Whether cutting wood for firewood, or gathering enough logs to build a Wofati, forestry work is often necessity to accomplish these tasks, but over the years I have developed easier ways to accomplish the task efficiently and safely that I thought people on Permies would appreciate. At first glance it would seem this would only apply to more of full-time farmers, but that is not the case at all. As a full time farmer, what I don’t get out for woods today, I can get out tomorrow. For homesteaders however, who only have a few weekends, vacations and holidays, it is essential to make the most of that limited homestead time. Here are a list of things I find helpful"
Make a twitch trail to the back of the woodlot as quickly as you can. As you knock down trees and limb them out, the brush that is difficult to walk and work in is thus behind you. You can also cut a tree or two, then as you drive towards the landing, pick up more trees as you go. Cutting all the trees you can in one spot just makes limbing out much more difficult.
Never go in and fell all your trees and limb them out thinking you will go back and pull them out later. This is inefficient. I fell just enough trees for my tractor to pull out in a “twitch”. Often this is only 3-4 trees. If t is a bigger tree, it may only be 1 tree. That is because you are constantly changing what you are doing and that allows some amount of rest. It also means you get out the trees you cut as you cut them. Trees are never cut and then lost after a snowstorm, or irretrievable due to bad weather. Trees cut, limbed and sitting in the woods are useless; its what is on the landing that counts. Always cut as you go.
The above makes things much easier too. Often times removing a few trees changes everything and so you can approach trees from different angles. When you cut all your trees down at one time then go back to fish them out, you lose the ability to change which direction they were felled.
Drop a tree and limb it out. Dropping multiple trees and trying to limb them only makes a mess if your next tree falls on the one you failed to limb out. Limbing is the toughest part of logging. Make that easy on yourself and you get more done.
With the exception of walking through limbs and brush, climbing up down off equipment fatigues someone cutting wood greatly. Limit the number of times you mount and dismount the equipment by planning ahead. At the end of the day you will be much less fatigued, or have gotten more wood out.
Flow is efficiency. There is a certain “flow” that happens when cutting wood, and that is cutting the trees down, pulling them to the landing and then returning. If you are struggling constantly, getting stuck, and trying to overcome obstacles, you are not being inefficient. Go light go often, is a mantra in logging…even with massive equipment, but entirely important with small farm tractors and ATV’s.
Logging is fatiguing and efficiency means you manage how fatigued you get. Felling is a break from limbing, and limbing is a break from hooking up chokers, and pulling the wood out is a break from cutting up logs on the landing. Done right logging is just one long break all day!
Know your saws fuel capacity and what you can do with it. With my saw I can cut three twitches with my farm tractor and bulldozer, but only two when using a skidder. Knowing that allows me to fill up my saw and not run out when I am at the end of a 50 foot tree forcing me to refill my saw, then walk back the length of the tree and finish limbing it.
No matter what method I use to log (skidder, bulldozer, tractor), I cannot produce more than (1) cord per hour due to the fatigue involved in logging. I just don’t have the stamina to produce more than that.
Sometimes trees slip out of their chokers on the way to the landing. On my last twitch I pick these lost trees up on my way out. This does two things. When I am most exhausted I only have to cut a few trees (or none at all). Lets say I can typically go with 4 trees and that day I have lost 2 trees on my way out of the woods. On my last twitch I cut two trees and then pick up the two I lost. It makes my last twitch of the day easy, and ALL my trees are on the landing. I can start fresh the next day.
A plastic felling wedge is beneficial. Most of the damage to my chainsaws have occurred when I pushed the tree over with equipment. Best to place a wedge in the back cut and be assured your saw won’t be pinched then to ruin the saw by having a tree land on it.
I am experienced and can fell a tree against a lean and into a breeze...but why fight nature? Most of the time I fell the trees where they are leaning.
To that end I do almost anything to get it on the ground through directional felling (that is landed between other trees). With small equipment it is difficult at times to dislodge a lodged tree and limits your options. Also small equipment cannot move a tree with limbs on it as it drags incredibly hard. Best to get it on the ground where it can be limbed.
Small equipment can move big logs…as long as they are short! My little tractor can pull a 3 foot diameter log,…16 feet long that is, but not a 3 foot diameter tree that is tree length. Always carry a tape measure with you so problem trees can be shortened up.
Place your chokers on your log about a foot from the end. This is deep enough so it won’t slip off and short enough so the log won’t dig into the dirt a lot.
Cable chokers suck. The individual strands break and snag at your gloves, but are easy to slip around logs since you can push them and seldom slip off. They take a lot of abuse before they break too.
Chain chokers suck. You have to drag the chain under the tree, they often slip, and unhooking them can be difficult. They do offer more flexibility though like positioning the hook to help roll the log around and obstacle. You cannot do this with cable chokers. (I use both and swear at both)
Cut all logs with “trim” That is to allow the log to be sized to length with greater accuracy later. Don’t go crazy, 6 inches is enough. So when I say I cut a 16 foot log, it really is 16’-6” long. That extra 6” is “trim” and required for all logs.
Buy your chainsaw based on CC’s and not bar length. A 76 cc chainsaw with 18 inch bar is going to out-cut a 54 cc chainsaw with a 24” bar.
Always keep your chainsaw sharp. A dull saw not only causes you undue fatigue, it causes the chain to get hot, that heat causes the bar to get hot, and the bar is mounted low on the saw right where the engine crankshaft is. Already barely lubricated by the 2 cycle design, this can cause catastrophic failure of the saw.
They make two versions of chainsaws in any cc; homeowners often disguised as “rancher” versions, and professional. Professional does not mean bigger, it means they are built to take a pounding, all day, everyday. A professional one will last years and a homeowners (or rancher) not so long. Don’t ask me how I know this.
I cut massive trees and yet I only use an 18 inch bar. With it I can cut a 36 inch tree. That is long enough, saves me from lifting my saw as high, means I have to sharpen less teeth every time I file my saw, saves me money when I buy both bar and chains, and gives my big saw a lot more power since it is not dragging more chain around a longer bar.
Using winches saves your forest. With winches you can run your cable a hundred feet out from the tractor, bulldozer or skidder, allowing you to sneak your wood out from between tightly spaced trees, etc. Without one you have to back up to every tree causing more saplings to be removed and causing soil compaction.
Winches also allow you to winch around corners, bring more trees to you to make up a full twitch, and retrieve logs that have become unhooked.
Winches allow chokers to be dragged out from under the logs without having to get on the equipment and drive ahead.
Position your landing idyllically. Twitching tree length wood over long distances is inefficient, best to convert into usable end product as short of a twitch as possible. Just keep in mind access despite inclement weather or mud season, and that trucks and portable sawmills require quite a bit of room in which to operate if you are using them..
Try to drag saw logs over frozen ground or lift them off the ground in transport so as to not grind dirt into the bark that will dull the sawmill blades.
Portable sawmills and the guys that operate them prefer logs in (1) pile so they only have to set up their saw mills once. The log pile no more than 4 feet high so they do not get crushed rolling them onto their sawmills, and on the level, or slightly uphill of the sawmills position to facilitate loading the sawmill easier. Saw logs of sufficient size…no fence posts!
There are two types of sawmills. Stationary, where logs are picked up by truck and taken to the sawmill, produced into lumber and returned to you. Or portable, where the mill comes to your property. I prefer portable mills. Not only are you assured the wood you are getting back came from your logs, you get to keep the sawdust and slabs.
Sawmills come in two varieties; rotary and bandsaw. Always use bandsaw mills as they have a smaller kerf and get you more wood out of the same number of trees.
Nothing is wasted on any of my sawmills. The sawdust is used for bedding for the chickens or sheep, and I have built structurally with the slabs and routinely burn the slabs for firewood. This is why it is best to have a portable mill come to you so you can keep these resources.
1 cord of wood is equal to about 500 board feet of lumber. It takes about 5000 board feet to frame and sheath an averaged size home.
In Maine anyway we have our forestry law of 2’s. That is, anything 2 inches in diameter or less, less than 2 feet off the ground, will decompose in 2 years time. A person can use that to their advantage by slashing the wood up below knee level with their chainsaws, or crush it down.
Skidders are big, loud, lumbering machines that pull out a lot of wood quickly. They make ruts however due to their design and burn up a lo of diesel fuel.
Bulldozers pull out a lot of wood at a time, make nice roads, are not hindered by mud or terrain, but are incredibly slow. They don’t use much fuel however.
Tractors are quicker then bulldozers, but cannot pull out as much. They also are not ideally situated for every woodlot, or able to go in mud or deep snow. They don’t use much fuel however.
Using logging contractors who take the whole tree and chip it produces more money and looks a lot less “messy” in the woods, but reduces the potential for soil build up by 60% over those loggers who just take the bole. Best to avoid that type of logging unless you intend to clear the land.