Work in the forest

Wood is a product of the forest

Wood is one of the most common forest products. We all met with wood in some form. We know it as the paper we write on, the table we work at, the house we live in. We hear it when crackles in the fireplace, we feel when its heat radiates from the tiled stove.

It is a long way to know wood in different forms. A journey is lasting several decades, in some cases even centuries. The first phase begins with the moment when a tree is born from a small seed. Then the journey takes tens or even hundreds of years before seedling grows into a majestic tree. Finally, there will be a period when the man will cut down the tree, and made boards, furniture, paper and other products. These will reach us – the consumers – in the final phase.

Logging and timber transport

Logging is an activity that enters the life of the forest at the time of its extreme maturity. It is a profession that deals with felling trees and transporting logs.

This profession developed in many corners of Europe, wherever there were areas rich in forests. Where there were extensive forests, there were also large, many times navigable rivers. They have been used to transport wood since time immemorial. Whether it was the Inn River in the Austrian Alps, the Váh River in Slovakia, the Râu Mare River in Romania or the Sava River in Slovenia.

Big piles of logs trees are piled up and prepared for the transport

Logging as profession

Logging initially took the form of clearing forests to obtain land, building material and raw materials for the manufacture of tools. All these activities were closely related to agriculture. In the Middle Ages, logging became an independent profession. This happened primarily because of the growing need for wood for the development of mining and metallurgy.

Logging was often entrusted to a special category of mine and steel mill employees, who also enjoyed specific rights and freedoms. Similar to miners. Since the 16th century, separate logging settlements have been established. The work duties and rights of their residents were regulated by special contracts. At the same time, woodcutter work was part of the serf’s duties.

Nuances of loggers life

In the more remote corners of Europe, logging did not become widespread until the 18th century. In these areas, especially where agriculture was unprofitable, however, logging became an important additional source of income. The work of loggers (cutting down trees, debarking trunks, sawing them, splitting, bringing wood together) was physically very demanding. Forests were harvested mainly in winter and spring.

Lumberjacks used simple tools when working in the forest: axes, wooden and iron wedges, bark scrapers, mallets, pickaxes. Saws became more common from the 18th century.

Woodcutters were often organized into parties – larger groups of woodcutters. The parties consisted of several groups of 4-5 members. In each there were two sawmillers and axemen, another member helped the sawmillers with pruning. One or two peeled off the bark. The wood was transported from the logging site in the form of whole wood, or it was divided into smaller logs by sawing and splitting.

Many rural people are still fully dependent on handmade firewood to keep warm during the long cold winter

Skills of loggers

If the wood was intended for burning charcoal or making shingles, it often remained in the forest and the coalmen and shinglemen took it away themselves. They brought wood closer to the valleys from mining sites, often using rivers and roads.

The most common techniques were lowering wood down slopes, lowering wood in chutes (slides), pulling logs with cattle, horses, but also pulling sledges by humans. Furthermore, wood was transported by water (lowering in toboggans, rafting, rafting), along simple roads, and later also by railway.

Traditional logging is today in a many parts of the Europe only historical nostalgia

Michal Vydareny
Wilderness Volunteer

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