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You can carry any log in from the woods with a lot less force and practically no harm to your woodlot with a little skill and the right forestry equipment.

On our family tree farm in southwest Missouri, we used to have a local logger with an excellent reputation collect oak and walnut timber. The contract included an 8% incentive for cautious procedures that did not harm other developing stock or cause path ruts. I watched with admiration for the first week as he gently dropped the trees where they would do the least harm and carefully dragged logs out of the woods with his cable skidder, coming dangerously close to hitting crop trees but never really touching them. The earth was hard and dry since it was July. He didn’t leave much of an impression.

All of that changed in the middle of the second week. The trees were crashing down in seemingly random ways. From the time he began until the time he stopped, the Detroit Diesel engine in his skidder was running at full power. The skidder had to use all he had to pull tree-length logs out of the woods, while the logs gouged the paths and gashed the trees he had so carefully avoided earlier. His negligence peeled the bark off white oak and walnut trees with veneer potential. The harm had already been done by the time we intervened. He just shrugged his shoulders and said it was the end of the month, as if that was all we needed to know. He owed the bank a significant amount for his equipment, and he was on the brink of losing everything, I later discovered. A few more cargoes might hold creditors at bay for another month. He hasn’t returned since.

What if you wish to bring in your own wood, whether it’s timber or firewood? You can carry any log in from the woods with a lot less force and practically no harm to your woodlot with a little skill and the right forestry equipment. You already have the pulling power to transport logs if you have a compact tractor or four-wheel drive ATV. They can bring in surprisingly big loads with the proper attachments, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell where they came out of the woods after a few weeks. I use the methods outlined in this article to provide logs to my portable sawmill and to bring in firewood. I’m constantly on the lookout for better tools and more effective methods to utilize them, but here’s what I’ve learnt over the last two decades.

WORKING WITH LIMITED POWER

Despite my desire to purchase a tiny skidder, I must make do with what I have due to a restricted budget. My primary piece of machinery is a 1953 Ford 8N tractor that I fondly refer to as “Henry.” Starting up an old Ford has a certain charm about it. Turn on the ignition… Start the engine… a little choking… Smoke billows from the exhaust as the first two cylinders cough to life. When the third cylinder comes in a few seconds later, the engine speed increases. We’re eager to go to work as cylinder #4 lights up and settles into a smooth deep-throated rumble. Dragging logs over the ground was time-consuming, required a lot of energy, and ripped up the pathways. The front tires spent a lot of time off the ground due to the added weight on the back and the torque from pulling, so I had to steer with the woefully inadequate wheel brakes—and one foot on the clutch for those times when the log dug in and the front end came up so high, I felt like I was looking down at the sky. Henry, on the other hand, couldn’t even move some of the large ones. Even this 20 HP tractor, with the right technique and a few attachments, can easily pull 30 tons “Oak logs with a diameter of 12 inches and a length of 12 feet. While weight and traction are important considerations, most four-wheel-drive ATVs are more powerful than that tractor and can also transport logs and firewood. The log arch, more than any other equipment I’m aware of, extends the possibilities of a small tractor or ATV.

ARCHES OF LOGS

The log is suspended on a frame supported by two axles by log arches. Because the log is supported by the arch, there is less weight dragging on the ground and less strain on the tractor. A thirty-minute “Henry and arch were an excellent fit. The log followed me so effortlessly the first time I used it that I kept glancing back to make sure it was still there. The log’s weight is distributed evenly by the tires, and the path is hardly compacted. Because I can pull in second or third gear, the arch also saves fuel and wear on the tractor, as well as a considerable amount of time on the path. I sometimes have to cut a large log to fit it into the arch, but since I bought it, I haven’t left a single log in the woods. ATVs, in particular, find arches to be a safe method to transport logs. The weight of the log presses down on the rear of the ATV without an arch to support it, compromising maneuverability. The already light front end may come off the ground if the log burrows into the ground or snags on a tree root. In the worst-case scenario, the ATV may roll backwards. The consequences of not having rollover protection may be fatal. With bigger logs, even farm tractors have turned over backwards. Tractor rollovers account for 80% of all agricultural accidents, according to the Louisiana Agricultural Extension Service. “In a reverse tip, for example, the tractor engine drives the tractor to spin around the rear axle,” according to the study. In less than a second, the tractor may overturn—too fast for the operator to respond.” Log arches reduce the amount of force needed to draw the log, carry the weight of the log, and raise the front end of the log off the ground to prevent it from digging in and nagging on stumps. Norwood’s SkidMate log-skidding arches come with many unique features and are available for both tractors and ATVs. Because the wheels sit immediately under the frame, the arch has a small footprint that enables it to go through tight spaces. When the log is hauled, it is attached to a roller that rides up on the arch frame and lifts the log. The log is easily disconnected by backing up the ATV or tractor.

WINCHES

A winch may be your greatest option for transporting the log to the tractor if it’s at the bottom of a valley or in an area of wood you don’t want to disturb. Tractor-mounted winches are powered by the PTO and connect to the three-point hitch. A few years back, I purchased one at an auction. It can reel in just about any log the tractor can haul thanks to a 60′ 3/8″ diameter cable. Farmi, Tajfun, and Wallenstein are just a few of the manufacturers. You don’t have to go back and forth between the tractor and the log with the better (expensive) winches since they feature a remote control. When my current winch goes out, I’ll replace it with one that has a remote.

After evaluating one for Independent Sawmill& Woodlot Management magazine, I decided to buy a Lewis chainsaw winch. The Lewis winch can be installed on any chain saw, but I keep mine on my Husqvarna 365 so it’s always ready to go. It has a rated pulling power of 4,000 pounds, but a grab block may quadruple that. I’ve discovered that 80 feet of rope is plenty, since I can winch a log with several pulls if required. However, a strong anchor point is required for the winch. If the log is heavy enough, it will drag a tractor sideways! Winches are helpful for carefully pulling trees down when they become caught up and hauling cars out of ditches, in addition to dragging logs to the path. The whole pulling force is supported by the winch frame. The chain saw is not under any strain. There is also a gas-powered capstan winch that works well and utilizes a rope instead of steel cable.

ATTACHING THE WINCH LINE

A “choker” is used by professional loggers to attach the winch line to a log. When you reel in the winch line, this is a short rope or chain that goes around the end of a log and pulls tight. Choker chains or cables are easy to use, light, and provide a secure, dependable attachment. They’re excellent for carrying in firewood since they can handle a bundle of tiny logs. When a log is lying flat on the ground, however, getting past it may be challenging. Tongs for logging are considerably simpler to use. Simply place the tongs on the log, set the hooks, and begin pulling. The more you pull, the tighter they grasp the log, in theory. They often fall off in practice, and you must return to the log to re-set them. They’re only used when I can’t get a choker around a log or when I need to grasp a log in the middle to raise it. Log grapples are a bit heavier and more costly than tongs, but they hold better. If I lose my tongs in the woods, I’ll probably buy a Norwood grapple.

SLED FOR SKIDDING

A log will snag on a stump or plow into the earth if it has the ability to do so. It has a natural tendency to do so. The issue is solved by using a “skidding sled.” This is a large plastic cone that goes over the log’s end. Skidding sleds easily glide the log over rocks and stumps, leaving little trace on the ground. I make my own sled out of a 55-gallon plastic barrel, which is equally as effective and far less expensive than anything I could buy. I don’t pull logs any farther than necessary, even with the sled—as soon as I bring them to the tractor, I hook it to the arch and take it from there.

RECOMMENDATIONS

For moving logs using ATVs, the Ontario Woodlot Association recommends the following:

The load should be no more than the ATV’s weight.

Filling the tires with liquid (a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze) improves stability and load capacity.

Four-wheel drive with reverse should be standard on the ATV.

The engine will survive longer if it is liquid cooled.

Moving logs across uneven terrain with an ATV is not a good idea.

Disc brakes outperform drum brakes in terms of durability.

Back rollover may be reduced by putting weight on the front.

Use a tractor and a log skidding arch for larger loads. A chainsaw or a gas-powered winch should be a top priority for any woods operation— they’re also useful for a variety of other tasks. You’ll need both a choker chain and a grapple. If you transport logs from distant locations on a regular basis, a tractor winch should be on your equipment list. Learn about your equipment’s limits and how to use it responsibly. If you often pull logs larger than 14 inches in diameter, consider building or purchasing a skidding sled. It will pay off in the end.

Pay close attention to what you’re doing and don’t rush. If feasible, practice on level surfaces to acquire a feel for the equipment. When operating a chainsaw, wear the appropriate safety equipment, which includes steel toe boots, a logger’s helmet, and chaps. Keep in mind the weight restrictions of any equipment you employ. For a woodlot operation, a 30 HP to 50 HP four-wheel-drive tractor with power steering and a fast connect front end loader—as well as rollover protection—would be perfect.