Story of a Tree

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The Story of a Tree

We are often asked what we do to produce our finished timber products, particularly because we do everything from taking the felled tree to offering the products to the customers. This is extremely unusual as there would normally be many businesses involved in that whole process and often many thousands of miles of transport.

By doing the entire process we can be more sustainable, not just because it is all done locally but because we mill each log knowing what we will make from it. Conventionally the person milling a log has no idea who will buy the timber or what they will make from it so don’t know how best to mill it. But we do.

We also want to encourage people to make the connection between the things they buy and use and the natural resource they come from. It seemed logical to show as much of the process from tree to finished product as we can, hence the idea to follow a particular tree from where it is growing to the items we make from it.

So here is the story of one particular tree
A Westonbirt Pinus radiata – Monterey Pine

Part 1 – The Felling

This tree is growing in Westonbirt arboretum as the story starts, located between Main Drive and Specimen Avenue at the end closest to the main entrance as shown on the Arboretum map here. Its Arboretum arboreal label, complete with squirrel damage on the top right corner, is shown below – it was tree number 16.0250.

image showing location of the tree in the Arboretum
tree before felling starts
arboretum label

It is a great and beautiful tree as we can see from the photo here, so the first question is – Why is it being felled?
All trees have a life span just like we do only theirs is normally a lot longer so we often think they go forever. They don’t, and while it is not apparent from the outside, electronic tests showed soft timber at the base. It is rotting and will continue to rot until it falls down – or is felled.

In commercial logging the trees are often all felled in the same area (called ‘clear felling’ ) but even if selective trees are being felled within normal forest or woodland, it doesn’t matter to those felling or extracting the lumber if the trees around them are damaged. A Friends of the Earth report showed that for each medium sized Mahogany tree extracted, 17 other trees are destroyed or seriously damaged.

tree with lower limbs removed and ropes in position

Clearly that cannot be done in the Arboretum where all the trees have value so this huge tree had to be felled without damaging those around it – and those partly under it.

The first part of the process is for the felling team to get a rope most of the way up the tree, which they do by spinning a lead weighted cord, releasing it so it goes over one of the main branches. Using this, a rope is pulled up and over that branch, which they then climb to get part way up. From there they can climb the tree taking ropes up and fixing them as they go until the rope is secured well above the lower branches they first need to remove. You can just see the ropes in this photo – one on the left of the trunk and the other on the right. They fix these to the bottom of the tree on a manually powered winch as the next photo shows.

These ropes are then used to safely ascend the tree and to send up the various items of kit they need – see the next photo which shows one of the tree team going up for his ‘shift’.

tree team member climbing up a rope
ropes secured to tree and winch

The next job is to remove the lower boughs, and if it is clear below they are mostly left to fall. But if allowing one to free fall could damage something below, a rope is fixed to it just beyond where they will saw it off. When severed, it then swings back on the trunk from where a ground member lowers it on the rope now holding it.

Two photos below show a main bough being removed close to the trunk with a rope fixed to it for it to swing on – and a long limb having the end removed because dropping it whole would have damaged a neighbouring tree.

removing another bough

Does ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen come to mind’? The tree team have to hang in some precarious positions to get some of the limbs removed and I consider myself privileged to have been part of it (though I only took pics).

removing a main bough

And on up and out they go!

climbing even heigher
climbing along a limb

Note the tree team member on the lowest bough on the right (photo below) some way out from the trunk. Both these limbs were then removed to leave just the main head of the tree – see below.

the main head of the tree

Just the top left now with the tree a shadow of its former self but still a glorious demonstration of what nature produces.

lower limbs removed
view straight up the tree from the base

But while this is a complex operation one question was “what to do with all the cones?” Yet again the Tree team came to the rescue with their solution as shown here: A multi-faceted team. Meanwhile the final top branches were coming off our tree, now from a height.

juggling with cones
top branches coming off the tree

up to the top
taking off the top of the tree

If you thought they were mad earlier on, try this shot of the head being taken off, with the tree team member (Richard) up there behind the trunk! The trunk left was still too tall to fell in one piece due to the landing area it had to be dropped in, so it had to be ‘sectioned’ with the next about 5 metres being dropped.

main trunk on the ground

Seen here on the ground, this will also be milled as no useful timber can be left for firewood. The timber inside will have some amazing turns of the grain and will be a wee bit difficult to dry and machine – but so worth it.

top section separated and falling

tyres in place ready for the drop

Now just for the main stick but this required precision as it had to JUST scrape an old Holly while JUST brushing a Sweet Chestnut. There wasn’t more than a metre of room to play with. To protect the ground and to stop the impact from shattering or splitting the wood in the stick, two huge tyres were placed for it to land on. After all, this main piece weighs in at 16 tons and was 16.5 metres tall (long). The photo here shows the tyres just to the left of the Holly, and directly above them are the extended branches of the Sweet Chestnut.

In most of the photos the trunk appears to be vertical, but if you look at the third photo from the top you will see it had a decided lean, and that lean was not towards where the team wanted to drop it.

the trunk crashes down
doing the undercut

The undercut was done; trimmed to get the felling line more precise –

And then the earth shook. Believe me.

Down it came in one bang – absolutely spot on the tyres. Perfection at work and how impressive.

You will recall we mentioned the testing done that showed the tree was rotting from the base and the reason the tree was felled, and looking at the butt end below, that huge crack, extending right across the tree, is the evidence.

So now it is down that just leaves some pictures of the wood so we can all get an idea what it will look like when turned into useful products.

butt end view of the felled trunk
view of the head end

An interested ‘passer-by’ measures the logs to discover the volume of timber in them, but it puts the size of the tree into perspective as well as showing the colours of the timber in the butt end. The head end shows the colours there and you can see how tight the annular rings are.

It will be a big and great log to mill but that will be shown in Part 2 of this

The Story of a Tree

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