March 27, 2019

Cutting Down a Tree: An Arborist’s View

We do not recommend that any homeowner cut down a tree, especially on his/her own. It is inherently dangerous and can be life-threatening if done improperly. If you have little to no experience cutting down a tree, or even have done it before, we still recommend you hire a professional tree service like Silver City Tree Service.

There is a path of greatest safety in felling trees, however. We use these tips in cutting down trees for our customers as practice and safety are paramount.

Know your chainsaw

Before you even think about going to work with your saw or cutting down a tree, make sure the chainsaw is in good working condition. You should regularly clean the sprocket nose, oil the inlet hole and the bar groove and cooling fins. Rotate the guide bar and remove any burs from the bar if they are present. Also, check the tension on new chainsaws once you have worn them in, and make sure to lubricate the chain before EVERY job.

Safety gear and a spotter are a must!

Any time you bring a chainsaw and the weight of a falling tree into the equation, your first thought should be of protection. Gear that is a must for cutting down a tree includes: a helmet, eye goggles, ear plugs/muffs, and Kevlar chaps (which will instantly stop a chain should you accidentally bring the saw into contact with your leg). You should also include at least one lookout to help you on the job. NEVER attempt to cut down a tree on your own. The lookout can keep you safe from falling branches and make you immediately aware of when the tree is beginning to fall. He/she can watch the tree when you have to watch the saw.

Obtain felling wedges

They are simple to use and can be purchased at any outdoor power equipment store. They will prevent you from getting pinched during a cut or a tree snagging your chainsaw. If the tree in question is more than 18 inches in diameter go ahead and plan on using a wedge to aid your cut.

Figure out the “felling zone”

Just take it as a rule: trees are always taller than they look. In order to get a fairly accurate measurement of the tree in question try the “ax-handle trick.” Hold an ax-handle at arm’s length, close one eye and position the tree so that the top of the ax head is even with the top of the tree and the bottom of the handle is even with the base of the trunk. When you reach this point, where your feet are located should match the top of the tree when it is on the ground. NOTE: Remember the rule above: Therefore it’s always a good idea to leave extra room.

Clear a path

Make sure that there is no undergrowth — or anything else — in the path that you expect the tree to fall. That said, it is also a good idea to clear a path in two opposite directions. This will give you free room to run — just in case! Of course, you should also look around to ensure that the tree will not fall on power lines, fences or other structures.

Make a notch cut – and do it on the correct side

Create a notch that measures about one-fifth of the tree’s diameter. This is to guide the tree’s fall, so you’ll want to make in the direction you want the tree to fall. It is a good idea to use chalk or some other method to mark out the notch. And don’t worry about making it near the absolute bottom of the tree, you can always cut away at the stump later. When you create the notch, cut the top side of the notch first, using approximately a 60-degree down angle. And use a 30-degree angle on the bottom cut.

Begin the final, felling cut and insert wedges

Using the chainsaw, score a line across the back of the tree that connects both apexes of the notch cut. Cut along this line until you have penetrated far enough to pound the wedges in behind the chainsaw bar. Stop the saw and use the butt end of an ax head to pound the wedge into place.

Complete your felling cut

Your wedges are in place, so go ahead and finish the job. Complete the felling cut, while being aware for even the slightest movement from the tree (this is where a spotter is important, as they can tap you to alert you perhaps quicker than you might see on your own). As soon as the tree moves make sure to pull the saw away, set the chain break and retreat hastily from the tree. Use one of those pre-cleared escape routes detailed above and NEVER take your eye off the tree once you pull the chainsaw clear and set the break.

This is a dangerous undertaking, so we never recommend anyone attempt this on their own. But if you follow these steps you will at least put yourself in a much safer position. Yet the safest option, always, is to call a professional tree-removal company.


Other resources for best practices in cutting down a tree include the Family Handyman and this video from Lowe’s Home Improvement.