The logging industry has evolved immensely over the years, and so has the equipment they use. A skidder is a piece of heavy machinery that pulls cut trees out of a forest, and it, too, has evolved since its early days. While in the past, a skidder was pulled by horses and the log dangled beneath the machine, allowing the log to "skid" along the ground as it was pulled, today's skidders are far more sophisticated, efficient, and heavy-duty. Almost all versions of the skidder today have heavy duty tires or tracks and can move a larger amount of trees more quickly than previous versions.
Today, there are generally two types of commonly-used skidders: cable skidders and grapple skidders. A cable skidder uses a series of cables that must be wrapped around the logs to be moved by hand. Therefore, cable skidders typically necessitate a second operator outside of the machine who can wrap the cables. While this is considered less efficient than other methods, there are certain advantages to the cable skidder: if logs are located in difficult-to-access locations or on hillsides, it may prove much easier to have a second operator wrap the cables by hand rather than using a grapple skidder.
Grapple skidders do not necessitate a second operator. Instead, they use a tongs-like grappling system attached to a boom to lift and move logs. This method is quicker and more versatile, allowing the operator to move the logs in more directions and more quickly. Further, skidders (both grapple and cable) are useful for selective thinning, or taking out some trees but leaving others. They are one of the few logging machines that are capable of pulling logs from a forest without damaging other trees too severely, making them one of the more versatile logging tools.
Despite these advantages, skidders can also do damage to living trees as the cut logs are dragged past them. They can also do damage to the topsoil, leaving deep pits or furrows where the wheels or tracks depress into the ground.
Both versions of the skidder have safeguards in place to protect the operator from injury. The operator is typically encased in a steel cage that protects from debris or falling limbs, and all operators in and around the machine must wear protective head and eyewear. But because of the nature of the machine, risk of injury is always present.