Day 10994 - Big Ben and the Thomas Sawmill

I have been a horrible blogger. In the hustle and bustle of activity, I have stopped writing. For anyone wanting to blog, I recommend making writing part of your routine. For me, the writing process helps me digest everything I've done, and allows me to think about accomplishments in a different way. With this fresh perspective I become a better decision maker, and paths to reach personal goals are clarified.

The next few posts will all center on specific accomplishments, and I'd like to shift my writing style to that, by focusing on places, projects or events, instead of jumping around like I have been. While this is chronologically accurate, and shows the realism of finding time and energy to work, I think it's a bit harder to follow.

The first story, told in hindsight after many months, is of Big Ben and the Thomas Sawmill. Last year my friend Gavin had me come over and help him clear a few small trees, then dice them up for firewood. This was a good amateur chainsaw operator project. While cutting the trees, I was enamored by the massive Great White Pine in Gavin's backyard. The tree was enormous; splitting into four major branches, each the size of your typical central NH tree. I told Gavin that if he ever wanted some cash, to let me know, because I would take the tree down and turn it into a barn. Gavin, being the nature lover he is, politely refused. He had named it Big Ben and it was a proud feature of his backyard.

Several months later, a strong squall line blew through, taking many trees down. One victim of this storm was Big Ben; two of the four massive branches fell in the storm. Gavin called me, asking if I could help him clean up the mess made by the big branches. Travis and I set to work cleaning up small branches to assess the trees, and found a pair of poor man's ship's masts. There were a few small crooks in the wood, and they had broken in several spots from the impact, but we were looking at a lot of healthy lumber.

Gavin wanted live-edge slabs for tables, and a cleaner back yard. I wanted beams for barns. I called my dad for a sanity check, rattling off dimensions of the logs, and asked if it was time to buy a sawmill. His reply; "Son, it's time." Knowing that both Gavin and I stood to gain from this deal, I loosened the purse-strings and turned to craigslist. I found a reasonably priced Quebec-made PTO chipper for the Ford 1700 to mince up the smaller branches. The chipper did this admirably. We found that it would cut green pine limbs the size of your thigh, and dead pieces the size of your arm.

While we chipped away at the branches, literally, I called Thomas Bandsaw Mills in Brooks, Maine and ordered a Mill. Reviews I had read online said they were solid and simple, the 6013 model (now known as a "2413") hadn't changed in 20 years, and I found that the prices the used mills commanded on craigslist were the same as the price new. Wanting something I could tow around and set up anywhere, I ordered the 6013 with a reinforced track and trailer kit. It would be ready for pickup in three weeks.

With the 1700, a chain, and some logging tongs I readied the knotted tops of the trees for my first attempts at milling. At home I watched youtube videos for good techniques to avoid wasted time and wasted material. By the time I got down to the sturdy bases of these branches, I wanted to be somewhat proficient.

Watch out for the Robin's nest while skidding logs!

At the end of June, the Mill was ready for pickup, and Gavin towed it into a clearing in the woods with his Kubota, meandering around trees. We left the axle on for the first few logs, leveling the track using the yellow struts, a farm jack, and the tractor's bucket.

The first few logs could be picked up with the tractor, and driven on.

Once the logs were dogged, we could begin passes with the mill. Some sources online said the bark would dull the sawblades faster, but given how cheap it is to get blades sharpened, I elected to save the time that would have been spent debarking and convert it to higher operating costs for less time.

The first two cuts are made to make a clean 90' angle out of the log. I cut down in 1" or 2" increments, so that any boards cut during this process could be resawn later, reducing waste.

After the 90' cuts, the log can be secured with the small hooks in the bunks, and the dogs set low, so the mill can go all the way down to 1". here is a 6x6, 2x6, 2x4 and 4x6.

The sawmill's field site. Logs get loaded on the sawmill trailer's "left side" and the mill's tower is walked backwards through the log by the operator on the left side. The pallet has tools, oil and fuel for the mill, chainsaw and equipment. One day I'll make forks for my tractor so that's easier to move, and logs are easier to load.

Our first products! The stakes separating the lumber for drying are a natural result of edging boards, and cutting a timber from the log. The live-edge slabs were "three man" lifts, and a fourth would have been nicer! Heavy!

As we went down the tree, taking logs from top to bottom, the tractor couldn't lift the progressively heavier logs. To facilitate loading, we took the mill off its axle, bringing it as close to the ground as possible. Using nylon straps with loops on both ends, as well as the chain on the bucket's hooks, we could lift the log evenly and position it where we wanted it. Final adjustments were made with a farm jack, or a 2x4 lever and some patience. One of the great things about having the mill, and a chainsaw, is the ability to make whatever wood tool you need for positioning logs!

This 16' behemoth, 30" across, barely fit on the mill, barely fit under the tower, and the tractor was barely able to load it by pushing alternating sides. A pair of purpose-built loading ramps would be useful.

This piece yielded six 16' 6x6 posts.

Maintenance on the mill was easy enough, although it did have the "expected" unexpected growing pains and a few learning experiences. Letting off the forward pressure with the blade turning through a log is a good way of pulling the blade off the wheels. The two adjustment guide rollers on the bottom of the tower, that are left and right of the blade passing through the log, have nylon bushings that wear, loosen, and turn, jamming and ruining blades. Above, Travis mounts a fresh blade on the mill.

This was my overnight fix for the jammed guide bushing. I cut two pieces out of nylon sheet, glued them together, then sanded the new bushing to fit the curve of the steel angle. A single countersunk screw, which had deformed, holds the bushing in. Eventually I'll replace the left-side bushing with this design, but it is holding up better than this right-side bushing did. The challenge with this was making it fit right when the bearing gets installed again (notice the top layer of nylon was trimmed back in the third photo.)

With the logs finished, the mill was set back on it's axle for the trip home.

And the lumber was loaded on the parent's trailer for the trip up to the north country. If only I had a deckover trailer and some bucket forks...

Up north, a nice dry site was mowed for the stack of lumber to slowly air dry, and with the help of my mum and grandfather, we unloaded the trailer, and stacked everything by size next to the bus.

All told, Gavin, Travis and I were able to mill more than 1200 boardfeet of lumber, over five days of milling, out of the half of Big Ben that came down in the windstorm. These beams will undoubtedly be used in construction of a home up North, and have sentimental value knowing they came from my friend's land. How cool would it be to visit you friend's house, and point to wood that came from your own land?

Day 10719

I know I left you with a cliffhanger; a trailer loaded for a trip to the junkyard, and an imminent departure to Louisiana for more Army training. This post will be pretty image heavy, as I catch up on two months of small projects.

The good news is I made like $200 on that load of scrap.

I almost split an entire cord of wood before I left for Louisiana. The cheap-o splitter is a trooper. Having a smooth, safe workflow to compliment the machine's performance saves a lot of time and energy. I use a 6" chunk of 4x4 post to expedite the split, and push the log farther into the blade before the piston reaches full extension.

I made some friends while moving logs. Ambystoma maculatum.

Before I left I was able to get all but two of my corroded panels repaired, and I finished those two up as soon as I got back. I peeled up the junction boxes with a thin putty knife, to cut through the silicone and double-sided tape. I trimmed the backing to expose more of the terminal wire using X-acto #11 and chisel-tip blades. The adhesive would blister up off the metal when rubbed with the butt of a file, so the solder would get a clean connection.

Then I soldered some 12 gauge wire in. I pulled the sheathing off while they were still warm.

The junction box was then carefully dropped in over the tip, and the four leads were soldered to the terminals. The box still has some play, allowing me to get in with a tube of silicone to reseal it to the panel. In total I soldered 6 panels, bringing them back to health. They're expected to make a full recovery.

"We want to climb up... also give me a hand because I'm too fat to jump." - Zeke

The Ranger got the deluxe treatment; I installed several pieces of L-track along the sides of the bed for securing cargo. I learned from doing this on the F150, and from working on our aircraft, that if they are on the floor they fill up with sand and small rocks. Keeping them sideways and elevated will keep them clean and easy to use. I drilled through the bed sides, watching out for the fuel line, with the drill. I had to make two trips to the hardware store, as the 1/4x20 hardware I had picked out doesn't sit completely flush in the L-track's countersunk holes. L-track from US Cargo Control needs M6 metric hardware. 

My favorite part of mechanic yoga is getting dust in my eyes while I'm squinting into the darkness trying to snug down a nut. Thankfully, the Ranger's bed is very easy to access from underneath. I couldn't do this on the F-150.

My mum, who has adopted my chickens as her own, encapsulated the larger run I built with bird-netting to keep the chickens in and the hawks and owls out. The hens are big fans, and are routinely sunning and taking dust baths in the big run. Zeke didn't cull any of my flock on this trip, despite his best attempt.

The F350 got a lot of attention on this cool Memorial Day weekend. Above, I had cut the poorly-attached pintle plate off while there was still snow on the ground. It went to the scrapyard.

I wasn't able to find a fuel sending unit for the plastic aft tank... so I elected to make my own. Above, I used calipers and compass to draw out a disk in some nylon sheet.

I cut the nylon on the bandsaw, then touched it up with a rotary sander.

I straightened two pieces of fuel line that came in a spool by gently working them in the jaws of the vise. I drilled two holes in the nylon disk for the lines to go through, and elected to not install the bulky fluid level gauge on my bulky home-made sender.

Using a pipe-bender, I put 90 degree and 20 degree bends into the lines so they'd reach the bottom of the tank, and threw an adel clamp on them to keep them from wiggling too much. The supply line has the filter on the end.

Inserted into the tank. I won't have any full or empty indication, but it can be the straw the truck can suck diesel from.

The truck wasn't running yet, mind you. I took the old starter out...

... and threw a shiny new Japanese gear-reduction starter in. The top-most bolt is a royal pain to get to. Lots of mechanic yoga poses and positive thinking. I also replaced the batteries. After a few 10-second starter cycles, to get fresh fuel up to the motor after the filter change this winter, the truck exploded to life! It only started because I had spent the past hour scouring the internet for bleeding and troubleshooting the 7.3L IDI's fuel system... which was apparently fine.

With the truck mobile, I drove it up to the barn. The hanger for the muffler had cracked while plowing, so I took the bolts out with the universal wrench (angle grinder.)

After some more trimming, I fashioned a new bracket with a piece of scrap perforated angle (the leftover piece from making all the bus's solar panel mounts) loose hardware, and some fencing wire. The rubber doughnut at the end of the exhaust pipe was also replaced. Better than it was!

I went on a run to Lowes to get 3 8' 2x4's, in order to build a platform for the flatbed. The frame isn't quite flat; it has a high point just above the rear axle. A 2x4 is almost perfect for making an even surface on this truck. I screwed the frame together with decking screws. This is when I found that plumbing the filler neck into the aft tank, which I had spent all morning repairing, would be a huge pain... so I zip-tied a bag over the fillport. I still have one tank. I gave up very easily... someday I will have two tanks. Today was not that day.

You can see the corner of a Class V hitch on the bottom right. I ordered the wrong part... that hitch is for a 37" regular pickup frame. I have the narrower 34" cab and chassis frame. Back to the internet, then.

That one good tank even indicates fuel accurately, now, with a shiny new fuel sending unit.

Remember last post's tractor ballet, used to load a junk trailer onto a trailer of junk? Dad and I tried it again with a decent truck bed and a decent truck... on a slope... on uneven terrain. 

We're kind of professionals at this. Some may say, mistakenly, that this is a redneck operation: but I doubt most redneck operations have a pre-briefed safety plan, risk management, and common hand and arm signals. This is actually an exercise in yankee ingenuity.  

We got the bed on, and drove it up to a more level spot to make the fine adjustments with the backhoe and the farm jack. A ratchet strap is holding it in place until I can get some U-bolts made up this week. After that, I'd like to see if this will pass an inspection and get a sticker.

voila... a rackbody farm truck. It even runs. U-bolts. Tail-lights. Hitch. Sticker. Insurance? Eh...

Notice I never installed the dump hoist? There was a reason for that. Maybe next truck.