Skidding Logs Without The Ruts

I always think I am going to do a short post, especially late at night, but I never seem to pull it off. This will be an exception. Introducing, my first, official, quick short post.

Logs in back yard, truck with winch in front yard, nice lawn between the two.

My job:
Get logs out without tearing up the yard.


Roll the logs on to 3/4″ plywood with the cant hook.

Hook plywood to the cable and pull.

Now… if it was just that easy, short and simple I would have nothing to talk about, would I?

(Stop reading here if you don’t have a  little extra time and a tiny violin to play.)

This tree was only two houses away, and I have had my eye on it since it started dying last fall. It was a nice white oak that had a 11′ long veneer-grade log in it and two lower-grade 9′ long logs (the logs in the skidding pictures are the upper logs, not the veneer quality log). The tree was quickly declining through this summer of death and was totally dead when I got to it. It was still solid and the heartwood looked good, but the sapwood had started spalting (rotting), and the bugs had moved in. Even though I wouldn’t be able to sell the log for veneer because of the lack of freshness, I still deemed this tree worthy of a little effort to procure. Notice I said a little.

I got out to meet the tree crew early on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Chris woke me up. She was telling me that the tree guys were there, but all I needed to hear was the word chainsaw, and I was out the door in a flash. I trust no one to cut a tree correctly. It goes back to when a friend of mine cut a 30″ diameter walnut tree 24″ up from the ground and turned a $1,500 log into a $300 log. He knows all of the best wood is close to the ground. He just got lazy. Now I remind everyone to cut low and tell them, “Get your chainsaw dirty.”

As far as the felling, things went great. The guys were accommodating and cut the tree perfectly (I think they were happy to leave the big parts on the ground and still get paid). I headed home to let them wrap up and returned in the afternoon with my log truck to start skidding the logs.

From the spot where I set up I had a straight shot to two of the logs, but the stump was still there and in the way of the main log. I figured I would get those two logs and stop by the next day to pick up the last one after the stump was ground up.

The three logs were in the back yard and down a pretty good incline. I wouldn’t call it steep, but it is strongly downhill and the logs needed to go uphill. My normal skidding technique is to hook a cable up to the log and pull. This works fine, but it can also tear up the yard. It does a lot less damage than driving a log truck in the yard, but it can still scalp the lawn when it is soft. I had told the apprehensive homeowners that I would use my “improved” normal method, which was to put a piece of plywood under the log and skid it like a sled and not tear up the yard. I have done this many times in the past, but always on more level lawns. Still, I figured it shouldn’t change things too much. It’s just a hill, what’s a little hill? A big problem, that’s what!

The gravity opposing operation proved to be quite time-consuming. Just getting the logs on the plywood took awhile, even with one of my neighbors helping (he was watching out the window and couldn’t handle it). It seemed like everything we did was uphill.

Once the logs were on the plywood the sailing should have been smooth – pull them up and go home. But, they kept hanging up in the yard, and since I was working alone and couldn’t see the logs I would just pull until something obvious happened. By then I had pulled the plywood out from under the log and had to reconvene with the logs at the bottom of the hill.

After a few attempts I figured out what the problem was. It was simple physics. The logs were long and straight(ish). The hill had a couple of dips in it that would grab the nose of the log or the leading edge of the plywood. In the woods, I would just pull through it and move the dirt out of the way, or if it was an episode of Axmen, I would break something and yell down the hill, “Are you guys O.K.?”, even though I knew they were fine.

I did a little of both (pulling and yelling). I pulled and re-rigged and pulled some more until I got a log out. Then, home I went. I had worked on the logs for hours, now it was dark, and I only had one of the top logs out. The one I really wanted was still in the back yard behind the stump and behind another log.

The tree guys were supposed to come first thing Saturday morning to finish grinding the stump. They didn’t finish friday night because they had an issue with the stump grinder. I got to work because the stump wasn’t in the way of the second log. Again, it was going to work out perfectly. I would pull out a log while they fixed the grinder and then I would pull out the last log.

The second log turned out to be just as cantankerous. More pulling. More yelling (I don’t really yell, but you get the picture).

The entire time I was working on the second log the tree guy was working on the grinder and he was yelling. He put in two new starters on Saturday after another guy put in a new battery on Friday night. I tried to be as helpful as possible because I needed him out of there at some point. We looked at what was happening, and even though I am not much of a mechanic, I offered some advice. It seemed like the starter was working, but not engaging. I have messed with my share of starters, and it acted like it was running backwards. I told him to check to make sure the new battery was hooked up right. I wasn’t sure if that would make the starter spin the wrong direction, but it made sense in my head. He checked it out and said the it was hooked up correctly. I had no other ideas, so I left him alone.

I got my second log out, and then the tree service mechanic asked if I could move my truck so he could drive his Chevy Trailblazer down and try jumping the grinder. I have no idea what that was going to do, but I didn’t have a better idea, so I went with it. I handed him my jumper cables, moved my truck and he moved his Trailblazer down the hill to the stump. It didn’t take long for the mechanic to yell, “The battery’s hooked up backwards.” That was a bonehead move, but I was happy that he got the grinder working and was getting out of my way. Well, sort of.

He went to back out and his tires started spinning. This is a common problem for guys like me with two-wheel (I call them one-wheel) drive vehicles. If you spit in front of my trucks the tires spin, but not on a Trailblazer. “Hey idiot, put it in four-wheel drive,” I thought almost out loud. But his truck didn’t go in to four-wheel drive. I couldn’t believe it, something went wrong, amazing!

“Can you pull me out?” he asked me.

I was a little irritated, but a little relieved because it is usually me asking to be pulled out (I can bury a truck in the mud like nobody’s business). I pulled him out and packed up to finish my Saturday morning project, which started on Friday and was now going in to Monday.

By the time Monday rolled around I had it all figured out. The stump was out of the way, and all I had to do was pull out the best log. It was about a 26″ diameter (on the skinny end), 11′ long white oak log, and it did not want to go on or stay on the plywood. I used straps, wraps, blocks and schmocks (don’t forget locks) to try to keep it on the plywood, but everything just kept digging in and the log kept coming off. This last log was longer than the others and that didn’t help a thing. Every little contour change in the hill sent the nose of the log plunging down and digging up the dirt. By this point I started to care less and just kept pulling. I knew I could pull through the dirt and I did. I almost flipped my truck a few times, but I finally did it.

After I got the logs on my truck I spent another hour cleaning up. The yard went back together pretty good, not perfectly, but pretty good. I just told myself with a chuckle, “Well, at least there were no tire ruts, those are a real pain to fix.”

Here are some photos of what we got out of the logs. I think it was worth the effort.

Roger Branson getting ready to cut the biggest and best log from this tree. A bigger and better one is in the background. Both are veneer quality, but they are a little old.

Roger Branson getting ready to cut the biggest and best log from this tree. A bigger and better one is in the background. Both are veneer quality, but they are a little old.

Trimming the butt end of the log to clear the first cut.

Trimming the butt end of the log to clear the first cut.

This was the first cut to get things going. Besides the wide, spalted sapwood, this log was nice and clear.

This was the first cut to get things going. Besides the wide, spalted sapwood, this log was nice and clear.

This log produced a lot of good quartersawm material. It need to be edged heavily to remove the wider-than-normal sapwood that was infested with bugs.

This log produced a lot of good quartersawm material. It needed to be edged heavily to remove the wider-than-normal sapwood that was infested with bugs.

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

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