Unloading

Upon return from the sawmill I was faced with the daunting task of unloading those big pieces of wood from the trailer. The smaller piece, of course, was no problem. At less that 200 pounds, getting it off the trailer and onto the garden cart was trivial. I was a little intimidated by the larger pieces, though, and decided to wait ’til the weekend when I could get a few friends to help. But then I saw the weather forecast and realized that I wouldn’t be able to get the truck and trailer into the back yard if I waited. Rain always turns the back yard into a very soggy mess.

I thought about it overnight and decided that if I could load the big log all by myself, then I should be able to unload the two smaller pieces by myself, as well. The next morning I backed the trailer up to the slab behind the garage and started working. My idea for the smaller piece (approximate weight 800 lbs.) was to lever it up and get some rollers under it. Roll it off the trailer and onto the slab, and then use the same technique to position it on the slab. I enlisted Debra’s assistance in moving the rollers.

Trailer positioned for unloading
I drove a wedge under the log to simplify getting a lever under it.

Unloading the smaller piece went almost exactly according to plan. I just had to get the bottom of the log high enough off the trailer deck to put a couple of rollers under it. The rollers are 1-1/4″ plywood dowels that were formally jousting lances at Sherwood Forest Faire. When they break they’re thrown into a big pile. We go by periodically to scavenge a few to keep for various projects. Truth to tell, rollers wasn’t a use I had envisioned when I gathered them.

Rollers in place

With two rollers under it and the 2×4 supports removed, a medium-hard push at the back was all it took to start moving. Every foot or so, Debra would put another roller under the front and I’d remove one from the back. There was no worry about the trailer tipping because the larger log (1,200 lbs.) was forward of the wheels. We quickly got to the end of the trailer.

Preparing to come off the trailer

The idea here was to roll the piece off the trailer onto the first log, then forward onto the second and transition back down to the dowels. I didn’t plan this well. I made two errors. You can see in the first below picture that the first log rolled forward, as expected, but it’s still forward of the piece’s center. There’s no support at the back. When I rolled it forward a little bit more, off the trailer, two things happened. First, the log tilted back. It also pushed the trailer forward because I had forgotten to chock the wheels.

Coming off the trailer
Oops! The log fell back, off the rollers.

This was just a minor problem. It took a few minutes for me to lever the back end up and get another log under it. Then we rolled it forward onto the smaller log and back onto the dowels. After that it was a simple matter of pushing and moving rollers. This goes a lot faster with two people: one to remove rollers from the back and another to replace them at the front.

Back on the dowels
In place, sitting on bricks.

My original plan for the larger piece was to tip it sideways and roll it off the trailer onto the slab, then wrap a chain around it and pull it up on end with the truck. I have no idea why I thought that would be a good idea, but by the time we got the smaller piece in place I realized that I could use the rollers with the larger one, as well.

We used the same technique to get rollers under the big piece: a wedge to make a space for the lever, then put it on blocks, slipped the rollers under it, and removed the blocks. It rolled with surprisingly little effort.

Moving on the rollers

I could have planned this one a little better. I knew that the trailer would tilt when the log moved rear of the wheels, and the log would roll off the end. In fact I was counting on it because I didn’t want to deal with trying to step it down off the back of the trailer. But I should have placed some blocks at the back to provide a primitive ramp. In retrospect, I’m lucky that the thing didn’t have enough momentum to tip over.

This didn’t really pose a problem. The lever is a wonderful invention. I lifted the front with a lever, which allowed the back to roll almost completely off the trailer.

After that it was pretty easy to put a block under the back and a roller under the front to get it going again.

At this point it was just replacing rollers again as we moved forward. Something to note if we ever do this again: be careful with alignment of the rollers. We had a little trouble with it rolling in the wrong direction because we had placed the rollers at weird angles. They don’t have to be exactly parallel with each other, but should be within 10 or 15 degrees of perpendicular with the intended direction of travel.

These two will sit here on the slab until I’m ready to work on them. I’m not going to wait for them to dry, as that would take too long. Air drying time is approximately one year for every inch of radius. I’m not going to wait 15 or 20 years before carving. Not that I could: powder post beetles would have them falling apart long before that.

I’ll of course have to move these again when it’s time to work on them, but that doesn’t worry me. We got them off the trailer with little effort. Moving them on a flat slab shouldn’t pose a problem.

Again, don’t underestimate the power of simple machines. Debra and I unloaded these two pieces (approximately 800 lbs. and 1,200 lbs.) by ourselves using a wedge, a lever, and some rollers. And without expending a lot of physical effort. Had it not been hot and humid, I probably wouldn’t have broke a sweat. It really was that easy. Took a little brain power to figure out how to do things, but we didn’t have to exert ourselves.

Sawmill Day

Unloading the ash trunk

The nice thing about the sawmill is that they have tools to handle these big logs. Bill’s truck with the boom on it easily picked the Ash trunk off my trailer. We also used it to move the log into the sawpit, and to load the larger piece onto the trailer when finished.

The first task was getting a smooth cut on the bottom. We laid the log on its side and Bill got out his trusty little 72″ chainsaw. The thing’s a monster but it made quick work of sawing through the bottom of the log.

Making the first cut with the 72″ chainsaw

Then we picked it up and put it in the sawpit to make two cuts: one at the top to give a flat surface for the coffee table, and then one about 18″ from the top to separate the coffee table base from the rest of the log.

We ran into a couple of problems. I thought I’d gotten all of the screws out of the log, but I missed two of them. The first one destroyed the sawblade. While digging out the first one we discovered another. I’ll do a better job of checking for metal in the log next time.

The second problem was an oversight. When we placed the log for the second cut, we didn’t see that a bulge in the log would impede the blade. Well, not actually the blade but rather the mechanism that the blade rides on. We got about 3/4 through the log and couldn’t go any further. So we lifted the thing out of the pit and Bill finished the cut with that monster chainsaw.

In addition to the big log, I brought a smaller piece of Ash that I’d collected during the Great Icepocalypse of 2021. Ha! When I collected that piece, I thought it was large and heavy. It’s about 4 feet long, two feet wide, and a little over a foot thick. I just had Bill make two cuts to flatten the top and bottom. It’ll be a coffee table when I’m done with it.

And there’s my three pieces, nicely strapped down on the trailer, waiting for me to unload them. That should be an interesting job.

Loading the Ash trunk

I’ve been trying to obtain a very large piece of wood for a project. It turns out that getting a piece of wood that’s 36 inches in diameter and three or four feet long isn’t all that easy if you don’t know an arborist. I got a call from a friend of a friend, somebody who had cut a tree down for a customer and wondered if I was interested in it.

I arranged to go get the trailer that the trunk was on and bring it home to dump the log on my driveway. This is Ash, about 4-1/2 feet long and between 36 and 40 inches in diameter. I estimated the weight at 2,000 lbs. I unloaded it by wrapping a chain around the log and then pulling the trailer out from under it.

My plan for the log is a big carved chair, and the base for a large coffee table. But the first thing was to get it cut into two pieces. My chainsaw is only 16″, so there’s no way I can get even close to a reasonable cut. So I had to get the log onto my trailer and up to the sawmill. Trouble is, I don’t have anything that can lift that kind of weight.

But I do have some simple machines and a little ingenuity.

I positioned my hydraulic jack under the front of the log and jacked it up in small increments, bracing it as I went along.

The trailer is 18″ off the ground. Only 14″ to go!
Gettin’ there.

When I got it high enough, I replaced the hydraulic jack with a farm jack. That solved most of the lifting problem, but I had to be careful to brace the back so the log didn’t roll to one side or the other. It wasn’t difficult to get the log up to the required height and braced securely.

The next morning I hand-positioned the trailer under the log and stated loading. The idea here was to wrap a chain around it and pull it onto the trailer with a hand winch (what we call a “come along”). The only twist was that I didn’t have enough chain. Turns out that a 38-inch diameter log is just short of 10 feet in circumference. I had a 12-foot chain and the cable on the come along isn’t long enough to reach from the front of the trailer to the back. So I had to re-purpose my bicycle lock cable. Plenty strong enough: braided steel cable 3/8″ in diameter.

The 2×12 planks serve as sleds. Friction between the log and the sled is higher than between the sled and the trailer deck, so the boards slide on the deck.
The log under the back rolls as the trunk is pulled over it.

I made a few mistakes here that I will correct if I ever have to do something like this again. In particular, I should have put jack stands under the back of the trailer. I did eventually, but before I did the weight of the log put a lot of stress on the trailer hitch ball and receiver up front. Had that failed, the back of the trailer would have come down, potentially crushing my foot or anything else that was under it.

After getting the trunk onto the sleds, it was easier than expected to winch it up onto the trailer. I had to disconnect and re-position the winch at one point, and jack up the back so I could get another sled in position, but there weren’t any real surprises.

Putting a sled under the back.
On the trailer. Time to reposition the winch.
Loaded!

At this point all I had to do was tie it down for the trip to the sawmill. I suppose I could have done a better job of centering the log over the wheels. The log weighs 2,000 lbs., and the trailer is only rated at 3,500. But it towed okay.

All told, loading this log onto my trailer took about four hours of work, most of which was spent figuring out what to do next. Having never done anything like this, I was extra careful about making sure everything was secure. I didn’t want a ton of wood to come crashing down on me.

Don’t underestimate the power of simple machines. The most complicated piece of equipment I used here was that hydraulic jack, and I could have done without it, substituting a lever and fulcrum. Replacing the farm jack would have been more difficult, but again possible with levers. Nothing I did required a lot of physical effort. The most taxing part of the whole thing was operating the winch. Even so, somebody half my size likely could have done it.