Outdoors

Ponsse timber harvesters: The ruthlessly efficient modern lumberjack

Ponsse timber harvesters: The ...
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: quick, safe, controlled tree felling
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: quick, safe, controlled tree felling
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: ruthlessly efficient logging machine
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: ruthlessly efficient logging machine
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: grabs trees, fells them, strips them and sections them in seconds
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: grabs trees, fells them, strips them and sections them in seconds
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: crane extends up to 36 feet
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: crane extends up to 36 feet
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: eight 26" wheels help the Ergo tread reasonably lightly as it covers rough terrain
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: eight 26" wheels help the Ergo tread reasonably lightly as it covers rough terrain
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: swivelling chair lets the operator work backwards
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: swivelling chair lets the operator work backwards
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: capable of logging hundreds of tonnes of wood a day
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: capable of logging hundreds of tonnes of wood a day
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: comfortable cabin with wide-angle views also shields the operator from falling tree trunks
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: comfortable cabin with wide-angle views also shields the operator from falling tree trunks
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: top of the list of 'things trees don't want to see coming towards them.'
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: top of the list of 'things trees don't want to see coming towards them.'
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: can be configured with different harvesting heads
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: can be configured with different harvesting heads
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: incredibly quick and efficient
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: incredibly quick and efficient
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: hydraulic chainsaw arm slices through tree trunks like they're butter
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: hydraulic chainsaw arm slices through tree trunks like they're butter
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: capable of handling difficult, sloped terrain
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: capable of handling difficult, sloped terrain
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: fearsome to watch
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: fearsome to watch
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: built-in systems log your logging activities and communicate with head office
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Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: built-in systems log your logging activities and communicate with head office
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: hugs tree trunks to death
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Ponsse H7 harvesting head: hugs tree trunks to death
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: the last thing a tree trunk ever sees
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Ponsse H7 harvesting head: the last thing a tree trunk ever sees
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: three rollers, a hydraulic chainsaw arm and 6 cutting blades strip and section the tree trunk in seconds flat
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Ponsse H7 harvesting head: three rollers, a hydraulic chainsaw arm and 6 cutting blades strip and section the tree trunk in seconds flat
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: quick, safe, controlled tree felling
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Ponsse H7 harvesting head: quick, safe, controlled tree felling
View gallery - 18 images

Tree-choppin’ was once a man’s man’s game, an art so physically demanding that they still hold wood chopping competitions to this day. But no matter how buff and bearded the chopper, there’s no chance of out-logging one of these things. The modern lumberjack is a rugged all-terrain vehicle with a tree harvesting head that hugs a tree trunk like a koala, then executes it with extreme prejudice, strips off bark and branches, and sections it into logs of a pre-determined length in a matter of seconds. It’s mesmerizing to watch, and kind of terrifying, even if you’re not a tree.

Ponsse’s Ergo 8w is an 8-wheeled harbinger of lumber doom. Driven by a 6-cylinder Mercedes engine making 286 horsepower and 1,150 newton-metres of torque, it makes its way over tough and slanted terrain on 26.5-inch tires and carries a crane up to 36 feet long.

Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: ruthlessly efficient logging machine
Ponsse Ergo 8-wheeler: ruthlessly efficient logging machine

At the end of a crane, there’s an ingenious harvester head that grabs a tree trunk very firmly with clamps and rollers. It’s got an inbuilt 60-horsepower chainsaw on a hydraulic arm, capable of felling trees up to 25.6 inches in diameter. Once it’s got a grip, it slices through the trunk like it’s butter.

Having sawed through the trunk, the harvester controls the fall of the tree while maintaining its grip. Then it uses feed rollers to draw the trunk through and saw it into lengths that can be pre-determined from the cabin. As it gets pulled through, up to six de-limbing knives strip the trunk bare.

30-sec TECH: The modern lumberjack

The sheer speed of this operation is shocking to watch - particularly if you’ve ever done this kind of work by hand. Fifty-foot trees can become piles of neatly cut logs in 20 seconds. The harvesters are relentless and mesmerizing to watch, particularly the way the harvesting head hugs the tree like a friendly teddy bear before murdering and dismembering it.

Ponsse H7 harvesting head: the last thing a tree trunk ever sees
Ponsse H7 harvesting head: the last thing a tree trunk ever sees

An in-built software suite logs the ... well, logs as they're cut, communicating wirelessly with the office to make sure the operator gets the desired quantities of timber at the correct lengths, and fleet management tasks are managed through a smartphone/tablet app. Operating a harvester looks like fairly skilled work, so Ponsse also makes simulators for training.

Harvesters like these make logging vastly quicker, more efficient and safer than it once was. And while it’s painful to watch just how quickly they can denude a gorgeous forest landscape, it’s worth remembering how much we still rely on wood as a building material, and that logging can be done sustainably.

Source: Ponsse

View gallery - 18 images
19 comments
Freyr Gunnar
> But no matter how buff and bearded the chopper, there’s no chance of out-logging one of these things. As long as there's plenty of oil, that is. Then it's back to the axe.
FeetFirst.Bike
I have seen these operating here a few years ago. As forestry is historically one of the most dangerous industries here in New Zealand, a lot on money has gone into making it safer. They have now made these log harvesters that are run by remote control, the operator can be working in a building miles away from the harvesting equipment. As for sustainability, our trees are grown in pretty large plantation forests, new trees are planted after the previous stock is harvested.
Madlyb
But, does it sleep all night and work all day?
Paul Anthony
Paul and Babe are still weeping.
socalboomer
most people miss the fact that these are generally used in managed forests - in other words, forests that are on flat land, with fast-growing trees specifically bred (selective breeding) and grown as a crop. These things can't take down old-growth timber - the trunks are far too large and the trees far too tall. These are akin to a combine-harvester.
Bob Flint
It still takes many years to grow back impressive, once done does the equipment have any other use?
Robert in Vancouver
"Murdering and dismembering, denuding, executes trees with extreme prejudice." The writer of the article must be an environmental wacko. He makes tree cutting sound like an evil force that must be stopped. The fact is this machine does dangerous work that has injured and killed many people over the years. And why the all the irrational concern about cutting trees in a sustainable way? Trees grow back like weeds, including old growth trees.
ezeflyer
Great, more global warming and more people out of a job. This is progress??
McDesign
Bob - It likes to press wild flowers.
DDHawk
Doesn't seem all that 'sportsmanlike'...pity the poor trees. Like hunting sitting ducks with a machinegun.