Big Trees & Big Opportunities

On the east end of my farm stood a big white oak tree. This tree was not only a large specimen, it was a massive, mighty oak. It took five family members to reach around it. Her crown had a spread of more than 60 feet. She stood about 80 feet tall. She was not a lumber tree, just a big old shade tree, but she was impressive to see.

Two years ago, on a hot August afternoon, the big tree crashed to the ground. She died of natural causes. Her massive trunk was hollow. It simply couldn’t hold her weight any more. The big tree snapped off about 16 feet above the ground. Those massive spreading branches stretched over my fence. The fence was flattened. Posts were snapped off in an instant and the wire flattened into the ground.

fallen oak tree
Two days after the tree fell, Ralph's sons, both over 6 feet tall, stoodt on the trunk.

Looking over the body of the old tree caused me a bit of sadness. My boys had grown up playing in the shade of that old tree. She was the biggest landmark on our farm. We named her Wywona from a story that my son had read in school. According to him, the meaning was from Native Americans. It translated to “the old one.” It seemed a fitting tribute for the majestic matron.

The fence the tree broke would wait until the tree was all cleaned up before it would be replaced. It had to be replaced because there was no fixing it. I refused to just let the old tree rot into the ground. Over the next two years, I spent much time and effort reducing the massive tree into usable firewood. It was amazing just how much the old tree yielded.

The old tree’s main trunk measured more than 5 feet thick. The stump, measured from about a foot off the ground, had a diameter of 8 feet, 11 inches. It was good for me that the largest part of the trunk was hollow. Otherwise, I would not have had a saw large enough to cut through it. The largest pieces of the main trunk required the use of a friend’s saw to make the cuts needed for firewood.

oak tree stump
Ralph's measuring tape stretched across the big stump of the old white oak, reaching the 102 inch mark.

Unfortunately for me, there were not enough usable saw logs in the tree to make the effort of retrieving them. The tree had been a great shade tree. It had produced an abundant white acorn crop for centuries. It had probably been passed over by many lumbermen over the years, for traits undesirable for their use. I am sure the deer and wildlife were very grateful for that fact. The food crop, in her mast every year, was sure to have sustained the animals despite her lack of lumber characteristics.

Cutting and splitting large trees will yield an abundance of firewood, but you will earn every single piece. Many guys will take the small limbs and treetops, but those large trunk sections will be left to the men who know how to work. It is a mere job of divide and conquer. Split the large pieces into smaller, manageable pieces with a wedge and sledge, vertical log splitter or even a chainsaw. Once they are in smaller pieces, further processing is a snap. Don’t be intimidated.

There are times when those large trunk sections can be milled for lumber. Be sure to talk with the sawmill owner first. The trees found along city streets and in people’s yards will often have hardware in them, nails and such. Many guys won’t care, if they know the possibility of hardware exists. They will most likely charge you extra for sawblade harpening or teeth, but it should still work out economically for everybody involved. It should be noted that some sawmill owners will not want to be bothered with single logs, especially those that may contain metal.

massive oak tree
Ralph stands amid the tree trunk sections.

A good relationship with a sawmill owner should not be taken lightly. He has schedules to keep and employees to keep safe. It is of the utmost importance that he knows and understands the type of log that you are bringing to him. Small mill owners and private operators are usually the ones most approachable for this type of sawing. Use common sense. If you see a large chunk of metal or countless nails, the wood should not be used for lumber. Just split the wood and use or sell it for firewood. Your wallet will still expand a bit and you will not have damaged an expensive piece of equipment. This type of arrangement works well for you, as well as the sawmill owner.

I use my horses here on the farm to move logs. I use them at other folk’s places as well, if the trees are in a bad spot or far from the access drive. I also now have a skid steer. That piece of equipment has many uses on my farm, but it excels when it comes to wood handling. It’s lifting power is incredible. Mine doesn’t do well “off-road,” but I understand those with tracks in place of wheels do quite well. I don’t need tracks, I have horses and a good logcart. Moving the logs and large pieces is when and where the skid steer comes in handy.

After two years of hacking away at the big white oak, I was left with the main section of the trunk. Several pieces were more than 5 feet in diameter. These pieces were made even more difficult because they had all the burls, crotches, and twisted sections from where the limbs had grown from the tree. I started working to split those hulking, unforgiving house warmers. I worked on one piece for an entire day. I realized that I would need some help with these chunks. I am usually not worn down easily, but this time I threw in the towel.

percherons hauling timber
Ralph takes his Percheron geldings, Knight and Hoss, to the woods.

I called a neighbor who has a skid steer-mounted log splitter. The log splitter is mounted upside down. I stood the chunks on edge. The operator positioned the log splitter over the log and pushed the pedal. The chunks split easily by the force of the hydraulic machine. I was amazed. In the space of three hours the machine had reduced those big chunks into pieces that I could manage. I would still have to split them more, but my workload had been dramatically reduced.

It is unlikely that you will encounter trees measuring 5 feet in diameter, but large trees will often be given to people not afraid of some hard work. You may even be able to get some building material or furniture grade lumber in exchange for a few days’ work.

cleared land
The tree has been hauled away and the fence repaired.

In my own woods, there are several “wolf” trees. Large trees from when my woods were a pasture. They are bigger than the surrounding second growth trees. I will begin removing these trees slowly. This slow removal will allow for the younger trees to get more sunlight, space and nutrients. This culling of the trees will make the woods healthier and more viable. The wood in these older trees will be used for lumber and firewood. They will be utilized and not wasted. Once again, big trees will be big opportunities. rh house logo


Ralph Rice ponders big trees and big opportunities in northeast Ohio.

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