Tyler White is a lumberjack

Tyler White Saw.jpg

and he's OK

Three years ago Tyler White went to woodsman team practice with a friend at SUNY Cobleskill to see what it was all about. All that chopping and sawing and rolling on logs looked like fun, so he gave it a try.

Next week Tyler will compete against five of the nations top collegiate lumberjacks at the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Championship in Oregon.

What do you do when you compete? We're picturing juggling chain saws and showy stuff like that.

Nooo, nothing like that. Basically there are several different events. One is simulating chopping down a tree, another is cutting it into smaller pieces. Another event is the same thing but you do it with a saw, not an ax. There's one competition where you try and stand on a log that is floating in the water and make it spin as long as you can. Some guys do pole climbing or tree climbing --you have to climb up the pole or tree as fast as you can. There are team events for saw where you saw through a block, and there are team log roll events.

This will be the second Timbersports ESPN competition I've done this year. I'll be competing in underhand chop, standing block chop, speed saw and single block.

Why is this fun?

I guess it's...well, competing . I just enjoy competing.

Right, but why not baseball or basketball? Why sharp objects?

(Laughs) I've never been very good at baseball or basketball. And when I tried this, one of the advisers for the team told me I should stick with it, that I was pretty good. And I ended up being one of the best guys on the team.

I've always liked being outside and working with my hands and most of the college level competitors take the competition seriously, but we're there to have fun make friends meet new people from other schools.. And it's something I can compete at after college, even if I don't become pro.

Really, there are folks who go pro? Can you make a living being...

A professional woodsman? Nooo. But there are pro competitions. For the college level meets there's usually some sort of small prize. In this competition if you place high enough you could win an ax or a saw, but first place is a berth on the pro circuit. But it's not really a money based thing. When you turn pro you might win a couple of hundred bucks.

And there's a cost to competing, right? Axes aren't free.

There's a cost to competing. The ax will cost you anywhere from $250 to $400 a single buck saw will cost you $1,500 or so but if your careful with your equipment it will last you years.

Tyler White w:ax.jpg

What makes a good woodsman? What do you need to compete?

You don't have to be super strong. Being fast at chopping comes with time as your technique gets better . I'm 6' 1" and 225 lbs, and I've seen guys 5'5" and 165 lbs chop through a block faster than I can because they have really good technique . Good technique will outdo pure power every time.

It seems like kind of a low tech sport in a very high tech world.

There's a part of it that kinda pays homage to the folks that used to do this kind of thing around the time of the civil war-- before logging was mechanized-- so there's some history. But our saws and axes are very sharp and cutting edge, so in that respect its very high tech. Still, it's basically seeing what you can do yourself with a very simple piece of equipment -- to see if you can be faster than the next guy and better than the next guy. You go out and you see what you can do.

But watching people chop wood -- is this a spectator sport?

It's a decent spectator sport, sure. You'll have heats, but they are head to head and there' s two people chopping at once and if you get two people that are really good paired up with each other it can get exciting. At the college level there's -- I wouldn't say school pride -- but the teams get really competitive.

The crowd really likes the underhand chop, because that one is done relay style with a group of guys on the team, and it can be fun to watch.

Tyler White with Ax 2.jpg

How much wood do you go through?
A fair amount. I have a normal half ton pickup and as a team we have a deal with the village Cobleskill -- they have a piece of land where some trees have blown down and we can take whatever we want that's blown down. We're kind of doin' the village a favor by cleaning it up. We go through a pick up truck load -- maybe 15 or 20 logs-- a week. Each long is about 10 inches across and 8 feet long.

Once we've chopped it, we throw it in a big pile and one of the guys on campus uses i for his wood stove.

You're using axes and saws with sharp blades -- isn't it dangerous?

Sure, but we take precautions. When we are running the chain saw we have to wear Kevlar lined chaps and safety glasses and a full helmet with full face-masking. And for the chipping events we have to wear tin booties that look kind of like the tin man in the Wizard of Oz , or old fashioned knight in shining armor style chain mail that goes over the foot and up the shin for protection. If you hit your foot with the chain mail on it will break your foot. but it won't cut your foot off. If you hit your foot without protection odds are your going to cut your foot off.

At a meet last fall a kid was doing the standing block chop and the handle of his ax broke, so the head of the ax went flying off and he was thinking about the crowd behind him so he reached out and tried to grab it and he darn near cut his fingers off. If he let it fall he would have been fine.

Does it worry you?

Knock on wood I've never injured myself yet. But if you think about it, your gonna get hurt. If you don't think about it, things seem to turn out alright.

How popular are timber sports?

In most of the meets that Cobleskill goes to there's usually like five schools that show up and they usually have one mens team, a womens team and a Jack and Jill team.

Do people sing The Lumberjack Song to you?

(Laughs) You mean the Monty Python one?

Yeah, "I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK..."
No, I can say anyone has ever sung that to me. Until now. (Laughs) I take a little haranging from people. They'll say, "Lumberjack?" But when I tell them what I do they're more like "Oh, wow, that's pretty cool."

Tyler will compete in the ESPN STILL TIMBERSPORTS Collegiate Challenge August 27th -29th. The competition will be shown on ESPN-U in September

This interview was edited and condensed.

Photos: stihltimbersports.com


I will quote myself and say "That's so badass."


As a fellow teammate of his, I have a great respect for him and know he will do great!

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