Cutting down a tree takes some finesse. Unless we’re talking about a plant, you can’t just go out and gulp the thing down. Cutting down a tree requires planning and care or you run the risk of harming yourself or damaging your property. But done right, you can beautify your property or stock up on fuel for the winter.
Hopefully, the tips I’m sharing here will help you stay warm in cold weather, and avoid any tree cutting injuries while you’re at it.
- 1 what you’ll need
- 2 preparation is important
- 3 steps to cut down a tree
- 4 Troubleshooting and Tips
what you’ll need
OK, I’m going to start this off by saying that I’m not an arborist, nor did I have a special woodcutting education. However, I learned to cut a tree from my grandfather and over the past few decades I have managed to cut down several without crippling myself.
You will need different tools to fell different trees. For example, if you’re felling a tree with a diameter smaller than your arm, you can just use a fine axe. Conversely, you’ll want to use a chainsaw for trees that are thicker than that. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Chainsaw Oil, Fuel, Chain and Maintenance Tools
- the axe
- safety glasses or face shield
- thick trousers or chainsaw chaps
- safety boots
- hard hat
- felling wedges (optional, if you’re taking down dense trees)
- partition mall
preparation is important
Before you even think about cutting down a tree, you need to make some preparations. It makes all the difference between success and something even worse.
1. Scout the Area
Take a good look at the surrounding area. Cutting down a large tree can be really satisfying, but less so immediately if it takes out a power line or your neighbor’s shed when it comes down.
Now guess how tall the tree is. Estimating the height of a tree can be difficult and you won’t be the first to underestimate it. Keep your arm out at a 45° angle. Step back until the bottom of your hand is in line with the top of the tree. The distance from the tree is about the height of the tree. Add a little distance just to be safe.
Now, walk around that circumference. Are there any power or phone lines that could get in the way down? Can it cause damage to any building or vehicle? What about garden spaces? Taking a tree down for winter fuel would be disastrous, destroying all your tomatoes when it fell.
Also watch out for animal habitats, especially if you are cutting down trees during fanning season. There may be smaller ones in the grass or bushes nearby.
Then examine the tree itself. Does it have significantly more branches on one side than the other? If so, you can be guaranteed that the tree is going to fall in that direction. This is because there is more load on that side and it will naturally pull the tree down. No matter where you cut: That’s where it will bend.
2. Familiarize yourself with your tools
It’s not ideal to cut down a full-sized tree just to learn how to work with your tools for the first time.
If you’ve never used your chainsaw before, take some time to read the instructions thoroughly so you know how to use and care for it. Make sure it has oil and fuel, and practice a little with it to get a feel for it. Try cutting some dry, fallen logs to get a feel for how your personal machine works. This will also give you an idea of how you will need to operate it as you proceed.
Same with axes. Each ax has its own personality and will handle differently. Cut some firewood from pre-cut log slices so you know how much force you need to do the job. The more you practice, the more it will become second nature for you to work with these items.
steps to cut down a tree
Before you make a cut, plan two escape routes. These will be clear areas you can jump into if the tree shakes unexpectedly. That way, you run less risk of getting sh*tmixed by a large tree trunk.
Make sure there is no debris in the area that you could trip over and fall. The last thing you need is an obstacle in the way of your escape. When you’re falling from a tree, random branches and rocks are not your friends.
1. Plan the Cut
The key to cutting down your tree is to make sure the cut is on the fall side. This means the tree will fall in the same direction you cut it. If there’s a heavy side (as mentioned above, with more branches, etc.), that’s where you’ll want to make that cut.
Aim to start the cut around hip height, as this is a comfortable height to work with. The upper one will tire your arms, and the lower one can injure your back. Don’t worry about having a long stump: you can cut it down and down later.
2. Start Cutting
Put on that handy safety gear and start cutting notches. You’ll want to start with the top part of the wedge.
Start your chainsaw and cut the tree at a 45 to 60° angle. Cut downward at a slow, steady angle until you are about 1/3 of the way down the tree trunk. Remove it when the saw is on, and then make a straight cut a few inches below it. It will be horizontal, parallel to the ground, and should get in the first cut 1/3 of the way.
Remove the cut piece by hand and keep it aside. If you haven’t gone all the way, use your ax to loosen it until you can get it out. If the tree is thicker than 18-20 inches in diameter, you can put a cutting nail in there so that it doesn’t pinch your saw during the process.
3. Cut Felling
To take the tree down, walk to the other side of the tree. You will be making a cut just opposite the notch you already made to fell the tree.
Cut down again at an angle, aiming toward the notched cut. You’re making a hinge type here, so you’re not going to cut the wood all the way: too close to the end of the notch. As your saw gets to this point, you will see the tree begin to move.
This is where you pull the saw away and step back to a safe distance, keeping an eye on the tree and where it is falling.
4. Limbs and Bucking
These words sound like part of a fun Saturday night, but they are actually related to tree cutting.
“Limbing” is the process of removing limbs and branches from the fallen trunk, so you have one, straight, long piece of wood.
“Bucking,” on the other hand, is when you cut the trunk into sections. The size of the sections will depend entirely on what you are doing with them. For example, if you are building a log cabin, you will reduce sections that are equal in length so that you can build with them. Conversely, pieces of firewood will be cut to suit your needs. Most people cut 16 inches for outdoor fires or large stoves, while we aim for 12 inches for our wood burner stoves.
You don’t want to cut the ground under the trunk with your saw. To avoid this, you can either prop the trunk up on something so that there is clearance at the bottom, or make two partial cuts. Basically, you use your chainsaw to cut through the trunk to 3/4 of the way through, then turn it around so that you end up cutting through the other side.
Troubleshooting and Tips
When I was first learning how to cut a tree, I made the mistake of using my chainsaw to cut from the bottom up. Can you guess why this was a less than ideal approach? If you guessed that the tree leaned in that direction and “pinch” the chain, treat yourself to a treat. To loosen the saw I had to use another saw to cut through the back, and the chain needed to be replaced.
If you find that the tree you are cutting is falling in a different direction than you expected, don’t panic. Just back off to a safe distance and let it fall. Your safety is the most important thing here: the tree can be sorted out later.
Be sure to familiarize yourself with any laws or regulations regarding felling trees and transporting firewood in your area. For example, if you are somewhere in the suburbs rather than rural, you may need to consult the city before cutting trees yourself, even if they are on your property.
Additionally, almost every state and province has laws regarding the transportation of lumber across borders: sometimes even counties, the actual state lines don’t matter.
Also try not to do any wood cutting by yourself. It’s always best to have someone else with you for these types of jobs in case of an emergency, but in case one isn’t available, have a backup plan.
Tell someone when you’re going out to chop wood. Tell them where you plan to do your job, and when you plan to return. If you don’t check in with them by X time, ask them to reach you on a contact basis. If they don’t catch you, it may be because you were injured at work.
Make sure you have your cellphone’s GPS turned on so emergency response teams can find you, and keep bottled water on hand so you can stay hydrated even when you’re pinned.
After cutting, visit our guide on how to stack and maintain lumberyards for some helpful tips.
Stay safe, and enjoy being self-sufficient!
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