Great Outdoors

Woodcutting 101 – Do's and don'ts for wood collecting

By Cody Hooks
chooks@taosnews.com
Posted 11/20/18

Snow is on the ground, the cold has set in and November is almost done. But if your woodpile isn’t quite big enough to get you through the winter — or show off your woodcutting chops …

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Great Outdoors

Woodcutting 101 – Do's and don'ts for wood collecting

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Snow is on the ground, the cold has set in and November is almost done. But if your woodpile isn’t quite big enough to get you through the winter — or show off your woodcutting chops — there’s still some time to get into the forests.

The Taos News spoke with Paul Mondragon, veteran woodcutter and battalion chief of the Carson National Forest’s Questa Ranger District, about the do’s and don'ts for wood collecting. These tips are good reminders for seasoned pros and newbies alike.

Keep it sharp — The old saying that “a dull knife is a dangerous knife” holds true for chainsaws. Mondragon’s been working a chainsaw since he was a kid and spent the first part of his firefighting career on a hot shot crew; experience has taught him that “general chainsaw care is paramount.”

“Take it apart, clean it, check and change your spark plugs,” he said. Check the air filter. “A clean saw runs better and runs cooler.” Also, make sure you’re comfortable holding and running your chainsaw. If it’s too heavy, downsize.

Know where to go and tell someone — The Carson has an official map of the forest; consult it before heading out and let someone know generally where you’ll be. Also, be prepared, Mondragon said: Bring a spare tire, water, food, warm clothes and something to start a fire.

“People who go hunting, fishing, camping or gathering firewood know there are no guarantees (of safety) when you enter that environment. A little preparation goes a long way.”

Earplugs, glasses, chaps — “If you look at a chainsaw, it removes material and doesn’t care if it’s wood or flesh. Any chainsaw injury is immediately serious,” he said.

So even residential woodcutters should consider using PPE, or personal protective equipment. Eye protection, ear protection, hard hats, gloves and boots are standard for wildland firefighters. And here’s a pro tip: get chaps. Most people don’t use them, but considering how indiscriminate chainsaws are, they’re a worthwhile investment.

Mondragon said Questa Lumber and Hardware has a lot of the basic PPE, and in Taos, Joe’s Service Center at 1576 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, and Rocky Mountain Forest and Garden at 535 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, carry it as well.

Snow and situational awareness — “Even just a dusting of snow makes a difference,” Mondragon said. Slippery footing and hidden hazards are the two most important things to think about if wood collecting in the snow. Have good situational awareness and watch your footing.

Make the right cut — The best technique for cutting wood is the one “you're most comfortable and familiar with.” Safety is paramount, so have a plan for how you plan to drop a tree.

Follow the rules — If you’re collecting wood in the national forest, be sure to follow the rules found on the wood-collecting permits. Dead but standing ponderosas are always off limits. And once the wood’s all loaded up, fill out the paperwork and nail the tag to the load. Chainsaws and full pickups of wood have been confiscated because people didn’t do that. Of course, folks can get wood on private land, but get a “simple note” from the landowner, Mondragon said, with a name, location and phone number.

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