Interview with Forester Fred Safford about Cruising Timber

I am sitting here with Fred Safford of Clear Lake Lumber in Spartansburg, PA. Fred you have “SAF” after your name on your business card.  What does that mean?

Fred Safford – It refers to my membership in the Society of American Foresters which is an organization made up of professional foresters. To maintain your membership, you have to keep up with continuing education credits through classes and seminars.

What do you do for Clear Lake Lumber?

FS - I am a procurement forester which means I contact landowners with the hopes of buying their timber. I then negotiate a sale and supervise the logging of the property to make sure it is done in a sustainable manner.

I hear the term “cruising timber” is that what you are doing?

FS - Cruising timber is just a fancy name for going out to measure trees. It refers to determining the number of board feet of lumber in a given area to come up with a value.  In Maine we use a sample plot method.  We will mark a specific area like a 1/5 of an acre and measure the height and diameter of trees we consider merchantable to then apply across the entire stand.  In Western New York and Pennsylvania where the acreages are smaller and timber more valuable we don’t sample the plots.  Instead, we measure every tree we are going to harvest.  Filson still makes a coat they refer to as a cruising jacket which originally was used by foresters to work in the woods.

[Cruisers at Cold Spring Ranger Station 1917 - Oregon State University Collections]

Is this also called blazing?

FS - No, blazing is a little different. It is marking property boundary lines.  An axe is use to carve out a slice of wood from a tree which gives you a flat surface to paint.  You can’t just paint the bark because in a few years it won’t be there.  By blazing the boundary marker lasts 12-14 years.

Do you use an axe when cruising timber?

FS - Yes. It is a multi-purpose tool when out in the woods.  If you are doing sample plots and taking a compass bearing you may need to clear out a sight line by using an axe to limb or cut brush.  You can use the poll of the axe to take a sounding on a tree trunk to determine if the tree is hollow and rotted.  Two weeks ago I was looking at some big cherry in Cattaraugus County, New York and I used an axe to chop into the trees to determine the quality of the wood.  In that instance I found the wood powdery meaning it had red rot and was thus worthless.  I also carry an axe in my truck because I am usually going into remote areas where I may need to clear out a tree over an access roadway. 

Why don’t you just use a chain saw?

FS - Because it is a pain to carry the gas, take it out of the case, and start it up just to use for a minute. Most of the time the trees laying across the roads are smaller anyways.

What is a “cruiser” axe?

FS - A cruiser axe is just a smaller axe. You don’t want to lug around a big axe when walking through the woods.  I can do all of the things I need to do while cruising timber with a smaller, lighter axe.  It also straps into my backpack easier.

So the axe is still an essential tool for today’s forester?

FS - I don’t know a single forester that does not have an axe in their truck at all times.

Thanks Fred!