support of those you’re serving with. Using a two person crosscut illustrates this well. You can’t serve productively if you don’t communicate clearly. I appreciate the time I had serving in Shawnee National Forest.