AS January drew to a close it felt appropriate that the famous words of a certain Mr Burns sprang to mind: “All great plans of mice and men often go awry...”

For one reason or another, I was aware that getting a good start to the new year was going to be imperative amidst the ongoing storm clouds that rage all around. The largest of these clouds, of course, being the COVID crisis. So far, the crisis has worked in our favour, with demand for timber products being very healthy. Recently, however, my biggest customer has had to close due to the death of one of their drivers and together with other log jams and restrictions it looks as though things may well get worse before they get better. From where I’m standing it looks as though there are going to be some tough battles ahead.

Like most places, the yard was shut for two weeks over the Christmas period and this provided an opportunity to get the place mucked out, reorganised, oiled and maintained. Preceding the Christmas break we received a few orders for agricultural purlins. This involved sawing the best logs out of a pile of 6.3 metre lengths. The rougher, ‘buttier’ ones had been left behind with the intention of chainsawing them into 3.8 and 2.5 m logs. The butt ends would be used for garden sleepers and the clean logs for fence boards and rails. Although it seems a straight-forward job knocking logs in half, I’ve seen people spend hours over a task simply because they didn’t have the right saws or weren’t organised sufficiently. For sawmill use I have a 395 Husqvarna with a Sugi Hara bar. After battling all my life with whatever offerings Oregon and Husqvarna could provide, moving onto Sugi Hara was like going from a blunt axe to a harvester. It really was that dramatic. For years and years I could never get a saw to cut straight. My peers and colleagues all claimed it was down to how well the saw was sharpened, but over time I noticed theirs were no better than mine. Unless you spent hours on the task (time I don’t have and a quality I don’t possess) then you just had to accept the failings. I want a saw with which I can just dig the dogs into the log and power the saw through quickly without it sticking. The 395 has the power but I could wreck a laminated bar in a couple of days. The rails would just wear away and open up. The Sugi Hara bars cost twice as much, but last at least 50 times longer, which makes them much more cost effective. I recently calculated that, when cutting firewood, I was sawing about four times as much as a fellow experienced cutter who had a slightly smaller saw. This is quite significant.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: January 2021

Over the Christmas period, the 395 broke down – or, to be precise, it wouldn’t run correctly. With all the chainsaw shops closed, the diagnosis fell to me. My prognosis was a fault linked to fuel starvation or excess air intake through a seal or a hole. Before the 395 I had been using the 372, which was a good saw in the woods but not good enough for cross cutting. From time to time, I would spin the crank bearings in the casings and wreck them. Basically, under heavy load, the torque on the crank was too great for the friction fit bearings, hence my move up to the 395 which was a great move. I could have cried when it broke down. I’ve also been told that they don’t make the 395 anymore due to emissions or some other nonsense, when I enquired about a replacement.

Here’s another classic lesson in inefficiency. I’m working next to an experienced woodcutter. He has a new, all-singing, all-dancing saw, but I’m cutting at least twice as much wood with my older, supposedly dirtier and seemingly outdated model. What is that all about? With the 395 not running properly and with a pile of sawlogs to cut, I contemplated stripping the saw down. However, due to a herniated disc in my neck, I now have no feeling in the fingers on my left hand and with everything on a saw being small and fiddly I decided against this course of action.

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While the saw was running I noticed with the top cover removed the carburettor seemed to be hanging back, although by pushing the carburettor forward the saw ran normally. Obviously, air was being drawn in somewhere and the repair, for what it was, involved a bit of stick.

I don’t know whether it’s down to getting older or 100-hour weeks, but exhaustion is beginning to creep in. I’m finding it more and more difficult to spin the plates. Whether it’s the multitude of tasks within the sawmill, driving and delivering, mechanics, forklift operation or office work or most likely a combination of everything I can’t say, but I’ve finally decided to get some administrative help. My decision came after a couple of difficult days of trying to solve electrical problems. The person’s role will be to deal with customers and visitors to the mill, suppliers, staffing and general admin. This should enable me concentrate on maintenance, a job I can do with my eyes shut, although I will still be doing deliveries in the evenings and at weekends.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: December 2020

I’m also hoping that once we get on top of this COVID crisis I’ll be able to get some cover for the driving, which should release me even further. Hopefully by not having to juggle so many things I might even be able to relax a bit.

It was a little strange how I realised I’d become mentally very tired. I’m currently working the sawmill as normal and, for all intents and purposes, to an efficient standard. At times in the past I’ve become fatigued and this would usually manifest itself as a strong desire to sleep. If you’ve ever suffered from this condition then you’ll know it can be very painful and what you should do is go and lie down immediately. We recently had a breakdown in the mill when wires were accidentally pulled from an electric motor. Normally there’d be just three wires for the three phases, but this was a motor with a brake and, to further complicate matters, the brake had to work remotely. I had wired this motor about 10 years ago, but couldn’t for the life of me work out what went where. I just couldn’t get my head around it. In the end, I detached the whole motor and took it to an electrical specialist. Fortunately, they had a record of the wiring system for that particular motor. However, that wasn’t the end of the problem. This particular motor had three phases, two of which then went into a condenser and then three small wires went into the brake. When I originally wired up the motor, I must have tapped into one of the heavy feed wires, while the factory set-up went into a smaller wire.

After reassembly, the motor still didn’t work, although at this point I managed to work out my wiring was too heavy for the reduced amperage and I had to switch a couple of heavy cables for a light cable to get the current to run. Thankfully it worked and on reflection it goes to show that electrics isn’t just about wiring diagrams. Sometimes it’s about being able to stand back to work out just what is going on.

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