A welcome rain, steady and soaking. I went out last night deliver extra hay to the new piglets, my path only half-lit by a headlamp with dying batteries. I’d worn too little and was soon soaked through and cold, and thought briefly of returning to the house for dry shirt and jacket, but then tried to recall the last time I’d been soaked through and cold, and could not. So carried on. It’s been too dry, too warm, for too long. The rain is a relief.
Before it got wet, I spent the better part of two days harvesting softwood sawlogs from the lower reaches of our land. White spruce and balsam fir, mostly, and of the two, primarily the latter. Balsam doesn’t last long ’round here; it’s subject to a condition known as “red rot” (there’s maybe a more formal name, but red rot is what everyone calls it) that slowly eats the tree from the inside out, climbing up the trunk as it progresses. Of the mature balsam I’ve harvested in these parts, I bet nearly 90% showed some evidence of rot. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if so, not much of one. Thus the impetus to cut them fairly early, before they succumb in full.
Though we own a small bandsaw mill, I’ve lately been taking logs to a sawyer a few miles down the road. He charges $.15/board foot for custom sawing (for those of you not fluent in lumber-speak, a board foot is the equivalent of board that’s one-inch thick, twelve-inches long, and twelve-inches wide. Thus, an eight-foot long 2×4 equals 5.28 board feet. Get it?), which is cheap enough that it’s become difficult for me to justify my time at our own mill. On a good day, I can saw about 1,000-feet by myself, and that’s with the benefit (and expense) of the tractor to load the mill, along with the myriad expenses associated with the mill: Gas, blades, maintenance, and the plethora tools lost when I hurl them into the woods in frustration. So. Considering we have a truck and trailer, and considering it’s a mere three miles of well-maintained dirt road to the mill, fifteen pennies to the foot is in my humble opinion approximately the bargain of the decade.
I’ve never kept real careful track of my time in the woods to see what it really costs me to produce our own lumber, but I’ve no doubt it’s a good bit less than the (entirely reasonable) $.60 – $.70/bd ft most of the local mills charge for their rough cut stock. It’s been so long since I’ve purchased dressed lumber at a building supply store that I honestly have no idea what they charge; it might not actually be all that much more than rough cut, but of course dressed lumber is actually of lesser dimensions than stated: A dressed 2×4 from the lumber yard measures 1.5″ thick by 3.5″ wide. Does it really make a substantive difference? Well, probably not, but it still bugs the shit out of me. It’s like buying decaf coffee, or skim milk, or one of them low-alcohol “session” beers that seem to be suddenly all the rage. Good lordy. You’d like to think you’re at least getting what you’re paying for.
Anyway, and as stated a time or two before, I rather enjoy working in the woods, so I’m not over concerned with the economic particulars, ‘specially because I’m at least certain they’re in my favor. Yesterday morning, with the sky closing in fast, I dropped and limbed trees, then skidded them to the barnyard, where Penny loaded them onto the trailer with the excavator. It was about as handy and efficient of a backyard logging operation as I’ve been involved in, and soon we had nice load – I’m guess 800-ish board feet or so. I can haul more, but rain was soon to fall, and my tasks for the day were not limited to playing woodsman. I strapped the load down tight, and headed for the mill, where I’d pick up the fruition of my previous load: 1,092 bd ft of two and one-by material for a whopping $163.80.
And now someone’s probably going to ask what we’re building. Truth is, I have no idea. Nothing now. But around here, a nice stack of drying lumber is good as money in the bank. Better, maybe.