Get Ready for Winter Logging

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As the weather begins to turn colder, it is time to get your equipment ready to run smoothly in the winter months.


Winter can be the busiest season for some loggers. Frozen ground enables them to get into some areas with equipment, and they are trying to produce as much wood as possible.

However, the extreme cold conditions of winter present special challenges to loggers and their equipment. Following certain maintenance steps and operating procedures in severe cold temperatures will go a long way to help protect your equipment and keep it running productively.

As the weather begins to turn colder, it is time to get your equipment ready to run smoothly in the winter months. The following are a few suggestions for proper operating and maintenance procedures.

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Prepare your machine for winter. If a pump is approaching the end of its life, for example, “you might want to change it out before winter,” says Wayne Ocker, a service tech rep for Caterpillar Forest Products who works in the Great Lakes region.

Because the number of acceptable lubricants is limited in arctic conditions, manufacturers like Caterpillar may have special recommendations. Caterpillar also offers an arctic transmission-drive train oil. Ask your equipment dealer to recommend the best suited oil for the conditions, and use a dealer-recommended oil that meets or exceeds recommendations.

Loggers also should make sure they are using the correct hydraulic oil for the temperature range in which they are working. In some areas, notes Wayne, temperatures may soar during the summer and range considerably below freezing in winter. “No one hydraulic oil is good for that range in temperature,” he says.

If the hydraulic oil is too thick, in cold conditions it will take a long time for it to warm up enough to run. In addition, operating machines at low ambient temperatures with hydraulic oil recommended for warmer temperatures runs the risk of pump cavitation: the oil is not delivered fast enough to the pump, and compressed air bubbles cause tiny implosions that eat away metal components of the pump.

Use diesel fuel formulated for cold weather; again, check with the equipment dealer about the type of fuel recommended for the climate conditions. Also, make sure engine coolant is adequate for the coldest possible expected temperatures.

The “biggest enemy” of operating logging equipment in extreme cold conditions, according to Wayne, is not allowing enough warm-up time. In addition to allowing the engine and oils to warm up sufficiently, the equipment should be operated slowly at first. “You want to get the blood flowing,” he said. For example, some hydraulic oil may still need to be warmed up to a proper operating temperature.

There is no “hard and fast rule” for how long the engine should warm up, though, says Wayne. “If it’s 40 below, I would want to let it idle for 15 or 20 minutes. That will warm up the hydraulic oil in the vicinity of the hydraulic pump.” Avoid high production operation until the hydraulic oil is about 60 degrees F.

Pre-heaters will warm up the engine block, but they do not necessarily work well for hydraulic oil because the volume of hydraulic oil is so much greater. In addition, warming hydraulic oil in the tank does not warm hydraulic oil in boom pistons and elsewhere; for that reason, use a slow, steady operation to cycle the oil and allow it to begin mixing with the warmed oil. Pre-heaters also warm the engine coolant, and a pump circulates it. Various pre-heaters are available, basically self-contained combustion units that run on diesel fuel; most operate with a timer that can be set to activate the pre-heater 30-60 minutes before the shift begins.

Remove mud, snow, slush and ice from equipment to prevent the material from freezing overnight. “Especially for track machines, take time at the end of the shift,” says Wayne, and clean the tracks properly. Clean any build-up around the track rollers, track slides, and the tracks.

Machines should be greased at the end of the shift when components are warm. Joints will take grease better because they’ve been moving. The grease gun can be kept in the operator’s cab while working in order to keep the grease warm.

Maintenance takes on even greater importance for cold weather operations, observes Wayne, simply because the harsh temperatures and conditions make everything more difficult. At a time when the logger is busiest, winter may make it tougher to get parts, to access a remote machine, and to perform the repairs. “Loggers need to be in charge of their down time. Don’t let the machine be in charge of down time. Winter is harsh.”