pages about
today's forests


The Basic Bookshelf

50-yr Harvest Statistics

Vulnerable Soils

Yellow Island Change

Productivity Maps


Abstract. This report describes small-scale and low-impact equipment that the ordinary landowner in San Juan County can use to maintain a forest stand - including some log extraction. These relatively unknown but practical mechanical devices offer alternatives to:

  • doing nothing - which can have negative consequences for forest health
  • hiring a horse logger - which may not always be available
  • contracting a conventional heavy-equipment logger - which can cause unacceptable site damage.

pages about
forest history

The Presettlement Forest 

Lost & Found Prairie

Impact of the Lime Industry

Late 19th-Century Landcover

Bigfoot's Forest (incomplete)

Early Forest Composition


A HEALTHY FOREST often requires some active management. An enlightened manager may wish to remove small numbers of logs from the forest without damaging what is left behind:

  • to salvage individual blowdown trees as an ordinary periodic chore
  • to carry out a judicious timber thinning for the benefit of the remaining trees in the stand
  • to undertake a systematic smallwood harvest as a modest commercial venture, while preserving most of the best trees.

Logs are usually large and heavy relative to people. Major challenges when moving logs from the forest include lifting great weights on unpredictable terrain, overcoming friction, protecting residual vegetation, and assuring personal safety at all times. Large-scale loggers overwhelm these problems, often recklessly when operating on other people's property, with massive and expensive mechanized equipment that can create serious environmental problems by damaging vegetation and soil. Large equipment operators are also inclined to remove the largest and best trees, which is frequently inadvisable for the continued prosperity of the forest. There are many advantages in using smaller and less expensive log-moving equipment, but such equipment is just now becoming available in this country.

The devices described below are suitable for small-scale, low-impact logging in the San Juans, where parcels are small, tree growth is slow, soils are vulnerable to long-term damage, and the prominent commercial loggers are irresponsible. The implements can be owned and operated by a private landowner, or shared by an association of forest owners, or by an entrepreneur embarking on a responsible, commercial enterprise of "residential" forest management (such a small business could provide a valuable and lucrative service that is badly needed in this county). Logs that are extracted from a stand using these implements may yield useful local products such as firewood, poles, or on-site milled lumber, or they may be sold as logs and transported off site.

Anyone engaged in woodlot management, tree falling, and log handling should be familiar with the traditional tools of the trade: chainsaws, limb-pruning handsaws, peavies, chains, chockers, nylon straps, cables, snatch blocks, come-alongs, log splitters, chippers, etc. These and many other items are available from general supply catalogs (see references at end of page), local equipment suppliers and rental stores, logging specialists such as Wood's Logging Supply, Inc., in Sedro-Woolley, WA, and second-hand outlets such as Pat's in Burlington, WA.

Warning! Felling trees can be particularly dangerous. This may be one task that a landowner specifically out-sources to a contract faller. Once a tree is down, limbing, log extraction, and utilization can be done by the landowner with the following equipment or by a worker in his or her employ. It cannot be stressed too strongly that whoever does the actual work must give full attention to protective gear and safe operating procedures.



ELEVATING A LOG onto a simple wheeled apparatus is a basic first step in facilitating log transport. A small, human-powered logging arch can hoist a log onto two wheels by lever action or hand-operated winch. The "Blue Ox" (at left is) sold for about $350 by general suppliers. The similar "Junior Arch" by Future Forestry Products (the manufacturer offers a video) has a more generous capacity and costs about $430. In either case, the hauling arch is wheeled into the forest and positioned over the center of a log; tongs grab the log, which is then lifted between the wheels for transport by lowering the handle. Such arches handle logs up to about 15 inches in diameter and more than 12 feet long, which can weigh several hundred pounds.

A small logging arch can also be used in some ground-level cable-yarding operations for raising the leading end of a log off the forest floor as the log is being removed from the woods; in such a case the operator manipulates the cable winch, not the arch. Logging arches or haulers can also be used to lift the trailing end of a log while the leading end is elevated by some other device, such as a tractor's three-point hitch (five figures below), in order to tow it along a prepared road or trail.



ACQUIRING LOW-COST POWER to drag logs in confined spaces is always problematical. Some assistance can be provided by a Lewis chainsaw winch (see right), which is available from general suppliers for about $575. When substituted for the chain bar (or when permanently fixed to a dedicated chainsaw engine), it is a portable power winch with some utility, especially in conjunction with a snatch block. It is, however, potentially very hazardous to the operator; even at the best of times it is hard on the engine and the operator.



THERE IS A growing demand for medium-sized, towable logging arches. At least two are available that are designed to be pulled by ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles -- 4-wheel drive, 300-400 cc, which sometimes can be fitted with special hitches, protective cage, and front-end counterweights). The ATV arch, costing about $1475 from Future Forestry Products, is manually positioned over one or more logs that are then hoisted off the ground using

    an attached hand-operated winch (above, left). A self-loading arch is also available from NovaJack (see references). Both products are demonstrated in videotapes available upon request from the makers. Instead of pulling a small arch, ATVs can also haul logs on an ATV-pulled timber trailer. NovaJack's bogie trailer comes with either an accessory loading pivot or a mast-mounted winch to help load the logs (above, right).    
    The 9-HP Iron Horse Pro from West Coast Logging Shows or Tilton Equipment is equipped with either a manual or power winch and costs about $10,000. It can be used alone or with a timber trailer  and a variety of other accessories. A manufacturer's videotape illustrates its versatility, maneuverability, excellent traction, and low impact on soil and vegetation. The Iron Horse would be an ideal log hauler for many small forest parcels in the San Juans.    


AN ACCESSORY LOGGING winch can transform an ordinary farm tractor into a very effective, powerful and relatively low-impact logging machine. Finnish-made Farmi logging winch powered by the tractor's PTO are available through Barnett or Scholten's for about $2600 from the regional dealer, Western Woodlands (below). Another logging winch made by NovaJack is powered by hydraulic drive. Either accessory winch is controlled by the operator standing off to the side or, less advisedly, from the cab. The winch allows the tractor to remain out of the forest proper, say on a defined road or trail, thereby reducing soil compaction; because the blade of the winch's butt plate is lowered onto the ground and the cabled load drives the blade downward, stress on the tractor is reduced.

While using a logging winch with a tractor, a frontend bucket loader is useful as a counterbalance. Though primarily used for skidding, a logging winch can also aid in directional tree falling or freeing a leaning tree. In the latter application it is imperative to use a snatch block to pull the falling tree away from the tractor (rather than toward it). When skidding a log with any winch, it is often wise to place a snatch block high into a stategically located tree; this lifts the leading end of the log off the ground and reduces gouging. A snatch block can also re-direct the log away from obstacles. Digging-in can be further reduced by attaching a skidding pan or cone; skidding pans made of fiberglas or plastic, though available, are not as durable as an old car hood, for example from a Volkswagen Beetle. As previously mentioned, friction can be reduced by elevating the log with a whelled hauler or arch.


Once a log has been extracted from the woods, assuming a defined trail or roadway exists, it can be transported without skidding and gouging the trail by suspending the trailing end on a wheeled device such as a Blue Ox and elevating the leading end by a cable of a logging winch or by chain attached to the tractor's hydraulic lifting bar (see above).


DECKING (stacking)

A FARM TRACTOR can be made even more versatile for small-scale logging by fitting logging tines onto its frontend loader. This addition allows shorter logs to be transported crosswise and longer logs to be lifted and posiutioned onto log piles.



ONCE LOGS HAVE been extracted from the forest they may be transported and marketed as such, however small-scale operations often do not generate sufficient volume to attract a commercial trucker or mill. Alternatively, a small volume of logs can be rough-milled on site by hiring a mobile sawmill with its operator, such as San Juan Mobile Sawmill.

If milling is contemplated, prearranging a suitable operational layout is important. It is also essential to accurately assess the market or private need for cut lumber. If the logs were previously stacked on a level ground or a slight up-slope, they can easily be rolled one at a time toward the mill. Sites for stacking the cut lumber for air-drying under tarps or in an open shed should be prearranged with care. A safe and orderly work site can be maintained around the mill. Spread tarps can faciliate collection and removal of the sawdust that is generated by the milling operation. Collected sawdust can be converted into a useful soil amendment by composting it with a source of nitrogen, such as manure.



SMALL LOGS, TOP logs, larger branches and mill slabs can all be used for firewood. Logs need to be split and much physical exertion can be expended in bucking and handling the rounds, let alone in the splitting itself. A hydraulic log splitter (about $1000) and the arrangement shown below can make the job much easier.

First, 12-foot supporting rails are fastened to sawhorses at a height that is comfortable for bucking. The splitter is positioned alongside. Then, logs are transported near the bed of rails and bucked into intermediate lengths that are easily lifted onto the bed; assuming that the goal is standard 16-inch firewood lengths, the logs should be bucked into multiples of 16 inches, for example to 8 or 12 feet in length.) A few of these intermediate-length logs are stacked onto the elevated bed and chain-sawed down to 16-inch long rounds. This operation is best done from the side opposite the logsplitter; wood chips can be collected on tarps. From the other side of the bed, individual rounds can be conveniently lifted to the splitter. Split firewood is then tossed well away from the operation for later stacking and seasoning.  Collected wood chips can be salvaged as a useful by-product, namely garden mulch.



Bailey's, P.O. Box 550, 44650 Hwy. 110, Laytonville, CA 95454. 1-800-322-4539
Ben Meadows Company, 3589 Broad Street, Atlanta, GA 30341. 1-800-628-2068
Forestry Suppliers, Inc., P.O. Box 8397, Jackson, MS 39284- 8397. 1-800-647-5368
Terra Tech, Inc., P.O. Box 5547, Eugene, OR 97405-0547. 1-800- 321-1037


Barnett Implement, P.O. Box 666, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. 1-800-453-9274
Future Forestry Products, Inc., P.O. Box 1083 Willamina OR 97396-1083. 1888 258 1445;;
San Juan Mobile Sawmill, P.O. Box 3133, Friday Harbor, WA 98250. 360-378-6186
Scholten's Equipment, Inc., 953-B Green Road, Burlington, WA 98233. 1-800-726-8081
Tilton Equipment, 4575 Chatsworth Street N, St. Paul, MN 55126. 612-483-5488
NovaJack, 375, Courcelette Street, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, J1K 2B6. Toll free from Canada and USA :      (800) 567-7318
West Coast Logging Shows, Box 1035, Squamish, B.C. V0N 3G0, Canada. 604-898-9493
Western Woodlands Equipment, P.O. Box 2991, Eugene, OR 97402. 541-302-8223


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Tom Schroeder