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How to Cut Down a Tree

Learn how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw safely. A pro with 30 years experience shares tips for felling a large tree and protecting yourself from injury.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How to Cut Down a Tree

Learn how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw safely. A pro with 30 years experience shares tips for felling a large tree and protecting yourself from injury.

Felling a tree

It would be hard to name a more dangerous DIY project than felling a big tree. There's the obvious risk of getting crushed by a falling tree, but you could also have your melon crushed if a big limb shook loose from above. Trees can twist as they fall and make all kinds of other unexpected moves. Add a chain saw to the mix, and—well, you get the idea. It's not a job for the careless, the reckless or the faint-of-heart.

There are some commonsense precautions you should take and techniques you should employ to make tree felling as safe as possible. We'll share those with you. We'll also tell you how to analyze the situation so you'll know when it’s best to call in a pro.

Aside from a chain saw, a stiff dose of common sense and a bit of courage, you'll need a few things to properly fell a tree. They include safety gear (see “The Right Stuff,” below) and two plastic felling wedges to keep your saw from getting pinched in cuts on larger trees. You can find everything you'll need at any outdoor power equipment store that carries chain saws. Don't bother looking for these items at home centers.

Safety equipment

Safety equipment

Felling wedges

Felling wedges

Safety Gear

Safety isn't a throwaway word when it comes to felling trees and running chain saws. You must take it seriously. There are a few absolutely essential safety gear items you need to wear for any chain saw work.

Loggers helmet ($60): The helmet protects you from falling branches, a major cause of logging injuries. Earmuffs and a face screen protect your ears and eyes. Safety glasses keep the dust out—you don't want something in your eye in the middle of dropping a 4-ft.-diameter cottonwood.

Kevlar chaps ($75): Kevlar fibers will stop a chain instantly should you happen to drop the bar against your leg. It's the best logging safety device developed in the past 30 years, and it's a rare (and foolish) pro who doesn't wear them.

Felling wedges ($15): These wedges will prevent your saw from getting pinched during a cut.

Plan the cut

Notching the tree

Notching the tree

How to Make a Proper Notch

The rule of thumb is to make the depth of the notch one-fifth of the tree trunk's diameter. The goal is to make the angles as shown in the diagram (or as close as you can). The felling cut should meet the point of the notch. When the tree starts to fall, the hinge will help guide the tree to fall in the desired direction.

Felling the tree

Tree-Cutting Wisdom
  • Never cut on a breezy day.
  • You'll have an easier time cutting up a fallen tree if you do it when the leaves are missing.
  • Grab the chain saw handle with an encircling thumb on your right hand and never release it during a cut.
  • Stay away from hollowed-out trees, especially if they're big. They are extremely unpredictable and dangerous to fell.
  • Gas up the saw before beginning a cut. Never run out of gas halfway through a cut.
  • Once you start working, don't stop until the tree is down. You don't want the tree to fall while you're taking a break.

Video: How to Cut Down a Tree

Bob Tacke, an expert at The Family Handyman, will show you the proper way to cut down a tree using a chainsaw. After watching this video, you will be able to make any tree fall where you want it to.


Video: How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Bob Tacke, an expert at The Family Handyman, will show you how to sharpen a chainsaw with a filing kit. You can buy the filing kit for about $25 and sharpen your saw anytime it needs it instead of taking it to a shop.

Back to Top

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

Logger's helmet
Kevlar chaps
Leather gloves
Felling wedges

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