Chainsaw, Trees, and What Happens to that Wood?

Chainsaw Stuff

Let’s start off with chainsaws. I talked about the little DeWalt 20B Max SR 12 inch chainsaw back in March of last year when I first got it. It’s small, lightweight, and runs off the same battery packs my other DeWalt cordless tools use. It’s currently selling for around $240 on Amazon. Up until recently it’s been lightly used for cutting fallen branches, trimming small tree limbs, cutting up firewood to fit into the outdoor fire ring, etc. I like it. It’s light weight, well made, and basically it’s a tough little saw that does what it’s supposed to do. But when the trees came down in the backyard, I became even more impressed with the little saw. It works much, much better than I ever thought it would.

Battery life is impressive. Just look at that trailer load of wood up there. It cut up all of that on just one battery. And those aren’t little two inch branches, either. Those are ash and maple logs about 10 – 12 inches thick. The motor is surprisingly strong. It had no trouble at all dealing with 10 inch thick hard ash. It just kept going, and going, and going.

I am really impressed with that little saw. It does have its limits, of course. If I push it too hard it will over heat and shut itself down until it cools off, but that’s only happened to me twice, and both times I was really pushing the saw’s limits. Otherwise it’s been great. The only thing it needs other than electricity is standard chainsaw bar oil.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a small chainsaw to hack up fallen branches, trim trees and other light use, take a look at it.

While I’m talking about saws I have to mention the Husqvarna 440. That little saw has been working well beyond expectations as well. It’s a standard 2 stroke gasoline engine (requires gasoline mixed with oil). It’s done the vast majority of the work of dealing with the two trees. This is actually my son’s saw so it was already used when I got it from him. I had to replace the bar and chain and it was running a bit rough and he complained that it was hard to start. I’ve had no problems with it, though. It is a bit quirky to get started. When the engine is cold you have to follow the recommended starting procedure exactly. If you do that it’ll start right up. When it’s warm you don’t do anything except pull the starting cord. If you fiddle with the choke or throttle when it’s warm it isn’t going to start.

Side note: Husqvarna recommends you use their branded premixed gasoline in their saws. And at the time I bought the 440 they were claiming that if you promised to only use their premixed gas they would double the saw’s warranty. (Exactly how they’d know you’d used only their gas in the saw is something I don’t know.) The problem is that their branded gas sells for an eye watering $8 per quart. Per quart. That works out to $32 per gallon. Seriously? All it is is premium non-ethanol gasoline with a couple of ounces of oil and a preservative like Stabil mixed into it. That’s it. Let’s say premium non-ethanol gas is selling for $6 a gallon. You need to buy a premeasured little bottle of oil for $1, then a splash of Stabil if you feel you really need it. Total cost for a gallon of fuel if you mix it yourself is about $7 per gallon for exactly the same stuff Husqvarna wants to sell you for $32 a gallon.

Trees and Wood

So let’s talk about wood and trees for a minute. If you live in a town like I do and you have trees, eventually you will reach the point where one or more of your trees needs to come down for a variety of reasons. Getting a tree taken down by a professional tree removal service is not cheap and you may be tempted to do it yourself. Do I really need to tell you to very strongly resist that temptation? Just look up “tree fails” on YouTube sometime and you’ll see why. I’ve dropped a lot of trees in my lifetime but even I wouldn’t try to bring down a tree near buildings, gardens, sheds, garages, power lines, etc.

So what happens to all this stuff after a tree comes down?

But one thing I always wondered is what happens to the wood when one of those tree services brings down a tree in a city or a town? A lot of these trees aren’t all that big, true, but some of them are massive, like the ash and maple that were taken down here a couple of weeks ago. Now wood is a valuable resource. As anyone who’s been doing remodeling or who builds furniture or does anything that requires wood these days can tell you, lumber prices have skyrocketed in the last two years. Prices have moderated somewhat but they’re still high. So I always figured that the wood from all those trees was being used for, well, something. Firewood if nothing else, but I was really hoping all those nice logs were going for something useful. But I was curious and did some digging and found out that more often than not, I was wrong.

The small limbs are fed into a chipper which shreds them up. That stuff I assumed was going for mulch or compost. Sometimes it is but generally, no, it isn’t. Landscapers don’t want the stuff for mulch because they want only wood chips. This stuff has lots and lots of leaves shreded up in it. Landscapers are also (with some justification) worried about plant diseases being spread. It can be composted, but that’s time consuming and often expensive to do, especially on a large scale. Sometimes it’s sent to a power plant that burns it as fuel. A lot of the time it just gets dumped somewhere where it rots, or it ends up in a landfill.

I thought that here in Wisconsin where a lot of people burn wood for heat a lot of the bigger limbs would be going for firewood. That doesn’t seem to be true either. The firewood market has a glut of wood right now because of all the ash trees coming done because of the emerald ash borer. They don’t want the stuff. The tree service guy talked to several, even offered to bring it to them for free. They don’t want it. Every individual I talked to who burns wood has more than they can use already. And Wisconsin has a regulation prohibiting the movement of firewood across county lines in an effort to the contain the emerald ash borer. A regulation that has done absolutely nothing to even slow down the movement of the ash borer in the state, I should add.

What about the logs then, the wood that could be turned into lumber for construction or furniture or whatever? The commercial sawmills around here won’t touch urban wood. And once I found out why I can’t say I blame them. The stuff that comes out of towns and cities is often full of metal – nails and screws from people attaching birdhouses or whatever to it, steel cables and even massive bolts that were used on the tree if it started to split, and things like that. They don’t want risk damaging their saws.

What about these guys you see on YouTube with portable sawmills who will come to you to cut up your old tree into lumber? Good luck trying to actually find one.

So what’s happening to my trees out back? I’m setting aside some pieces that might be useful for my lathe, but mostly they’re getting cut up for firewood and I’m stacking it up in the backyard as I get it cut. I have a couple of people who are interested in some of the bigger pieces to use for lumber but that’s not certain at the moment. I have one guy who says he’ll take the bigger logs, but I know for a fact he doesn’t have a way of getting them out of here to his facility. His equipment can only handle stuff weighing up to 1,500 lbs and I know for a fact that the one ash log weighs more than his loader does. I’ll get the bigger stuff cut up into more manageable sizes, roll it into an out of the way spot in the backyard and see what happens. If none of these guys get here to deal with it, it’ll get cut up too. I know enough people who burn wood for heat that I’ll get rid of it eventually.