Sept, 2001





Chaining Up

Back to the basics 
Chain and Tire care saves money and increases machine productivity.  When you mention forestry equipment, most think of yarders and forwarders and other high-tech equipment. Rarely do they conger up images of chains and tires. Although chains and tires may not be very sexy, they keep the timber industry rolling - figuratively and literally.

Are you: Buying the same chains you always have? 
Putting chains on the same way your dad showed you? 
Wondering why you're always ordering chains at the worst time of the year?

If you answered yes to any of the above, this article is for you. Chains have evolved, as well as methods for putting them on. With the right chain and a good maintenance routine, loggers can expect better performance and a lot less hassle.

New Technology 
"With some of the new machines, depending on what the application is, a certain type of chain will be required," says Ed Leach, owner of White Mountain Chain. "We're finding on some of the grapple skidders, you want to use heavier chains because of the horsepower. But the forwarders, they don't have a lot of clearance, so you can get the same result with lighter chains." And Ed believes loggers may be surprised at what's new in the "chain market" if they look around. For example, those who are familiar with the double diamond will see a new twist - literally. "We have a double diamond and a triple diamond with a twist length," says Ed.  "The complaint has always been that the links tended to lay down whever they got worn.  The SM2D and SM3D won't do that."

Keep 'em Tight 
Once you've got the right chain, the golden rule to getting the best performance is to keep them tight. "If loggers run them loose, they wear them out," says Ed. "But then you get the other extreme, too. Some get them so tight that they wear them out right in the center. The best thing I can tell guys is to follow the manufacturer's installation directions. Don't just put them on a certain way because you've always done it that way." If keeping them tight is the golden rule - rotating them is the silver rule. "You need to rotate them every 800 to 1,000 hours. They wear just like the tires," explains Ed. "Like your car tires, if you never rotated them, they would wear in one direction. If you ever run a pair of tires down like that, the tires get out of balance. If you rotate chains, either corner to corner or swap sides, you get a lot more life out of them.

Long Life 
A logger can expect three to five seasons from their chains. However, inferior steel and rocky terrain will decrease the life span. But it's the operator that plays the biggest part in the "life span" equation. "I want to tell them [the operators] to lighten up a bit. Those chains are there for traction instead of digging holes," chuckles Ed. 

When To Buy 
The ideal time to buy chains is when buying new tires. If the tire already has significant wear when the chain is attached, loggers often cut the chain to fit. This not only shortens the life of the chain, but if the logger isn't knowledgeable on where to cut chains, they can sometimes cause more damage than good. The Spring is the best time of year to buy chains. The logger has pulled off his chains and knows then what he'll need in the fall. By ordering in the spring for a fall delivery, the logger not only ensures he'll get the chain he wants (versus what is in stock), but he knows he won't be placing the order when he's "knee-deep in snow, stuck in a ditch". "A little planning goes a long way," says Ed. "I hate sending guys away because they waited until the last minute."

Old Dog - New Tricks 
Loggers may be surprised to learn that putting on chains doesn't need to be the chore it once was. "There are ways now to put on chains that take 5 to 10 minutes (versus 30 or 40) when it's cold and wet," says Ed. I really believe that's why a lot of guys don't want to rotate and maintain them - because it's hard. I'm always willing to educate them on tricks I have learned." Ed tells loggers it also doesn't hurt to go out and put your chains on during good weather and make sure they fit correctly. Better to find out then if they're too long or too short than out in the winter cold.

Steel vs. A Steal 
Loggers are always looking for a good deal. When it comes to chains, that would be good quality steel. "Guys can't go wrong with European chains. The steel's a lot better," says Ed. "People call around and get the lowest price, and they often have to get burnt first before they figure it out. I've seen some loggers lose three or four days of productivity waiting for chains." That's an expensive pair of cheap chains! "A little maintenance goes a long way," adds Ed. "A lot of loggers I see will run their chains until they drop and that causes more problems. It's money in my pocket, but I'd rather they take care of those guys." separation, rim slip, excess debris buildup, leaks and tube damage. All these can lead to unexpected downtime, repairs and unwanted tube purchases. Just a few minutes of maintenance each day can save hours of grief.


Many loggers take their tires for granted. But the tires designed for today's large, heavy-duty forestry equipment take an enormous amount of abuse. And they don't come cheap. The cost of a set of four new skidder tires is approximately the same cost as a new engine for the same machine. Neglecting tire maintenance can become costly, not only in terms of replacement, but also unwanted downtime and reduced machine productivity. 

Proactive Maintenance 
To keep tires at their peak requires simple, proactive maintenance. oCheck air pressure routinely - daily would be ideal. oDon't run your tires with air pressure leaks or visible damage. oRepair tires at the first sign of damage. Procrastination will reduce the life of the tire. o Minimize tire/rim spin. The smoother the machine runs, the better the performance and the longer the life of the tire. oAvoid excessive trash buildup between the rim flange and the tire bead. Although air pressure seems like a simple thing to check, it is the largest contributor to tire problems. Running tires on lower-than-specified air pressure can result in fast tread wear, tire separation, rim slip, excess debris buildup, leaks and tube damage.  All these can lead to unexpected downtime, repairs and unwanted tube purchases.  Just a few minutes of maintenance each day can save hours of grief.

Problem Solving 
But even with the best maintenance regime, problems still crop up. Today's large machines are out in the woods longer and carrying heavier loads, tires run a higher risk for punctures and tears. If you're experiencing more punctures, tears and tread wear than normal, manufacturers suggest using the lowest inflation pressure possible to match the maximum load on the equipment and tires. You may also want to consider a higher ply rating or a larger size of tire. A n o t h e r common problem for loggers is tire separation. In this case, manufacturers suggest increasing the inflation pressure of the tire to match the load of your machine. If necessary, reduce loads or change to a higher ply tire. Also, a cut in your tire left unrepaired may work along tread plies or body plies and begin to look like separation. Repairing tears as soon as possible can avoid separation. Tires have come a long way, but they can go a lot longer if operators become familiar with manufacturer's recommendations and begin daily tire maintenance.

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