Matt Taylor has been competing in woodcutting competitions since he was a student at the University of Maine. This year, he organized woodsmen's day events at the Oxford County Fair and competed there and at 18 other fairs from Martha's Vineyard to Presque Isle. Professionally, he's a first class utility arborist, which qualifies him to cut down trees near utility lines.
Taylor competes in most of the chopping and hand-sawing events, including the springboard, where he must chop a notch in a 9-foot-tall tree trunk, insert a sharp-edged board in the notch and stand on that board while he cuts an even higher notch for a second board. On that higher board, standing about six feet above the ground, he has to chop a vertical block anchored atop the trunk.
Name: Matt Taylor
How long have you been in Woodsmen's competitions? Nine years total counting college competitions, six years in professional competitions.
How did you get started with them? As a freshman at the University of Maine I heard about the woodsmen team. The events grabbed my attention, but the friendships and camaraderie kept me coming back. In college we competed as teams of six traveling around the Northeast and maritime Canada.
What events have you competed in? I compete in any event I am equipped for, mostly the chopping and hand-sawing events. I currently do not race in the modified chainsaw, or "hotsaw," classes because I do not own one.
Which event is your favorite? I really like the standing block chop and the springboard. Both involve chopping a vertical log, but the springboard requires the setting of two boards in a 9-foot-tall tree before you can chop the block.
Does your day job help you in the competitions? Being physically strong is important at work and competing, however work often leaves me rather tired going into a weekend of competitions. A working knowledge of and ability to "read" wood is also important in both areas.
In the springboard event, is there any trick to getting it steady? The shape of the pockets in which you set your springboards is crucial. There is a metal shoe on the end of the board that grips the wood, but the pocket must be shaped properly for a steady board. The best result is a board that is level side to side and leans toward the tree just a little bit.
Have you ever fallen on the springboard? Yes. The pole I was on was a softer wood than I am used to and my first board tore out. I landed gracefully and unhurt.
What's the hardest part in the springboard event? Losing the fear. When you can forget the possibility of falling and focus on your technique you can accomplish more with each swing of the ax. Less hits means a faster time.
What would you tell someone if they were in their first competition? In your first competition you aren’t likely to place, so just focus on doing your best. Don’t consider the other competitors as your opponents, but rather race against the block and the clock. Keep track of your results on each size and species of wood.