Chair Stories: The Hardwood Forest

I first heard it today, as I was turning legs for a set of four Loop Back side chairs. The lathe is all you hear when it’s running. Yet each time I turned it off, the sound was closer. Finally, I looked up from my lathe. There the beast was, along the back side of my property line, eating trees like so many match-sticks. A mechanical tree harvester.

As a kid in the woods, I’d seen them before. It mesmerized me: two huge arms grabbing a tall oak in a bear hug. The huge circular saw cuts the tree, then carries it around vertically like some oversized Christmas Tree on a Macy’s float.

Just as the logging crew went home, I finished my last chair leg. I went investigating. In a day, 10 acres of hardwood forest had been completely cleared of every living thing. A huge chipper was sitting next to a pile of small hardwood trees, the next generation of forest becoming pellets for someone’s stove. Two beautiful 120 year-old oak trees sat on top of the pile, smashed into utter uselessness.

A flatbed truck pulled up the drive as I got back home. Junior, owner of my local log yard, was delivering some turning blanks. The log, split by rushing loggers, had been in his firewood pile, but Junior willingly sawed it for me.

I told Junior about the logging job behind my house. I wasn’t sure what he’d say, after all he sells 20,000 tons of logs a week.

“Sounds like John Grimes’ crew.” he said. “They always make an awful mess. For those big loggers, it’s all about speed. Not doing a good job, just speed. They get $13/ton, stump-to-truck. What mess they leave behind, they don’t care.”

We walked around my shop. I showed him what I’d been working on: a chair with his red oak in the back; a tool made from his hickory. He liked seeing the work, but that Grimes job kept bothering him.

“I mean, sometimes you’ll bust one, if it’s hollow in the middle or something. But to take a tree that’s been growing a hundred years and just ruin it, now that’s a shame. My grandad couldn’t stand treating a forest like that.”

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