Of Axes, Chisels, & Mountain Bikes

Green woodworking with hand tools isn’t just about carving spoons or turning Windsor chairs. The method is immensely practical for building all kinds of outside-the-box structures in the woods, whether a log footbridge to span a stream or a lean-to for a quiet resting place. A few months ago, we heard from Seth Gebel, owner of Backyard Trail Builds, LLC, and proprietor of the popular (with millions of views) “Backyard Trail Builds” YouTube channel. Seth constructs incredible mountain biking features in the woods, and lately has been focusing his efforts on what he calls “Primal” builds, utilizing only hand tools. These creations involve clever hand-cut joinery, timber that is harvested, rived, and hewn on-site, pegged decking, and even incorporates reverse-twisted cordage from the inner bark of a cedar tree. Truly awesome stuff!

Seth told me, “I'm seeking to use only hand tools these days because of the skill gained, calories burned, meditative state, satisfying sounds of woodworking, being more in control, and having respect for the process of making something.” He believes that green woodworking is not just quaint tradition, but that it is extremely relevant and practical today. It’s often the most efficient way to work, besides being tremendously enjoyable. “You get to choose the tree, which means you can sustainably take ones without over foresting, turn said tree into WHATEVER you want, whether that be a chair or a bike jump, AND you do it all with your own body and mechanical advantage! What's not to love about it?”

Seth’s video production quality is very high, and he even writes and records some of his own music. While the energy and enthusiasm he possesses for his craft is obvious, he doesn’t fit the standard mold of adrenaline junkie. “Social media and other daily stressors fuel the ADHD that seems to be a part of society, and power tools give me the same stressful feelings with their loud noise and unpredictable movement keeping me constantly on edge. On the other hand, using hand tools forces you to slow down to become one with your project and tools,” he told me.

My kids and I have taken inspiration from Seth’s Backyard Trail Builds, and there are several new trails taking shape in our woods with a few unique features planned. It’s so encouraging to see someone making a go at building a career out of what they love to do, and doubly so when it involves green woodworking with hand tools. There’s great satisfaction and value in that very physical kind of work that power tools can’t touch. As Seth said, “I think Dolly Chapman, a professional crosscut saw sharpener, said it best (and I'm paraphrasing), ‘Chainsawing is a job, crosscut sawing is an exercise.’”  



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