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When I was a youngster, the afternoon of Thanksgiving was reserved for wood-cutting. My dad had a circular saw that hooked up to the PTO of the tractor, and for weeks beforehand my brother and I had been piling up slabs from the local sawmills. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with “slabs,” they are the edge pieces that are created when a sawmill shapes up a log for lumber — bark on a curved outer side, flat on the inner side, typically eight to twelve feet long.)

My brother would feed, my dad would run the saw, and I was the “off-bear” — the guy who would catch the cut section and toss it to the side. Occasionally my brother and I would trade jobs to keep from getting bored, but Dad always ran the saw. My mother’s task was to stand about twenty feet away and fret. She was convinced that one of us would eventually cut off a hand, and now when I think about that naked saw blade spinning about a foot away from Dad and me, I imagine her fears were justified. The footing was never smooth, and the weight of the cut pieces varied from featherlight to almost too heavy for me to carry. So yes, we were not exactly the poster children for the National Safety Council.

Somehow, we managed to make it through years of that labor without even losing a finger, so perhaps we were safer than it looked.

This image is not us (it’s a generation older, a photo I found via Google) but the operation is very similar. Our saw blade was about a foot larger in diameter, and the PTO belt from the tractor came out from beneath the seat, so it was fairly level rather than the high angle seen here. But I can definitely sympathize with the kid in the foreground plugging his ears.

dads log mil