Springboard Chop

Springboard Chop

Rising nine feet above the arena floor, the springboard pole is one of the most prominent features of chopping and sawing stage at the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series. It's as close as many competitors get to speed climbing, and often ties with hot saw as the last discipline a competitor will learn before trying to crack the ranks of the top U.S. competitors on the Series. Competitors use an axe to chop an 11-inch lathe-turned-white-pine log and it's where this log is located - and how the competitor reaches the log - that initially keeps competitors away from springboard.

The springboard chop adds two wooden boards and a nine-foot pole to what would be an otherwise fine chopping event. Historically, springboards used to allow lumberjacks a flat working surface in uneven terrain or had loggers in the air to cut the stem above the butt swell of a large tree. Springboards are still used by lumberjacks where large trees are cut by hand in steep hills. In the springboard chop, competitors start on the ground with two springboards in front of a nine-foot tall pole holding an 11-inch diameter log on the top. On "Go," they cut a small pocket with an axe at roughly belly button level for the first springboard, then jump onto the first board before cutting another pocket higher up the pole, placing the board into the hole and jumping on the board, which provides a secure location to chop the log secured to the pole they have been climbing. Time starts on "Go" and stops when the log on top of the pole is severed.

Each competitor brings his own springboards to the competition having prepared them to his specifications in terms of length, width, weight and clip shape. The boards have a small steel shoe bolted on the end of the board that goes into the pocket cut into the tree. These shoes come from New Zealand and Australia before being hand ground and fitted to the springboards. The shoe has a narrow tip that extends perpendicular to the board and is sometimes sharpened to hold securely when stuck deeply in the pocket or board hole. When the competitor jumps onto the board, this tip is driven up into the tree and holds the springboard in the pocket. A perfect pocket is cut into the pole in four blows and holds the springboard flat when the competitor jumps on it, giving them competitor a solid platform for chopping. The top of the boards are usually covered by something to give the competitor traction for his shoes in the form of skateboard-type grip tape, compressible foam, or even nails driven into the board before having their heads cut off providing many small spikes to grip a chopper's shoes.

This discipline relies on a bit more chopping skill. In addition to chopping a log in half, the competitor is chopping pockets for the springboards as fast as possible. This time the log is nine feet in the air and instead of standing on the stage like a standing block, or a foothold for the underhand, a competitor is limited to his top springboard. As a result, the competitor chops a bit differently. Instead of chopping the block halfway on each side, competitors mark a scarf on their log, intending to chop 75 to 90 percent of the log from the front side using the standard two-drive and two-chip rotation like the underhand and the standing block chops. Then on the back, competitors can choose to either chop off handed - like a switch-hitting baseball player - or just to deliver down blows slicing the backside of the log off. Slab nails are used on the top of the log on the front side where the driving blows may wedge the soft wood apart along the growth rings of the block as well as on the backside.

Before the springboard competition, competitors are randomly assigned individual chopping blocks and poles. The chopping blocks are measured and marked based on where and how the competitor intends to chop the block. The poles are also measured and marked based on where each competitor intends to place his board holes pealing the bark away from the planned location of the holes. The height and location of board holes is a function of competitor height and personal preference from years of practice. Competitors take care to carefully measure and place the marks for the board holes to prevent an unexpectedly big jump between boards in the tree and to allow them to be in a comfortable chopping position for both the board holes and the final chop of the block when standing on the top board. They also remove an area of bark on the pole where they will place their axe when climbing. After cutting the first board hole, competitors swing their axe into the pole to create a handle to pull up on when they jump onto the first board. Chopping through bark with a razor sharp racing axe will likely damage the cutting surface of the axe rendering it useless for the rest of the chop.

Although some argue a parachute or helmet would be proper safety equipment for this chop, years of practice and thousands of board holes go into preparing to cut the springboard, and chainmail chopping guards on the shins are the only required safety equipment. If a competitor climbs and chops the block in under two minutes, has slab nails installed in his log and doesn't cut his board holes into a previous competitors' holes, his time will stand and the first event of the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series will be in the books. Competitive times in the springboard chop are around one minute to cut both board holes, climb and chop the log. The world record is held by Mitch Hewitt from Canada at 38.24 seconds.