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How to Fall a Tree

Author Photo
By Becky, and y

I often tell people, to be a farmer, one needs to be a jack of all trades. Most animal ailments are easily identified and treated and many common machinery issues can be alleviated with ingenuity and patience. Farmer, veterinarian, geneticist, biologist, horticulturist, the list goes on …

This week I added a new name to my ever-lengthening list of titles: arborist. In our planning for the coming year, we decided to remove a few trees that were taxing one of our gardens. We found last year that a full third of our garden was essentially unusable because of two maples that were taking most of the soil nutrients. They needed to go.

Don’t get me wrong, I love trees as much as the next hugger, but like all things, they have their place, and in our garden was not it.

There are a few things you must remember when falling trees but none, I repeat, NONE are more important than safety. This post is in no way intended to be a tutorial in chainsaw use. If you are considering doing tree removal yourself, it is vitally important that you attend a chainsaw safety course. They are short – usually only a half-day – and in addition to the learning the safety guidelines, you are instructed on different techniques that will greatly increase your efficiency.

When preparing for sawing, always where the proper safety gear. Big Dave, shown here in Husqvarna’s dashing ’09 line, is ready to go. He has a hardhat that is equipped with ear protection, a plastic mesh visor and neck covering. He also is wearing leg protection. These chaps are sufficient to protect from minor mishaps, but if you want complete protection, you can upgrade to a pair that are reinforced with kevlar.

Before you begin you want to make sure that your saw is in good condition. You want it to be fully fueled, well-oiled and the chain both tight and sharpened. Always place the saw on the ground when starting.

Before you begin, take a look at your tree and decide which direction you would like it to fall. Be sure to pay attention to the makeup of the tree that might influence the direction. You may need to account for things like an off-balance tree, a tree with wide or multiple trunks and even the lay of the land.

Before you begin, make sure the area is clean. If there is a waterspout or brush that could get in the way, clear it out. The second thing to do is map a clear, unobstructed path of escape. If you are working with a buddy (highly recommended), make sure they have one as well.

The first cut that you make will be a 70-degree cut in the side of the tree to which the tree will fall. Make this cut about 12 to 18 inches, ending about 18 inches from the ground. Then make a horizontal cut, connecting to the previous cut and resulting in a wedge taken out of the trunk of the tree.

It is vitally important that this cut be completely level, this cut is called the hinge and controls the direction the tree falls.

The next cut is easy to do but complicated to explain. Measure about an inch back from the horizontal cut you just made and, using the tip of the chainsaw and again being meticulously straight and level slowly insert the saw all the way through the tree until it comes out the other end.

It is useful to have a second person here to help make sure you are level. Once you are through, guide the blade to the opposite side of the tree (opposite your hinge cut) until you are about 2 inches from the outside of the tree. Do not turn your saw off at this point or it will get stuck, simply pull the blade out, towards you.

You will cut this last piece when you are ready to fall the tree. If you are concerned that they tree may not fall exactly where you want it you can drive in a wedge which is like a metal shim.

This will help coax the tree in the direction you want.

When you are ready, assess your escape route a second time and cut the connection. Immediately go to your escape route. Remember:

The tree is falling and there is nothing you can do about it. If it is going somewhere that you don’t want, it is too late. The only thing you must concern yourself with at this point is your own safety.

Congrats! You did it! Now just trim it down and do what you want with it.


Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.

Published on Mar 16, 2009

Grit Magazine

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