Safe Tree Felling

Using the right equipment and techniques are critical elements to safe tree felling.

  • Focus on right hand and some motion blur on this image of a log being chainsawn.
    Photo by van der Velden
  • Logger creates a notch and hinge.
    Photo by
  • When you finish felling a tree, the stump and hinge remains can tell you how well you executed your plan. More importantly, we don’t recommend limbing even remotely close to a partner.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • The top half of the end of the chainsaw bar is the danger zone. You should never make cuts with this part of the bar, as this invites kickbacks.
    Photo by Dave Boyt
  • Cutting from the top down, the saw will pull away from you and throw wood chips back towards the operator.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • After making your notch, the back cut should be flat and even with or slightly above the bottom horizontal cut of the notch.
    Photo by Dave Boyt
  • Carrying wedges is a must, as they come in handy in the event of a saw pinch, plus they can help with directional felling and overcoming a slight back-lean.
    Photo by Dave Boyt
  • Chainsaws are the second most popular power tool on the small farm, behind the lawn mower.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • Take the utility of a chainsaw one step further, and mill your own lumber with the machine. Saw mill attachments for chainsaws allow for producing dimensional lumber, and they are portable.
    Photo by Susy Morris

Chainsaws are remarkable tools. In the right hands, they are capable of cutting trees for clearing land, producing lumber or firewood, and even rough (very rough) construction framing. Almost every country-dwelling homesteader has at least one, and most of us are proud of our mastery over the tool. But even in the hands of trained professionals, they are respected for their dangerous side which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, puts logging as the most hazardous occupation.

Consider these sobering statistics compiled by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission:

• There were about 36,000 chainsaw-related hospital emergency room visits in 2013.
• The average chainsaw injury requires 110 stitches, with an average cost of $12,000 in medical bills.
• Medical costs for chainsaw accidents average around $350 million per year.
• According to OSHA, in 2012, 243 workers died while engaging in tree trimming and clearing activities.  

If that is not enough to get your attention, search YouTube for “chainsaw accident” – but only if you have the stomach for it.

There are other ways chainsaws can hurt you. The blade can throw wood chips into your eye at over 60 miles per hour. Branches can spring back and snap bones, and falling or rolling logs weighing over 1,000 pounds have incredible crushing force. Hearing loss and tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears) from the 110-decibel scream of the engine is almost universal among the old-time loggers.

The tree is another hazard. Dead branches – called “widow-makers” – can come crashing down at any time with the slightest gust of wind, or even the vibration of the chainsaw. Falling trees can kick back, roll, or fall in an unintended direction. It may hit a dead snag on the way down, or hang up in another tree, leaving you with the dangerous task of getting it the rest of the way down. So let’s take a look at what it takes to safely cut down, “fell,” a tree.

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