Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

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Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby Crosscut Sawyer » February 2nd, 2016, 9:33 pm

I recently came across an article in a national publication, entitled "A Study of Crosscut Saws or Power Saws for Trail Clearing by Dan Applebaker”. I'm not sure how many others have seen the article, but it can be found at the very end of the newsletter here

What was unfortunate in my eyes is that the article discounts crosscut saws as ineffective at the end of a 10 page newsletter brimming with stories of happy and successful non-motorized trail projects and including a tribute and memorial to a beloved crosscut saw loving volunteer. What impressed me most about the study, though, was that it made many unsupported claims that didn't add up. I decided to write a response because I feel that documents like this do a disservice to wilderness users and volunteers alike, and they should not go on record without a dissenting opinion. Feel free to share widely.
Saw study response.pdf
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby Sawman » February 2nd, 2016, 10:33 pm

An excellent response.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby trailcrew » February 3rd, 2016, 5:20 am

Well written and well thought out.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby Jim_Thode » February 3rd, 2016, 5:51 am

I saw that article when it came out and sent this to the author. I did not hear anything back from him. We also discussed it among other BCHW sawyers and agreed that the article was one sided.

Oct 27, 2015
Hi Dan,
I saw your article on comparing crosscut saws and power saws in the BCHA newsletter. It sounds like an interesting project. Is there a complete write up or photos/videos available? I agree with the conclusion that chainsaws almost always cut faster then crosscut saws. However I think you missed the mark on a couple of points that could very well enter into the picture.

Probably the biggest issue, especially for volunteers is safety. Based on my experience and research I have done I believe that crosscut saws are much safer then chainsaws. Here are a few reasons I believe that is the case:

1. Crosscuts are slower and it gives the sawyer plenty of time think about what he is doing and what the reaction will be when the cut is completed. A chainsaw can get the sawyer in trouble very fast.

2. Unlike the assumption you made in your article, crosscut sawyers can always cut from the safe side of the log. During the day when crosscuts were king, most all bucking was done by single bucking. Just because a saw is called a two man saw does not mean that two people are required to operate it. I have been using a crosscut saw for over 60 years and clearing all kinds of wilderness trails for over twenty years and have never seen a log that could be cut with a crosscut that could not be cut by single bucking. In fact I think that modern trail clearers could take a lesson from the sawyers of old. If two sawyers are available for a job they would increase productivity by taking two quality saws and single bucking rather then double bucking with a single saw.

3. You can work further away from a hazardous condition with a crosscut saw. Not only can a crosscut sawyer cut on the safe side of the log he can also do the final release cut well clear of the log with just the tip of the saw. This would be safer then a chainsaw.
Here is a photo that shows this:

4. Chainsaws have a internal power source can do a lot of damage to a sawyer in an instant where a crosscut saw simple moves slower and can be stopped quickly if there is a problem.

5. Chainsaws are hot, they spark and gasoline is a fire hazard. Hot gasoline in a hot chainsaw can vaporize and cause it to stop running and create a very hazardous condition if the gas cap is removed.

5. A With quieter operation trees and people may talk to the sawyer. Trees will creek, groan, snap and pop and bystanders can alert the sawyer of impending reactions or hazards.

6. A crosscut will not kickback as a chainsaw can. Kickback is a common cause of chainsaw injuries.

7. A crosscut can be safely operated using a single hand, not a chainsaw.

8. A chainsaw has several required safety features to check and maintain. A crosscut needs and has none.

9. You can safely cut logs over your head with a crosscut saw and operating a chainsaw above your shoulder is not allowed.

10. Children and inexperienced sawyers can actively participate in the sawing process. I would not give a kid a chainsaw. The US DOL prohibits minors under 16 and limits 16 and 17 years olds from operating a chainsaw.

In general I would compare the question of what is safer a hand powered saw or a motor powered saw the same as comparing a bicycle to a motorcycle. You can go a lot faster on a motorcycle, get from A to B and get hurt on either one but the chance of serous injury or death is much higher on a motorcycle then a bicycle.

Other considerations:
A crosscut saw will always start cutting on the fire pull, can’t say the same about a chainsaw.

A crosscut saw has only one moving part and is much less prone to breakdown. A chainsaw has several hundred moving parts.

A crosscut saw can easily be carried on a saddle horse and is lighter and takes up less space then a chainsaw.

A crosscut saw almost never breaks in use and even if a saw does break, you can sill cut with the longest remaining section of blade.

Also limbing was mentioned and it was assumed that chainsaw limbing was safer then axe limbing. That may be debatable but I think that limbing with a sharp pruning saw is likely safer then an axe or chainsaw and quite quick.

Anyway, like I said, in most cases a chainsaw does cut faster then a crosscut but that is only part of the picture.

Jim Thode
BCHW Chainsaw and crosscut sawyer, instructor and certifier.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby PATCsawyer » February 3rd, 2016, 6:38 am

As you stated, if the purpose of the article was to prove that an "average" chainsaw could cut faster than an "average' crosscut saw, the author did not need to go afield for that comparison. After a lengthy and unnecessary stopwatch comparison he gets to his point -- that a continued lack of resources (USFS trail crews) would lead to the permanent closure of trails -- not an unjustified concern. During the twenty years that I've been a trail maintainer in Shenandoah National Park, there have been instances (hurricane, 500 year flood), where the Superintendent declared a "chainsaw window" that allowed the use of power tools to reopen trails. They were very short duration and made on a trail-by-trail basis. The western equivalent of a hurricane would seem to be a forest fire where thousands of trees fall or are blown over by the winds of a firestorm, often in very remote areas. These force majeure incidents leave a land manager little choice. EIther allow a power tool window and and clear the trail or accept that some number of trails will be closed, possibly forever.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm a big fan of crosscut saws and prefer to use them whenever possible. But I am also a hiker and belong to a trail club initially formed to "build and maintain" the Appalachian Trail. That maintenance requirement comes with an accepted responsibility of keeping the Trail open and accessible to hikers, or in the case of the article, the Back Country Horsemen of America. While I would argue against seasonal window exemptions to the MRA are a slippery slope to unnecessary power tool use, the need for some compromise is evident by the number of trail closures in the Big Wilderness areas of our western states.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby Treeline » February 3rd, 2016, 12:14 pm

I'm glad to see the discussion of this paper here on the forum. A friend sent it to me a couple of weeks ago and I have been meaning to write a letter as well, and it's helpful to hear all of your opinions.

Regarding Wilderness, the Wilderness Act, and keeping trails open for access, this is really a troubling argument. If the speed at which trails should be cut out is of such concern, then why stop at chainsaw use vs crosscut? Why not then compare how fast it can be done using motorcycles vs horses or on foot? Perhaps bring in some heavy equipment and build some roads to allow trucks? Why not eliminate the group size limitations of Wilderness and allow crews of 100 or more?

If exceptions are going to be made to allow use of mechanized tools for access to trails in protected Wilderness Areas, then it's only a matter of time before the Wilderness Act is toothless and there will be exceptions to all the protection it provides.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby trailcrew » February 3rd, 2016, 3:40 pm

There is a similar "why can't we just use chainsaws" sentiment among some who support the use of mountain bikes in wilderness. Granted, internet forum posters may not be a representative group of trail professionals, but I found the following thread on rather interesting:

Altogether, while all the points made about crosscuts by Sam and Jim are things I certainly agree with, once you get into debating the finer points of this vs. that I get pretty uneasy. Often times, the discussion becomes more about winning the argument than understanding and dialogue. For me, Treeline's statements about the "spirit" of the wilderness act are more compelling. The US Wilderness Act of 1964 is a fairly poetic document (I encourage those unfamiliar to check out the text For me, the aesthetic of crosscut use and the ethics that surround it seem to be more in keeping with the spirit of wilderness. And if using crosscuts means maintenance doesn't get done, I think trails falling into disuse or neglect can be a healthy process. It could motivate users to either support decent funding for our land managers or get crosscuts and do the maintenance their damnselves like many of the devoted trail volunteers on this website.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby BD Rec » February 4th, 2016, 10:12 am

The Idaho Trails Association was formed to help with the backlog of trail maintenance and to keep the traditional skills alive.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby TheLastAxeman » February 6th, 2016, 4:49 pm

I applaud the responses. Very well thought out.
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Re: Response to "A Study of Crosscut Saws..."

Postby PATCsawyer » February 7th, 2016, 5:39 am

More on this from Montana. Note the degree of budget cutting, declining USFS skills, and reliance on volunteers: ... 7241d.html

One of my personal experiences with volunteerism was the difficulty in getting carded for using a crosscut saw. In the mid-atlantic region, classes are few and far between, and fill quickly.
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