After a long break from forestry, I’ve been working in a sawmill for the last couple of months. I was talking with a chop saw operator about his productivity and he expressed everything in terms of board feet in a way that seemed to be echoing the boss without thinking about it. The boss talks a lot in terms of board feet because he deals with full truck loads of lumber and it’s the unit in which his payments are calculated; he lives and dies by the board foot. It makes sense when the boss talks in board feet…
For your information:
We re-saw cedar to make clear lumber. The chop saw operator’s job is to take boards that have already been edged and chop them to their final length. He remove defects while minimizing waste; either by chopping them out entirely or, if it’s near the edge of a board, passing it on to a re-rip saw operator who removes the defect by making the board narrower.
A board foot is a board is a unit of volume equal to 144 cubic inches. A board that’s 12 inches wide, one inch thick, and one foot long is one board foot.
…but the sawyer…the reason I wondered his understanding of his productivity is because board feet is a measure of volume. When he assesses a board to be processed he checks the faces and edges for defects. Whether the board is wide or narrow doesn’t matter: He checks the four sides then goes from there. No matter what the volume of the board is, it still has four sides and takes the same amount of time to assess and process it. How many board feet he process in a shift accurately measures how much the boss earns and generally shows how effective he is to but if you really want to get down into how hard he’s actually working then linear feet of lumber provides a more accurate picture.
I suppose measuring his productivity in board feet per shift is accurate enough but it feels seat-of-the-pants to me at times. Since we’re paid per 1000 board feet that’s how everything is represented; for better or worse.
Nearly a decade ago I was at a very large party on a wooded property where there was a bonfire the size of a garage and a local heavy metal band was playing. There were a lot of people from the local trade school; including a young woman just out of secondary school who was training to be a welder.
This woman was was in a class of younger students and we shared the same shop facilities but we didn’t know each other beyond introductions and exchanging niceties in passing. She was the type of person who liked to say vulgar things to shock people. It wasn’t a big deal to most of us. She was taking her first steps into the bigger world and I believe this was just her way of appearing or feeling tougher. A lot of people do it.
Anyway….about the party:
I was sitting at a table near the generator when to my surprise she sat down across from me. Most of the crowd was older. I said hello and asked her what her connection to the party was. She casually said that she was there because she was f$&*ing the drummer. This sort of thing might shock Mom and Dad when they hear their child say this but to anybody who has done a little living it wasn’t much. Without missing a beat I said that I was too and perhaps that kind of made us family. I received a look so sour that it could curdle milk at 40 feet. Needless to say our conversation was over at that point.
I haven’t seen her ever since that party but she had a certain spark that tells me she probably grew up to be a formidable person and is probably very good at whatever she’s doing now. I have been in her position in a similar situation and it was a wonderful learning opportunity. I hope it was for her too.