Chainsaw attachment 101

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The basics

Recently I purchased a chainsaw attachment for around $300 which fits onto my ECHO PAS engine. Since I mostly do pruning, not logging, I opted for this attachment instead of a regular dedicated chainsaw. If you take down trees and cut them into firewood then definitely get one of those.

Yesterday I had to remove six dead cedars so I used this chainsaw attachment to take down the tops in sections, leaving a three foot “joystick”. The joystick gives you nice leverage when you try to take out the root ball.

The new, sharp chain sliced through the dead stems nicely. And that is the point: chainsaws speed things up, especially when you are getting paid by project, not by the hour.

Another job I have lined up involves lifting pine branches growing from a neighbouring property off my client’s maple trees. It’s time for some separation and the chainsaw attachment is perfect for this work because it gives me some space between me and the branches. With a dedicated chainsaw I would require a ladder which would be awkward.

Before you start

Always read the manual and consider your safety before firing up the chainsaw attachment. Make sure you have bar and chain oil in the chamber and always keep your hand tool close by. You will need it if the chain slips off the bar, gets loose or the unit requires cleaning. One optional purchase is a spare chain. I fully intend to learn how to sharpen my chain to save money and learn a new skill. I am an ISA certified arborist but I have never sharpened a chain.

My fear is working out in the field and having the chain break on me. It is nice to have a spare chain.

Put in bar and chain oil and keep the hand tool close by!

Safety is important in the field. Every. Day. So, make sure you have a helmet and eye and ear protection. I have a helmet with earmuffs and a shield. Having the long bar between you and the chainsaw makes this set-up safer than with a regular chainsaw which is closer to your body.

A note on pruning quality

Here is a pro tip: chainsaw attachments are great for taking down trees in sections but not for making awesome, precision cuts close to the main stem. It is very easy to slip and cut into the bark when making a finishing cut at the branch collar. I prefer to make these cuts with a handsaw.

One of my clients has a dead tree in front of his house and he needs to remove it. So, I will take it down slowly in firewood chunks. Note how there are not any precision pruning cuts to make here.


If you own an Echo PAS engine then this chainsaw attachment is a great buy. Visit Foreshore Equipment in Burnaby and tell them Red Seal Vas sent you.

Why I love my Japanese hori-hori knife

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From Japan, with love

It used to be that only my trusted Felco 2 hand snips would hang on my belt. But now my belt also supports the Japanese hori-hori knife. It’s very sturdy so you feel its weight a little bit, it has a sharp tip like most knives and one side is serrated. This comes in handy when you are dividing perennials in the fall.

The knife also bailed me out yesterday when I was taking out dead cedar trees. Since I forgot to bring a shovel (don’t ask!) I was able to stick the knife in the ground and find the roots, which I then severed with my hand snips. I hate to do this with my hand snips because they get dull quickly. The hori-hori knife is designed for dirty work. It’s also sharp enough to slice through thin roots.

Who needs a shovel? I used the knife to stab a circle around each cedar and the extraction went well after that. All six trees were dead and fairly easy to extract.

Pro tip: leave the bottom portion of the cedar stem standing so you can use it as a joystick during removal.


This project sounds super easy, and it was. But it also highlights the importance of extras. Normally I only maintain the front of this eight unit complex, once a month. And if you stick around long enough, do a good job and get to know people, they will give you extra work.

No, I didn’t get rich from this side project but it did pay off a portion of my recent chainsaw attachment purchase.

Other uses

The hori-hori knife is labelled as a digging and weeding knife. It’s a huge gift if you work with freaks who insist on weeding with their fingers. That’s because we need to uproot the weeds and the sharp hori-hori knife is perfect for this work.

I get involved in this debate every season: weeding requires tools, unless you’re only hand picking massive trophy weeds. Professionals use tools! And as soon as I say it, people get sidetracked wondering if Red Seal Vas is a professional instead of focusing on weeds.

Personally I find hand weeding with my fingers very taxing on my fifty-something hands. Why abuse myself when I can uproot the weeds with my beautiful $30 hori-hori knife.


You will need a sheath for your hori-hori knife because it’s sharp and you’re less likely to lose it. The Japanese got it right by making a closed belt loop sheath. Lee Valley got it wrong by making a button belt loop. It took me literally five minutes in the field to lose the knife because the button closure is too flimsy for non-stop landscape activity. Don’t buy this belt loop; get one that’s closed.


For $30 the hori-hori Japanese digging and weeding knife is a great tool to hang on your belt right next to your snips. You can use it for weeding, dividing perennials, digging and to keep degenerates away.

Red Seal Vas visits the arborist store

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Why care?

As you visit this blog and read the headline, you’ll probably think “why should I care about an arborist store?” It’s not like I’m an arborist; I hire those people in shiny helmets so they can charge me exorbitant sums of money for tree and shrub maintenance. Hold on, let me explain.

It’s important to know where your nearest arborist store is because they sell quality, sharp hand saws, snips and loppers; tools homeowners are most likely to use. Yes, the big box stores carry those tools but they’re not as good. Go for quality so you can make great cuts, every time. It happens to me every year: I show up at a client’s place and they eagerly push their own tools on me. The hand saws have rust on them and finger prints from the Second World War. So, I politely decline the offer and use my sharp hand saws.

Getting there

The arborist store in located in an industrial area on 1515 Broadway Street, unit 605, in Port Coquitlam. I didn’t find it easily but the outdoor signs helped. The store itself is nice enough. It’s like a candy store for arborists.

I was there to buy a pole pruning attachment and not seeing prices on the items was annoying. It forces you to check the price on every item with the dude behind the counter. I found what I was looking for but it wasn’t cheap. However, I expect to get my money back after a few tree jobs; it’s an investment so I didn’t cry about it.

Then I noticed a Japanese hori-hori knife for weeding and pruning; and for protection from degenerates. I also love the sheath which attaches nicely to my belt. Months earlier I purchased a smaller knife at Lee Valley but, incredibly, the sheath had a button on the belt loop. Clearly, the designers don’t work in the field. It took fifteen minutes for the button to fail and the knife slide down my rain pants. This is a major fail. The Japanese got it right!


Before paying I registered my business with the store and now, as I suspected, I’m getting weekly junk mail with discount codes. I also picked up free stickers before snapping a few pictures and leaving the store. Obviously, professional tree dudes know this store well but I would argue that homeowners too, should get to know it. They can buy good quality, sharp tools here, from snips and hand saws to loppers.

I bought my pole pruner attachment so I can do easy tree work. The Japanese hori-hori wasn’t exactly a required item but I do like the knife. You can weed with it and divide perennials.

You don’t have to be an arborist to visit this store. Walk in and check out the sharp tools on the wall right in front of the cashier. Pay extra for good quality.

Weed control with Red Seal Vas

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Use tools!

If you read my blogs regularly you will know that I always try to use tools when weeding. The only obvious exception being huge trophy weeds which are easy to pull but hard to explain. How did they evade detection for so long? Were they out on some hard to reach ledge?

Professionals use tools, not fingers. Years later I’m still stunned by a foreman’s request that we all hand pick massive mats of weeds. I literally didn’t know where to start. Why abuse my fingers like this?

Grab a cultivator or a small hand tool like a Home Depot tomahawk which retails for $15. I love this tool. I use it to uproot the weeds before discarding them and I humbly suggest that you do the same. Save your fingers for better, more refined activities.

Field test

I am a huge proponent of weeding tools, not fingers. But now that I am of a certain age and my gray hair shows from under my ball cap, some people dismiss me as an old crank. So when I got a chance to run a little field experiment, I was delighted.

Out in the middle of a parking lot, we had two same-sized beds full of weeds. Obviously the weed species didn’t match exactly; one had more buttercup which is notoriously difficult to dig up.

On my bed I used a tomahawk to uproot the weeds and then discard them on a nearby tarp. It wasn’t much fun weeding in the middle of an open parking lot on a hot summer day with reflected heat hitting me.

Some meters away was my co-worker who stubbornly used his fingers to weed his buttercup-filled bed. Somehow he finished ahead of me and moved on. That’s when I snapped pictures of both beds and also moved on.

Five weeks later

I didn’t make it back to this parking lot until five weeks later. Then it hit me: go back and check on the weeded boxes from five weeks ago. It wasn’t even close!

My bed had a few weeds; most were poking along a cable where tomahawks and fingers can’t reach. The hand-weeded bed was green with weeds, confirming what I already knew.

Quick finger weeding doesn’t pull out the roots as much as hand tools. You’re basically wasting time by eliminating the top growth and leaving the roots behind to regenerate the plant. The proof was right there in the middle of a baking parking lot.

Picture A five weeks after getting hand weeded with fingers.

Picture B five weeks after getting weeded with a hand tool.


Use tools for weeding. Period.

When leaf blower isn’t the answer

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Seniors raking

This past Saturday I was at Rocky Point in Port Moody, visiting a used car dealership because our family van started breaking down with alarming frequency. It was time to upgrade.

Just as I was getting back into my car, I noticed a lady next door vigorously raking up leaves under a mature tree. She was obviously a senior but I suspect she could easily pivot into a new landscaper position. She was moving and piling up the debris against the tree, presumably for later pick up.

No blowers for this senior.

Small jobs

Strata properties like the ones Proper Landscaping dudes maintain are too large to clean up with just rakes. Backpack blowers are mandatory evil. Yes, they’re loud and cause air pollution but they’re indispensable.

Now, smaller sites can easily be cleaned-up with rakes and some time. It’s a perfect job for seniors: they need to move to stay healthy and they have time. The lady I photographed -without permission!- was doing a great job. I thought it was really nice to not face a blower on the weekend after using one all week at work.

Globe article

The sweaty senior also reminded me of a Globe and Mail newspaper story. The author, facing leafy debris on his small back patio- somewhere in Toronto- rushed out to a big box store and purchased a blower. Like everyone else in his neighborhood.

It took him a few tries to assemble the machine properly and after a few leaf blowing sessions he realized something. Using a power blower on his small back patio didn’t make any sense. It was ridiculous. He could easily rake everything up in thirty minutes. There was absolutely no need to create noise and air pollution. He could save money by investing some of his own time and energy.

So, he returned the blower and life has been good ever since. He rakes up the leaves every fall and gets much-needed exercise. Just like our Port Moody senior.

Babied plastic turf

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Chill pill

Plastic turf is fairly common now and some companies are making a killing installing it. But when I cleaned up ash (Fraxinus) leaves from a few turf lawns this past fall, I wasn’t ready for the aggressive defense. First, let’s take a chill pill.

There she was in her backyard, a lovely mother of a young child, wearing stunning tights and sporting a blond ponytail. She was the kind of resident every single member of my male crew paid attention to; and extremely bad for crew production.

She was out to remind us to use a plastic rake she and her neighbors invested into. Leaf pick up with our regular rakes was too harsh on her turf. Fair enough. If she had told us to jump, we would have all jumped. I laughed to myself and stopped staring at her.

A plastic rake for gentler leaf pick-up.


I totally understand the lady’s concern. After shelling out C$3000 for her small plastic patch, she obviously wants it to last for a long time. This was my first experience with homeowners defending their turf.

Why get turf?

Personally, I hate plastic turf. Not only does it rob me of paid work, it also removes nature from our cities. Plastic turf tends to heat up in summer and, therefore, requires hosing off on hot summer days. And nothing lives in plastic; it’s terrible habitat for insects. Worse still, the soil underneath dies.

On this site, however, plastic turf makes a lot of sense. The lady and her neighbors live under towering Ash trees that shade out any grass plants attempting to form a lawn. We even tried pruning the ash trees to allow more light in but it didn’t make a huge difference.

The lady also owns a dog, which created a distraction every time she took it out to answer nature’s call. Unlike grass, plastic turf can take a lot of dog abuse and still look nice and green. Grass becomes very patchy because it can’t handle so much fertilizer at one time; you’d have to hose off the spots immediately after the dog goes. And who has time for that when there is a toddler inside.

As much as I hate plastic turf, there are instances when it makes sense. Like when you have heavy shade and heavy dog damage. But it will cost you. One small lawn goes for around C$3,000. Many people also switch because they’re tired of lawn damage related to European chafer beetles.

Once the lawn is removed, the company installs crush and runs it over with a compactor. Then comes the plastic, anchored with pins. The actual model depends on the owner.

Considering the cost of plastic turf install, don’t be surprised if the owners defend it. If you’re lucky, the defenders you encounter are super cute.

C$3,000 turf, unaffected by shade and owner’s dog.

Are stake pounders dangerous?

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Intimate knowledge

I got to know stake pounders intimately when I went through the Landscape Industry Certified program. Recall that stake pounders are metal pipes with handles, closed at one end. Just pop the end of your wooden stake in and start pounding it in.

One version of a stake pounder.

Station master

I had to do the planting and staking practical station test three times! Years later I can joke about it but at the time, failing meant waiting for six months until the next test day.

Note that the practical exams are now scored from video footage captured by your employer. The twice a year testing days are long gone. Visit the Canadian Landscape Nursery Association for details.

One of my fails resulted from not wearing ear protection. Ouch. I was so nervous and caught up in procedures and time limits, I didn’t even notice the pounding noise. Ear protection during staking is mandatory. It is loud.

The other critical issue is the height of the stake pounder. The rule is that it can’t ever reach over your head. Even if you have a hard hat. But this wasn’t a problem for me until I became a judge.

Vas arrives

When I became a landscape judge, the CNLA got me to judge the same planting and staking station. Sweet! I was ready for it but not for failing people. Some of the candidates went overboard, raising their stake pounders way too high.

I could see my judge-mentor watching and fuming from a distance. And at the time I thought she was a bit anal. I don’t anymore. She was right. I should have raised my red flag and send them packing.


Last year I heard a nasty story that changed my mind. An experienced landscape company owner had managed to crack his skull with a stake pounder. He survived but he couldn’t work for a long time and who knows how the accident will affect his brain in the future.

Then today I heard about another landscaper breaking his neck with a stake pounder. Ouch.

If I ever meet my cute landscape judge mentor again, I will quietly apologize. Stake pounders are dangerous metal pipes that should never be raised above your head, even if you have a hard hat on.

The best Christmas gift for landscapers

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Felco all the way

When leaf clean up season is over, we do finesse work to get sites ready for Christmas. This type of finesse work involves bedwork and lots of hand snipping. Think spent perennials and the odd annoying branch. The same goes for home gardeners.

To get ready for the finesse work, I walked into my nearest Lee Valley store and bought brand new Felcos, even though I already own a few pairs. I really wanted a new, sharp pair; and I even got extra springs and a sheath. New Felco 2s, two springs and a sheath set me back C$100.

C$100 well-spent!

As I walked away from the door to my car, I realized that this was by far the best gift you could give for Christmas to a landscaper or a gardener. It’s December 18 as I write this blog post, so there’s still time to get a pair of Felcos.

Not my first plug

Now, this isn’t my first blog post about Felcos and there is no need to type up a disclaimer. I love Felco hand snips and I’m happy to say it; I don’t profit in any way from saying it. One day I hope to!

The red handles last forever and the blades can be changed. Normally I sharpen them before replacing; it’s cheaper. Also, a leather sheath is mandatory for professionals. I keep my snips on my hip at all times because you never know what defects you will find in the landscape. It could be a simple shoot sticking out from the top of a shrub or it could be a broken tree branch. Or perhaps someone missed a perennial during cutback.

With Felco snips on your hip, you’re always ready. And I like to be ready.

Early Christmas

Now, my old pair of Felcos was still fine. I could have kept it as a back-up pair but I did something better. I moved my old snips on to a new foreman-in-training who was still using an inferior and much cheaper model. I won’t name the maker; it wasn’t Felco.

Predictably, the dude was all casual about the loan but I know he’s hoping some of the Red Seal magic rubs off on him. Having my old snips on his hip, reminds him of his brilliant Red Seal manager and allows him to look like a pro. Honestly, it will take a lot of training to turn him into a real pro.

If you’re still looking for a gift for a gardener or a landscaper on your list, get a pair of Felco hand snips. It will set you back about C$80 and it’s worth every dollar. Trust me.

Felco 2s in action

Felco forever!

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Throw away society

When snow last week kept me at home, I turned to blogging. I always have a list of blog post ideas and a folder full of clippings and articles. One of those articles came from the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

The writer commented on our throw away society and I agreed with her hundred percent. I’m as guilty as the next person. Although, I should add, that I’m changing. I signed up for an account at Return-It and ordered free sticker labels. Now all I do is attach one label to a clear garbage bag full of bottles and drop it off. No more sorting filthy bottles.

Return-It itemizes all returned bottles and deposits the money to my account. I can let it accumulate there or redeem it to straight to my chequing account.

The next step for me will be recycling old electronics and cables which are rapidly accumulating in my place as my kids turn into teenagers.

Felco forever

Now back to the Sun article. What struck me was that the writer used Felco snips as an example of a tool designed to last forever. And Felcos really do last forever. The red rubber coated handles will easily outlive me.

I did a little maintenance experiment with my Felco 2s because they are easier to dismantle. They sport just one bolt. So, I popped it, cleaned out the main surfaces and installed a brand new blade.

Then, I replaced the spring. Those are the two components that you will ever have to change. The total retail cost was about C$25 and I’m hoping to submit it as a business expense on my taxes next year.

The difference in cutting quality is noticeable. The snips make nice sharp cuts easily. So easily, I regretted not composing this blog post earlier.

Incidentally, pruning demands sharp tools. Snips, loppers and hand saws. Dull tools make poor cuts and tend to shred plant tissues. Always use sharp tools.

Felco 2s with a brand new blade and spring


Felcos are great so they’re not cheap. But the up-front C$80 cost is justified. The snips will last forever. All you have to do is replace the spring once in a while and sharpen the blade. If you choose to replace the blade, it will only set you back C$25 at your local retailer. And I believe that’s a small price to pay for beautiful pruning cuts in the field.

If you already own Felcos, maintain them well. If you’re considering buying a pair, don’t worry about the cost. The red rubber coated handles will probably outlive you.