First Splitting Party of 2009

Last week we had our first Splitting Party of 2009. A Splitting Party is the term we use for the day we process a pile of oak logs. It’s hardly a party. It is a day of darned hard work. The promise of the cold beer waiting for us at the end of the day is all that gets us through it.


Fred, Don, and I get together with Kevin, the dairy farmer up the road. Kevin brings his tractor with a four foot long splitter on the back. We dubbed the tractor “Ol’ Bessy.”


The goal is to turn a delivery of red oak logs into chair material. We begin by bucking the logs to length with a chain saw. We use a lot of four foot material for sack back classes and catalog sales. We need two foot and 32 inch lengths for spindles and crests. While two guys roll the four and two foot lengths onto the splitter, the other two lay out and buck six foot lengths.  We use six foot parts for C-arm, NYC bow back, balloon back, and Settee.


The splitter slowly tears a four foot bolt in two. The real work is getting the bolt onto the splitter. Kevin is a bull of a man, and we let him do this. He drives a meat hook into one end of the bolt and grabs the other end with his free hand. Then, he pulls the bolt up onto the splitter.


The six footers are too long for the splitter. We still have to rive them with an eight pound maul and wedges. This is more than a guy in his early sixties can do without a periodic  rest.  So, Fred, Don, and I take turns swinging the maul.


After about and hour and a half we turned the pile of logs into  a pile of riven billets. Each billet represents an eighth of the log. Next, we load the billets onto Don’s pickup and drive them over to the machine room. There, Kevin and Fred start ripping them into bending or spindle blanks using our Hitachi band resaw.  Don and I get about a variety of other projects that have to be done. This time, we glued up seats for our spring and early summer classes. We also made a bunch of other parts and products for the catalog.


We leave an hour at the end of the day for clean up. By then, the resaw base is buried in a pile of saw dust so deep it has to be shoveled into barrels.  It gets dumped and composted out back. In the new building we have a six foot chest freezer. We fill it to the gills with fresh red oak.  We store the rest upright in barrels. We use this wood first.


By the end of the day we are so worn out we can barely walk. We retire to the office with those beers that have been calling our names all afternoon. We will usually have four Splitting Parties a year. We enjoy each others’ company, but we’re all happy when they’re over.


There was a bonus this year. The logs were beautiful. We split a six footer that was just perfect. At one point I realized how strange it must appear for four grown men to be standing around a freshly split log admiring it. For a chairmaker there are few things more beautiful than the “perfect log.”


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When Fred, Don, and I get together on Monday morning the first question we ask each other is “What did you do over the weekend?” The morning of our Splitting Party Fred told us he went to Boston where he and his wife Priscilla saw their son John perform at Symphony Hall. John a music major is in his third year at the

University of

Maine. He intends to go on to get a Doctorate in music. That night John was playing trumpet with the university orchestra at Symphony Hall.


I haven’t see Fred this proud since Susanna and I attended John’s Eagle Scout Honor Court. Also attending and helping when John made Eagle was his older brother Eric,  an Eagle Scout as well. Don and I are invested in John’s success, as we know him well. For that reason  I am happy to report about him. John has worked with us in the past. In fact, he has helped out at his share of Splitting Parties. When John was a high school senior he took a sack back class.

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