Let me get straight to the most important aspect of cutting down trees… Safety. This is an extremely dangerous task. If you’re a novice at operating a chain saw and your ambition is to fell a 60 foot tree, don’t do it, bring in a professional. I strongly recommend you gain some experience felling small trees (under 20 feet) before tackling anything bigger. I’m sure you’ll agree that any task that references things like “widow-makers” should be taken quite seriously.
Tools and Protection
It is highly recommended that you dress for the occasion. Preferred attire includes:
- Hard hat
- Eye protection
- Ear protection
- Chaps for leg protection
- Steel toed boots
- Good pair of work gloves
- Chainsaw with proper bar length and sharpened chain
- Someone to help
Assess the Tree and Surrounding Area
Here are some questions you should have the answers to before putting a chainsaw to the tree:
- What direction does the tree lean?
- What are my options as to which way the tree can fall, a.k.a. the drop zone?
- Is my drop zone clear of people or anything else that could be damaged?
- How tall is the tree and will it fit inside my drop zone?
- Is my drop zone level or should I be prepared for the tree to roll?
- Does the weight of the tree’s crown correspond with how the tree leans?
- Are there any broken limbs in the canopy that could fall and injure me?
- Can the tree get hung-up in any other near by trees as it falls?
- What is the condition of the tree, any cracks, splits, loose bark, or rotted sections?
- Which way is the wind blowing and is it too strong?
Plan An Escape Route
Get yourself prepared for a safe retreat once the tree begins its fall. Clear a path at least 20 feet from the stump and never turn your back to the tree. Your exit should be at a 45 degree angle from either side or the back of the tree. This will keep you safe if the tree butt happens to “kick back.” If possible, position your self behind another tree for added protection.
Directing the Tree
Typically, it is easier to fell a tree in the same direction that it is leaning. Although it is possible to drop one the opposite direction using wedges, I would not suggest this to a “do it yourselfer.” With proper cutting and a little assistance with some rope, you can easily guide a tree that does not lean directly into your drop zone. Use a ladder to tie a 1/2″ rope as far up the tree as possible, the higher the better for added leverage. Secure the other end of the rope to a standing tree that is in the general direction of your drop zone. If you have an extra long rope that extends beyond the drop zone, you can ask a brave friend to give it a tug as you make the final cut. Be sure they have a proper exit strategy too.
The Face Cut
The face cut will determine the direction the tree falls. This is attained by cutting a scarf or notch into the side of the tree facing your drop zone. To make a conventional face cut, you start the top cut so the blade comes down into the tree at a 45 degree angle. Be sure to check that this cut faces directly toward the drop zone. You finish this cut when it reaches 1/3 of the trunk’s diameter. The second cut you make comes in horizontally and is aimed at the bottom of the top cut. There is no angle to this cut. The blade should be level. It is important that the ends of each cut meet at the same location. If not, you increase the chance that the tree will split vertically when falling. After completing the second cut you should be able to pull a wedge shaped piece out of the tree leaving an 45 degree notch.
The Back Cut
After you have notched the face of the tree it is time to make your final cut, the back cut. The back cut comes in horizontally from the opposite side of the notch. Start the back cut one to two inches higher than the corner of the notch. Slowly cut into the tree, checking periodically that you are maintaining a good horizontal cut. Do not cut all the way through. The objective is to leave wood remaining that is equal to about 1/10 of the diameter of the tree. This uncut part is called the hinge, and it is what steers the tree in the direction you require. It also prevents the tree from falling backwards if the back cut closes.
At this point your tree will probably begin its fall. If it needs a little prodding, have your assistant give a pull on the rope, or sink a plastic wedge into the back cut. Let the tree talk to you. Listen for sounds of cracking. As soon as the tree begins its descent, hit the chainsaw’s kill switch, set it aside and quickly back away.