Trees are one of the oldest utilized resources in the history of man. Even before we developed the ability to cut through the trunks of trees or shape wood with tools, we would use their leaves and branches as shelter and building materials.
Since those days of shivering through the night and the rain, our abilities in construction have advanced dramatically past woodworking and into stone masonry, concrete, glass and even steel. For those who aim to live off-grid, though, wood remains a vital and multipurpose resource.
As a homesteader, the more self-reliant you become, the greater chance you will eventually begin harvesting your own wood. Some of the basic areas you should prepare for when tree harvesting include planning, felling, extraction, transport, the replacement of resources and, of course, safety. While this particular article focuses on the last of these areas, make sure you educate yourself in everything at some point. Experienced landowners, farmers and ranchers see timber as a marketable crop, like produce or vegetable crops.
Here are a few tips and ideas to consider for protecting yourself, your family and your tools while felling and transporting trees.
Initial preparation for the work ahead should include the basic safety gear checklist: head, ear and eye protection, gloves, and leg and foot protective wear. This includes helmets, safety pants and chaps, which can be worn over your work pants, safety goggles, and glasses or a face screen. A first-aid kit should be kept nearby in order to address emergencies with immediacy.
Also, prior to using any equipment, you should observe any and all external dangers. Elements of severe cold or strong winds, moisture or dry heat can negatively impact the harvesting operation and personal safety. Make sure you inspect the ground for stability and the area for power and electrical lines. Any and all hazardous materials should be labeled and stored properly. This includes oils, fuel and lubricants for your tools and equipment.
Before you collect the trees you will use for your building and crafting purposes, you will first need to cut down anything dangerous in your work area. Dead, dried out and rotting trees should be identified and either felled or marked to avoid. Adding these trees to your pile can result in any number of accidents or incidents to your person or team, including collapses and sudden fires.
Make sure you map out a proper landing area and skid trail for your cutting, skidding and piling needs. The area should factor in wind direction and the natural lean of the terrain, so when you cut down and collect your felled trees, they do not roll off or fall in a dangerous direction.
While homesteading does not require you to gather as much lumber as a professional logging operation, you are not simply gathering a few logs of firewood. As a homesteader, you will have acres of land to work through, requiring something a bit larger than an ax or chainsaw. The machine you end up using will depend on the method of harvesting and cut you intend, so you will want to make sure you identify your needs and overall goals for your resources.
Whether you intend to use the cut-to-length or the full-tree-length method, you will require heavy machinery to get the job done. Harvesters handle the felling, delimbing and bucking of the trees. Felling heads grip trees for safe removal, forwarders transport logs from the stump to a roadside landing, and skidders pull cut trees out of the forest and transport them to your designated landing site. These machines require proper training and supervision for your own safety and the safety of your work team or employees.
There are multiple harvesting systems, and none are the wrong choice to make. As long as you ensure operational standards, legal prescriptions and management policies have been observed, your operation will yield great results. Tree harvesting will also promote increased growth within your woodland area, stimulate regeneration and prevent natural wildfires from sparking during the summer.
When you start tree harvesting, make sure there are beneficial gains for yourself. Stacking logs for no other use can waste your time and energy, something no homesteader wants to lose.
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