Lumber Jack & Pioneer Terms

The Old Piney Woods Lyrics

Lumber Camp

A typical Michigan Lumber Camp.

  • Banking Grounds - an area along river where logs were stacked in preparation for being rolled into the river during the spring melt.
  • Barber Chair - When making the back-cut on a tree, the tree can quickly split up the center kicks out. This usually results in  decapitating the cutter or at least sending him flying. A small flat spot with a back is what is left of the stump. The tree is hanging over the cutter's head.
  • Bark Spud - A bark spud “a steel wedg” —was used to strip bark off logs.
  • Big Wheel - Developed and manufactured at Manistee in 1880 by Sylas C. Overpack. They were 10 feet in diameter, 6 inch wide and shod with iron. Loggers would roll them astride four of five logs, raise the 16-foot tongue to vertical and slip a chain under the logs. When the tongue was pulled back down, the logs would be raised. A second chain would secure the logs to the front of the tongue.

Big Wheel

Big Wheel
Mrs (Mary Anne Bonner) Bamfield on top, Mr. William Bamfield and son Calvin on the left and Tom Bonner on the right.


  • Birling - spinning a floating log by taking a series of small, rapid steps digging the of calked boots into the log.
  • Bight of the Line - The slack in a cable used to pull logs.
  • Blacksmith - A smith who forges iron. A smith forged items such as horseshoes, tools, and fixtures such as hinges.
  • Bluebacks - lice
John Goodfellow and fellow workers piling logs

John Goodfellow on right next to big log.  c. 1910
  • Board Feet - a measure of the number of feet of lumber one inch thick and 12 inches wide that would be cut from each log at the mills.
  • Boom - a line of logs chained together to contain other logs. The term also refers to the log-sorting yards that developed on major logging streams where a long string of chained logs was used to catch the logs being floated to the mills.
  • Boomers - men who worked at the log-sorting yards.
  • Buttswell - A low lying part of large trees where sap has sunk and dried, making it very difficult to cut.
  • Calk - spikes on the boots which riverhogs wore.
  • Cant Hook - A stout wooden lever used especially in handling logs that has a blunt usually metal-clad end and movable metal arm with a sharp hook. Once a tree was felled, the shanty boy used a cant hook, to roll and handle the log.
  • Catchmark - a mark in the end of the log made at the boom works to make log identification easier.
  • Chataqua - a traveling vaudeville show in the early to mid-twenties. It was usually in town for a week and provided a variety of entertainment.
  • Chantey - a working man's song sung while working.
  • Cheat Stick - the measuring stick used to estimate the number of board feet in a log.
  • Chickadees - the bottom of the lumber camp totem pole. Chickadees were responsible for controlling the emissions from the south end of a horse.
  • Choker - The part of the cable that is tied around a log.
  • Choker Setter - The lumberjack who sets ties the logs to the hauling cable, a very dangerous job.
  • Cork-Log - white pine logs which, despite their size, floating high in the water.
  • Cootie Cages - camp bunk beds.
  • Crack Stem - broken arm or leg.
  • Cruiser - a woodsman who went out to locate and claim the stands of white pine and other types of trees for the lumber companies, also called a landlooker.
  • Cut - the total number of trees felled or the location of felling.
  • Decker - stacked logs at the landings or yards.
  • Donkey Engine - An early engine used to pull logs on suspended cables.
  • Drawknife - A woodworker's tool having a blade with a handle at each end for use in shaving off surfaces - also called a drawshave.
  • Flying rear - A beat-the-weather ( or other fellow) run of timber down-river.
  • Flume - wooden chute that carried logs around waterfalls or other hazards.
  • Flume Herder - One who watches the flume lines to make sure that logs do not become lodged or damaged.
  • Forwarder - A vehicle that transports logs from the forrest to the sawmill. It often operates off of roads.
  • Frieze ulster - a long loose overcoat of Irish origin made of heavy material.
  • Froe - A cleaving tool for splitting cask staves and shingles from a block of wood.
  • Gabriel Horns - 4 or 5 foot long horns, used to call workers in from the swamps to the cook shack at mealtime.
  • Graybacks - lice.
  • Grindstone - A flat circular stone of natural sandstone that revolves on an axle and is used for smoothing and sharpening axe blades
  • Hayman on the Hill - worker who threw hay on the downhill grades of iced roads to slow the sleighs and prevent them from running over the horses pulling them.
  • High Rigger - The lumberjack who installs pulling cables on the top of trees.
  • Ice Road - made by cutting grooves in the snow and icing them.
  • Iron - Axe or marking hammer used to put the owner.s mark (brand) into the end of a cut log
  • Iron Burners - blacksmiths.
  • Jam - pile of logs on the river.
Jammer load cedar poles at Gates Lumber Camp

Jammer loading cedar logs at the Gates Lumber Camp

  • Jammer - A crane arrangement, usually built of wood, using the leverage principle to load timber by the use of a team on one end of the balancing beam and a chain with hooks on the other. Two men set the hooks in each end of the logs, the team is maneuvered son the swinging timber was fairly well placed on any load. Any further positioning was done by other men with canthooks or peaveys. a boom hoisting device, used in loading logs on railcars.
  • Jobber - Man who contracts to get out lumber within a certain time.
  • Kerf - The thickness of a saw blade. A thick blade would have a high kerf, while a thin blade would have a low kerf.
  • King Log - the pivotal log in a jam - when it was loosened, the jam would break.
  • Landing - where logs were piled.
  • Lice -  Plural of (body) louse, which feeds on the body and lives in the clothing of humans
  • Logger - the men who cut trees for used other than lumber. Held to be inferior the Lumberman.
  • Lumberman - white pine workers.
  • Morning Glories - pancakes.
  • Mud-au-be-be-tonange - "flowing or coming from the interior to the lake." Chippewa name for the AuSable River.
  • Pard - Partner
  • Pickaroon - Hand implement about the size of an axe (and possibly first fashioned from an axe) the working end of which curved out to a point about five inches perpendicular to the handle, the butt end squared off in a crude hammer. Seems to have been used primarily in cedar cutting and hauling.
  • Pike Poles - River hogs used a pike pole “ steel point attached to a very long handle” to push logs on the river drives.
  • Red Horse - salt beef.
  • River Pigs - Lumberjacks who would travel down river with the logs (traditionally logs have been floated from the their original place to sawmills) and make sure that the logs would not jam in the river. A very dangerous job. Road Monkey - built and maintained logging roads.
  • Rollway - a high bank along a stream/river from which logs could be rolled to the water.
  • Scaler - The lumberman assigned the job of marking logs before they were pushed into the river for the trip downstream. The marks that he recorded on the end of the logs were used for sorting to logs and directing them to the correct mills at the river's mouth.
  • Shantyboy - early name for workers cutting white pine.
  • Shivaree - a noisy mock serenade to a newly married couple.
  • Skid Road - A road paved with half buried logs which was used to ease the dragging of logs.
  • Sky Hooker - also called a top loader, was responsible for stacking the high loads of logs on sleighs or railroad cars.
  • Sleigh - an open, usually horse-drawn, vehicle with runners for use on snow or ice; used to transport logs from the forest to the banking ground along the river.s edge
  • Spokeshave - A drawknife or a small traverse plane with end handles for planning convex and concave surfaces. Used for making the spokes of wagon wheels.
  • Sprinklers - water tanks on wagons or sleighs used to ice the logging roads, thus facilitating movement of large loads of logs by teams which would have had quite a time moving them through the snow. This made the teamsters' work easier but a lot more dangerous. They iced the hills too! The horses wore caulked shoes.
  • Springboard - A board shoved in a low area of a tree used by lumberjacks to stand and cut at a softer place.
  • Stag - To chink or fill holes in the walls of a log building (such as the lumberjack.s bunkhouse) to keep out the wind and cold
  • Swampers - Men who cut the underbrush from an area where a road was to go through of a clearing for buildings.
  • Swedish fiddle - Lumberjack term refering to a cross-cut saw.
  • Sweeper - a cedar tree whose roots had been undermined by flowing water causing the tree to lean out over the water. They were  know to sweep men and materials from the rafts floating down the river.
  • The Van - combination store and office. Small items, tobacco, socks, soap, etc. were kept on hand.
Wanagan coming under Bamfield Bridge late 1800's

Wanigan coming under Bamfield Bridge

  • Turkey - Bag or pack containing clothing and other suppliesWanigan - a floating town for the loggers, possibly containing a store, sleeping space and cooking area.
  • Wood Butchers - camp carpenters.
  • Yardmaster - the boss of the lumber yard.




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