When one imagines the types of logging equipment used in forestry, they may conjure images of double-bit axes and cross-cut saws, or perhaps they imagine chainsaws wielded by men yelling, “TIMBER!” Both are perfectly real and legitimate methods of harvesting timber (though axes are almost never used these days), but they are only a small part of the equation. A tree must not only be cut down, but brought roadside, de-limbed, and even cut into logs before it is loaded on a truck! Luckily, loggers have a wide array tools they use to get the job done, so here are a few of the types of logging equipment used in the modern working forest.
First on the list is also one of the oldest pieces of mechanized equipment still in use: the cable skidder. As the name implies, the cable skidder moves entire trees to the roadside by dragging them on the ground with a cable winch. This machine is usually paired with a chainsaw to cut the trees down. While operating a cable skidder is cheap, production rates are low compared to other types of logging equipment. Because is is small and nimble, the cable skidder is often used on small parcels and in small-scale logging operations where the forest would benefit from a lower-impact system. It is also commonly used on the steep slopes of mountainous areas where other equipment would struggle. Sometimes, the old ways still work best.
Next, we have the grapple skidder, which is part of what is known as the “whole tree” system (also called “tree length.” While they resemble cable skidders and operate in much the same way, grapple skidders are much larger and move trees with a large mechanical grapple attached to the back. Instead of hooking on to individual trees with a cable and choker, they grab entire bundles of wood neatly felled and bunched. Unlike cable skidders, grapple skidders are not used in tandem with chainsaw-equipped fellers. Instead, the are used in conjunction with a feller-buncher.
This behemoth is one of the most fascinating types of logging equipment in the woods! As its name suggests, the feller-buncher cuts trees with a giant rotating saw blade, picks up the entire tree and drops it neatly into bunches so it can be picked up and brought roadside by the grapple skidder. It can pick up individual trees or fit multiple stems in the head, depending on the tree sizes. Compared to a man with a chainsaw on a conventional system, this machine is incredibly productive, but it has other benefits as well. The ability to pick up entire trees and set them down gives the operator immense control over how the tree falls, preventing damage to residual trees and increasing timber values in the long run. Like the grapple skidder, feller-bunchers are a part of the whole tree system.
In a whole tree system, the feller-buncher cuts the tree, and the skidder brings it to the road, but the limbs must be removed before it is loaded onto a truck. That’s where the delimber comes in! The delimber grabs the individual trees dropped roadside and quickly pulls a large blade around the stem, severing the limbs. The machine then has a chainsaw that swings out and cuts the top off when the wood toward the top where the wood is unusable to mills. When finished, the delimber will take the processed stem and neatly pile it to be loaded onto a truck.
One of the most amazing types of logging equipment has got to be the harvester, also known as the processor. The harvester combines the capabilities of both the feller-buncher and delimber. The head of the machine grabs on to the base of the tree, a saw blade hidden within severs the stem, and then roller wheels move the stem along a set of blades, cutting limbs and allowing the saw blade to cut logs to lengths specified by the lumber mill. Unlike feller-bunchers, however, the harvester cannot physically pick up entire stems, so the operator has far less control of how and where the tree falls. This can result in damage to residual stems. However, the harvester has some downsides compared to feller-bunchers. If you want to read more about that, we have an article about it that here.
Because wood cut by a harvester is processed into smaller logs, the wood cannot be moved by a skidder. Instead, a forwarder is used. Forwarders use hydraulic cranes to grab logs and set them in a bunk to move them to the road. Once at roadside, the forwarder neatly unloads the logs onto a pile. Because trees are not being dragged on the ground and limbs are left on the forest floor for the forwarder to drive over, there is far less impact to the forest floor when this system is employed. Additionally, most forwarders have six wheels, which helps to reduce ground pressure.
And of course, where would we be without the logging truck? with specialized bunks to move wood across bumpy logging roads, logging trucks take the wood harvested and piled roadside and bring it to sawmill (or maybe paper mill or chip plant) where it is weighed, paid for, and used to make all the forest products we depend on in our daily lives.
What Other Types of Logging Equipment are Used?
While these are same of the most popular machines, the list of equipment used is almost infinite! Bulldozers, tractors, ATVS, and even horses are used in logging to this day. However, equipment like that is found mostly on smaller-scale operations. Moreover, where there are steep mountains and rugged terrain, Completely different pieces of equipment are used. Forests do not come standard, so loggers have to adapt to whatever challenges they face, regardless of whether the challenges are physical, like steep ground, or economic, like low lumber prices. Nonetheless, the machines presented here offer a comprehensive list of the most common machines found in the woods today.