A Felling and Moving Logs By Hand Quandary

by ziggy on September 12, 2011 -- 9 comments -- Follow

This weekend, I attended an excellent firewood workshop at the Clark Conservation Area here in northeast Missouri. My primary motivator was the promised access to timber that would be granted by simply attending the workshop. I came away from the workshop quite excited by the possibility of obtaining free white and black oak logs perfect for timber framing, but very stuck as to how in the heck I could pull off getting the material actually out of the woods.

The Clark Conservation Area is full of white and black oak, and hickory ripe for harvest. The land is severely undermanaged, and the reason the Conservation Department has opened it up to locals to harvest wood is that they get the benefit of free labor in the form of timber improvement. What a deal for both parties! (Really, though, I think we are getting the best deal of all with free access to quality wood.)

Included amongst the lovely trees are tall, straight, knot-free white oak. Timber frame material, anyone?

The real conundrum is the fact that you cannot get a vehicle near to the trees to easily load the material. The land is sloped, and you can probably get a pickup no closer than 400-500 yards. Yikes.

So here’s the question: how would you attempt to move a 14-16 foot white oak log (a good 10″ in diameter) by hand that distance? I’d guess to do it by hand you’d need at least a dozen lifters with timber carriers, which is impractical.

My other thought was to actually bring tools onto the land to hand hew the material on-site, removing up to 1/3 or even half the weight, and then moving it with timber carriers.That way less folks would be needed to do the lifting.

Also possible is building a sturdy cart, with iron wheels, to balance the log to aid with moving it by hand.

Hmm. A real quandary, I’d say.


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  • How far apart do you have to be carrying timber with a carrier? In your other post picture, you looked like you were about 4 feet apart. If so, then 4 carriers, 8 people would do the job. Maybe ten people, with two spelling the others when they get tired (and moving it 400m, they WOULD get tired!)

    But I would say hewing it on site would be the best way.

    Second best would be to get a cart. Pneumatic tires would be better than iron though. Iron tires would slip and be difficult to run over obstacles, but a nice wheelbarrow type tire would easily roll over small branches.

  • Mia

    You don’t know any heritage horse-people in the area? That was how timber was draged out of the woods in the old days.

  • Mark

    The way it is done in a several places is horse drawn logging. Horses are less invasive than having logging trucks go through. Certain areas require them because of the lack of disturbance to forests. Find somebody with a couple of draft horses, and they’ll have those logs out in no time.

  • I’ve heard that there are still professional loggers in hard-to-access places using the traditional method – mules. Hook ’em up and drag the logs to where you need to go. Would certainly fit in with the rest of your hand-made workflow (really enjoying this series by the way, considering trying some hand-made timber framing myself), but might be hard to find both a mule and harness set up for it.

  • Joe

    Any Amish horse teams nearby – perhaps partner up with someone with mules or horses to share labor and hauling and the timber

  • I forgot to mention in my post — I don’t think there is anyone locally who has animals to do this kind of work, unfortunately. I haven’t specifically looked, but to the best of my knowledge there’s no one local enough to do the task… although it’s worth asking anyway.

  • Scott

    I was going to suggest horses/mules, but others beat me to it. If neither are available,another possibility might be to use a small tractor/larger riding mower. Put in low gear, a larger riding mower can pull a surprising amount of weight(tho you may have to get several people-or some weights- to hold it down. Years ago, I watched two riding mowers(with people standing on the back as weight) pull a good-and-stuck truck out of mud. If you go this route, be careful-especially if you’re using straps or steel cable to tow with. If they snap, they can cause a world of hurt.

  • Matt Mason

    Here in the great north west we use come’a longs or Maasdam Pow’r pulls. I move large Firs ( some times up hill) this way. You can move the log about 120 to 200 feet at a time. Wrap a chain or strap around other trees then attach the come’a long to the chain. Then once the log is close to the road just attach the rope to your truck and skid it out. One more tip if there is a auto body shop around see if you can get a old car hood. Beet the car hood into the shape of a boat bow and slip it under the front of the log. This really helps slide the log along and reduces the damage on the land. This can be done safely and easily with two people and the puller only costs about $130 with the rope ( plus the puller is great for a lot of stuff). I hope this can help, be safe and good luck.

  • Kendrick Layman

    In open hardwoods you can turn the log sideways, move one end and then other, and thus “walk” the log out of there. Or, get as many people together as you can, attach a tow rope and pull. Going the machine route, come-alongs, electric and gasoline power winches, and maybe even achain hoist would work well. If you are planning to do very much of this get a “log arch” that can be pulled by hand, fourwheeler, or garden-tractor. Maybe you could also look into old fashioned “block and tackle” kits.

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