rural heritage logging camp

Logging Lingo
by Brandt Ainsworth

Whether you drive a span of mules, a yoke of oxen, or a team of horses in the woods you'll soon learn there's more to logging than wearing flannel shirts and suspenders—you have to talk the talk. Here's a quick brush-up on the lingo used by loggers, with fair warning that terminology differs from one region to another.

backcut—The flat cut made behind the notch when felling a tree.
barber chair—A tree that spins like a barber's chair and becomes out of the cutter's control while being felled.
bell—The swelling at the base of a tree, also called butress.
bird-peck—Black dots in the end of a log that reduce its value.
birdseye—Black dots throughout the grain (usually of hard maple), potentially increasing the lumber's value
board foot—An increment used to measure lumber, logs, and timber; one board foot equals 1"x12"x12".
bucking—Cutting a felled tree into logs.
bull of the woods—The man in charge of a logging operation.
bullwhacker—The ox teamster in an old-time logging camp.
calked boots—Boots with sharp spikes added to improve traction.
cant hook—A tool lacking a point that is used to roll logs.
choker—Chain or cable going around a log to be skidded.
cruise—To measure and estimate the amount of board feet in standing trees.
curly—Grain in lumber that appears to be wavy.
DBH—Diameter at breast height; more specifically the diameter of a tree at a height of 4 1/2' from the ground.
double bit ax—An ax sharpened for use on both sides.
drive grab—An iron hook, usually one of a pair fastened together with a chain, that is pounded into a log to skid from.
escape path—Predetermined route, preferably at a 45 degree angle away from a falling tree, a cutter uses to get away from the falling tree.
felling—The act of dropping a tree.
felling wedges—Wedges made of plastic or light aluminum (formerly made of wood) used to drive into a backcut when felling a tree.
go devil—A splitting maul in some areas, in others a sled used to lift the front end of a log.
grab skipper—Hammer that's pointed on one end and used to pound drive grabs into a log and knock them out.
hardware—Hidden metal debris inside a tree or log that, as all loggers know, has a magnetic field that draws sawchains into it.
haul road—The main road going to and from a logging operation.
hinge—Wood left uncut between a backcut and notch that, for safety reasons, should be 10% of the tree's diameter.
hitch—The amount of logs being skidded; also called turn.
hot saw—What happens when you forget to put mix oil in a saw's gas.
jail bird—Logger who cuts over the property line.
jig cart—A wheeled vehicle logs are skidded behind; also called a jigger cart, log cart, or skidding arch.
landing—Central location where logs are placed until delivered to the sawmill.
lodged tree—Tree that got stuck in another tree; also called hung tree.
log lizzard—Tool made from a crotched tree on which the front of a log is loaded for easier skidding.
log lock—Method of leaving a small amount of hinge connecting a log to the tree top, usually used on hills to prevent the log from sliding to the bottom.
log tongs—Device with scissors action for hooking to logs.
log truck—Peculiar machine that carries trees on its back and has a habit of getting stuck on landings.
losing a tree—Losing control of a falling tree.
maul—What a logger does to the person who forgot to add mix oil to the gas.
mountain—Any hill steeper than a wheelchair ramp.
muley—A log or piece of stove wood that's hard to work with.
muzzle loader—Logging camp bunks so close together they must be entered from the end.
notch—The wedge cut out of a tree, 1/5 to 1/3 of the tree's diameter, to control the felling direction.
on the landing—Log buyer's term in pricing logs, meaning the sawmill pays the trucking expense.
on the stump—Term used to describe timber before it is cut.
peavey—A pointed-end log roller invented by Joseph Peavy.
petunk—Maul used to split wood; also called a go devil.
powder wedge—Wedge filled with gunpowder used to split logs too large for a sawmill to handle.
ride—The position in which a log skids the easiest.
scale stick—Tool used to determine how many board feet are in a log.
scaling end—The smaller end of a log.
select cut—Loose term describing a woods being managed by cutting only certain trees; also called crown thinning.
shaky—Description of a tree with a too-soft center.
single bit ax—Ax with only one sharp side, the other side being used to drive felling wedges.
skid road—Trail used to skid logs to the landing.
skip—To knock grabs out of a log with a grab skipper.
sluiced—A runaway team.
snatch block—Pulley used to gain leverage when skidding logs.
splitting wedge—Iron wedge driven into a piece of firewood to split it.
springboard—Planks used in old-time logging to get above a tree's butress.
spring breakup—Time of year when the frost leaves the ground and the weather is no longer conducive to logging; also call mud season.
spring pole—A small tree or limb that is bent over and has a lot of pressure on it.
stumpage—Standing timber.
stump shot—The hinge left on the bottom end of a tree's butt log.
swamper—A helper in a logging operation.
trailer—Logs hooked in tandem.
veneer—Lumber sliced with the grain and used as laminate.
widow maker—Dead limb in a tree top waiting to fall.
wolf tree—Big, ugly old tree, usually hollow.
wood splitter— A kid with a splitting maul.


Brandt Ainsworth of New York hosts the DVD Logging with Horses, Oxen and Mules and is a frequent contributor to Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the The Evener 2003 issue.

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29 April 20121 last revision