I just learned this technique tonight. I’ve gone on walks and seen these trees and wondering why they were burnt so I was surprise to learn it at a workshop I attended about water fracking today. Click here to read the whole article or an excerpt below.
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.