Letters from Armorica- Sawdust (27 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

They have begun cutting down the bronzewood trees at the site of the new town hall. I have spent a certain amount of time watching them this week, in my role as headman of the village—and I have carefully heeded the directions I was given to stay out of the way and well back. Cutting bronzewood is a tricky and dangerous business, and one that my people here are well familiar with; but it is rarely done so close to town these days. The trees are large, and the wood is tough, and no one wants a bronzewood tree to fall on their home.

Lesser trees can be felled using axes; bronzewood dulls an axe so rapidly that it isn't even worth trying. The loggers use what they call a cord-saw, some kind of tough cord impregnated with abrasive dust. They are made by forming, I gather, but the men know nothing about that. The first settlers brought some with them, knowing what they were getting into, and more have been imported from Provençe in the decades since. I have looked, but there is nothing like them in my grimoire. Perhaps Master Grenadine has something. Even if he does, though, it isn't clear that I could make more with what I have to work with.

There is considerable technique involved. The bronzewood tree has a tall and straight trunk with many branches, so the men begin by climbing the tree and lopping off the branches one by one. They work in two man teams, one man on each side of the trunk, and must trade off frequently: some of the branches are big enough to be used as timbers in their own right, and even the thin ones take a deal of cutting. When felling a grove of bronzewoods, as here, it is the custom to de-branch all of the trees before felling any of them.

Then—so I am told, for they have not gotten so far yet, they will pick a tree to fell, and attach a cable to its peak; the other hand goes through a block and tackle some distance away. That is to ensure that the tree falls in the desired direction. They then cut a large notch on that side of the trunk, and put tension on the cable; and then proceed to cut through the back side of the trunk. You must not picture them standing close to the tree at this time! The cutters use cord-saws that are many yards long (though only the center is abrasive), and the teams stand well to the left and the right. Note that I said "teams": for this phase, the cutting process resembles a tug-of-war, with four men on each side.

It is a long and onerous process, and I do not recommend arm-wrestling any of the cutters, for one is certain to lose.

Once the trees are on the ground they will be shaped into timbers in place. Bronzewood timbers are difficult enough to transport; bronzewood trunks are next to impossible. It was my romantic notion that we would then build the town hall using the timbers we had just cut down, but I was soon corrected. The timbers must be seasoned before use. These will go into storage, and the town hall will be built using timbers from trees that were felled last year.

All this is meant to say that the center of our village now resembles a logging camp, with all of the noise and mess that that implies. There is sawdust everywhere. Amelie has taken to leaving a broom and dustpan by the counter in her shop, and handing them to every person who comes in. And they, I might add, including many who would argue over the price of buttons and the look that Mrs. So-and-So gave them the other day, take these objects and clean up the mess without objection. There is nothing to be done with the dust but burn it, and so there is a constant smoky haze in Bois-de-Bas these days, and will be until the cutting is complete.

The noise is blessedly absent on this Sunday evening, but I begin to see why no one has built a town hall in the past.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to ponder how we might measure the effects of a formed object. Warming blocks are easy in principle, but difficult in practice, there being no thermometers in Bois-de-Bas, but I have sent to M. Suprenant to procure me one. He may well have to get it from Yorke or Toulouse.

Lifting blocks are easier, for all we need is a balance. (I am indebted to Luc for this notion.) Tie a string to the block, attach one end of the string to one arm of the balance, and add weights to the pan underneath until the arm is level. We have tried this with Amelie's balance, which is behind the counter in the shop, and it works fine. The difficulty here is that Amelie will not allow us to transport her balance to our shed at the back of Marc's field, on the flimsy excuse that she needs it in the shop. I have asked M. Suprenant to send me a level as well, and that, at least, he should be able to find in locally.

But warming blocks and lifting blocks are both greedy: both consume effort to produce their effects. For our trials, we must also measure a generous object, a collector of effort, to wit, something hardened. I am not sure how we do that. How does one measure hardness? It must involve putting pressure on the item in the some way…but putting pressure on the item will cause it to collect effort, which will then be given generously to the nearby consumer. What we are trying to measure is the decrease in hardness of the hardened item when it is not collecting a significant amount of effort.

With any luck, I shall have figured something out before my new balance arrives from Mont-Havre.

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photo credit: haven’t the slightest Weigh Scale via photopin (license)