Module 12: Small Scale Harvesting Equipment - What's Right For You?

Lesson Three - Attachments for Skidding and Forwarding

This Lesson introduces you to some of the more common attachments for your ATV and tractor. This will help you chose an appropriate one for you based on your objectives from Lesson One.

A variety of larger, more expensive attachments are also available for large scale harvesting. This Lesson focuses on smaller, less expensive attachments.

Lesson Three also provides three case studies of woodlot owners for you to learn about the harvesting attachments they have built or modified.


Sulkies and sleds are typically used with an ATV though they can also be used with smaller tractors (20 HP) or horses. With tractors, make sure yours has enough horse power for the attachment you choose. Horse power comes in two classes - up to 30 HP and more powerful tractors. Attachments are not transferable between classes. Check with a dealer the get the specifics on the two classes.

All costs listed below are approximate. Maximum skidding and forwarding distances are noted. A chart comparing attachments is provided on Lesson Seven - Putting It All Together.

ATV Cable

Skidding distance        Up to 30 m

If the brush is too dense or the site is wet or sensitive, you may not get up to the log in your ATV. If so, you can attach a cable and pull it out. Because of the short distance, it is not very efficient as your primary means of moving wood. But if you only have a few logs that you can't reach, it is effective and inexpensive.

You will need 30 m (100 ft) of braided cable. It can be stored on a reel that is attached on the back of the ATV for easier handling. Cable care and construction are explained more in the next Lesson.

Cones, pans and grapples are used on the end of the cable to help skid the load. See Lesson Four - Accessories and other Equipment Options.

Example A

Joan has a small woodlot and wants to cut a few cords of firewood. She already owns an ATV and a small trailer that she uses in the garden and for cleaning up the yard. She doesn't want to spend a lot since her harvest is so small. She can cut what she needs from along her skid road and use a cable to skid it out. She can buck it roadside and load it easily by hand into the trailer. She decides to buy a cable, reel and a cone.

Homemade Sled

Skidding distance        Up to 500 m

 Home-made sled
3.1 Home-made sled

Sleds can be used to skid the wood out when you can reach the log in the woods or piled on a trail. You can build a simple sled with wood runners covered on the bottom with iron. It does require some manual lifting to get the log(s) onto the sled. A chain or cable runs through the loops and over the top of the load. This pulls the load down when you move forward. Specifications can be found on Page 87 of the Small Scale Woodlot Equipment binder. See Appendix A.

Self-loading Sled

Skidding distance        Up to 500 m

Self Loading sled
3.2 Self loading sled

A self-loading sled is an inexpensive way to haul wood. It is set up like an upside down U with the log(s) attached behind. You only have to lift the logs a few inches. When the machine moves forward, the U falls flat lifting the log onto the sled.

Cost: $500

Sulky and Log Arch

Skidding distance        Up to 500 m

 ATV Sulky
3.3 ATV Sulky

The sulky and log arch can be dual purpose - they can winch the log out to the trail a short distance (about 8 m or 30 ft) and also skid wood half a kilometer. These are sometimes called "mini skidders".

A minimum winch capacity of 1,000 lbs is recommended.

A sulky consists of a cradle on a small, two-wheeled unit that can be pulled behind your machine. It can also have a winch and shaft. One end of the log (s) is winched into the cradle and the other end skids behind. It can be converted into a trailer for forwarding by attaching a pole to some rear wheels with a cradle. A jack or a manual winch may be used to lift the log into the cradle. Make sure to practice back safety. A self-loading model is also available. See Appendix B.

Cost : $800
Manual winch $ 80
Electric winch $500

Example B

Pierre has a small woodlot and cuts about 20 cords a year. He has cut out skid trails so he can get back to some sawlogs. The trails are too rough for a trailer. He decides to get a sulky. It can skid the logs out to the skid road. There he can attach wheels to the back of the load and forward the logs 1 km to his yard.

Log Arch

A log arch is a sulky where the load hangs inside an arch. This allows the load to swing making it easier for the wheels to go over obstacles. It can also be converted into a trailer for forwarding.

Self-loading log arch with chain

This arch has a sloped rod with a ring running on it. The first step is to position the arch over the logs. You choke two or three logs with a chain, fasten the chain to the hook on the ring, and as you move forward, the ring slides up the rod, lifting the ends of the logs off the ground.
Cost: $800

Case Study One

Homemade Log Arch
The Berry family

Self-loading log arch
3.4 Self-loading log arch

The Berry family of Clementsport, Annapolis County have a 73 hectare (180 acre) woodlot that has been in the family for four generations. It is mixed spruce and hardwood. The family mainly cuts firewood and also a few logs " when we get the time" for lumber and for sale. Pulpwood "tops" are a by-product.

Third generation Rick and his son Bill also run a professional machine shop building, repairing and modifying equipment. In the 60s, Rick's father built a homemade skidder that the family still uses today - not something you see everyday! They use it in dry or winter conditions to haul tree length logs. Bill says, "We have a couple of old tractors but the skidder works so much better and is not really any bigger."

The family also uses a homemade log arch pulled by an ATV. This is a small unit on two wheels with a hand winch and 8 m (25 ft) of cable. It can haul a log 16 feet long that is 12 inches at the butt. The cable is attached to the log or logs and then winched to the log arch. The logs hang about 0.6 m (2 ft) off the ground.

Log Arch
Photo 3.1 Log Arch

"The log hangs ahead of centre of the wheels which allows the weight from the butt of the log to press down on the trailer hitch of the ATV which gains you traction on the ATV," says Bill.

"If we're picking out a few trees, we do it with the ATV and the log arch. It depends on what the conditions are and what mood we're in. If we have a spot where the trail is tight, we cut the logs to 16 feet or whatever." The hitch is made to swivel laterally so the arch can ride over rough spots and even roll over but not upset the ATV.

To find out more about the log arch, you can contact the Berry family at 902-638-8668 (machine shop).


Capstan winch
A capstan winch can be attached to the back of the tractor and run off the PTO shaft. A portable one is also available that can be secured to a tree.

This winch has no take-up reel and so you need to wrap the rope around the capstan (three times) which is constantly rotating when engaged. As you increase your pull on the end of the line, it tightens down on the rotating drum, and the pulling begins. A capstan winch on a tractor should have two stabilizer legs or a blade that can be lowered and raised.

Loading winch
A loading winch consists of a drum, a boom, two pulleys, and a cable. The winch can run off the PTO or a small hydraulic motor. It can be mounted on the tractor or the trailer. The cable runs out the end of the loading boom and the log is winched forward. Once the log reaches the trailer, it can be loaded using tongs on a chain on the end of the boom. Using a loading winch to skid logs is not as efficient as the skidding winch (see next) though it does allow you to forward the wood and move it further.

Example A
Klaus has a tractor and harvests about 20 cords per year on his small woodlot. He plans to cut more in the future so he will need a winch and a big trailer. He decides to buy a loading winch that can skid the wood out and also load the trailer. He plans to build a trailer from old parts.

Skidding Winch

Skidding distance       Up to 200 m
With a sulky               Up to 500 m

A skidding winch is the most widely used tractor-mounted harvesting attachment. It lets you winch logs to the tractor from about 30 m in the woods and is also useful for other tasks on the woodlot. The right one for you depends on the HP of your tractor.

The skidding winch is usually powered by the PTO and attached to the three point hitch on the back of the tractor. The three point hitch allows the tractor to raise and lower the winch for winching or skidding operations. If you buy a used one, make sure it has a safety cover for the PTO.




Fig 3.5

Several manufactures now make farm skidding winches that make use of the increasing availability of auxiliary hydraulic ports. While there are advantages to both ways of powering the winch, the hydraulic system is considered a big safety gain since there are dangers associated with the PTO system.

Skidding winch on a tractor
Fig 3.6 - Skidding winch on a tractor

When buying a winch , make sure you understand what it includes. Some do not come with cables and sliders. Others may be just the actual winch and not the blade or butt plate. Stabilizing legs may be a better choice if you also want to attach a trailer at the same time.

Use the lower pulley when going on a slope or bumpy trails. The lower weight will help prevent rear roll over. It is also useful for skidding large trees.

Skidding winch and sulky on a tractor
Fig 3. - Skidding winch and sulky on a tractor

Using the upper pulley gets the logs higher off the ground but the weight is also higher making it easier to tip over backwards.

The addition of a sulky makes a good working pair. With the load raised up, the tractor comes up behind the sulky and then in front so the load slides on the cradle. A sulky is easy to use, gets the load off the ground and increases the distance from 200m to 500m.

Case Study Two

Homemade Winch and Trailer
Ivan Bain

Ivan Bain has a 100 hectare (246 acre) woodlot in North Range, Digby County that he has owned since 1967 and has been in the family since the fifties. The woodlot is mixedwood and he cuts sawlogs, studwood, firewood and pulpwood mostly for sale. He says he cuts about 200 tonnes of sawlogs per year and 25 cords of firewood. He gets his wood from thinning with no clearcuts.

Ivan uses his trusty 40 HP 1965 International tractor along with a homemade winch and power trailer. "I had access to a lathe so I built everything on it". He is not afraid to experiment and has made numerous changes to his equipment over the years. With the addition of a grapple loader, he created an all-in-one system that winches, loads and forwards.

Photo 3.2
Photo 3.2 Homemade winch (note mast, pulley and grapple)
Photo 3.3
Photo3.3 Homemade trailer with grapple loader

One challenge he had was to be able to power the winch and trailer at the same time. "The first winch I built went over the PTO so I could not hook up the power trailer. So I had to design another one..... I pressed a 11 tooth sprocket, #50 chain on the PTO shaft ahead of where the PTO goes on and that what's runs my winch."

The 3/8" winch cable runs up a short mast to a pulley which can turn 360 degrees like a weather vane to winch logs along side of the trailer. The cable is 50 m long (150 feet) with a grapple on the end and can pull 1800 kg (4000 lbs).

Note: A "grapple" (often called skidding tongs or a skidding grapple) is a small log grabber at the end of a cable that is manually attached to a log. A "grapple loader" is a large, hydraulically-powered log grabber at the end of an articulating arm.

Ivan also built a power trailer from an International truck frame that can haul about two cords. He added a grapple loader and made the tongue longer. The hydraulic hoses come in through the tongue which protects them. He raised the frame after he added the new loader and extended the rear end to haul longer 16 foot logs.

Ivan now uses a commercially built Patu grapple loader which he says was a good investment for him. To reach logs behind, he can put the winch cable out through a split block pulley on the end of the grapple loader. "I just put the pulley on the grapple on my loader and I can hold the loader (arm) out and run the cable through that and haul the tree right in beside me." The grapple loader then loads the log onto the trailer.

Before the Patu, he used another hydraulic system that he rigged up with a boom, cable and grapple."The old boom used to swing out so I could lengthen or shorten it. I loaded a lot of 4 and 8 foot firewood with that."

He says the system travels well in the woods. "It will go through two feet of snow. I use forestry chains on the tractor and ordinary cross chains on the trailer. I can back it up anywhere- I just put the transmission in reverse and it will back uphill. When you have power in both of sets of wheels, you can back up pretty good."

To find out more about this homemade winch and trailer, you can contact Ivan at 902 - 245 - 2356. E-mail:


Forwarding distance        Up to 1 km

Many different trailer styles are available to buy or build. Be sure to pick one that is not too large and can be pulled safely by your ATV or tractor when fully loaded.

The trailer usually has removable stakes to keep the load in. It can be loaded by hand or with a manual, electric or hydraulic winch and a boom. Attachments on or between the stakes help you to pivot and more easily load the logs.

ATV trailer
Fig 3.8 ATV trailers should not exceed a maximum load of 600 dg(1,300lb) and maybe less on smaller ATVs.

When forwarding with a trailer, the logs are completely off the ground. This means less strain on your machine so you can have heavier loads and forward further with a trailer than by skidding. It also causes less environmental impact.

! Most ATV brakes are designed for light duty cycling. Forwarding wood on a loaded trailer in a downhill direction can cause premature brake wear and failure and can be dangerous.

See Lesson Six for tips on safe forwarding with an ATV.

Trailer options

  1. Wide high pressure tires
  2. Telescoping trailer bar and protective grill
  3. Trailer brakes
  4. Single beam fame or rectangular frame
  5. Two tires or four tires
  6. Fixed wheels or bogie wheels(on four tire trailers only)
  7. Powered or unpowered (with tractors)

Examples of powered and unpowered trailers:

1. One common trailer in Nova Scotia is an unpowered, single beam, bogie-wheel trailer. With bogie-wheel, the two tires on each side are attached to a beam that allows the tires to move up and down over bumps separately from the frame.

 Unpowered single-beam bogie-wheeled trailer How bogie wheels work
Fig 3.9 - Unpowered single-beam bogie-wheeled trailer Fig 3.10 - How bogie wheels work

2. A common powered trailer is one built from an old truck. You can use the axle, tires, frame and transmission. The tractor PTO connects to the old truck drive shaft.

Powered trailer, Note drive shaft
Fig 3.11 Powered trailer, Note drive shaft

Ground Speed PTO

Some tractors have a PTO speed that varies with the tractor speed on the ground rather than the RPMs. This is called Ground

Speed PTO and it is very useful for getting around in the woods. It will match the speed of the trailer to the speed of your tractor. You can then stop or go forward or backward in various gears with a trailer without disengaging the PTO. All powered wheels can be braked which is helpful for stopping on hills.

Commercially built trailers
$3,600 to $7,200
Depending on load capacity, wheel type and if it is powered.

Trailer built from an old truck
$1,200 to $6,000

Trailer Hitches

Rotating Hitch
This kind of hitch as mentioned in the Berry story means the machine and trailer (or other attachment) can move separately. If the trailer upsets, the machine does not go over too. Also the drawbar and hitch will not be bent. A rotating hitch is a wise idea - be sure to include it if you are building a homemade trailer.

ATV Garp Hitch
This a specialty hitch for ATVs that places more load on the front for increased traction and safety reducing the probability that the ATV will flip back. It consists of a fixed frame that attaches under the entire ATV and a mobile section and a swiveling hitch behind for the trailer, log arch or sulky. It is described on Page13 of the Small Scale Woodlot Equipment binder. See Appendix A.

Tractor hitches
The standard tractor has a long drawbar (or tongue) that attaches to the trailer's drawbar. A long tractor drawbar does not

Standard clevis and pin on a rotating hitch
Fig 3.12 Standard clevis and pin on a rotating hitch

work very well for doing woods work.

It can go down to hit stumps or up to hit the PTO shaft. Shorten the drawbar to help prevent this.

Here in Nova Scotia, many tractor owners have put the drawbar above the PTO. The drawbar and the PTO shaft move up and down together. However, there is more weight on the back of the tractor and if it becomes stuck, it increases the risk of a rear roll over. For this reason you should use a 4WD tractor with extra weight on the front and operate on flat ground with this setup.

Pintle hook and ring
Fig 3.13 Pintle hook and ring

The hitch itself can be on the tractor drawbar or the trailer drawbar. With standard tractors, attachments are hitched with a pin that goes though a clevis at the end of the drawbar. This kind of hitch gets worn out with the uneven ground in the woods.

A pintle hook hitch allows for more vertical movement. (See also swing tongue hitch in Case Study Three below).

Case Study Three

Convertible Trailer
George Chisholm

George Chisholm is a forestry contractor in Bear River, Digby County. He does a lot of his work on his 244 hectare (600 acre) woodlot that was originally 162 hectare (400 acres) owned by his father and grandfather. He cuts sawlogs, studwood, and a little pulpwood. He did a lot of thinning to start but now does more small clearcuts.

For a tractor, George has a 70 HP 4WD with a covered cab. It has Ground Speed PTO which lets him back up without changing the trailer transmission and operate in more gears. He built his trailer from a bus frame and used the wheels off a 3-ton truck. It can carry 1.5 to 2 cord.

At first George used the trailer with a grapple loader and a four person crew. He has a seat on the trailer facing back so he can operate the grapple loader comfortably.

Tractor and convertible trailer
Fig 3.4 Tractor and convertible trailer

He later added a winch and a two-grip processor that operate from the trailer along with the grapple loader. The winch lets George work in steep and swampy areas. The grapple loader places the log in the processor which cuts it into the desired length. (unlikely to be used in a small scale operation). George now has a 2-3 person crew.

The winch, processor and grapple all work together as needed. The trailer drive shaft powers the winch via a chain and sprocket. A shaft from the winch drives the processor hydraulic pump. The grapple loader works off the tractor hydraulics.

George has designed his system so that the winch and processor are mounted on a sub frame on the trailer for cutting operations. Once he has many piles ready for pick up, he removes the sub frame, and the trailer is fitted with a rack and used for forwarding.

His trailer also has a swing tongue type hitch which uses hydraulics to push the trailer right to left to follow the tractor tire. George says this is useful in tight areas and for swinging out around obstacles. It also means he can keep his roads narrower.

George can be reached at 902- 467-3096 to find out more about his convertible trailer.


All of the attachments below are connected to the tractor via the three point hitch which is on the back of the tractor and used to raise and lower attachments.

Tractor Skidding Bar and Butt Plate

Skidding distance        Up to 100 m

Skidding bar
Butt plate
Fig 3.14 Skidding bar
Fig 3.15 Butt plate

A skidding bar is a heavy metal bar with slots along the top attached to the back of the tractor by the two draft arms of the three point hitch. A butt plate is similar but higher. They are suitable for harvesting small amounts of wood. The main advantage of these attachments is the low cost.

You need to cut a small extraction trail up to the logs you want to skid out. The chain is attached to the log, put through the slot and then the log is lifted up. This keeps it cleaner than pulling it along the ground.


! There is a significant risk of a back flip if the log catches when the tractor is moving.


Example B

Bill has an old tractor and a woodlot with lots of trails. He wants to cut 10 cords a year for firewood for his new wood furnace and a few to sell. He doesn't want to spend much. A skidding bar only costs $200 but he will have to cut trails up to the trees he plans to cut or cut close to existing trails. With a skidding bar, he can move the wood up to 100 m. From there, the logs will be chained onto two rear wheels and forwarded out.

Tractor Back Rack
Forwarding distance        Up to 150 m

Back rack
  Fig 3.16 Back rack

A back rack is useful for carrying up to eight foot lengths of wood though lengths shorter than the tractor width handle easier. The logs are piled in the rack manually and a chain can be used to secure them. The load is then lifted off the ground but not any higher than needed to clear obstacles.

The back rack is inexpensive and useful for small amounts of wood. It can also be used to carry other materials around the woodlot. Extra weight is needed on the front of smaller 2WD tractors to offset the weight on the back.

Again be aware of the potential for back flipping the tractor when the rear axle loads are increased .

Tractor Fork Lift
Forwarding distance        Up to 150 m

A fork lift can be used for eight foot lengths. The logs are stacked on skids. The forks slip under the pile which is secured by a chain and then lifted. The load can be easily dropped at the pick up site. Because the load is wide, the fork lift works best on flat terrain so it does not get unbalanced.

The back rack and the fork lift can work well together. A set of forks can be installed on the front to carry wood and help balance the weight on the back.

Further reading on attachments......

Specific models of ATV and tractor attachments and company contacts are provided in Small Scale Woodlot Equipment, a binder produced by the Maritime Woodlot Extension Committee.

For more detail on tractor hitches see: Equipping the Farm Tractor for Forest Operations, FERIC Handbook #11.

A useful guide to tractor attachments is Forestry Implements for the Farm Tractor, Supplement to FERIC Handbook #11 above.

See Appendix A