Felling a Tree

Felling a tree can be done safely by preparing carefully and cutting correctly.

  • Felling Trees
    To fell a tree, make three cuts: a horizontal and angled cut to create a wedge-shaped opening; and a final felling cut that allows the tree to fall on its hinge.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Felling a Tree
    Felling a tree safely should be the number one concern.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors

  • Felling Trees
  • Felling a Tree

Anyone can bring down a tree safely by preparing carefully and cutting correctly.

Cutting down trees can be dangerous work, especially in yards with buildings and power lines nearby. Even if you are cutting firewood out in the forest, you should prepare carefully before you begin sawing. Trees don’t always fall exactly where you intend, and if they bounce off neighboring branches, you could be injured if you are standing too close. Wherever you are cutting down a tree, having someone along to help or just watch is a smart thing to do.

To do the job well, you’ll need to establish a comfortable work area. First, clear out a place around the tree where you can get a firm footing and have enough space to work with a chain saw. Lop off any lower branches in your way. Before making any cuts, walk around the tree and study it. Are you sure this is a tree you want to eliminate-is it a nut or fruit tree; does it have nests in it; is it a rare species.

Judging the Fall

Once you have decided which tree to cut, think about where the tree will naturally fall. Which way is it leaning? Stand back and hold an axe in front of you by the tip of the handle. The handle will be plumb (straight up and down) because of the bottom weight, and by sighting along the handle, you can determine the lean of the tree. This is the most important indication of which direction the tree will go.

Next, look at the balance: If there are too many heavy branches on one side, it may pull the tree over to that side. Pay close attention to the top of the tree; if it is nodding in one direction when the wind blows, this will influence the way the tree will fall.

5/20/2020 8:50:23 AM

Excellent description, especially the comments on what to watch for to predict problems: making sure the wedge cut is really at right angles to the intended direction of fall; making sure the back cut is level and exactly parallel to the wedge cut so the hinge is not thicker at one end than the other (which will cause the tree to turn and roll as it falls); and watching the behavior of the kerf for an indication of whether the tree wants to fall in a different direction than planned (and what to do about it). Very clear descriptions. The one thing I'd mention is that, for larger diameter trees (maybe 18" and up), the practice I was taught is to make the back cut as a plunge cut through the center of the tree parallel to the wedge, and then to cut from the center of the tree out towards the side opposite the wedge. This requires really good saw control as you make the plunge to ensure that it is straight, level and leaves just enough hinge wood to guide the tree and prevent it from tearing off the stump -- between an inch to an inch and a half, in my experience. The advantages of this are that you will know if the tree is hollow or rotten center by feel; and as you come out of the back face of the tree with the saw, the saw bar does not get squeezed in the kerf. The disadvantages are that you get no early indication from the kerf behavior whether the tree will misbehave as it starts to fall, and not much chance to insert wedges if it does. So the initial choice of felling direction needs to be really accurate and well-judged. Also, with very large trees, using a line to coax the tree can be dangerous for the person pulling if the crown height is misjudged or it hits other trees on the way down and changes direction.

9/29/2015 7:04:52 PM

Oh wow, that's quite interesting to know that the first cut should be at a 45 degree wedge. This sure would be great to keep in mind since pretty soon I'm going to be doing a tree removal on my backyard. Well, it would be for next week because of the tools and equipment that I would need to get. http://www.cleancuttrees.com.au

Brian Wood
12/1/2011 7:02:19 PM

I like this guide from OSHA: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/logging/manual/felling/hazards.html

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