Timber! Safe Tree-Felling Tips

The best tree-felling tips to safely bring down dead wood.

Trees provide so many benefits to the environment around our homes that it’s easy to take them for granted. Unfortunately, they’re just as susceptible to injury and disease as we are. And a diseased or dead tree can pose a threat to people and property as it weakens. The only recourse you have is to bring it down.

Removing large trees or those close to buildings or power lines should be left to professionals. But you can safely fell small and medium-size trees (and save hundreds of dollars) with a medium- to heavy-duty chain saw, some basic safety gear and a few simple techniques.

Safety and preparation
When bringing down a tree, nothing is more important than safety, and the felling process requires careful planning. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of how your chain saw operates. Wear a hard hat, safety glasses, heavy-duty gloves, steel-toe boots, ear protection and abrasion-resistant pants or chaps. If you’re not experienced with the process or feel uncomfortable, seek help from a friend who’s done this type of work before.

Assess the tree and take note of factors that can affect felling. Is the tree leaning? Which way is the wind blowing? Considering the surroundings and the subsequent cleanup work, which direction should it fall?

Walk around the tree to determine the clearest path to safety in case the tree doesn’t fall as planned. Clear all obstructive undergrowth from around the tree’s base, and remove all other obstacles on the ground. Cut away any errant branches on the lower part of tree that might pose a danger once the tree starts to fall (see photo, below), and make sure that there are no people within a radius of at least twice the length of the tree.

Before you make any cuts into the trunk, remove branches that might be in the way or that could cause damage.

Directional felling
The first step in bringing down a tree is to create what’s referred to as a directional notch that will act as a hinge and determine which way the tree will fall. Start by making the first cut (commonly referred to as the top cut) with your chain saw at an angle of about 60 degrees (see photo 1). Saw to a depth of about 25 percent of the tree’s diameter. To complete the notch, make a horizontal cut (called the under cut) that meets the terminus of the top cut (see photo 2).

Start the felling process by making the top cut. Keep the saw at an angle of about 60 degrees, and cut no deeper than 25 percent of the tree’s diameter.

To complete the directional notch, make the under cut. Keep the saw horizontal, and end the cut once you meet the top cut.

Next, you’ll make a horizontal “felling” cut directly behind and slightly above the level of the under cut (see photo 3). It’s important that you stop sawing just before you reach the directional notch, leaving a “hinge” that’s about 10 percent of the tree’s overall diameter. The hinge will guide the tree as it falls.

When making the horizontal felling cut, keep the saw positioned above the under cut, and make sure to leave a felling hinge that’s about 10 percent of the tree’s diameter.

Typical Tree-Felling Cuts

When the diameter of the tree you’d like to bring down is greater than the length of your chainsaw’s bar, you can still use the directional felling method, but you’ll have to complete the directional notch from the other side of the trunk, making sure that the new cuts meet up with the old ones as closely as possible. If you aren’t experienced with felling techniques, it’s best to leave these bigger trees to the experts.

If the tree you intend to fell is discolored, if sections of the trunk look damaged or abnormal, or if the wood has a soft, spongy feel, it may be rotten, and you’ll need to be extremely careful while bringing it down. Because rot weakens the tree, you should create a much thicker hinge to help the tree fall safely. If you aren’t experienced in felling techniques, leave rot-damaged trees to professionals.

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