Students at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking got a hands-on lesson in chainsaw milling, while Fort Worden got some skilled workers to help turn a hazard into a resource.
Erin Jonsson, Creative and Partner Development Manager for Fort Worden, recalled how the century-old tree on Pershing Avenue at Fort Warden was damaged during the windstorms this past winter.
“Many years ago, the tree was topped, and as it regrew, its new limbs split out, creating a saucer-like landing,” Jonsson said. “Every time it rained, the water would seep down into the trunk, rotting it from the inside.”
Jonsson attributed the tree’s subsequent decline to the number of Pacific Northwest storms over the intervening years.
“The tree became increasingly unstable, and a danger to pedestrians,” Jonsson said. “Fast-forward to an exceptionally windy day in December of 2018, when all it took was a few huge gusts for several large limbs to come crashing down onto the road.”
Although Fort Worden staff evacuated the houses immediately surrounding the tree, and closed down Pershing Avenue due to its obstruction “by limbs the size of full-grown trees,” Jonsson reported that the arborist who was brought in to assess the damage recommended felling the tree.
“He considered it a public safety hazard to the surrounding buildings, cars and people passing by,” Jonsson said. “Lucky for us, one of our esteemed partners, the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, graciously agreed to help with some of the heavy lifting and craftsmanship required to salvage and repurpose the wood from the fallen tree.”
Instructor Steven Habersetzer explained that it took a crew of three primary workers and between four and five students working three to four hours a day for four days to complete the work, which consisted of cutting eight-foot slabs out of the trunk.
“I didn’t want to spend any more hours per day than that on it,” Habersetzer said, pointing out that he and his fellow work workers had others tasks each day. “As it stands, it all went pretty smoothly, but then, I’ve done quite a bit of milling in this manner.”
One lesson Habersetzer takes to heart in milling is the idea that well begun is half done.
“As long as you make your first cut just right, you can continue milling,” Habersetzer said. “If you look for defects as you go, you can reorient it, maybe reposition it half a turn, and even take advantage of it.”
Jonsson expects the wood will eventually be repurposed into furniture, for use around the Fort.