Logging Industry Workers


Exploring this Job

Talking with your high school counselor or reading other publications about careers in logging may give you a better idea of what loggers do. There are a number of periodicals targeted to the logging industries; reading through some of these may provide you with further insight. It may also be possible to speak with someone who actually works in the field by contacting a logging company and explaining that you are looking for firsthand information on the career.

High school students who are at least 18 years old may be able to get summer or part-time jobs with a logging company or sawmill, performing unskilled tasks such as clearing brush or helping on a survey crew. Such work can serve to introduce students to the occupation and working conditions and give them the opportunity to talk with logging workers about their jobs.

The Job

The logging industry is concentrated in the Northwest, the Northeast, the Southeast, and the Great Lakes states. Trees are felled from designated forests or tracts, cut into pieces for transporting and processing, conveyed to landings or loading areas, and loaded into trucks or trains for delivery to mills. The following paragraphs detail some of the major logging occupations.

Foresters and forest engineers design and direct operations for cutting and removing timber from an area. They decide which trees are to be harvested, how best to reach and leave areas, and how to store cut timber. Logging superintendents oversee the entire operation of cutting in a particular area.

To decide where to begin cutting, a worker called a cruiser surveys a forest to estimate the value of a tract's marketable timber. This worker collects information that is used to determine the best and safest places to fell the trees. The information is also used for locating the central collection point, or landing, and devising routes for getting the timber to the landing.

Fallers, often known as tree fallers, cut down trees, deciding which way each tree should fall to avoid damage to other trees and to make it easy to move to the landing. These decision-making skills are important in selective harvesting, but in areas where loggers cut all the trees in a tract, such judgment is less crucial. To determine where and how deep to make cuts, fallers look for twists, rot, limb structure, and the direction in which a tree leans. Tree climbers scale tall trees and remove their limbs. Using chain saws or axes, fallers and brush clearing laborers clear debris and brush from their work area and from the escape path, which they will take when the tree begins to fall.

When he or she is ready to begin cutting, the faller first makes a large notch, or undercut, which is located opposite and below the point where he or she plans to make the main cut. Back-cuts are sawed to weaken the tree trunk so it will fall in the right direction, leaving enough sound wood to control the tree's fall. While sawing, the faller inserts wedges or jacks in the cut to give the saw enough room. When the tree begins to tip and fall to earth, he or she stops the saw, pulls it from the cut, and runs to a predetermined location to avoid being hurt by flying debris and falling limbs. Another way to cut trees is with hydraulic tree shears. Tree-shear operators can use these machines to cut trees up to two feet in diameter.

After trees are felled, chain saw operators trim their tops and limbs. Buckers also use chain saws to cut limbs from the trunks and saw the trunks into lengths. They place poles or limbs under the trunks to keep them from rolling and cut them into the lengths prescribed for whatever the lumber will be used for, such as poles, planks, pilings, veneer blocks, or other products. Rivers and tree cutters are other kinds of workers who fell and cut trunks into pieces. Logging markers are sometimes employed to mark logs for cutting so as to maximize the usable timber from them.

Fallers and buckers may be instructed by a felling-bucking supervisor who trains these workers, tells them which trees to cut first, and gives them the cutting specifications desired by the sawmill or other customer. Logging supervisors also oversee falling and bucking operations, as well as the loading of logs at landings. 

Some wood is not cut into lengths, but instead turned into wood chips for use in making pulp, paper, and fuel. Hydraulic loaders are used to separate the logs that will be used for those purposes. Log-chipper operators use a trailer-mounted grapple loader and chipping machine to convert logs and logging waste into chips. Woods bosses direct workers in pulling, blasting, and transporting tree stumps to be made into turpentine.

Several methods can be used for moving the logs to landings. In one method, called "skidding," logging-tractor operators drag logs to the landings. In "high-lead" logging, workers fasten individual logs to steel cables and operate a winch to pull each one to the landings. By stretching a cable between two standing trees, loggers using "skyline" logging techniques hold logs aloft while they are transported to landings, reducing damage to young trees not yet ready to be cut. In this technique a cable-grappler is used by one worker, who picks up logs under the direction of another worker and sets them down at the landing.

Many other specialized workers are employed in these log-moving processes. Hook tenders coordinate the activities of workers who move logs using cable-yarding systems. Rigging slingers, under the hook tender's direction, tell choke setters how to position and secure steel cables or chains around the logs and direct the yarding engineer, who pulls the logs from the cutting area to the landing. Riggers (also known as rigging slingers), under the direction of hook tenders, install blocks or guy lines used to secure cables to stumps. Hoisting engineers operate powered hoists to move logs with these cables or chains. Sometimes helicopters are used to move logs.

When logs are "yarded," or brought to the landing where they will be loaded, chasers use hand signals to show yarding engineers or logging-tractor operators where to drop the logs. At the landing, other workers, including jammer operators, sorting-grapple operators, and log loaders, use machines to sort, stack, and load logs onto truck trailers or railroad cars.

Other workers in the industry, called log sorters, markers, and movers, organize logs based on ownership, size, and species. Log graders, scalers, markers, and pickers estimate the value of logs or pulpwood in sorting yards and similar locations, where they inspect the wood for defects and measure it to determine marketable volume. They often use handheld data collection devices to enter data about trees. Chippers operate machines that chip up logs.