A Cut Above the Rest

Hidden away in the rolling meadows above Bovey Tracey a champion is preparing to challenge some of the best foresters in the world. Richard Elliott, a groundsman, has been involved in chainsaw logging competitions since 1986, when he entered a contest at the Devon County Show. Since then, he has honed his skills and has earned the accolade of UK logging champion 16 times in all. To reach this standard of expertise, he needs to prepare for five different disciplines within the logging competitions, whether he is competing at national level or at the world championships. He explained, “they are based on the cuts used in forestry. There are two cross-cutting disciplines; one combination cut where the log is cut from below and above, and the precision cut where the log is cut from above only. It’s like when a log is lying on the ground, but in the competition, the log is lying on a painted board which must not be damaged. It’s made more difficult as the log is resting in a few inches of wood shavings.” As foresters well know, hitting soil and stones on the ground can damage the chain and reduce the cutting efficiency so, this skill is an everyday part of work.

With the UK logging championships approaching in North Wales in July and the world championships in Norway in August, Richard’s training has begun. He likes to source his training timber from the local woodlands in the eastern valleys of Dartmoor and, during the Spring this year, was at Pullabrook Woods, looking for some good quality timber; straight and free from knots where possible.

Logging champion
Richard inspecting, selecting and collecting timber from Fingle Woods [photo: Paul Moody]

Richard is supported by a team including his father, Jim and his wife, Jo. Jim has many years of engineering experience behind him and made some of the rigs and equipment that Richard uses for preparing sections of timber and for competition training.

Logging champion
Timber preparation rig – Richard cutting the log down to the right diameter

Jo has thoroughly embraced the forestry way of life and described how, “when we got married three years ago, Richard cut the wedding cake with his chainsaw. He cut it perfectly straight and didn’t damage the board under the cake. The man standing behind the chainsaw did get a line of cake crumbs sprayed onto his clothes though.”

Watching Richard and his father prepare the logs demonstrates a fine level of control of the saw. While Jim clamps the rotating log firmly into place on the home-made rig, Richard’s free-hand cutting skills are remarkable. The chainsaw bar moves along the log without no sign of a twitch, just millimetres away from the steel frame of the rig. He clarified that, “this isn’t how the logs are prepared for the actual competition. Those are turned on a lathe to a diameter of 35 centimetres but, for training, we make these with a saw.” They are still very accurate though, and the skill and control of the saw is impressive.

Logging champion
Ready for training – colour zoned logs mounted on rigs at different angles

In the field next to his bungalow, Richard has several rigs set up for each of the competition sections. He demonstrated the combination cut first, saying that, “we are timed from when we pick up the saw and cut the first log. We have to take off a slice between 30mm and 80mm; this gives us a chance to avoid any knots in the wood, but the disc must have parallel sides and the log must be cut at exactly 90 degrees. You can lose points for any inaccuracy”. This is made even more challenging as the logs are set up at different angles to represent the cross-cutting skills needed when a tree has been felled in the forest. Richard’s demonstration of combination cutting shows a blend of precision and calmness under pressure. The accuracy of the two cuts, from beneath and above the log, is impressively precise. The two cuts meet without a step. Points will be lost in competition if the judges measure any steps in the cut or any deviation from a perfectly square cut.

Logging champion
Combination cut – painted bands show where the lower cut and the higher cut need to meet

Richard’s final demonstration combined two of the other skills he needs to train for. The first one is to replace a chain on the guide bar. This, he admits, isn’t his best event. Some competitors can easily do this changeover in under ten seconds, even down to eight seconds sometimes. A useful skill to have as it keeps forestry equipment working well during a day at work. But Richard’s speciality is the ‘limbing’ discipline; removing the side branches from a felled tree or, in this case, a horizontal pole with reproduction branches set out in a standard pattern of ‘limbs’. Richard starts with his saw on the ground and, working from one side of the stem, moves so swiftly, cutting each of the make-shift branches, it is all over in under 20 seconds. It is clear to see why he is currently the world gold medal holder for this discipline!

Logging champion
Limbing – Swift and skilful

The final discipline in the competition is felling. The International Association of Logging Championships (IALC) website describes how, “Contestants must fell a tree within three minutes and it should fall as near as possible to a pre-determined marker post. During the discipli­ne, contestants must work within the valid safety regulations and working technique.” The judges will be scrutinising every move they make. So, as Richard prepares for the UK championships in July and the world championships in August we, at the East Dartmoor Woods, will be wishing him well. If you want to find out more about the IALC championships and the progress of the UK logging team in Norway, you can visit the website and perhaps the talent that is modestly hidden away in a meadow on the edge of Dartmoor can be appreciated by a new audience.

 

Richard’s World Championship medals include:

Silver for limbing in Romania 1994

Bronze for combined cut Scotland 2002

Silver for precision cut Germany 2008

5th in overall standings Poland 2016 …

… so far!

 

by Matt Parkins

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