Saturday, April 16, 2016

Alfred State Pioneers Show Timber Skills

Jack and Jill Crosscut Saw 

Josh preparing to throw pulp log

Josh with pulp log airborn

Bow saw

ALFRED: You’re invited to the Woodsman’s Conclave in Alfred this weekend. That might sound like a small, lazy gathering around a campfire but after spending time with a rugged bunch at Alfred State I know that conclaves and timber sports are not lazy and this one is definitely not small.
            There will be over 300 students from 16 schools from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and more. These men and women will be chopping, sawing, throwing axes, rolling logs, lighting fires, racing on land and in water and running sure-footed on slippery, floating logs. This serious, and slightly dangerous forestry action, will sort out who can claim honors at the 70th Annual Northeast Woodsmen’s Conclave.
            All of it is free and open to the public starting on Friday, April 22 both at the Lake Lodge, 3107Terbury Road, and on the campus athletic field. The Alfred State Pioneer Woodsmen hope their community will cheer them on.
            Attending practice sessions has given me some understanding of the events. Competition can be between individuals or involve pairs or teams of six.  Alfred State has 2 men’s teams and one Jack and Jill team (J&J). You can likely guess that’s 3 men and 3 women. Some schools will bring all women teams also with a total of 40 teams registered.
            I watched a J&J cross cut saw practice. Three people lined up on each side of a squared off log and at the signal the first man/woman team cut 3 slices (cookies) off the end of the log. They balanced the wicked-looking saw blade on the log while handing it off to the next pair who did the same and then the last pair cut. .
            They also practiced with the bow saw, a smaller saw used by one person at a time. For a turn, each cut 3 cookies and then handed off to the next person until all 6 had cut. All sawing events are timed.
            Both of these events involved head to toe work. The competitors each had their own style and rhythm but those with the most practice, as in any sport, showed the most power and grace.
            “Experience is everything in timber sports,” said Scott Bingham, Club advisor. “Some of the students have been doing this for 4 years and they understand the wood and tools and they predict the moves of their partners. I tell them that partner work is a lot like dancing. They each react to the moves of their partner at a matched pace.”
            Bingham competed at the college level when he attended Finger Lake College and then continued in professional competitions for a while. Six years ago he started the club at Alfred and has helped students saw through mountains of white pine.
            The logs are donated – rejected by lumber mills – but the students transport them in their trucks to the club’s saw mill behind the Vet Tech building. Some of the logs are left round, others cut square, all eventually reduced to splinters and chunks.
            Here’s some of what I learned. For axe throwing, they stand 20 feet from the target and throw a double-bit axe so that it will rotate in the air and (hopefully) bite into the log. Points are awarded with higher points for those hitting closest to bull’s eye.
            Pulping is like horseshoes but they throw a small log. If it lands between a pair of metal stakes, it gets a point. 4 logs are used, tossed from one end to the other and back. The first team to score 48 points wins.
            Birling is running on top of a log. The log has a flag to allow a judge to count rotations. The log has to rotate 10 times. The fastest time wins.
            This “log” is a plastic device that is filled with about 50 gallons of water. It has the same buoyancy as the traditional 12’ cedar log. Its disadvantage is that spikes can’t be used on it but the advantage is that it weighs 75 pounds when empty.
            Log rolling uses wooden logs, pushed across a field with a device called a peavey. Partners work together for this timed event.
Peavey poll used to roll logs
            Fire building allows the use of matches and dried wood to build a fire and the winner is the one who first gets a can of soapy water to boil over.
            There will be chainsaw competitions, a relay called pack boarding and some furious chopping while wearing safety gear. Canoeing events are also relay races, done in teams in the water as well as portage.

The schedule
Friday, April 22
·         8:30 am to 12:30 pm – Men’s canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge); Women’s singles, doubles, and pack board (events field); Jack & Jill singles, doubles, and pack board (events field).

·         12:30-5 pm – Men’s singles, doubles, and pack board (events field); Women’s canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge); Jack & Jill canoeing, pulp, and log roll (Lake Lodge).

Saturday, April 23 – athletics field only 
·         8-11 am – Men’s team sawing, Women’s triples, and Jack & Jill triples.
·         11 am to 1 pm – Men’s triples, Women’s team sawing, and Jack & Jill team sawing.
·         2-4 pm – Stihl Championship.

Information - 607-587-4230,

closeup of cross cut saw

Logs enter the competition cut to size and shape for events and they go out as sawdust and wood chunks.

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