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Native American Indian felling tree by burning trunk and blocking fire from spreading with wet clay

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Felling tree by platform and chiseling method

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Pulling log up beach head with a system of pulley ropes



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      As a result of working with this versatile cedar for thousands of years, generations of wood workers devised and perfected various technologies for felling and transporting trees. They were also quite equipped at splitting and cutting planks, joining pieces of wood together, steaming and bending wood, and sanding finished products. They could also easily patch and repair their damaged objects.   
      Since the cedar tree played such a large role in the Northwest Indian’s survival, the trees played a large role in their tribes' economy.  Wealthy families laid claim to good stands of cedar near the waters. A family without such rights had to pay the owner for the privilege to cut and use his trees. Because of this high demand, specialists offered their services for a high profit. Some specialists would go and live with the family that was hiring his services. These specialists became so knowledgeable and skilled in using the cedar that they would even harvest at specific times of the year to avoid the trees' sap.
      It was also important to find the right tree for a specific purpose.  There were many functions for the use of trees, such as house construction, canoe building, and mortuary poles. A canoe maker would ritually fast and pray to properly choose the right tree. The darker the forest was, the fewer limbs and knot holes, because trees had to grow quickly to fight for the sun.
      For the best trees, one would look in the darker parts of the forest, hoping to find one not too far from a river, but on occasion, trees were cut several kilometers inland. Before felling a tree the man in charge respectfully addressed the spirit of the tree with a prayer asking for the trunk to topple in the direction he wished. The person would calculate the direction so that the cedar’s fall would be cushioned by hitting other trees on its way down.  This would prevent the trunk from cracking. 
      The Northwest Coastal Indian had several ways of felling their trees. One method was by burning the base of the trunk. The feller would set red-hot rocks inside a chiseled out cavity to burn the wood. Under direction, workers, often slaves, then chiseled and adzed out the charred pieces. A similar technique was to set the fire to the base of the tree and then use wet clay to prevent the rest of it from catching fire. Another method was to use scaffolding and a platform around the trunk and then chisel two parallel grooves 12" apart around the trunk. Then they used wedges and stone mauls to split out the wood from between the grooves. They would repeat this process again and again until the tree fell.
      Only a chief who owned many slaves would attempt to fell very large cedar. The felling of trees was slow and tedious, generally taking two to three days to cut down a large one, therefore, the cost would be quite high and would require a lot of wealth and power to take on such a feat.
      Once the tree was felled the people would remove the top of it by the same burning and chiseling method, then they would adze off the bark and sapwood. If the wood was for a canoe, they might hollow it out first before removing it from the forest.
      Removing a log from the forest was an extremely difficult task. Men would pull with cedar ropes attached to the log, men would push, and others would use long poles to pry at the log. In all, it took around two hundred men a total of twenty four hours to get the log to water.
      After the log was in the water it was pulled by several canoes to the village. People would then beach the log at high tide and proceed to trim and shape it. If used for a house, two to three hundred men and women would pull the log up the slope to the construction site. Some  logs used in these homes ranged up to forty-five feet long and three feet in diameter.