Felling a Tree

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

| October/November 2005


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

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.

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

bill ross_2
1/1/2009 8:22:49 PM

I have cut many trees but I recently cut one and it began to fall in the wrong direction, threatening some power lines. I called the power company who came out and cut every tree that could conceivable fall onto a power line for free!

james meisner
5/21/2007 12:00:00 AM

Having felled hundreds of trees, I know first hand that even professional tree fallers occasionally have difficulty forcing trees to fall a certain direction if the weight of the tree (and/or the wind) is pulling it in another. Look at the tree from all angles to determine which way gravity is likely to pull it once you start cutting. Be aware of wind strength and direction. If you have room, allow the tree to fall where nature wants it to and make your cuts accordingly. Inexperienced tree fallers have been killed trying to defy gravity to get a tree to fall in an unatural direction. Large trees weigh several tons and will snap guide ropes and ignore wedges and hinges if gravity (and wind) have any say in the matter. Be careful. Keep glancing up at the top of the tree while sawing for any indication of which direction the tree is falling. Waiting to hear crack means the tree is falling and it may be too late. Use your eyes and your brains. Park your truck outside the radius of tree height or risk making an akward calim to your insurance company.Inexperienced fallers need to take care not to cut the wedge too deep into the trunk or the tree is likely to fall 180-degrees from where you wanted it to.Be careful...

peter schaible
1/3/2006 12:00:00 AM

Tnank you for such timely tip. Here on Cape Cod, we are still cleaning up after an unexpected Nor'easter three weeks ago that damanged literally thousands of trees, toppling many of them.It's worth noting that whether using a chain saw or a bow saw, one needs to make that first 45 degree wedge cut slowly and gradually, cutting first a little of the top of the angle, then removing the saw and cutting a little of the bottom of the angle, and repeating this until the wedge cut is complete. Otherwise, you risk getting the blade of the saw wedged into the sagging tree -- almost impossible to remove! -- Peter

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