I have recently, in the last week before Christmas, returned from the East Cape with two of my sons. The opportunity for this scenic road trip came about through an invite to be a part of the felling of an exotic Redwood, for its timber, located 15 minutes drive out of Ruatoria.
New Zealand-grown redwood is a valuable and integral resource in the construction of a Terra Firma home. Redwood timber’s straight grain and durable nature along with its strength, stability and light weight make it the ideal material to build long lasting and high quality exterior joinery.
We are mostly limited to NZ redwood as we are not comfortable with the carbon footprint of aluminium or the fuel kilometres of imported timbers, the toxicity of treated woods or the scarcity of suitable native timbers (our native forests need time to recover).
Unfortunately, there is also not an abundance of redwood trees on our shores. However, they have been randomly planted - mostly by farmers - in small groves and shelterbelts in our country over the last 100 years or so. (There are now more redwood plantations being planted than ever before thanks to efforts of groups such as the NZ REDWOOD COMPANY).
One such redwood grove exists on the East Cape near Ruatoria amongst the foothills of Te Ara ki Hikurangi (Mt Hikurangi). A returned soldier from World War 1 planted the Grove in the early 1920s. The property passed on to the Dewes family sometime in the 1950s and the farm is now managed by Reuben Dewes. Reuben has been very actively returning much of this almost 600 hectare farm to forestry with redwood and eucalypt being important features.
Over the past few months I’ve been designing and planning for the construction of a new rammed earth home to the west of Auckland near Kumeu. We have felled about 20 Macrocarpa trees that we intend to use in the project’s construction. The macrocarpa timber will go into kitchen, cabinets, finishing lines and joinery frames. However, macrocarpa is not suitable for door and window sashes. For this we need redwood.
I made a call to my redwood contact in Gisborne – Geoffrey Shutt. Simon Rapley of the NZ REDWOOD COMPANY had put me into contact with Geoff about 2 years ago. It has always been difficult sourcing good quality redwood and even more difficult finding someone who understands the timber and has the wherewithal to log and mill it. In Geoff we found our man.
Geoff is a Californian expat and has been living in NZ for the past 14 years. Logging and milling timber has been his life’s work and is especially experienced with redwood having extensively worked in the redwood forests of Northern California for many years, Geoff is passionate regarding sustainable forestry.
After talking with Geoff in late November and discussing the redwood needs for the current design on the drawing board, Geoff went looking for a tree. He found a suitably mature specimen, that promised high quality clear timber, in the previously mentioned redwood grove on Reuben Dewes farm outside of Ruatoria. Timber from the tree will also be used in local projects.
Geoff scheduled to lay this large tree down just before Christmas and invited me to come down and be a part of the karakia (a Maori blessing for a favourable outcome) and witness to the felling event.
December 18; it’s 2:35 am, our small company truck is fully loaded for a week away on the East Cape and my two boys have made themselves comfortable to sleep as much as possible during the long 8 hour drive to our destination.
Our first stop is Opotiki where we stop for breakfast then on to Te Araroa for lunch and a swim. We finally arrive at the farm at 2 pm where Reuben meets us and shows us ‘The Tree.’ Two hours later Geoff arrives from Gisborne. We take a drive to the nearby coast and watch the sun set over Te Ara ki Hikurangi, drenching the sky in colour.
The next morning we make an early start preparing the area around the redwood. There are many branches laying on the ground in a tangled mess that need clearing up to give safe access (and flight) around the tree. Reuben, Dave the Neighbour, the boys and I get stuck into this work as Geoff sharpens the chainsaws and then prepares himself to climb the tree.
Once this work is done we gather around for Reuben to give the Karakia – a short prayer to acknowledge the spirit of the tree and to consider our safety.
Geoff is now ready to climb the tree.
Geoff climbs the redwood with a loop of rope and a steel tree-climbing spur strapped to the instep of each boot. Once he gets to about 35 metres he encounters the first branches, he clears these limbs for the next 15 metres or so, he does this to give the best possible assurance that the tree will fall safely and accurately and not damage neighbouring trees.
This work is particularly dangerous and requires skill, strength and courage. Geoff is very safety conscious and is clearly very at home in the canopy of these tall trees – although he maintains that he does have a fear of heights.
All the rest of us at ground level keep a healthy distance from the tree as Geoff dropped branch after branch to the ground.
Finally after about ¾ of an hour in the tree Geoff descends. Our next job is to clear all the newly dropped branches from around it and then to prepare and clear the area where Geoff plans to land this large tree.
Geoff now sets about marking the cut on the base of the tree and determines how he is to shape the cut so that it will land where he wants it.
He also marks the base of the tree – just above the cut line – North, East, South and West. This he does to be able to supply us with timber from the tree which is coded so that we know wether it has come from the North quarter, East quarter, etc. We can then follow ancient Feng Shui principles by incorporating timber from the North side of the tree into the North side of the house and so on.
The tree is now ready to fell.
Firstly Geoff prepares the scarf; a wedge shaped cut prepared on the face of the tree in the direction it is to fall. The work must be done carefully and accurately – a poor scarf will have an unpredictable result when the tree falls. This can end up not only being problematic with the final position of the tree with the milling but also can be very dangerous for workers with a huge tree falling in the wrong direction.
The final chainsaw cut is made behind the scarfed wedge and the tree falls… perfectly, slipping off the scarf accurately, the base of the tree/ log making a small bounce and the tree/ log landing just where Geoff intended, with shock waves spreading powerfully and dramatically from the impact.
Within the hour the heavens opened and the rain came down..
We head back to Auckland, leaving Geoff and Reuben to mill the timber to our specified sizes and then send it up to our Joiner – Roy McKerras of COUNTIES JOINERY. Once there it will be filleted and left to season over the coming months.
When we have built the rammed earth walls for the new home we will pass on the opening sizes of the joinery to Roy. Roy will, at this stage, produce high quality, beautiful doors and windows for this new home.