Emily Mombourquette stood on top of a log suspended a few inches off the ground Tuesday and methodically swung downwards with a broad-bladed ax.
Wedges of wood flew into the air until half of the log was cut out. Then she turned around and repeated the process until a final blow split the 9-inch-thick log in half.
Mombourquette, 20, is one of several members of SUNY Cobleskill’s Woodsmen’s Club practicing their skills in anticipation of the college’s first intercollegiate Woodsmen’s Competition, slated for this Saturday.
The Rhode Island native and animal science major said she grew up with a wood stove in her home.
“I didn’t like to bring the wood in, but I liked to chop it,” Mombourquette said before bandaging up a bloodied blister.
Up until now, students at SUNY Cobleskill have traveled to other colleges to take part in the games developed by lumberjacks.
WHAT: SUNY Cobleskill's firtst intercollegiate Woodsmen's Competition, including a pressional timber sports demonstration by Nathan "Bucket" Waterfield.
WHERE: Schoharie County Fairgrounds, 113 Sunshine Drive off of South Grand Street, Cobleskill.
WHEN: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Free admission.
MORE INFO: news.cobleskill.edu/ A chicken barbecue lunch, made by Claude Ray, will be available for purchase by spectators.
“A lot of these events are based off of old forestry techniques,” said club adviser Kevin Poole, a technician at SUNY Cobleskill’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department.
“Back in the day, the lumberjacks would hang out at the end of the day and cook dinner. For games, they would throw axs at trees, and that’s how it developed into part of the lumberjack competitions,” Poole said.
Poole said the Cobleskill event will join a list of others held annually by colleges including the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, Paul Smith’s College north of Saranac Lake and the Finger Lakes Community College, all of which have been invited to Saturday’s competition.
On Tuesday, R.J. Rooney slipped his feet into chain mail safety stockings before putting on his boots.
The fisheries and wildlife major gauged his distance from a log mounted horizontally and started to swing a sharp ax angled first from the bottom up and then from the top down.
Rooney switched sides, and in less than two minutes, the log was cut in half.
Even quicker was the two-person cross-cut saw.
The cross-cut game features the two-person saw, a 6-foot-long thin blade with many teeth.
Competitors work in teams of two, one on each side of a log suspended horizontally.
Working for the best time, the pair saw completely through the log as many as nine times, leaving disks of wood they call “cookies.”
The SUNY Cobleskill team has been practicing both outdoors and in a greenhouse on the college’s farm, and Rooney said he’s been training outside of school in the hopes of achieving a winning time.
“A lot you do here is just for form,” said Rooney, 20, of Hoosick Falls. “I go to the gym for strength and endurance.”
Faced with competition from institutions like the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where the Forestry Club dates back to 1912, Cobleskill team members Tuesday said they can be considered the underdogs.
“We’re still a new team,” Poole said.
Poole said events planned for Saturday include the cross cut, the fire build, the standing block chop, the bow saw, the ax saw, the chain saw, the pulp toss the and choker set — an event in which students chain up logs and drag them about 20 feet.
The SUNY Cobleskill team is working with older gear, Poole said, as few companies make the two-person saws, which cost between $500 and $2,000. The students practicing Tuesday didn’t appear to have any difficulty with the saws, despite their age.
“We couldn’t really afford the top-notch equipment. We’re still growing,” Poole said of the Cobleskill club, a 20-member student group that got started five years ago.
“They’re doing really good. In the last month we’ve been practicing, they’ve developed a lot. I’m pretty impressed on how much work they’re putting in, and I believe we’re going to have a good showing,” Poole said.