TFTC #24 Mark Chisholm on Cutting

Sherrilltree Apr 1st 2021
We got the chance to interview Mark Chisholm, Director of Operations at Aspen Tree Expert Co., about his general approach to cutting.

This year for the 2021 Master catalog, we got the chance to interview several leaders in the arborist community about their knowledge on different subject matters. We spoke with Mark Chisholm, Director of Operations at Aspen Tree Expert Co., about his general approach to cutting.

  • What saw fundamentals do you see missing in the industry at large that lead to inefficiencies and risk?
  • I still see way too many people not wearing proper PPE. I mean, it’s 2021, this is getting a bit old for me, watching it go on for so long now. There’s really no reason people shouldn’t know when to wear proper PPE. On the technique side, I think the number one thing that’s lacking is proper chainsaw care. Sharpening is really important. People think that if the saw’s cutting then it’s okay, but when you get good at cutting, you realize how important a sharp chain is. It’s a safety risk when you operate a saw that’s not running as well as it should, or if, God forbid, the parts aren’t on properly. You can’t call yourself a top professional unless you’re going to take care of your tools and fix them when needed.
  • What techniques do you use to be more productive while cutting aloft?
  • I’m a big fan of precision cutting, meaning: get really accurate with your face cuts, learn how your back cuts react in different trees, and work with that, learn from it, and put it to good use later. A lot of people who are not that confident with a saw while up in a tree will use rigging as a backup, when you don’t really need to rig the pieces down. I’ve been on countless job sites where someone is telling me I’ll have to rig everything down, and I won’t rig anything down. I'll just directionally fell every part of the tree, and send the parts of the tree in different directions. They will be like, “I really thought we’d have to rope that.” It just hammers home that when you get really good with your cutting techniques you can be more effective.
  • What techniques do you use to avoid pinching your saw while cutting branches or while cutting spar wood during a crane removal?
  • Horizontal pieces- The real trick to not pinching your saw on a horizontal is twofold. For one, if you pre plan which end of your branch is tensioned more than the other when you grab it with the crane, that will tell you what the part you’re cutting is going to do. Secondly, I watch the cut, not the piece, especially when I'm cutting a larger size piece. I watch what the kerf is doing, whether opening or closing, then adjust for it- if that means cutting from the other side, or cabling up or down, whatever it needs to have a nice, smooth release.
  • What about on spar wood?
  • It’s similar. If you pre plan where you’re going to put your slings, you can predict what’s going to happen. For example, instead of putting the slings at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, you can put them closer to 4 and 8, and you’ll know that you’ll have a little bit of tilt as the piece is coming up. Another technique that I use a lot is what I call a sawdust cut, which a lot of people know. Basically, bore into the center and do a circular cut all the way around with the top of the bar. That’s a favorite of mine, especially on big logs down low.
  • What was your first climbing setup?
  • The gear was a lot different then. I used a non-locking snap, 3 strand rope, and a type of tautline hitch called the speedknot.
  • You’ve seen a lot of changes from your 3 strand days to now. What are some of the biggest positive changes in climbing you’ve seen during your career?
  • Number one is the throwline. It probably isn’t so groundbreaking for people who have started in the last decade, but it adds safety and the ability to climb a tree that is otherwise unclimbable in the ways I grew up in. You can set lines in neighboring trees and save so much time and energy.

    Second is the Valdotain Tresse combined with a tending micro pulley. Then, you throw in a friction saver of some kind—that was groundbreaking and life-saving— because it saved your energy. It was more ergonomic, and it helped me move through a tree like I never could before. It’s like you go from driving a station wagon to driving a Ferrari. I can jump from one part of the tree, swing through the tree, and land on the other side like a ballerina. People were floored when they saw me locally because they never saw climbing like that before. I told them, “You can do it. If I can do it, you can do it. You just have to get off of that tautline hitch and get into something more accurate.”

    The third thing that was groundbreaking for me was using ascenders and using our legs to climb. The first time I used SRS ascent climbing was in 2003 gearing up for a redwood climb. I came across a caving website in 2002 while I was researching rope-walking systems. That changed my climbing ability, because now I can ascend 120’ straight up a rope and not be tired when I get to the top because I’m mainly using my leg muscles.
“People were floored when they saw me locally because they never saw climbing like that before.
I told them, ‘ You can do
it. If I can do it, you can
do it.’”
  • What negatives have you seen with the advancements in climbing?
  • Things that are very beneficial to know as a climber gets left by the wayside because they’re not the cool or current thing. I think that’s a big mistake. To be in awe of something like a rope wrench—which is a tool I use all the time—but then say I’m going to climb every tree in every situation with this one tool does you a disservice because you’re going to struggle to do some climbs that are simply easier to do with the most traditional methods. I’m not blinded by the beauty of the new tools. I get them, try them, learn them, and then incorporate them. I find how they fit me and my climbing. If you’re teaching people how to climb, you shouldn’t teach them just one way or the most current way where you need so many things. You should also teach them the most basic way of climbing with just a rope and Blake’s Hitch.
  • Thanks, Mark, for taking the time to talk with us!

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