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Watch out, I’ve got an excuse to use chainsaw

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POSTED June 15, 2013 1:55 a.m.

I was upset two weeks ago when I went into the back yard and discovered a California pepper tree that had mushroomed to 30 feet in height in just five years had snapped.

But as I surveyed the mess covering two other trees, nine rose bushes and assorted other shrubs I started to smile.

I was going to be able to use the chainsaw.

For reasons I still don’t understand, I find using a chainsaw therapeutic. Actually, it’s not the chainsaw per se, but the act of cutting up and disposing of a tree in small enough pieces that they will fit in 96-gallon Toters. It takes a lot of patience — and months — to get rid of a tree in that manner but you can do it.

And I just don’t cut down trees. I take out the trunk and every last root I can find. That requires the use of a chainsaw, pruning shears, an ax, a shovel, crowbar, and sledge hammer. I especially relish sizing up the root ball and trying to figure how to get at the tap root and separate it from the dirt that has compacted around the base.

Root balls can be an interesting – and expensive – a challenge. Two evergreen tree root balls in excess of 250 pounds apiece about 15 years ago ended up costing $75,000 by the time I had two hernia surgeries about a year apart.

When I bought my current home in 2008, there were six trees that I ended up removing virtually by myself. Several times I had a neighbor John Alves help me maneuver a large segment of a trunk while I employed Vince Haro to make work go a bit faster on the remaining trunk and root ball of a walnut tree that was almost a yard wide at the base.

Of course, I replaced those six trees with 39 other trees including 16 Japanese maples I am intentionally keeping relatively small.

I’m pretty sure my neighbors think I’m nuts. I cemented that reputation on Christmas Eve day in 2010. I didn’t have to go to work and my sister’s family had decided to go to Los Angeles for the holiday. I had taken a close look at the massive 55-year-old walnut tree a few months before and realized it was showing signs of ill health. I had nothing better to do on Christmas Eve so I decided to start cutting it down.

What I failed to mention is that I use an electric chainsaw. And because it is electric it has limitations on horsepower and the size of the cutting blade.

The first major branch I was going to take off was just over a foot in diameter. It also hung over the driveway.

Without thinking, I ended up cutting down the branch which nicely blocked the carport where I had left my Ford Escape. Most people in their right mind would have moved the vehicle before they started cutting. Now I couldn’t get the Escape out unless I                   cleared the branch.

It was massive. I spent a good two hours cutting off branches going off the main one and stuffing what I could into Toters and piling the rest.

That left me with the main branch that was still 12 feet in length.

Walnut is a hard wood. That slows down your progress and dulls the chain faster.

To make a long story short, I was able to cut the remaining parts of the massive branch in four moveable segments. But it took me a while. Let’s just say some neighbors will remember Christmas carolers being drowned out by the sound of the idiot down the street running his chain saw on Christmas Eve until a couple of hours before Santa was due to make his rounds.

When I took the chain saw in to be sharpened at Bill’s Mower & Saw several days later, the gentleman who waited on me commented about how dull the teeth were. I explained to him I was cutting down a large walnut tree. He looked at me for a minute as if I was nuts pointing out the electric chainsaw I had wasn’t designed for such a large tree.

I explained it was do-able but it took a lot longer with more breaks to keep the motor from overheating. I also had a little help from an ax.

If the people at Bill’s Mower & Saw weren’t convinced I was nuts before they are now.

Last weekend, I got out the chainsaw and started to cut a large branch on the California pepper tree after I had cleared away what I could with pruning shears.

The chain saw acted as if it was super dull. It was frustrating given that the wood was relatively soft. Since it was a Sunday and I needed to get the branch off of roses, I spent the next two hours using the chainsaw in an extremely tedious fashion to make starting cuts so I could finish the rest with an ax.

I took the chain saw into Bill’s Mower & Saw on Thursday and asked the lady at the counter to either sharpen the chain or replace it.

She took one look at it, glanced up at me, and then ran her fingers along the teeth.

“You don’t need it sharpened,” she said. “You have the chain on backwards.”

Let the fun begin.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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