What Equipment is Used in Timber Harvesting?

Brendan McGuigan

Timber harvesting, the more modern term for logging, is the act of cutting down trees, removing them from the forest, and eventually processing them into consumer or business products. Logging is one of the major industries on the planet, as trees are used in everything from construction, to paper, to clothing, to garden supplies. There are many pieces of equipment used at every step in the timber harvesting process, and the equipment is constantly evolving to be more efficient, more versatile, and safer.

Timber harvesting involves cutting down trees so that they can be made into consumer products.
Timber harvesting involves cutting down trees so that they can be made into consumer products.

Traditionally, timber harvesting has been one of the most dangerous occupations. In recent years, however, a big push has been made to increase safety across the board. This has largely involved making the equipment safer, and implementing more safeguards to make sure that when things do start to go wrong systems come into play to keep everyone as safe as possible. Although not entirely successful, modern timber harvesting equipment is nonetheless significantly safer than that used a hundred years ago.

Traditionally, mules and horses were used to move logs.
Traditionally, mules and horses were used to move logs.

The first type of timber harvesting equipment is, of course, cutting equipment. While most people are familiar with the iconic large handsaws of yore, hand axes, or even chainsaws, in fact most modern timber harvesting uses much larger equipment to cut down trees. These harvesters, as they are known, as massive vehicles capable of rapidly cutting down trees, sometimes in large groups. One goal of modern harvesters is summed up in the phrase: no feet on the forest floor. This means that although humans are used in logging, to keep them much safer they remain inside a protected piece of equipment, well guarded from all but the worst mishaps.

A harvester may include many different parts, and often may mechanize most of the process of felling and stripping a tree. Most have chainsaws on them, hydraulically powered, to fell the tree and cut it into the proper length. Most also have large delimbing knives, which are meant to cut off branches. They also generally have feeder arms, which are large rollers that grip the tree to feed it into the saws. A single driver can control all of these motions, and onboard computers help with calculations and help track the trees as they are cut down. One type of popular harvester is the feller buncher, which can gather a group of trees up and strip them before cutting them all at once.

Another type of timber harvesting equipment is the log mover. Traditionally, they would be skidders, which grab the trees and drag them along the ground. In the past they may have simply been mules or horses hitched to the trees, but these days they tend to be large-tired machines, like the Caterpillar 528 or the Grapple Skidder. Forwarders are another type of mover, which carry the logs up free from the ground, rather than dragging them along skids, which can reduce environmental impact.

Sawmills have also improved drastically in the past few decades, with the sawmills of even the 1960s being largely a remnant of the past. Modern sawmills are equipped with massive computers, helping them to calculate every step of the process to minimize waste and maximize efficiency. Even smaller portable sawmills, suitable for home use, are quite efficient and can calculate cuts down to small measurements to ensure perfect milling every time.

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It's very interesting.

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