May June, 2004





The Ultimate Purpose-Built Forestry Machine

Why chain saws aren’t going away any time soon

By Martin Prince

Falling fire-killed Douglas fir in the big Camp McDonald burn of 1941.Using gasoline operated power saw.
(Photo courtesy of Weyerhaeuser)

The most remarkable purpose-built logging machine is not the skidder, or mobile tower, or anything along the lines of feller buncher, processor or forwarder. In fact, the ultimate PBLM gets around in the woods without tracks or tires, is used on steep and flat ground and performs well in all kinds of timber — big, small, softwood and hardwood. It has earned the title of ultimate purpose-built logging machine because — like the rubber-tired skidder – it changed logging forever, but in addition, it works upside down, cannot be started by the average teenager and driven around the landing and doesn't have a dipstick to check. I know you're thinking, "Wow, what a machine! Where can I find one?" The answer is, "Look in the back of your pickup truck," because that's where you keep your chain saw. The ultimate purpose-built logging machine is the chain saw, the kind you can pick up in your two hands and squeeze the trigger and make that beautiful, throaty howl that says "loggers are in the woods." The chain saw is the universal tool of the trade. Every logger has one or several. (Myself, I lean toward several — generally keeping six to eight ponied up in the back of my pickup.)

A Little History
When the chain saw was invented, felling and bucking methods lagged behind skidding and hauling by two full technological generations. Since the days of animal-powered skidding, men had harnessed first steam power and then diesel (and gasoline) to skid, deck, load and haul logs. But cutters used hand-powered cross-cut saws until the 1940s, technology that had been matched to animal-powered skidding decades before. The chain saw forever changed logging because it provided such a great leap forward in productivity.

Modern chain saws, with two-stroke engines and non-float carburetors, enabled cutters to lay down and manufacture logs at a furious pace. This great increase in production was ideally suited for the further development of bigger, faster and more versatile heavy equipment. The chain saw was a driving force behind the need for diesel-powered, portable yarders with telescoping steel towers, rubber-tired skidders and faster, more versatile loaders. Ironically, the steady advance in development of large machines, capable of increasingly complex tasks, has resulted in machines that seem to make handheld chain saws obsolete. Clearly, in a large portion of the industry, mechanical harvesters and processors have replaced crews of men on the ground with chain saws.

Practical Tool
But chain saws are not likely to disappear. They are just too handy. No matter what kind of harvest side you visit, chain saws will be there. If your harvester head handles up to 26-inch trees, invariably certain units will have a few trees running closer to 30 inches. That's when the trusty Stihl 066 or Husky 394 gets horsed over the side of the pickup box and thrown onto the shoulder. Chain saws are indispensable in the forest and mill yard; even totally mechanized operations keep them nearby. Even if you never use one to fell a tree, a chain saw comes in handy for cutting blocking when it’s time for major repairs to some larger machines. On the drive out of the woods a tree might be across the road. The buncher is 20 miles back and not built for cruising. Without a chain saw, you'll be reaching for an even older purpose-built logging machine — the axe.

It would seem that the chain saw is around to stay, but in today's climate of environmental regulations, no machine is immune to rules governing the way we log. Not even a machine small enough to pick up and carry. In fact, hand-held power equipment in particular is now regulated by EPA. to control exhaust emissions, and this has already caused changes to chain saws and will cause more changes in the future. Historically, there have been only two parameters regarding design of chain saws: power and weight. (One might say that "operator comfort" is a main concern, but recognize that 90 percent of operator comfort is weight-related — so really, it is about weight.)

But if emissions controls are now part of the equation, how will our much beloved Huskys and Stihls be affected? Will the bigger units, like the Husky 385 and 395 and the Stihl MS 660, be required to sport catalytic converters, weighing several pounds? Will we eventually see new models that are actually heavier and have the same or even less power than their predecessors? What would it be like to go back to machines with the power to weight ratios of 25 years ago? These scenarios are unlikely, at least for the next few years. However, it will be important to keep a close eye on exhaust emissions requirements, allowable levels of unburned hydrocarbons, emissions averaging and new clean air-exhaust scavenging 2-stroke engines. For now, enjoy the best purpose-built logging machine on the market.


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This page was last updated on Tuesday, September 28, 2004