|Cold Weather Logging|
by Brandt Ainsworth
When the temperature falls, people who live in cold climates go
through the same rituals every yearthey tear apart their houses looking
for winter clothes; they hope the first snow melts soon so they can find
everything they should have put under cover in October; and they spend two weeks
with cold hands because they refuse to admit they lost the left-hand glove over
summer. Despite its nuisances, winter is the best time for many of us to log.
Winter logging has advantages other than making you work harder to
stay warm. For people with seasonal jobs, winter may be their only chance to be
in the woods. Cold weather is the prime time to cut veneer hardwood, because the
logs contain little sap and don't tend to stain like they do in hot weather.
Hardwoods are easier to fell with their leaves off. No flies are around to
pester the logger or team. Another cold weather plus is frozen ground. Many
muddy jobs are made a lot easier once the ground freezes.
The first part of being prepared for cold weather logging is dressing
to stay warm. A native American I once logged with was missing three fingers due
to frostbite. The first day we worked together he showed me his hand and warned,
"Frostbite real nastydress warm." Vanity has climatic
limitations. In winter clothes you never look goofy, just warm.
The first thing to do before taking a half hour to get ready to face
the elements is use the bathroom. This tip can save you an hour of dressing and
re-dressing; or you can pretend to forget this tip and avoid work awhile longer.
The best fabric to beat the cold is wool. No manmade fiber can
compete with wool. Wool retains an unsurpassed 60% of its insulating value when
wet, and sometimes getting wet is inevitable. Having grown up on a sheep farm, I
always had sheep hides around and used them to sit on. A sheep hide as a seat
cover on a skid cart, sled, or skidder makes sitting on a cold seat less
Dressing in layers is the best advice anybody can give
you about staying warm. Not only can the weather change constantly, so can your
body heat, depending your level of activity. When I go out of the woods for
lunch after a morning of cutting timber, I'm always surprised at the number of
coats and shirts I took off and left on stumps as I warmed up.
Another thing that works for me is to eat my lunch outside, rather
than in the truck with the heater on. I tend to have a hard time staying warm in
the afternoon after thawing out in a truck while eating lunch.
Extra gloves are a must in the woods. Keeping gloves dry is nearly
impossible, even when the temperature is below zero. A quick way to warm cold
hands when horse logging is to put them under the horse's collar pad. I spent
much of my childhood warming my frozen hands under the collar pads while my dad
Keeping your heart rate up is key to staying warm. As the old cliché
says, "When you get cold, work faster." Working alone on a bitter cold
day a couple years ago, I sat down to file my saw and kept getting colder and
colder. When I finally got cold enough, I picked up my saw and jogged the half
mile back to my truck to get my heart rate up. The reason I was alone was
because the other guys knew it was too cold to work.
Cold weather can be tough on equipment. Sled runners easily freeze to
the ground. Pry them free with a bar or peavey, so when you start your team you
don't pull the runners off the sled.
On a chainsaw I like to put a piece of duct tape over the bottom half
of the recoil to prevent snow from getting sucked inside. Bar oil tends to be
hard to work with in cold weather. It's slow to pour, and messy, and never all
comes out of the can. A logger I know with a heated shop drains his empty oil
cans into another can near his woodstove. He gains about a half gallon every two
weeks that most of us throw away.
Snow can be as much a problem as the cold. I've marked trees with
snowshoes in the winter, and thought I was marking them about 3' or 4' off the
ground. When I came back to cut those trees in the summer, my marks were 7' or
A big problem with deep snow is losing things. I probably spend half
the winter looking for items lost in the snow. Among my favorite things to lose
are goads, felling wedges, chokers, and my ax. Painting these easily lost items
a bright orange saves a lot of time.
For safety's sake when felling trees, make a clear escape path in the
snow. For your animals' safety, be aware of hidden dangers under the snow that
can injure hooves. Hidden stumps can also tip over a sledload of logs, maybe on
top of a logger's favorite chainsaw, costing him $253 in repairs.
Sometimes you need to freeze a road for a log truck, which means
plowing the snow off a haul road so the ground freezes hard enough for the truck
to drive on it without getting stuck. Snow acts as insulation, preventing the
ground from freezing hard. Bare ground freezes much faster.
Even in waist deep snow, with temperatures so cold the mercury hangs
three clapboards below the bulb, winter can be the best season for logging when
you do everything right.
Brandt Ainsworth of New York hosts the DVD
with Horses, Oxen and Mules and is a frequent contributor to
This article appeared in the Winter