Beachcombing 101 – How to salvage valuable wood from any beach.


Shake Block Cutter – – Helicopter Timber Salvage – Tales from the Frontlines

Welcome to beach combing 101. We will be salvaging driftwood from beaches and making it into valuable roofing products; western red cedar shakes. Not all of the driftwood on a beach is good for making handsplit cedar shakes. We will have to search through it, identifying the different tree species, and selecting only the red cedar. Not only that, but we must find pieces of red cedar, known as slabs, that are strips of very large cedar trees. This will give us the quality of wood that is needed for the making of handsplit shakes.
All of the driftwood behind me, on this beach, is the result of logging. Trees are harvested, transported to the ocean, then through the ocean via log booms or log carrying barges. Occasionally this harvested wood slips out of the log boom or, or falls off the log carrying barge, floats around at the whim of the tide and currents, and finally ends up here. On the beach.
As you can see behind me that driftwood comes in all shapes and sizes. Much of it is ground up on the beach from the constant wave action. This makes some of it difficult to identify. Some has been here for years, while other wood is just arriving now. The extreme high tides of winter shifts wood from one beach to another.
A rocky or pebble beach is preferred as embedded sand from a sandy beach can make chainsawing the driftwood difficult. Some beaches contain a large amount of salvageable wood, others contain none. Much of it is luck, and whether someone else has salvaged the beach before you got there.
This item may or may not be western red cedar. When salvaging it I will cut into it and sample the smell of the wood to be sure. Showing a wide grain and a few knots, this item does not look too promising. I may be able to get two twenty-four inch slices from it, between the knots and other defects.
This item is certainly western red cedar and is a short slab from a very large tree. One end is slightly checked, or cracked, but the other shows signs of promise. Before cutting I will lift it from the sand and remove any chainsaw dulling sand and gravel.
When beach combing one does not only find driftwood. All sorts of floating debris washes up on beaches, such as this piece of styro foam and this bouncy ball. I am sure you have heard of the rash of human feet inside shoes that have been washing up on beaches in the area around Vancouver, BC, Canada. Much of what you find is simply garbage, but sometimes you get lucky, or unlucky in the case of the human feet.
This item, the most promising yet on this beach, is typical of what we are looking for. It may look like a small tree but in reality it is a strip of a cedar tree that could be over 1000 years old. Virtually free of defects, this piece will almost certainly yield an adequate amount of fine handsplit cedar shakes.
This fine specimen is long, straight and free of defects. Unfortunately it is yellow cedar, or sometimes known as cypress. Yellow cedar only grows at higher altitudes and is most likely from the central Vancouver island region. Generally stringy and tough to split, this piece is better suited to be cut up into lumber using a band saw mill. The rope attached indicates that it has already been claimed by another beach comber. The unwritten rule clearly states that if a rope is attached, holding it to the shore, the piece is already spoken for. The logistics of getting this piece to a saw mill is far more difficult than salvaging the small and easy to handle cedar blocks used when producing hand split shakes. When trying to tell the difference between red and yellow cedar, remember this; sometimes red cedar can appear yellowish. If its yellow and you cant tell the difference, then its red cedar. Yellow cedar is a very distinctive yellow and cannot be confused with red cedar.