Dave Neame: chain­saw milling

The Shed - - Sawmillers -

Sen­ti­men­tal­ity and chain­saws don’t usu­ally go hand in hand but Dave Neame uses the ma­chines not to mas­sacre but to pre­serve pieces of wood for pos­ter­ity.

The long-time log­ger, who is based in North Can­ter­bury, uses his prow­ess with a chain­saw to mill trees into slabs that can be turned into fur­ni­ture, kitchen benches, or used as build­ing fea­tures.

“I get ap­proached by peo­ple who’ve got trees that have sen­ti­men­tal value and they want more than fire­wood or mulch out of them. I come and mill them up and they can get made into some­thing that be­comes a fam­ily heir­loom,” he ex­plains.

Dave’s gear

Dave’s mo­bile mill com­prises a Kub­ota trac­tor and three chain­saws, which he carts around on a trailer be­hind his Nis­san Navara — “That’s my shed. I can take it all round the coun­try.” He stores his gear in a con­tainer in Okuku, but has a semi-per­ma­nent set-up for be­spoke milling in a macro­carpa grove on a friend’s prop­erty in nearby Ohoka. A sign nailed high on a tree de­clares it to be “Dave Neame’s Think­ing For­est” and, clad in leather chaps and ear­muffs, he is prob­a­bly the only one who can think above the roar of his saw.

Dave has a range of chain­saws. His “baby saw”, which can cut up to 500mm, is a 92cc Stihl MS661, a fu­el­ef­fi­cient saw with an im­pres­sive pow­erto-weight ra­tio. His big dou­ble- end

“That’s my shed. I can take it all round the coun­try”

saw is an Alaskan Mill Mark III. With a con­trap­tion with a 92cc Stihl fit­ted at one end and an MS880 121cc at the other it has a max­i­mum cut of 1.45m. He says, “It was de­signed for milling in re­mote places. It needs two peo­ple so I usu­ally get my client to help.” His third con­trap­tion is a ver­ti­cal saw, also known as a ‘saw fish’, which has been en­gi­neered to cut at 90 de­grees to the hor­i­zon­tal.

Old wal­nut myths

Dave works with a va­ri­ety of wood, from elm and oak to macro­carpa and wind­fall na­tives, but his favourite is wal­nut. “It al­ways comes up the nicest,” he says of the hard­wood fruit tim­ber with its dis­tinc­tive grain and rich colours. But it has a draw­back: “I hit nails all the time with wal­nut. There was an old myth that the more iron you

put into a wal­nut tree, the more fruit it would bear so they banged nails and even horse­shoes into them. That’s why sawmills won’t touch it.”

Nails aside, sharp­en­ing the teeth is a te­dious part of the job and the chains have a limited life. “I have to sharpen the saw af­ter ev­ery slab on a big cut. It takes me about two min­utes with a hand file. I’ve sharp­ened so many I could do it with a blind­fold,” he says. “The chain gets hot and de­te­ri­o­rates quickly with con­tin­u­ous cut­ting like this, so I’ll only get about two weeks out of a chain.”

In the blood

Dave, born in Grey­mouth, comes from a fam­ily of West Coast­ers with an affin­ity for the for­est: “My grandad started milling in 1950 at Jack­sons do­ing sil­ver pine for sleep­ers for New Zealand Rail. It was all done by hand with two-man cross-cut saws in those days.”

His fa­ther, a bull­doz­ing con­trac­tor from the Tara­makau, also loved his wood. When he died two years ago, Dave had a piece of 600-year-old rimu he had heli-logged from the area made into his urn box.

Dave cut his teeth log­ging in Nel­son be­fore tak­ing to the air heli-log­ging. It was dan­ger­ous work and while re­triev­ing pine in the Motueka area, the he­li­copter crashed and burned, killing

“I’ll only get about two weeks out of a chain”

the pi­lot, Pete McColl. Dave, who was lucky to have just got out of the ma­chine, milled the tim­ber for Pete’s head­stone and his plaque at the crash site.

He then headed to the North Is­land to do some na­tive-tim­ber con­tract work be­fore be­ing called up by a Hok­i­tik­abased com­pany in 2004.

“I did all their sus­tain­able heli-log­ging from Nel­son Lakes up the Howard Val­ley through to Maruia.” In be­tween log­ging con­tracts and pri­vate tree felling, Dave started dab­bling in one-off chain­saw slab work about 12 years ago. It proved so re­ward­ing that he de­cided to turn his hand to it full-time and set up Chain­saw Tree Milling New Zealand in 2016.

In­ter­est­ing scrap tim­ber

As well as milling pri­vate clients’ tim­ber, he keeps his eye out for un­wanted trees, wind­falls, and stand­ing dead trees to mill into slabs to sell. “DIY peo­ple love it,” he says. Wood des­tined for the fire­wood heap is of­ten the most in­ter­est­ing. “Logs with a bend in them make fan­tas­tic nat­u­ral bar lean­ers,” he says. “I cut

10 out of two big pine logs that were oth­er­wise worth­less and sold them all to a Christchur­ch pub.”

Dave has also been called on by peo­ple who have lost trees or had to aban­don their prop­er­ties af­ter the Christchur­ch earth­quakes. “I’ve done a few trees in the red zone. Peo­ple like to take some­thing away with them and use it in their rebuild,” he says. “One lady ap­proached me about a wal­nut tree the fam­ily had grown up with that had been wrecked in the quakes. I milled it up and she was over the moon. She had plat­ter boards made for their daughters as keep­sakes and her hus­band even got a 20-litre bucket of saw­dust out of it to smoke his fish. If that’s not sus­tain­able I don’t know what is.”

Wood des­tined for the fire­wood heap is of­ten the most in­ter­est­ing

Dave also makes signs out of tim­ber slabs. He uses an elec­tric hand router to cut out the let­ters and im­ages, which he draws free­hand, then paints the grooves

Dave cre­ates replica manuka min­ing trol­leys us­ing coal wagon wheels from aban­doned West Coast mines. They are con­structed out of long-length manuka fire­wood and bolted to­gether to form sturdy dec­o­ra­tive gar­den fea­tures.

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