Safe Tree Felling

By Staff

Safe Tree Felling 

Sponsored by: ECHO
By: Tim Nephew
May 2018

Maybe there are a couple of trees on your property that you have been wanting to cut down for some time. They might be old, diseased, misshapen or just too close together, but you know they need to come down. You hinted strongly that you could use a good chain saw and you were rewarded with a nice one on your last birthday. You’ve never used a chainsaw before – let alone cut down a tree – but really, how hard can it be? Mix the gas and oil, start up the saw and start cutting them down!

If you have little or no experience in felling a tree, you should be aware that you will be putting yourself at risk of serious injury or even death if you tackle the job yourself. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Loggers who fell trees for a living have the highest rate of injury and death of workers in the country. That statistic is quite impressive because they rank at the top in injury and death above, Fishers, Pilots, Roofers, Steel Workers, Truck Drivers and even Farmers and Ranchers. Remember, these are professionals that do this for a living – no weekend warriors or the occasional tree cutter in this group.

The purpose of citing the statistics pointing out the dangers of felling trees is not to dissuade you from tackling the job yourself. On the contrary, cutting down your own trees can be done safely but it’s important to observe good practices to avoid accidents and injury. Here are some basic guidelines to follow when felling trees.

Devise a Plan for the Tree 

The first task involved when deciding to fell a tree is to develop an overall plan for how to handle the tree from felling to removal. This is the time where you will scrutinize all the things that could go wrong and how to avoid them when you cut down the tree. Where is the tree located and what potential hazards are around the tree? Things like buildings, power lines, fences and other trees in the path of the falling tree, all have to be taken into consideration. Are there large dead branches that are broken but still hanging up in the tree that could fall on you when you cut it down? If at any point you feel that the felling of the tree may be out of your comfort zone or capabilities, call a professional and either get their opinion or have them do the job for you. 

Pick a Felling Direction

The felling direction is the direction that you want the tree to fall after you have made the necessary cuts. Back up and take a good look at the tree. By studying the tree you should be able to get a good idea of the direction that it will naturally fall.

Take into consideration things like branch growth and if it seems loaded to one particular side. Is there a natural lean to the tree? If so, most trees are going to go in that direction regardless of your efforts to affect a change in a different direction. Environmental factors such as wind can play an unexpected role in determining which way the tree will fall. Once you have decided on the felling direction prune branches away from the cutting area of the tree. Another important consideration is to clear an area behind the tree for an escape route and safety zone for you as the tree starts to fall.

 Felling the Tree

The most efficient tool for cutting down trees is the chainsaw. Chainsaws come in a variety of sizes based on your need and frequency of use. Medium duty chainsaws have bar lengths that run in the 16 to 18 inch length and are most suitable for smaller tree cutting and removing limbs. Most professional grade saws have bars that or 20 inches or longer and can handle larger trees and are typically not purchased by someone using the chainsaw on an infrequent basis.

To have the tree fall in the direction that you want it to land requires cutting a directional notch in the side of the tree that the tree should fall. This notch will be cut in two directions; the top cut will be down at an angle from 60 – 70 degrees to a depth of about one fifth of the trees total circumference and a horizontal cut will be made to meet the downward cut. These cuts will produce a notch in the tree to aid the final felling cut.

The felling cut is made on the opposite side of the tree that the directional cut was made. Make a horizontal felling cut a few inches above the level of the directional cut. Stop the felling cut before you reach the directional notch. This will provide a hinge to allow the tree to fall in a controlled manner. If the tree you are cutting is large, you may want to start the felling cut and then tap in a felling wedge which will keep the chainsaw bar from being pinched during the felling cut.

When the tree starts to fall you should lock your chainsaw bar and quickly move away at a 45 degree angle from the fall always keeping your eyes on the tree until it lands on the ground. It is a good idea to enlist an assistant to be another set of eyes for when you are ready to fell the tree. Having another person watch for any hazards such as falling limbs or other environmental problems can be a lifesaver. Just make sure you are not too close to each other and that you both know how and where to retreat to the predetermined safety zone when the tree falls.

Additional Safety Tips

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), here are some additional safety considerations when cutting or felling trees:

  • Always remove or avoid all dead snags or stubs
  • Always look at the top of the tree for widow makers, lodged trees, wires or other hazards
  • Plan the direction of the fall of the tree and always clear the area around the tree before you start to cut
  • Prepare a line of retreat from the fall and make sure it is free of obstructions
  • Make sure that no one is closer than two tree lengths away from felling area
  • Always notch trees regardless how small the diameter
  • Yell a warning to bystanders before the felling cut is made
  • Never cut a standing tree completely through
  • Leave sufficient wood between the notch and the back cut for the tree hinge
  • Don’t leave too much of a hinge on the tree or it may split or “barber chair”
  • Never leave a lodged or hung tree; always push or pull it down with a skid steer
  • Never cut trees on high wind days
  • Never climb or cut sections out of a felled tree
  • Fell the tree in the direction of the lean whenever possible and into clear areas
  • Retreat from a falling tree at a 45 degree angle away from the direction of the fall and at least 20 feet from the tree.