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Inspired by Nick Staab's recent work "Jack" (pictured below), how would you go around cutting down massive trees?

Jack by Nick Staab

In this scenario the simpler the tools the better, as it would allow a primitive civilization to capitalize on their plentiful resource.

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    $\begingroup$ Trained Termites! Just kidding... but Trained Beavers might work. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jan 12 '16 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ Cut it? How about drilling it and making a house inside of it? $\endgroup$ – Theraot Jan 12 '16 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ What will be the benefit in cutting the trees ? We cut trees because it is easier to make long wood board when they are horizontal, but with such giant tree, it will not help you that much. It looks like a better idea to climb the tree and cut its big branches. $\endgroup$ – Kolaru Jan 12 '16 at 16:48
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A primitive society which was keen to cut down such a tree might try killing it first.

A strip of bark is removed in a continuous ring around the base of the tree, and then the team cuts into the exposed wood in order to cut off the flow of sap to the tree. After a while it dies, and then the wood can be allowed to dry out and age for a while.

After that, the tree can be cut down in the usual way using axes, wedges and saws, but since the wood is no longer living "green" wood it won't be so elastic and difficult to cut, making it easier to finish the job even with copper axes of other soft metal tools. (Once you get to bronze axes and saws, you are essentially using modern technology, our great refinements is steel can hold an edge for much longer and cross cut saws now have much better designs for the teeth).

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    $\begingroup$ You obviously have no experience working green wood. "The wood can be allowed to dry out and age for a while." is exactly the wrong way to go about it. "since the wood is no longer living "green" wood it won't be so elastic and difficult to cut" is just wrong. Green wood is notably softer and easier to cut than seasoned wood. The reason finish work is not done on green wood is twofold: as it dries, wood will check if it dries too quickly, and it will warp (often unbelievably) unless it is rigidly kept in a desired shape. For most uses a big stack with controlled ventilation answers both. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jul 2 '18 at 4:45
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I'd do it the way lumberjacks have been doing it for quite a while now. Axes and wedges will do the job, although crosscut saws will speed up the process. Cutting down the California Redwoods has been well-documented, and they are approximately the same size.

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    $\begingroup$ that's actually true (about the size), it just dawned on me. Could a primitive civilization have done it? I think so, but not sure if it would be done with axes and wedges. $\endgroup$ – Mikey Jan 12 '16 at 1:19
  • $\begingroup$ It's perfectly possible to do this with axes and wedges. The first redwoods ever cut down were probably cut down with axes. It would take a long time though. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Jan 12 '16 at 1:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Mikey You need iron working to cut down forests. That's the main tech requirement. A primitive civilization could burn the trees, of course. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Jan 12 '16 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey - I don't see why not. I also don't see why they'd bother with something that big. Smaller trees would serve their purposes just as well, and would have been a great deal less work. War canoes en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_canoe could be about 9 feet across and cut from a single trunk, but I doubt anything much bigger would make sense - it would take too many people to power it. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jan 12 '16 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi - Who knows why they're doing it? As I commented, I can't see a good reason, but what do I know? Maybe they're trying to destroy evil tree spirits, as their God commands them. So economics may not be paramount. See, for instance, the Midwestern Mound people, or the destruction of the Easter Island ecosystem. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jan 12 '16 at 2:31
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Make a Warren

Ground sometimes collapses because of the activity of gophers and rabbits digging a series of interconnected tunnels.

rabbit warren

Simply chip away at the base through a tunnel network like a mine, leaving much of the exterior supporting it. Then go after the exterior and you'll eventually hear a loud crunching sound, and get the heck out of the way!

Now, where to land that tree is another issue, and the makeup of such a heavy structure would make for a good question.

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On a scale from most to least advanced, you could use jut a really, really long chainsaw, or a two-man saw, but that would require fancy things like electronics and metal to make. You could just use an axe, but that would take days, if not weeks of constant chopping. You could maybe expedite this by having multiple people working on one tree, and having it be a big social event, like a tree-hunt. You could maybe use fire, but I’m sketchy on this one, because I’m not really sure how well you could contain the fire to keep the entire tree from going up. Another potential problem with fire is that that past the bark, it’s going to be living wood, which doesn’t burn so well. Whether that would help or hurt the fire effort, I’m not sure. But the easiest possible way I can think of to cut down such a tree is to circumvent the tree entirely. You dig a few holes down on one side of the tree, and chop though the roots, not the trunk. Depending how far down you dig, the roots would be both much thinner than the trunk of the tree, and somewhat fleshier, making them easier to cut through. The second part of Operation: Timberrrrrrr would be to have someone chuck a lasso, or something approximating it, up to the top of the tree-trunk, and tie it on. Then you do that a few more times, and round up a whole messload of people to pull on the ropes from the side opposite that of all those roots you chopped through (and be standing off to the sides somewhat, so they don’t get smushed when it falls). Hopefully, the roots have been weakened enough so that you can pull it to the point where gravity takes over, and it’s own massiveness rips it straight out of the ground. Then you just cut the few roots that weren’t torn, and cart it off to camp! I’m not sure if this whole plan is actually any easier than just cutting it down, because I don’t know how deep the roots of this hypothetical tree would go, or how big they would be. It might take just as much, or more effort doing the whole roots-n’-ropes thing. But it’s certainly a much more interesting way of doing it!

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  • $\begingroup$ Looking at the image, the tree seems to be 8 times wider than the lumberjack is tall (so like ~48 feet wide). A two-man saw might generate too much friction to even move. I like the idea of cutting at the roots though... $\endgroup$ – Whitcomb L. Judson Jan 12 '16 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ @WhitcombL.Judson, you've obviously never tried digging up a tree stump. It's far harder than cutting down the tree above-ground was in the first place. You have to dig a trench between the roots, chop the roots, and so on until the stump comes out. Trees have lots of roots. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jan 12 '16 at 2:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild, well then I guess I obviously haven't. $\endgroup$ – Whitcomb L. Judson Jan 12 '16 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ @WhitcombL.Judson The difficulty in digging up stumps is why stumps are left in the ground in the first place. I've got at least two on my property that I can think of that still haven't rotted away (one has been there for several years) and at least two more that I'd have to go poke to see if anything's left (I don't head down to that part of the field often). $\endgroup$ – Draco18s Jan 12 '16 at 17:49
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Chop out a wedge low down on the side of the tree that you want it to fall toward. I think about a quarter of the way through.

Then move to the other side and set up a platform and chop out another wedge a bit higher up on the tree. Eventually the tree will snap, falling where you want it.

Skilled lumberjacks can get a tree to fall where they want with incredible accuracy.

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