Wedges and Wedging
Basic Chain Saw Course 103
Wedges are another of the important tools used by competent Chain Saw operators. There are various styles, types, brands, textures, colors and some are even made out of different materials.
There are three basic designs
They are made out of Wood, Steel, Plastic, Aluminum and some are plastic with soft steel inserts or caps. They come in various lengths---5 to 15. Most new Chain Saw operators have no idea how important wedges are. When used properly, they make the job safer as well possibly saving your life. Many Chain Saw operators have the mistaken Macho idea that they are so good that they dont need to use a wedge. These type of people are already dead but their bodies and minds just havent figured it out yet.
Size, lean and intended lay of the tree determine the size, type and amount of wedges to be used.
When first inserting a wedge, hit it with the heel of the hand to get it started into the kerf. If you are fighting the wind, hard lean or hard pull, you may have to tap it in with a hatchet or single-bit axe. A 5 lb. Single-bit axe has always worked the best for me but even a good heavy headed hatchet will help to lay down the largest of trees, if all of the proper falling techniques are used.
On the average tree, that has no particular problems, watching the outside end of the inserted wedge can be a good tool in telling you what the tree is doing. I.s., lifting or sitting-back. It pays to watch the kerf of the backcut, as this can be a quicker gauge of what the tree is trying to do.
Wooden wedges need to be either thrown away, used as firewood or mounted on the mantel piece as an unsafe and unreliable antique. They will split, break or disintegrate and always when you need them the most. This can cause injury or death to you or someone else.
The plastic wedges, when mushroomed or cut into, can be remanufactured with the use of a wood rasp and vise.
Steel wedges are the ONLY type of wedges to be used to split firewood. The plastic wedges wont work!
Steel and aluminum wedges should not be used when falling trees as they can and will be driven into the chain, thus either dulling, breaking or ruining it. (Doug Dent does use aluminum wedges when working with frozen timber).
The size and species of trees you will be cutting, determines the size and type of wedges you will need to have with you. They wont do you any good if they are left in your vehicle or back at the office. Wedges can be stacked on top of each other to create additional lift, if needed. This condition happens all of the time. The triple taper wedge, by K & H, is best for stacking 2 high (back to back). It gets dangerous if you stack any more than that in the same stack. If you must stack higher, stack single tapers, double tapers or combinations of both, together to achieve the lift needed to drop the tree.
Where you place the wedge(s), can be critical, as well as the number of wedges used and the order in which they are driven in with your hatchet or single-bit axe.
On smaller trees, the wedge can be placed parallel to the bar and driven in. This method is helpful if your wedge is not a small one. The single or triple taper is best in this case.
This method is used with larger trees also especially if the tree is a heavy leaner, sits-back or needs to be pulled a greater distance. If the tree sits-back and pinches the bar, the powerhead of the saw may have to be removed from the bar. This will allow more space to drive wedges in parallel with the bar, thus allowing wedges to be inserted into the backcut. This can happen even if you have wedges already in the backcut. It is sometimes necessary to begin driving wedges parallel to the backcut on the heavy leaning side of a tree in order to get enough lift to make your other wedges effective. Start on the heavy leaning side and work your way around and then work your way back, pounding as you go. The pounding order of the wedges can, at times, be very critical.
There will be times when wedges are essential to bring down a snag. This should be avoided, however, if possible. When it is unavoidable, be extremely careful!!! Determine the soundness of the snag, with you hatchet or single-bit axe by thumping gently around the entire circumference of the snag. Any changes in sound will tell you if the snag is hollow, rotten or solid. Also, observe any cracks in the snag for fiber falling out, as you thump. This is another indicator of how sound the snag is. As you are thumping, keep watching over your head for any falling material such as branches, bark, tree top or flying squirrels old snags are very difficult and dangerous to pull. You can usually pull a snag 30 degrees from the natural lean without using wedges and possibly 60 degrees with wedges. This also depends on the species and soundness of the snag being cut. Once again, do this only as a last resort and try not to get into a situation where you have to do it at all!!! When tapping wedges into snags, do so as lightly as possible, and only while looking up. Two sets of eyes are better than one. Use plenty of wedges, as they can be compressed into the dried wood, if the snag sits-back. There will be a certain amount of fiber compression anyway.
Frozen trees have unique problems, so use extreme caution while cutting under this condition. The tendency of a wedge to squirt out is at least 10 times as prevalent with frozen timber as compared to non-frozen. If the wedge does squirt out, you have just become a candidate for major problems. There are several ways to avoid this situation: Use more than one wedge; tap them gently and alternatively; use specially designed frozen tree wedges (not that great as they tend to break); take your time and beware, beware, beware!!!
On larger trees, when a tree sits-back and you are unable to get the powerhead and bar out of the backcut before they get pinched, you can quite often drive a single taper wedge in on either side of the of the tree and parallel to the backcut, allowing another wedge to be inserted perpendicular to the backcut. In this same situation, sometimes you will be able to use the saw to widen the original backcut enough to allow a wedge to be driven in. Caution---DO NOT GO IN VERY DEEP OR YOU MAY GET YOUR BAR PINCHED. This is a last resort, if all else fails.
The last option is to get someone else to come over and cut you out. When bucking, always start a wedge immediately. Tap it with the heel of your hand and then continue your cut. Use your hatchet or single-bit axe to keep it tight. As in falling, watch the wedge and the kerf for evidence of opening or closing. This will tell you what the logs are doing and what it might do after the cuts have been properly made. Second guessing the immediate future works when using your tools properly, in this job. It can save your life. In conclusion, the proper use of wedges and wedging techniques, needs to be taught, but the best teacher is experience. With these few tips, that I have had to learn the hard way, might give the novice a head start in safe productive chain saw use. Dont let a false Macho attitude about wedges get you hurt or killed. No one likes to visit hospitals or go to funerals, just because someone did nott know or did nott care whether they used the right tool at the right time and in the right manner.
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