Cross-cut saw major tool in Forest Service’s trail maintenance quiver |

Cross-cut saw major tool in Forest Service’s trail maintenance quiver

by Scott Condon
Seth Hannula, trail crew foreman for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, attaches a handle to a two-person, cross-cut saw. The special saws are the best friend of workers responsible for removing downed trees from trails.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

A medieval-looking tool called a cross-cut saw is the Forest Service trails crew’s best friend.

Yes, chainsaws come in mighty handy for ripping up downfall that is easily accessed. But sometimes it isn’t practical to hike with a heavy saw and the gas it requires, said Seth Hannula, longtime trails crew foreman. In addition, the use of mechanized tools is prohibited in designated wilderness areas — where a substantial amount of trail clearing occurs.

“Two-thirds of our work is cross-cutting,” Hannula said.

The crew members go to great lengths to keep the saws in good shape. They avoid cutting a log above a rock that would dull the teeth. They even go to great pains to debark a log before cutting. They get hung up and oiled after daily use.

“It’s like having a baby,” trail crew member Steve Petrich said.

A cross-cut saw is a two-person tool, roughly 6 feet long and sporting teeth that would do any predator proud. The cutting edge is angled at an alternating pattern on each tooth to make it more efficient. There are special teeth called rakers, which clear out the sawed wood.

The saws are light so they can be easily carried. The handles are screwed onto both ends and taken off in between cuts. They saw on the pull motion and cut through most sub-alpine fir and spruce trees that dominate local forests like a knife through butter. Aspen and cottonwoods can present bigger problems, Hannula said, as do recently downed pines.

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District possesses about 20 cross-cut saws, some of them more than 100 years old. They are a prized possession, Hannula said, because they aren’t made anymore.

The saws get sent periodically to a business in Northern California to be sharpened because it’s such a specialized skill.

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