Rural Heritage Logging Camp

Let's Talk Rusty Iron:
Cant Hook or Peavey?
by Sam Moore

Cant—"A square-edged timber or a squared log."

Cant Hook—"A form of lever for canting over, or turning, timber, consisting of a wooden bar with an iron catch, or hooked arm near its lower end which passes over the log, grips it, and so affords a hold by which it may be pulled over. Also called a cant dog."

Peavey—"A lumberman's cant hook having a spike at the end of the lever."

From: Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition

The origin of the cant hook is lost in the fog of history, but a little is known about the peavey, named after its inventor Joseph Peavey. From the start the tool's name was spelled several different ways. In the March 16, 1878, issue of The Lumberman's Gazette it was called a "pevy," while a 1907 story spelled it "pivie." In Scribner's Magazine of June 1893 a writer refers to a "...banking-ground (that) swarms with men armed with pevies (which are cant-hooks furnished with strong spikes in the end)." So what is a cant hook and what is a peavey, and how are they used?

Since the time of the earliest colonists lumbering has been big business in the state of Maine. Hundreds of English men o'war, and later American ships, carried masts fashioned from the tall, straight fir trees that abounded in Maine's forests. These trees were felled, the branches stripped with axes, and the resulting logs dragged to the banks of the Penobscot or the Kennebec rivers.

These two famous rivers served as "highways" for floating the logs to sawmills and shipyards downstream, so much so that at one time the Penobscot was called "the river of logs." The intrepid men who rode those huge bucking and rolling masses of logs were known as "river drivers." Their task was to keep the logs moving and prevent them from jamming. Being a river driver was hard work. Although it was probably an exciting job, staying alive required strength, agility, and luck.

Joseph Peavey was born in 1799 and grew up to become a blacksmith in Upper Stillwater, a town along the Penobscot River north of Bangor. From the book Maine: a History comes the following: "The peavey belongs distinctly to the Penobscot. Joseph Peavey, then of Upper Stillwater, in 1858, standing on the bridge watching some river-drivers at work below with the old swing-bail cant-dog, conceived an improvement. He was a blacksmith and going to his shop nearby, he worked out his idea. The tool, as he made it, has ever since been known as the peavey and is universally used in log driving." Loggers liked the peavey, which Joseph made in his smithy until the demand outgrew his small facilities.

A logging tool description from the Lumberman's Museum at Patten, Maine, reads in part: "A cant dog or cant hook was used for lifting, turning, and prying logs when loading sleds and on the drive. At first, a swivel hook on a pole with nothing to hold it in position was used. This was called a swing dingle. In 1858, Joseph Peavey, a blacksmith in Stillwater, Maine, made a rigid clasp to encircle the cant dog handle with the hook on one side. It moved up and down, but not sideways. All loggers have used it ever since."

After outgrowing his original blacksmith shop Joseph, with his sons Daniel and Hiram, apparently moved to nearby Orono for a while, and later moved three miles upstream to Old Town. The manufacture of peavies continued at Old Town until 1873, when Joseph died. In that same year Joseph's grandsons C.A. and James H. Peavey opened a shop in Brewer, just across the river from Bangor. One account says the shop was in Bangor, and it may have been, since it was called the Bangor Edge Tool Co.

The firm made many kinds of logging tools. In about 1946 the company moved some 50 miles west to Oakland, Maine, just a couple of miles from the Kennebec River. A major fire in March of 1956 destroyed the firm's buildings. When production resumed, it was under the name of the Peavey Manufacturing Company, with 18 employees making lumberman's tools and wooden handles. By May of 1965 the number of employees was down to six and again a fire destroyed the plant.In 1966 the operation was moved to Eddington, working for a time out of an old chicken coop. The company still manufactures a variety of logging tools including cant hooks and peaveys.

Robert VanNatta of the VanNatta Brothers Logging Co. in Apiary, Oregon, makes the following comments on his web page:

"Blacksmith Joseph Peavey's name went down in history as the inventor of the improved cant dog. Used to roll logs, break jams, pry rocks, tighten chains, and push over trees (with a pole, known as a "killig" or "kilhig"), the peavy is the logger's all-purpose tool.

"The cant hook is similar, but is used in sawmills. It looks like a peavy except that it has a metal ring with a lip on its end, rather than a point. In pre-pushbutton sawmill days, the cant hooks were used to roll the cant after a slab was cut off. (A log that has had one or more slabs cut off it is called a 'cant')."

The Sears, Roebucks, and Co. catalog for 1937 shows only the blunt-ended version and calls it a cant hook.

A hardware supply catalog published in 1938 by N.H. Bragg and Sons of Bangor, Maine, shows the pointed version with the caption: Cant Dog or Peavey. They also offered what they called a Mill Dog, or Cant Hook with Crow Foot. This device has a little shorter handle than the peavey and is equipped with two short curved teeth to hold the log at the blunt end of the socket.

peavey cant hook crow foot
Peavey with spiked end. Cant hook with hog nose end. Cant hook with crow foot end.

Present-day suppliers of peaveys and/or cant hooks include:

The Schroeder Log Home Supply Company offers both tools with the following explanations:

"Cant Hook: A strong wooden pole with a curved, hooked, iron bar that hinges. Aids in the turning of heavy logs or dislodging them from piles or after felling. Schroeder offers cant hooks with handles from 2' to 5' lengths.

"Peavey: Similar to the cant hook, but has an iron spike attached to the working end of the pole. The spike allows more control over the handling of the logs, but may cause more damage to the surface of the log; 2 1/2' to 5' handles are available."

The main difference between today's cant hook, or cant dog, and the peavey seems to be the iron or steel spike at the business end of the peavey. Both cant hooks and peavies are often used for the same jobs, such as rolling and turning logs, dislodging them when stuck, and maneuvering them onto the sawmill carriage.


Sam Moore's column "Let's Talk Rusty Iron" is a regular feature in Rural Heritage. This article appeared in the Winter 2000 issue.

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11 April 2012 last revision