Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Ode to the Pruning Saw

If I had to pick just one piece of athletic training equipment with which to exercise I would choose the Japanese pruning saw.

This insight occurred to me as I was using said implement to dismember and remove a large branch from one of our Maple trees that had fallen across our driveway -- temporarily delaying Mars and my plan for a morning of golf at our favorite local course.

(Photo by Mars - click to enlarge)

Thunderstorms had passed through our area the night before. We were up and awake when the rains came so we heard the heavy downpour and sporadic claps of thunder, and saw some of the accompanying lightning. We did not hear any unusually heavy winds. Nor did we discern the sound of timber cracking. We went to bed with our electricity intact and awoke in the same state the next morning. So we figured all was right with our world -- but it wasn't.

The wounded Maple stands about fifteen feet to the south of our drive, immediately behind a set of privet hedges that abut the sidewalk. The broken branch was on the north side of the tree and fell in that direction across the walkway completely shutting off all access to and from our driveway. It was cracked but still attached to the trunk, balanced sturdily on the ground by several sturdy limbs.

Mars saw the damage and immediately figured we would be tied up all morning getting hold of, and then waiting for, an arborist to remove our arboreal captor. I looked at the mangle of timber and thought "pruning saw".

After a protein-rich breakfast we went outside to assess the situation. It became clear very quickly that the first order of things was to reclaim our ability to enter and (of more immediate importance given our golf plans) exit our driveway. The point where the branch joined the tree was immediately adjacent to a network of power lines and up high enough so as to be difficult to reach even with my pole saw. So we decided to cut the branch a few feet further down at a point that was safe from electrocution and more easily accessible with the long-handled steel blade. The wood at that spot was about ten inches in diameter.

(Photo by Mars - click to enlarge)

I started cutting with the pole saw and made it about half way through when the blade bound up. After several unsuccessful attempts to get going again I shifted to my Japanese pruning saw operated from atop my stepladder as balanced by Mars. I made twenty-five percent more progress when the branch started to sag and then that cutting implement stuck in place.

It was time for Plan B. We decided that if I cut off each of the ground-bound limbs that supported the bigger bough it would snap off under its own weight. There turned out to be about ten such braces ranging in thickness from several inches to not much smaller than the main artery.

I sawed. Mars dragged. After about thirty minutes the driveway had been opened up and the remainder of the branch had cracked a bit more and now was balanced by itself on the ground. Since I hadn't used up my pruning saw enthusiasm I decided to finish cutting the big piece and hoped that when it finally broke off -- which it did with several vigorous pushes -- that the part of the limb attached to the trunk would also fall down -- which it didn't.

But ninety percent of the lumberjacking had been done and we could come and go as we pleased. Some of our trees are actually on town property -- long story -- and Mars noticed that the Maple seemed to be one of them. So now the plan became to call the Physical Service Department to see if they would (a) complete the trimming job and (b) remove the residue. They would, if in fact it was their tree. If not we would then call a private arborist. Either way we were now finished with cutting and ready to do some chipping -- plus some driving and putting.

The next day I thought a little bit more about the one-hour workout that I had so willingly subjected my body to.

(1) Cardio: The major problem in sawing is having the tool bind up and stop. The best way to prevent this is to just keep on cutting. This is not a problem with thumb-sized branches, which come apart after four or five rapid strokes. Most of the limbs I dealt with this time required multiple minutes of nonstop hacking. Even with only one arm performing ninety percent of the labor, it is a heart-pounder.

(2) Resistance Training: Resistance training is a form of strength training in which each effort is performed against a specific opposing force generated by resistance (i.e. resistance to being pushed, squeezed, stretched or bent).....Resistance exercise is used to develop the strength and size of skeletal muscles.....Research shows that regular resistance training will strengthen and tone muscles and increase bone mass. (wikipedia.org)

Sounds just like cutting wood to me.

(3) Eye-Hand Coordination: Thirty years of sawing and I still have all ten fingers. Say no more!

(4) Balance & Flexibility: Most pruning saw jobs do not consist of a single piece of wood perfectly balanced on a flat cutting surface. You usually have to contort your body into impossible positions just to get to the thing that you want to cut, and then stay in that absurd position for minutes at a time while maintaining your focus on your target. If you are not positioned correctly you cannot generate enough leverage or force to get the job done -- and/or you fall down. Real lumberjacks do not tip over.

This is even better than what you can do with a Bowflex.

And all for less than $25 at your local hardware store.

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