A young man finds his first lesson in wood

As a young man of 24, I was first introduced to Cedar shakes when I applied for a job as a shake trimmer.It was in 1978 and we had decided to pull up stakes and relocate in the Kootenays in British Columbia Canada.

My wife and I had bought an old 1951 3 ton Mercury flatdeck truck and repainted it black and green and called her Betsy.

It was to become our home on wheels for the next several months.

After rigging a quick frame, we stretched a heavy canvas tarp over the top of it which served very well as a roof, then threw in a bale of hay for the bed, and a woodstove for heat if it got too cold.

It was a slow moving beast that needed to be double clutched to change every gear.

But it moved steady and surely.

We stopped one day in a small town called Passmore , just outside Slocan BC.

It was here that my first hands on experience with the making of cedar shakes was had.

It took several stages to get to my part of the process.

I was the Trimmer.

First, Old growth Cedar which had already fallen decades before , were uncovered by the shake bolt cutters, usually under heavy rosehip bushes and thick moss and surrounded by clouds of mosquitos.

An extremely arduous job to say the least

They would cut the shake bolts to size and stack them and sling them to be picked up and loaded, where they would be brought back to the mill where the bolts would now be hand split with a froe or machine split into shingles

The next job was to resaw the thicker shingles in half , and by doing so would give each shingle a perfectly flat side to lay down on the roof.

The last job was mine and the most dangerous job of all of them.

I was positioned beside a spring board that was at waist height

I would place the shingle on the board and hold it by hand only and then simply push it down through a 4 foot circular saw, flip it over and do the other side and it was done.

This had to be done as quickly as I could and several times over the course of that first morning, the shingle would catch in a funny way and be torn out of my grip and into the blade that was spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute.

There were no safety guards to keep my hands away from the blade other than my own quick reflexes which after several hours were not so quick any more.

The first day passed and doggedly I went to see my employer.

He asked me how I liked my job and said that I had done quite well.

I told him that my day of work for him was free and that I quit.

I was afraid that sooner or later, I would be tired and I would lose my hand or worse to that blade.

He was gracious and understood my worries

We shook hands and I left.

Story by: Peter Rasmussen, Master Log Home Builder, Peco Log Homes and Rasmussen Log Homes

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