Thursday, March 20, 2014

Man and machine

Sawdust and steam

The wood splitter sputtered and rattled and shook like some burly hog stuck with an arrow. It choked out dark grey puffs of smoke trying to clear its mechanical lungs, prompting a few drops of engine oil to fall from its greasy green carcass.

The green machine was an old steel husk from a bygone era but it made no difference. It was still being asked to perform at its best on a cold winter day. Man’s houses had gone cold without enough firewood for the winter, and so the splitter would obey the command to work, forcing the remnants of tree trunks into bite-size slivers for fires to consume.

Together, two men used tongs with talons to heft tree stumps upon Splitter's beam. There they would roll each stump into a strategic position to produce the best angle at which to split wood fibers and create smaller pieces. Splitter's hydraulic push arm did the work from there, forcing the dead tree meat onto its blade at the other end of the beam.

Splitter showed her age on this particular day, however. As the men tried to split tree trunks, the old green machine would shudder when forcing the gnarly wood at its blade, stalling the engine. This caused the men grief. One man would have to work to free each stuck stump with a sledge hammer. The other man would attend Splitter’s old, greasy motor systems with a puzzled look, inspecting oil levels and checking her spark plug.

On this day, it seemed to be a carburetor issue that was stalling the old gal. The man taking care used a pinch of gasoline to clear the lines and get her running smoothly again. The trick worked for a bit, but what it really took was the men being a bit gentler with the old gal and sensing the limitations of her strength.

Back to work they went...

It was a slow process, but should the men have had to rely upon the force of gravity and their shoulders to drive a blade through the wood, it would have been even slower, and probably less effective. Splitter allowed the men to save much of their strength for hefting and piling, meaning they could process more wood easier and faster. Man was weak, soft flesh compared to the hard, bitter force of hydraulics and steel.

Even the hardwoods which were being cracked open and reduced to smaller pieces were made of soft stuff compared to Splitter’s green machinery. Wood’s fibers were pliable to steel, and could not withstand the force of thousands of pounds of liquid pressure.

The stock of firewood that needed to be split that day was knotted up, gnarly old hardwood that nobody else wanted. It was not easy to force into smaller pieces, but the three worked together for the sake of warming a house. Man and machine, sawdust and steam.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

1 comment:

  1. There is something to be said for old men and old machines--shared scars and dings--parts here and there that don't work quite as smoothly as in their day--not that today is not also their day. Could it be that the reduced pace of work is of mutual benefit? It makes me wonder which one is the first to accommodate the other. It is best to think about such things, before one goes running off and laying out the big bucks.