How to Improve Efficiency But Maintain Safety?
Tree work has been a profession in one way or another for a long time. I’m sure there were woodsman or forest folk or lumberjacks that were bartering food for tree work long before the thought of a chainsaw or crosscut saw was around. It seems every other week there is a new climbing system coming out that makes climbers faster or more efficient. Everything is moving faster and faster and all this actual tree work needs to be done at a faster and faster rate too. So, what’s the best way to speed up a job but still keep it safe? What’s the most efficient way to get a tree on the ground? Two words: crane removals.
From my personal experience, and many others at this point too, a crane is easily one of the best tools for getting large pieces of wood and brush on the ground in a very safe setting. Cranes have been used for tree work for many years, whether it be a digger derrick for lifting trees off of power lines in storm scenarios, a stick boom lifting a huge Hemlock out of a tight back yard or a highly skilled operator using a Knuckleboom while being the climber at the same time. These massive machines take the heavy lifting off of our backs and replace it with iron and hydraulics, steel cable, and high strength ropes. If you have never been involved in a crane removal, you need to see how awesome these things are!
My Education in Crane Removals
Through the course of this post, I will try to lay out some of the things I have learned about doing crane work over the past 10 years. I have been fortunate in that my father owned a boom truck (stick crane) since I was about 10 years old. I never thought anything of the big truck with a massive stick on top of it. At 18 years old I started running the crane for my dad, setting trusses and air conditioning units on houses and commercial buildings. These types of lifts are considered static lifts because the load is typically the same throughout the lift. These lifts started on the ground and were slowly and meticulously lifted into the exact spot they needed to go somewhere off the ground. One day, my dad called me and said I needed to run the crane for a tree service. Holy crap! Everything changed from what I had learned!
When it comes to trees and cranes, the operator and the climber need to be highly skilled in judging the weights of picks as well as the balance points. The load is no longer being lifted off the ground and into the air, but worse yet, from the air to the ground! What if the weights are off? What if the piece weighs too much? What if the sling is set too low? What if the piece swings back into the climber? These are just a few of the questions that were screaming through my mind as I lowered the first limb out of a giant Red Pine. Surprisingly, the job went well and I swore to my dad I would never run the crane again for a tree job!
So after being the climber over the course of 10 years of crane removals, some of the things I have learned now are: cranes are completely indispensable for large scale removals. Judging the weight of pieces comes with time and if you are worried that the piece is too big then remove it in multiple pieces. Chances are you will still be taking larger pieces than you could comfortably lower with ropes.
Careful Planning and Setup Matter
Many times the biggest question from other tree guys is “How big of a piece can you take?” The problem isn’t how big of a piece but how much area do you have on the ground. Cranes can take enormous pieces, but if you flood your guys on the ground with brush, they will never get it cleaned up by the time the next piece is coming down. This makes your job inefficient and it is up to the climber and the operator to know how large of a piece can be lowered to maximize everyone’s efforts on the job.
There is always a huge debate as to whether you should use nylon slings, steel chokers, steel chains, or high strength ropes for your rigging. To each their own concerning this is the best answer. Personally, we use a combination of steel chokers with clevises to give a better bend radius and high strength ropes spliced into dead eye slings. The dead eye slings are available in different lengths from 15’- 40’ and they work extremely well for balancing long sprawled out limbs or the entire tops of trees. Each leg is attached to the hook and then clove hitched to different limbs in different spots to keep it as stationary as possible. Usually we use this with three legs but at times we use four to make sure nothing is going to move. When using a balancer, the goal is to cut the piece and have nothing move – nice, static, and smooth.
There are many different cuts that can make your crane operations a bit smoother as well. I am a huge fan of lifting large limbs and logs with a notch and a back cut that is perfectly level with the ground. This gives your log a ledge to sit on while it is still being lifted instead of the notch closing and the butt of the log dropping off and shock loading the crane. It seems strange to make your back cut like this at first but once you see how sell it works you’ll be amazed. It’s just another tool to add to your mental toolbox!
We used to only use one or two steel chokers to attempt to balance limbs but this can become not only a huge hassle but really dangerous. Trying to balance limbs that are anything but symmetrical with two chokers that are the same length is damn near impossible. The best bet is a high strength dead eye sling that is made for lifting, such as the Teufelberger Crane Slings. Teufelberger Crane Slings are super high strength and extremely tough. They come in a kit with two 20’ slings and one 30’ sling. This makes balancing out limbs safer and easier on the climber.
Though this may not be an answer all for your crane operations, I hope it at least gives you some helpful tips that can make your crane work go easier. Not to beat a dead horse here, but my favorite thing to use, in our area at least, is a balancer to help those tricky pieces from spinning, flipping or twisting, which can end in property damage, injury, or death! Make sure to stay safe and use every bit of your knowledge when doing crane removals!