How to Cut Down a Tree With a Chainsaw
Tree Felling Step-By-Step Guide
If there's one thing chainsaws are known for, it's cutting down trees.
The act of cutting down a tree is often referred to as 'felling'. But before you go out and begin tree felling on your own, it's important to learn how to do it safely.
Felling trees is not as simple as cutting straight through, and improper technique can be very dangerous; no one wants a tree to fall on a house, car, or worse. In fact, felling full-sized trees should be left to the professionals who are trained, have the proper equipment, and carry commercial liability insurance.
Important: Wear Proper Safety Gear
Make sure you and your crew are wearing all necessary safety gear to help prevent injury and to comply with OSHA standards.
Protective boots, chainsaw chaps, hearing protection, eye protection, a helmet, and gloves are all important items to wear when felling a tree.
Chainsaw chaps are especially important because approximately 35% of chainsaw injuries happen to the lower legs and knees. Read more about chainsaw safety gear.
Reasons to Cut Down a Tree
You should consult with an arborist if you aren't sure if the tree you selected is a good candidate for removal. Most healthy trees provide great protection from the sun, erosion, and wind shear. Yet, there are many good reasons why felling trees on your property make sense for practical or safety reasons:
- The tree has fallen or has been severely damaged and is not safe
- The tree is unhealthy or has died (bacterial, fungal, or viral diseases; invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer)
- The tree is too close to your home's foundation or other structure
- The tree is not suitable for the climate, is invasive, or overpopulated
- You need a good source of wood for fires or projects and replant the trees you fell
How to Cut Down a Tree
1. Plan Before You Cut
Before you begin cutting, research local environmental regulations and find out if you need a permit to cut down a tree in your area. If it is on your property, you're likely fine, but it doesn't hurt to check. There can be hefty fines if you don't follow local codes.
Then, consider where the tree is going to fall. Determine if it's leaning to one side or if one side is fuller than the other. If it's leaning, that's likely the way it will fall. If there are more branches on one side, it will likely fall in that direction.
Do not fell a tree by yourself. Loose or dying branches could easily come loose and fall on you, so have someone on the lookout.
2. Estimate the Reach
Are there any other trees, structures, vehicles, power lines, driveways, sidewalks, or other important things that could be in the tree's fall path?
Trees are larger than they look, but you can roughly estimate how far it will fall using the "ax handle trick."
Hold an ax handle vertically with your arm out straight. Close one eye and back away from the tree until the top of the ax handle is aligned with the treetop and the bottom of the handle is aligned with the base.
Now you'll be standing approximately where the treetop should land. Leave extra room for error if there's anything it could fall on.
3. Clear the Cutting Area
Once you know approximately where the tree may fall, remove any people, pets, objects, brush, and other obstacles that could be in the falling path.
Then clear two escape routes opposite of where the tree is expected to fall so you can safely move away when the tree is falling.
Lastly, clear all brush from around the base of the tree trunk so nothing gets in your way while you're cutting. Generally, you should remove any branches that are less than 6 feet high from the trunk to prevent an unexpected change in direction or splintering branches as the tree falls.
4. Cut a Notch to Control the Fall
Cut a notch on the fall side, one-fifth of the way through the trunk, to control the fall and mark your intended direction.
To do this, tilt the chainsaw and make a downward 60-degree angle cut, stopping one-fifth of the way through the tree. Then rotate the saw and make an upward 30-degree cut, meeting the end of the first cut.
You should be able to remove a wedge from the tree, leaving a notch one-fifth of the way through the trunk.
5. Make Your Back Cut
Now that your notch is made, move around to the opposite side of the tree to make your back cut.
Start your cut a bit higher than the apex of your notch and cut in a slight downward angle toward the apex. This will prevent the tree from slipping or falling in the wrong direction.
Keep going until the tree starts falling, or until you've reached about a half-inch before the apex, then move out of the way to let the tree fall. Your lookout person should alert you to falling branches and let you know when the tree begins to fall.
6. Use a Felling Wedge
If the tree isn't falling on its own, tap in a felling wedge to get it moving, then get out of the way. In cases such as this, metal felling wedges are fine, as they will hold up to being repeatedly hammered into stubborn trees on a regular basis.
Besides nudging a stubborn tree to get it moving, you can use polymer felling wedges to tap in behind your chainsaw bar to help prevent your saw from getting pinched in the trunk.
Using polymer wedges behind your saw bar during a cut is typically only necessary on very large trees, but be sure you use wedges made with a polymer to minimize damage to your chain and engage your chain brake before tapping them in.
How to Remove the Tree Stump
Now that you've felled the tree, don't forget about the stump. Fortunately, we also have a guide for removing tree stumps easily using a stump grinder. A stump grinder will make easy work out of any stump removal job.