Tricks of the Trade

Top image: Lay your skid trails out in a way that minimizes skidding distance. Loop-shaped trails allow you to avoid turning machinery around. Below image: Snatch blocks and bumper trees allow you to cleanly navigate tight corners. Image by MBC Design.

So you’re planning on doing a crop tree release or a sugarbush thinning this winter. Or perhaps you want to pull firewood out to a landing with your tractor winch, but you’re worried about scarring up boles and making a mess of the woods. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Though it may be obvious, it can’t be overstated: solidly frozen ground handles wear very well; wet, muddy ground does not. Plan your harvest accordingly. Also, keep in mind that as spring sap rises in a tree, the bark becomes looser and more susceptible to damage from felling or skidding. Late summer to late winter is when the bark is tightest on the tree and most resistant to damage.

Plan your skid before you cut. Use your directional felling skills to minimize damage to adjacent trees while felling and fell trees away from the skid road you’ll be pulling them on to minimize problems with slash. Trees close to your roads can be felled away from the direction of skidding and slightly off of perpendicular to the trail. Trees between two feeder trails can be felled in whichever alignment will make them easiest to pull to a feeder.

To avoid scarring up the woods, learn winching skills. In instances where there’s an object between you and the log, use a snatch block to circumvent the object or hard corner. A snatch block is a block or pulley that you attach to a tree with a strap and use to change the direction of pull of your winch. For instance, you can use a snatch block to pull a log around a thick clump of regenerating softwoods rather than right through it. Self-releasing snatch blocks have a mechanism that releases the block from the cable once the log reaches the block. These are especially handy if you’ll be pulling a lot of logs around an obstacle, but you’ll still need to walk back to fetch the block and strap after you have pulled in the final hitch.

Skidding cones are an excellent investment for landowners interested in minimum-impact harvesting. Made of high-performance plastics, skidding cones cover the nose of the log during skidding and provide a smooth, flat surface for the log to ride on. They keep the log cleaner, protect standing timber from skidding scars, and minimize or eliminate ground gouging. While it is one more thing to haul down (or up) to your logs, use of a skidding cone will virtually eliminate those trips from the tractor down the line to free up a log that has gotten stuck on a stump.

If you want absolutely minimal skidding damage and don’t own a forwarder, consider using a logging arch. Logging arches lift and cradle a log between two fat tires. A winch can then be used to fetch the loaded arch to a road where you “trailer” the arch onto a truck or tractor hitch and drive it and the log out. Arches keep logs very clean and are a great choice in dirty conditions for wood that will be sawn into lumber. One drawback is that arches are much heavier than a length of chain and can sometimes be cumbersome to get to a log.

On your way down to the landing, be sure there are designated bumper or rub trees on your road. A rub tree is a low-quality tree on the inside of a corner or turn that will keep a hitch of logs from damaging standing roadside timber. In other words, your bumper trees are going to “take one for the team.”

 
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