There are few tree folk who don’t have a tale to share about moving big wood around on the ground.

Many of these stories — all embellishment and possibly fictional additions aside — involve the sheer misery of the activity, along with possible “sprung” backs, gimpy knees and general hitches in the giddy-up. Granted, the modern, progressive, well-funded tree care crew has a wide variety of mechanized options that make moving wood around much easier on mind and body, ranging from small motorized skid steers with grapples up to large boom log loading trucks. However, for those sites where the area of operation is too restricted or delicate for such motorized assistance, there are some extremely useful time-tested tools that make moving large woody debris easier.

While most of the tools discussed here have been modernized through the use of newer materials and manufacturing processes, they first came into use long ago, and users can sense that kinship with their predecessors when their hands are wrapped around the handles. They’ll also get the satisfaction that comes from moving big, heavy objects simply through the use of leverage and physical force.

A small single-user set of log tongs shown in place for hauling a log. These can be carried on a felling belt. Photo: Michael Tain

The tools discussed here — the peavey, cant hook, felling lever, log tongs and — allow for and ease the movement of large woody debris, and operators from checking the soil substrate with their chain saw, a sure method for dulling the sharpest of chains. The use of these “old” tools thereby not only allows for the movement of big wood in small spaces, but also increases efficiency by moving the wood more quickly than by brute force alone and keeping the chains of those saws safe.

Peavey

Like many things in the world, the peavey is named after the person who first designed, developed and made it, Joseph Peavey, in 1857. Now, 158 years later, Joseph Peavey’s masterpiece of design and function is still getting it done on a daily basis. While the original peavey had a shoulder where the pick and socket met, James Peavey, grandson of the originator, eliminated that feature in 1873, creating a solid socket and pick. Otherwise the peavey of today would be immediately recognizable to the tree folk of pre-Civil War America.

A felling lever in the kerf of the chain saw cut to lever the log apart. Photo: Michael Tain

Traditionally, the Peavey has a hardwood handle, a pick or sharp point on the business end, along with a free-swinging hook to capture and secure the log. More modern versions are available with metal handles that increase strength and durability. The handle of the Peavey provides a long lever arm, the source of power of the tool, basically only restricted by the length of the handle and the height of the user. This lever allows large logs to be rolled or maneuvered while they are fairly secured between the pick and the free-swinging hook.

This tool excels in turning logs over to complete a chain saw cut, thus avoiding the danger of checking that soil again with the saw chain. It is also useful in rolling a large log to another location, or even turning the length of the log in a different orientation by chocking one end and rolling the other with the peavey.

This long view shot of a felling lever shows the stowed free-swinging hook. Photo: Michael Tain

Cant hook

Cant in this usage is not to be confused with the contraction for cannot, or as some like to say, “cant hook don’t mean won’t hook.” This cant is a log with one or more squared-off sides, such as would be used for log or timber frame-type structures.

The cant hook is often confused with or misidentified as a peavey, though a close look reveals their obvious differences. This tool has a blunt or flattened tip and was used to move squared logs around on timber construction sites. The blunt tip prevents the cant hook from penetrating too deeply into the wood, while still securing the wood or log with a free-swinging hook. The blunt tip prevents any loss in timber value from deep penetration and has the added advantage of being useful in elevating a log off the ground so a chain saw can cut all the way through without dulling the chain.

A modern, metal-handled peavey in place to roll a log. Photo: Michael Tain

Felling lever

The felling lever was developed as a tool for tree folks’ constant battle with trying to get trees to fall in the desired direction. They’re available in different lengths and sizes, but are fairly similar in design at the business end.

The flattened end of a felling lever, often with some bumps or “dogs” on it for better grip, is designed to fit into the kerf of a chain saw cut, and then the handle is used by the operator to “lever” the tree over, the stump off, or the log apart. There are modern felling levers available with a small free-swinging hook attached that can be deployed to roll a log much like a peavey or a cant hook.

The majority of felling levers are small and light enough that they can be used aloft or out of a bucket and can be quite useful when piecing a spar down or dropping mill-length logs while aloft.

Log tongs

This tool is available in a number of configurations, sizes, shapes and handle types, but the idea behind it is two swinging hooks mounted opposite one another that provide a grip on the log to be moved. This grip on the log allows one user (or with some handle designs two users) to move the log in the desired direction more easily and efficiently. In addition, some varieties can be secured to a haul line, and the log is moved through the use of mechanical advantage or even a winch, though care must be taken to ensure the tongs don’t come free under pressure and become a large, hooked projectile on the worksite.

A short cant hook is in place to roll a log and then elevate it to safely cut the lower side. Photo: Michael Tain

The smaller, single-user versions fit in a pouch that can be worn on a regular or felling belt, allowing users to quickly access them and move logs or bundles of brush easily and safely. The primary advantage of the log tongs, beyond the grip they provide on the log or the brush, is to extend the reach of the user, allowing him to lift and move debris with his back in a better position.

Wedges

Wedges were around even before the advent of the axe and crosscut, with hardwood and stone wedges used to split wood and boards in cultures that had no steel tools. Thankfully, modern materials have provided tree folk with wedges that are durable and forgiving to saw chain should the two meet in a cut.

Wedges are stacked in different slots to provide the needed lift to fell a tree against the lean. Photo: Michael Tain

Plastic wedges are the most common modern wedge type. Available in a variety of sizes, they come in two basic types: felling and bucking wedges. These are easily distinguished from one another as felling wedges have bumps or “dogs” on them to keep them in the kerf while felling a tree, while bucking wedges have smooth surfaces, allowing them to be more easily driven sideways out of the kerf in a log being cut up on the ground.

An illustration of driving wedges used in a felling situation. One additional tool is always needed when using wedges: something to drive them with. Photo: Michael Tain

Wedges are an underutilized tool, most often occupying a space in the lowest toolbox on the truck, covered in bar oil, sawdust and sadness, but tree crews that start regularly employing wedges will be amazed at their utility. Using the right wedge in the right way can:

  • prevent chain saw bars from getting pinched;
  • lift a log off the ground so a cut can be finished safely;
  • make the tree go in the desired direction when no pull line is available;
  • help complete the always noxious final stump cut; and
  • quickly gain the attention of an oblivious crew member when gently tossed in his direction.

Not only do these tools provide for the safe and efficient movement of large wood in small spaces or when equipment is not available or affordable, but they also help tree crews maximize their physical output with minimal footprint. While smartphones, wireless headsets and GPS all make the modern tree crew’s job easier, there’s a certain satisfaction in moving a large piece of wood with a simple tool. While it may not measure up to the exploits of John Henry, the steel-driving man, there’s no denying that sometimes it just feels good to show the machines what humans can still do.