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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

HOM: Spinouts & Blowups

Logs with flaws or rotten spots were tricky for the lathe operator to run. When the very center of the log was rotten, switching the lathe over from the six to the ten or twelve inch chucks was often enough to get them to spin and peel. Sometimes chucking them offcenter worked, allowing the chucks to bite into solid wood. Sometimes nothing worked. If the log was obviously too bad, the deck hand tending the lathe would lift it with the hoist, turn it crosswise on the infeed, and roll it off onto the floor where Randy could gather it up with the Cat and haul it out. If a chuck just sank into the end of a log, the lathe operator could just retract the chucks and let the log fall so the deck hands could hoist it out. Simple and painless. Sometimes they would deliberately run the chucks in until the log split so the remains could be more easily handled. Sometimes, and more dangerously, a log would appear to be solid and the lathe operator would spin it at a normal (top) speed but a weak spot would let the log disintegrate. "Violently" is kind of a mild term for some of those disintegrations. Picture several tons of wood spinning at several hundred RPM being flung into the air in pieces. The mill finally built wooden shacks for the lathe operators that gave them some protection, though no one was injured while I was there. I did get to see some pretty fancy dodging done, and actually had to do some myself. You kinda had to stay alert up there. Getting the remains of the logs out of #2 lathe was fairly easy as it was quite open and at deck level. Getting debris out of #1 lathe was trickier. If the log split into fairly narrow pieces, they were dropped through the trap door and onto the core conveyor. Big pieces were lifted out with the electric hoist, though if they were too short for the hooks on the hoist, a lot of jury-rigging had to be done. The debris was either pushed off the side for Randy or dumped into a bin for him to take out. As I've said, #2 lathe was pretty simple -- lots of room to work and all at deck level. When a core was dropped out of the chucks it rolled gently out and came to rest in a shallow wooden V-profile trough with a chain in the bottom. When the core (or spinout) was a little too fat to fit into the trough it was a simple matter to reverse your pick, hold the head in your hands, and stick the butt into the chain. The links on the chain were flat and about 4" square, so this was easy to do. Then you'd brace your foot behind the pic on the chain, brace the head with your hands, and use the force of the chain pushing on the pic to move the log out. It was pretty foolproof. Not totally foolproof though. I had one of my more painful moments with a log that spun out in #2. The log was about 2' thick, the butt was cut at a slant and it landed in the trough with the "long" side up. I got behind it, stuck the pic in the chain & braced it with my toe, and braced my hands on the pic head. When the butt of a log was square or the long side was down, this worked fine. As it was, the top of the log hit way up on the pic handle long before my toe and the bottom of the pic came up against the log. I braced myself and tried to move the log anyway, but the handle of the pic flexed a bit and the head slipped out of my hands -- and caught me right on the, um, lower part of my zipper. luckily, it hit sideways and not point first, but still ... It flattened me. Curt & Mel just stood there speechless till I rolled over and staggered up -- and, with tears streaming down my face, grabbed the pic and got the log out and tipped into the bin for Randy. And then they laughed. And laughed. And laughed. I guess that time they thought it was funnier than I did. I think my Guardian Angel was giggling too. I wasn't -- I was staggering around bowlegged, hunchbacked & wet-faced trying to keep the deck running smoothly. That wasn't an oopsy -- that was an OWIE! And it remained that way for several days. Speaking of chucks - these were round steel plates with big, sharp, wedge-shaped teeth to bite into the log. They were held to the lathe shafts by a press fit like a Morse taper -- wedged on, in other words, via a hole in the back and a tapered lathe shaft. To take them off, a thick horseshoe-shaped tool was placed behind a chuck and the shaft retracted, which forced the chuck off. This was a two-man process. The deck hand held the handle of the horseshoe and the chuck while the lathe operator ran the shafts in and out. The DH would then hang up the old chuck and slip the new one on the shaft, then the process would be repeated on the other side of the lathe. As I mentioned, number three lathe was the exception. The chucks were machined into the ends of the layered concentric shafts. The operator started with all the shafts extended and then retracted each layer as the core shrank till the three inch inner shaft was reached. This was fast and efficient. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)