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How to Fell a Tree Using a Chainsaw

Felling a tree means causing a tree to fall down by either sawing with a handsaw or cutting with a chainsaw. Felling a tree with chainsaws takes planning and should be well thought through. If you are a beginner, it is a good idea to have someone who is an experienced chainsaw user with you to help.

Before felling any trees, make sure you have gotten all of the necessary permits and/or permission. Some areas have strict environmental regulations.

Prepare to Cut Down the Tree

Think about safety first and the prevention of accidents when preparing to fell a tree. Look at where the tree is located and what objects are around it. Houses, barns, power lines, fences and other structures can be damaged due to falling trees or limbs. If there are roads located within the fall zone, set up warning signs. If you are a beginner and there are objects near, get an experienced person to assist with the felling.

Pay special attention to other trees as well. Making a tree fall can have a domino effect on other trees that may be smaller or weakened by tree rot and leaning. Even if you do not think the tree you are planning to cut down will strike an object, a tree that is hit by the tree you cut down could fall in an unexpected way, so it is best to imagine all possible scenarios before cutting.

Decide What Direction to Fell a Tree

Once you have a good idea of surrounding objects, look at the tree itself to figure out what direction in which to fell the tree. If the tree is naturally leaning in one direction, it may be better to fell the tree that way as long as there are no objects within the fall zone. If there are objects in the fall zone and the tree is leaning in that direction, you may want to get an experienced tree service to come and remove the tree professionally. Wind speed can also effect directional felling. Finally, consider the work involved in removing the tree once it has fallen and how easy or difficult it will be for you to access the area in the fall zone.

Getting Away

Make sure undergrowth around the tree has been cleared before you begin sawing. Remove all branches, fallen limbs or other obstacles on the ground around the tree. You want to be able to walk away from the tree at any angle without having to dodge or step over anything.

chainsaw safety and how to retreat safely from a falling tree

Clearing Tree Limbs and Buttress Roots from a Tree

If the lower part of the tree trunk has small branches or buttresses growing on it, clear them away with your chainsaw. To clear branches or limbs, use a pulling chain. Cut from the top and use a downward stroke along the lower edge of the chainsaw. Work at an angle that puts the tree trunk between yourself and the chainsaw. Never cut tree limbs at a level higher than your shoulders, as this is an unsafe way to use a chainsaw.

Directional Felling: How to Fell a Tree in the Right Direction

How to make the tree fall in the direction you want comes down to the directional notch, or the first series of cuts you must make when felling a tree. There are a variety of ways to make a directional notch. The type of notch described here is an open directional notch. The directional notch determines for the most part in what direction the tree will fall.

Follow these steps to make an open directional notch in a small-to-medium sized tree using a chainsaw:

man felling a tree using a chainsaw
  1. Pinpoint the exact direction in which you want the tree to fall. Find a landmark from your surroundings to use as a guide, and use the sights on the top of your chainsaw to line up the angle to the directional notch you plan to cut.
  2. Make a top cut into the trunk of the tree at about a 60 degree angle, sawing to a depth of about 20 - 25% of the tree's diameter.
  3. Make a horizontal undercut that meets the top cut. You should now have a notch carved out of the side of the tree facing the felling direction.
  4. Make sure there are no people or animals within the safety radius of the tree felling zone. This is at least 2 times the length of the tree you are felling.
  5. On the opposite side of the tree trunk, saw a horizontal felling cut a few inches above the level of the undercut. Stop cutting a few inches before you reach the directional notch. This will create a hinge on which the tree will fall in a controlled way. The width of the hinge should be about 10% of the diameter of the tree trunk.
  6. Use a felling wedge as a lever to make the tree begin to fall. 
  7. Watch and retreat. Keep your eyes on the falling tree as you move away quickly but calmly. You should try to move away from the felling direction at a 90 degree angle. This will help you avoid both the felling zone as well as the opposite side where the trunk separates from the stump.

Cutting Down Large Trees

In many ways, your chainsaw cutting technique will be determined by the diameter of the tree trunk. For larger trees whose diameter is greater than the length of the chainsaw bar, you will need to use a plunge cut.

You will also need a breaking bar and a few felling wedges on hand. These are tree felling tools used to ensure trees fall in the right direction and will either prevent the tree from pinching the chainsaw blade while cutting or help you get your chainsaw un-stuck.

  1. Pinpoint the exact direction in which you want the tree to fall. Find a landmark from your surroundings to use as a guide, and use the sights on the top of your chainsaw to line up the angle to the directional notch you plan to cut.
  2. Since the tree trunk is wider than your chainsaw bar, you will need to cut the directional notch from two sides. Make a top cut into the trunk of the tree at about a 60 degree angle, sawing to a depth of about 20 - 25% of the tree's diameter. Move to the other side of the tree to complete the directional notch, making sure to line up the cuts as closely as possible so that the notch will be even.
  3. Make a horizontal undercut that meets the top cut. Again, if the tree is too thick, make the horizontal undercut from both sides of the tree, aligning the two cuts so that you can create one straight undercut. You should now have a notch carved out of the side of the tree facing the felling direction.
  4. Make sure there are no people or animals within the safety radius of the tree felling zone. This is at least 2 times the length of the tree you are felling.
  5. Make a plunge cut by inserting the lower part of the chainsaw bar nose into the tree trunk behind where you want the hinge to be. Avoid kick back. Do not allow the upper part of the chainsaw bar nose to come into contact with the tree.
  6. Once you have inserted the tip of the chainsaw into the tree trunk, turn the chainsaw until it is parallel with the directional notch.
  7. Apply pressure to the chainsaw bar into the tree.
  8. Saw away from the hinge about the width of the chainsaw bar. This will keep you from sawing into the hinge when you turn the chainsaw around.
  9. Saw around the trunk carefully. When you have sawed through the middle of the tree trunk, insert the felling wedge to prevent the weight of the trunk from pinching the chainsaw and causing it to get stuck in the tree.
  10. If the chainsaw bar gets stuck in the tree trunk, don’t try to pull out the chainsaw. Stop the engine and use a breaking bar or wedge to work open the trunk until you can pull the chain saw out easily.
  11. Saw until the chainsaw bar is parallel with the directional notch on the other side of the tree.
  12. You may need to hammer the felling wedge into place to get the tree to fall. Sometimes more than one wedge is required. Use a breaker bar to work the tree until it begins to fall.
  13. As with felling a small tree, watch and retreat. Keep your eyes on the falling tree as you move away quickly but calmly out of the safety zone. You should try to move away from the felling direction at a 90 degree angle. This will help you avoid both the felling zone as well as the opposite side where the trunk separates from the stump.

man using chainsaw to cut down a tree chainsaw felling cut diagram chainsaw sawing tree trunk chainsaw plunge cut diagram

Rotten or Dead Trees

Use extra caution when felling a rotten or dead tree. Get the help of an experienced chainsaw user or tree removal service if you are a beginner. If the tree trunk looks discolored, feels soft or seems abnormal in any other way, there could be rot on the inside. Rotten trees require a much larger hinge to fall safely and are inherently unstable.

When a Tree is Lodged

If a tree becomes lodged or stuck in another tree on the way down, it is best not to leave the tree unattended. Get help from an experienced person. If you must leave the tree to call for help, rope off the area so that passersby are aware of the danger.