Clearing Trees: A House In The Philippines

The lumber we got from cutting down the trees on our lot.

This is the first installment of the series on our house build in Davao City, Philippines. An index to all of the posts in this series can be found here: House Build Philippines: Index.

We also built a concrete block perimeter fence. The index to all of the posts in that series can be found here: Perimeter Fence Philippines: Index.

Into The Trees

An early photo of the overgrown lot.During the construction of our concrete fence, we removed something like eleven trees on our lot. Most of them were small rambutan trees but some were tall jackfruit, durian,lanzones and coconut trees.

We were really sad that so many had to be removed. We wanted to keep them for the fruit they bore and for the shade they provided. You can see in the photo here just how overgrown our lot was when we bought it. 

At first, the crew cut back the trees leaving stumps they would make into work benches.

Workers in a lean-to digging out a tree stump.Later, removing trees and the leftover stumps became a necessary thing. We had to take them out in order to fit our house. The crew took care of cutting down the smaller trees and digging out all of the stumps. The photo here is of two of the crew members digging out a rambutan stump. It was incredibly hot, dirty work but none of them complained. They had to make some shade for themselves out of a frame and some palm fronds. We made sure that they stopped often for water breaks. 

Felling trees

A really big chainsaw.Because of the illegal logging of endangered hardwood trees, ownership of chainsaws is highly regulated in the Philippines. Owners have to have a license. Finding someone with a legal chainsaw can be hard. Luckily, our neighbor gave us the phone number of a guy he knew who had cut down trees on his own property.

The tree cutting crew showed up with one of the largest chainsaws I’ve ever seen. I suppose that if you’re going to get one, it’s logical to get a really big one so that you can do all kinds of cutting. 

Lolong, tree climbing boy.The crew was comprised of two chainsaw handlers, an assistant who squeezed oil out of a bottle onto the saw’s cutting chain to keep it lubricated, a laborer to jump in when needed, and Lolong, a 14-year old who climbed the trees. Lolong’s job was to shimmy up the trees, remove limbs with a bolo and tie ropes around the trunks that the men on the ground would pull to influence the tree to fall in a certain direction.

Lolong high in a lanzones tree.Lolong was quite a tree climber and seemed fearless. He climbed the trees like an expert. We were told that his father died and that he’s working to help support his family. My wife told me that at just fourteen, he smokes and drinks. After watching him climb to the tops of our tall trees barefoot and without any safety equipment at all, I told her, “Hell, he’s a man. He can do what he wants.”


Let “Jimi” Take Over

"Jimi Hendrix" cutting a log with a chainsaw.I don’t remember the chainsaw owner and user’s name, probably because from the moment I saw him I thought, “That guy looks like Jimi Hendrix!” He was so cool with his bandanna and low-slung chainsaw. “Jimi” really made music with that thing.

Unsafe chainsaw handling!He also scared us to death by working in his flip-flops and constantly putting his feet and legs in the path of that cutting chain. The chainsaw was huge. It was so big that he had to hold the rear of it and kind of drag it while letting it cut. 

It made me a nervous wreck just to watch.

If you’d like to see what I mean, here’s a short, 40-second video of “Jimi” wailing on his axe, er, chainsaw!



Our plan was to have the trees cut into boards so that we could have a carpenter make tables and other things from them. Since we had cut them down reluctantly, we wanted to use as much of the wood as possible.

Jackfruit wood grain.We got some nice boards. The photo is of langka (jackfruit). The problem was that since “Jimi” cut them from the logs with the chainsaw, they weren’t uniform in thickness. That was a problem later on when we realized that the carpenter would have to plane them to the same thickness to use them and all he had was a hand planer. That would be nearly impossible.

In the end, we were disappointed that we were unable to use more of the wood from the trees we cut down. All we were able to have made for us were a couple of simple end tables for our living room.

Tree stumps we saved for the landscaping.We had better luck at reusing many of the stumps. My wife, Menchu, has used them in the landscaping which I think is pretty cool.

She really has the creative touch. Thanks to her, we were able to “upcycle” something we would have otherwise just burned.



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