Not Just Any Wood

When it comes to professional events, just any old log won’t cut it.

The Johnny Appleseed Festival in Sheffield is fast approaching and with it comes the annual Lumberjack and Lumberjills Competition.

While those with an affinity for axework are essential to any woodcutting competition, there’s another, often overlooked necessity: wood.

“The Johnny Appleseed Festival, as do all professional woodcutting events, has very specific needs when selecting and preparing wood for its competition,” said Rick Setili, who helps procure wood for the event.

According to Setili, in this region, aspen is preferred. Specifically bigtooth and quaking species of Aspen.

“The qualities that make it desirable are its softness and its lack of commercial use,” he noted. “Unfortunately, aspen in the quality and quantity needed for our competition is not particularly abundant in the immediate area.”

To potentially provide logs for the event, trees need to measure between 13 and 18 inches in diameter at breast height. According to Setili, the first eight feet of trees cannot be used because the wood is firmer and prone to contain knots.

“Knots are a major problem for woodcutters due to their excessive hardness,” he pointed out. “They are to be avoided at all costs due to the competitive disadvantages they introduce as well as the potential for damage to expensive saws and axes. The trees we look for typically come from within a stand of hardwood timber as opposed to low-lying areas next to streams or swamps which produce aspen that is generally more knotty.”

Finding the right trees is only the first step, according to Setili.

“Once the trees are felled, they must be processed for competitive use,” he said.

That involves more than just chopping them into logs.

Timbers are cut into 26-inch lengths, which must have a minimum of 20 knot-free inches. Pieces are then processed on a lathe for debarking and sizing.

According to Setili, pieces used in a single event should come from the same tree.

“Care must be taken to ensure that the pieces that will be used for the different events come from the same trees to minimize variability and enhance competitiveness,” he noted. “Pieces are marked to identify the trees that they originated from and the events they are intended for.”

Pieces are then wrapped in plastic sheeting until the day of the competition to “maintain moisture content and keep the pieces free of dirt and other contaminants,” according to Setili.

This year’s competition will require 280 pieces of wood quelled from 40 mature trees constituting 4,500 board feet.

The wood is provided by local donation from individuals and companies including Cochran & Zandi Lumber, Collins Pine, Curtis Gas & Oil, D & S Resources, Kane Hardwood, Kim Holden, Mark Kulka Logging, Ed Mead Land & Timber and Sheffield Timber Service.

“Each year the Johnny Appleseed Festival has been generously supported by having the wood donated by local loggers and landowners,” Setili said. “We thank them for their knowledge and expertise as well as their financial contributions.”

The event also takes a lot of man hours to put on, and they’re all volunteer.

“It takes a lot of hard work each year to process the wood,” Setili noted. “All of this labor is provided by a group of volunteers who donate their time and equipment over a two-day period. Without their efforts, this competition would not be possible.”

The Johnny Appleseed festival is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 11, 12 and 13, at Memorial Field in Sheffield. Professional Lumberjack and Lumberjill events are scheduled from 6 until 8 p.m. on Friday and beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.