However labor intensive milling logs can be, it happens to be one of my favorites — especially in the middle of winter. There is an allure to working with timbers on the coldest days of the year that goes beyond the logistical reasons. Yes, the tree weighs less without the leaves and skidding logs on the frozen earth is cleaner and easier than in the mud, but the enjoyable reasons are far more subtle.
I’ve noticed I’m not alone in this. Throughout the winter I can hear my neighbor to the south already harvesting wood for his next year’s heating season. His tractor and chainsaw run for hours on end as he diligently works away. My neighbor to the north hand splits most of his firewood for his maple syrup production in the bitter cold. It’s an impressive sight to see and so too is the pile of wood chips circling his chopping block at the end of sugaring season.
I hesitate getting out there sometimes but who wouldn’t? It’s hard work and it’s cold. But after an hour passes the rhythm of the work warms you up. No longer focused on keeping warm, your other senses are free to wander and I start to remember why I enjoy, as do others, milling wood in the cold.
In a season that is normally dull on the nose, the air is quickly filled with a heavy scent of wood and earth. A reminder of warmer seasons with every cut. To me it smells sweet – almost too sweet sometimes if you’re passing through a variety of woods. If you haven’t already, next time you're around someone splitting wood, pick up a freshly split piece (maybe make sure no one is looking) and press it right up to your face while taking in a big whiff. Nice right? The strong smell only lasts a minute or two after it is split.
After a few more hours you’ll notice something else has changed. What was once a bright white landscape has now been turned in an oasis of sawdust and wood chips. Your eyes begin to relax. The ground now soft with a darker tone has allowed your eyes to widen for the first time in a while. It’s almost like the inverse of a camp fire on a dark night. You’re drawn to it.
At the end of the day and back indoors the house is boiling hot compared to when you left. That cup of coffee you just poured? It may possibly be the best one you’ve ever had. Same goes for lunch and dinner. Throw a couple of logs in the wood stove…maybe have a beer, and its lights out. Goodnight. I never have a problem falling asleep after a day of milling wood in the cold.
The log I milled here is eastern white pine. The majority of wood I have milled so far has been eastern white pine. Once I move to interior finishes and cabinetry I’ll start milling more hardwoods.
No problems running the machinery today with the exception of the saw blade “POPPING” off. Final tally for the day is twenty four clean cut 2" x 4"s, sixteen 2” x 6”s, and a few wide "bar-top" slabs.