NYC Urban Lumber Harvesting: Perquisites and Pitfalls
It’s been an interesting journey these past few years, to say the least. We have watched our company swell and shrink, from one guy to seven guys and back down to two. We’ve been overwhelmingly busy and dismally slow; the amount of all-nighters pulled in the shop in hopes of meeting deadlines being roughly equal to the amount of sleepless nights spent wondering (worrying?) about how we are going to drum up sales and keep the whole affair afloat. Small successes are always met with slightly smaller defeats, enough so that the carrot does ever dangle. Basically, when we’re not busy high-fiving each other, we can be found banging our heads against the nearest wall. At the end of the day we are able to maintain a constant level of psych for this pet project turned full time job/obsession, and that is due to a trait peculiar to most people but familiar to woodworkers:
We get giddy about the wood.
Just about every time we cut a new log, we find ourselves ogling the grain, taking photos, “ooh-ing” and “ahhh-ing” over each new slab as it comes off the mill.
We run our hands over the freshly cut surface, feeling the tree’s cool moisture, silently judging the quality of cut from the blade. Many times I’ve repeated the same idle vow: “now this one I’m keeping for myself.”
This base reaction to freshly cut boards has been the fuel that keeps us going, especially when the going gets tough. And it does get tough. New York City is a land of tiny backyards accessible only via trespassing and calisthenics. We recently found ourselves finessing 10’ long, 300+lbs. mulberry slabs around a tight 90º turn and through an 18” wide “alley” to get to the stairs, and finally onto the trailer. Good thing there were only eight of them.
Another fun incident was trying to extract large silver maple slabs we milled from a tree downed by Hurricane Irene. These slabs were 9′-8”-long because that was the absolute maximum size I determined we could get down the stairs to the basement, across the building, up the stairs, around a dogleg turn with a four-step rise, through the door and into the truck. That was a big tree so we got to practice that dance 21 times, finding near-perfection by the end. The 9’-8” thing actually worked, just as soon as we removed the front door.
An unexpectedly fun aspect of this business turns out to be amusing the public. Folks in Brooklyn, N.Y., aren’t accustomed to seeing guys with chainsaws, especially not 48” long chainsaws. Wielding these monsters on the sidewalk in Bushwick draws a crowd. A nervous crowd, on the far side of the street. The audience that gathered while we were trying to unload a large sycamore log from the pickup by hand really got their money’s worth. By that time we had ironed out most of the kinks in the “drop clutch removal” process so our onlookers were treated to the workings of a well-oiled machine. The procedure is as follows:
– Back vehicle up to a reliable anchor (a 10” span of brick wall between my loading dock and a doorway worked nicely).
– Chain log to anchor.
– Remove vehicle’s tailgate (very important).
– Instruct driver to perform a drop clutch launch.
We have actually elicited applause with this technique. We’ve also folded a couple tailgates. For more quartersawn sycamore, with its characteristic lacewood-like figure and striking pink, blue and yellow color I would happily fold as many tailgates as it takes.
So you see, not lack of sleep, nor anxiety induced heartburn, nor sore and fatigued muscles can diminish our zeal for revealing the hidden beauty in each new log. In fact, there is a doozy waiting for us in the yard right now. It’s a giant chunk of crotch hickory, about 60” wide and 9’ long, with lots of telltale ripples under the bark hinting at the figure hidden inside. We know with certainty that this log is going to kick our butts. Hickory is just way harder and heavier a material than the human physiological form was build to handle at these sizes. I can’t wait! These slabs are going to be amazing, truly one of a kind. And I’m probably going to keep one for myself.
— Roger Benton