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    Tractor Supply Company

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    Tree Cutting: How to Fell a Tree With a Chainsaw

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Trees make property beautiful and add value, but sometimes trees that are unsafe or unhealthy need to come down. Tree removal professionals are an option, but costs for removing a tree can range from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand. Thankfully, with the right tools and the right technique, anyone can safely and efficiently remove trees from their property. Follow this step-by-step process to learn how to fell a tree safely. 

    What is felling

    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.

    Gather your gear

    If you have a lot of time and stamina, you can fell a tree with a nonelectric saw or axe. 

    But using a chainsaw is the easiest and safest way to fell a tree. Larger tree trunks require longer saws and benefit from more power. A bar length of twenty inches or more is typically best for medium to large trunks. Also, make sure your chainsaw has appropriate tension to function properly.

    Beyond these, you’ll want a felling wedge or two and a sledgehammer—more on these below. 

    Any time you use a chainsaw you should also wear your helmet, ear protection and eye protection, in addition to protective gloves, boots and pants.

    Assess the tree and the fall

    The first step to any tree felling is an assessment of the tree and its surroundings. 

    Step 1: Check the tree for disease and dead branches. Unless you have decent experience, it may be better to call an expert to assist with felling a diseased or a dead tree. Diseased trees can fall more quickly during the cutting process because the wood is rotting. 

    If any of the branches are dead or breaking off, those should be cleared before felling the entire tree, as well as any vines that may be entangling the tree. A tree limb that’s low could also redirect the fall. Clear low branches and vines with your chainsaw, with a pole pruner chainsaw made for pruning branches, or with a tree saw and a ladder.  

    Step 2: Determine which direction the tree is leaning, if any. Felling a tree in the direction of the lean is easiest. Any other felling direction will likely require ropes to pull the tree against the lean. This can lead to a scenario where an expert call may be best.

    Step 3: Determine the path along which you want the tree to fall. Your felling zone should be clear of other trees, structures, electrical lines and any type of hazards. If you’re near a road or populated area, consider cordoning off the area where the tree will land. 

    Step 4: Make sure your escape route is planned out – this is a critical step. The route should be free of hazards and debris and should be at a forty-five-degree angle from the fall path. This angle allows you to avoid any part of the tree that shoots to the side or back as it breaks and falls. 

    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.

    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.

    Making the cuts

    Once you’ve completed the preparatory work, it’s time to grab the chainsaw. 

     First, identify the height for the cuts. The cuts will be as close to the base of the stump as possible. Ensure you’re not so low that maintaining your balance on either your feet or on one knee is difficult. Position the left side of your body against the tree. 

    Cutting into a tree requires at least three different cuts. 

    • The first cut makes what’s called a directional notch, and it starts with the chainsaw at a seventy-degree downward angle. The cut direction is critical. This cut should be perpendicular to the fall path you’ve determined for the tree. Many chainsaws have a line or handlebar that’s perpendicular to the blade. Use this sight to align your chainsaw with the target of the fall. 

    • When you’re confident with your angle, cut downward at a seventy-degree angle to about 25 percent of the tree’s diameter. Then make a lower cut, at a zero- to twenty-degree angle, that meets your upper cut at the 25 percent of diameter. The wood you’ve cut will fall out of the tree, leaving a notch that opens to the direction you want the tree to fall. There are variations to the notch cut depending on the situation. 

    • The point where your upper and lower cuts meet is called the hinge. The hinge is the small strip of wood along which the tree will rotate as it falls toward your determined line.

    • Behind this hinge, you’ll make the felling cut. For smaller trees, you can simply cut from the back toward your notch cut, leaving one inch for the hinge. As you make this cut, stick your felling wedges into the felling cut to ensure the tree doesn’t sit back and cause your chainsaw to get stuck. 

    Tree type shouldn’t change this process, but trunk size certainly can. If the tree is larger or if your chainsaw bar is shorter than the tree’s diameter, you may need to make a bore cut. This involves leaving two to three inches at the back of the tree while cutting in parallel to the hinge from the sides of the tree trunk. Once you’ve made these cuts and placed felling wedges, you can cut the final two to three inches in the back. 

    In both cases, your felling wedges help push the tree over. If the tree doesn’t naturally buckle over, use a sledgehammer to drive the wedges deeper into the felling cut until the tree falls. 

    Limbing and bucking

    Even though your tree is on the ground, you’re not yet done with the tree removal process. Your next step is to remove the limbs and cut through the tree trunk. As you’re cutting the limbs, it’s important to avoid kickback. To do this, stand to the left of the trunk and move downward, keeping the trunk between yourself and the chainsaw. If branches are lying on the ground, turn them after a partial cut to avoid the saw from hitting the ground and kicking back. 

    When cutting larger branches, ensure you have an escape route and move slowly in case branches are still under tension. Cutting from smaller to larger branches, or from outside to the interior, can be easier. For the entire tree trunk, determine the side under tension and begin cutting from the opposite side. 

    Making the most of tree felling

    While you can fell a tree in any season, many professionals prefer late winter and early spring because the tree will be the lightest at this time. Without leaves, carrying away branches will be much easier. 

    Consider enlisting the assistance of a spotter to keep an eye on the process from a different vantage point. The spotter will have a better angle to see if the tree is falling in the appropriate direction than the person making the felling cut.

    When you know how to fell a tree, you can improve your property and use its natural resources to the fullest. For those who live Life Out Here, find the right tools and expert advice to fell trees visit a Tractor Supply Company.