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Cut Down a Tree Safely

Make it fall where you want it! Check out these expert tree felling techniques.

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Wear the Right Safety GearFamily Handyman

Wear the Right 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, and especially when felling a tree: - A logger's helmet to protect you from falling branches, a major cause of logging injuries. - Earmuffs and a face screen to protect your ears and eyes. - Safety glasses to keep the dust out. - Kevlar chaps, which will stop a chain instantly should you happen to drop the bar against your leg.

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Buy Felling Wedges

Buy Felling Wedges

Two plastic felling wedges will prevent your saw from getting pinched during a cut. You can find these at any outdoor power equipment store that carries chain saws.

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Estimate the Felling Zone: How to fell a tree in the direction you wantFamily Handyman

Estimate the Felling Zone: How to fell a tree in the direction you want

Trees are taller than you think and reach farther on the ground than you'd expect. When you're planning on felling a tree, you can estimate where a tree will fall by using the “ax handle trick.” This is how to fell a tree in the direction you want: hold an ax handle at arm's length, close one eye, and back away from or move toward the tree until the top of the ax is even with the treetop and the bottom is even with the base. Your feet should be about where the treetop will rest after falling. It's just an estimate, though, so allow extra room if there's something the tree might fall on!

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Clear a Cutting ZoneFamily Handyman

Clear a Cutting Zone

Even when you're sure which way the tree is going to fall, you're still not ready to fell it. Cut away any brush around the trunk and clear two escape routes on the “non-falling” side of the tree. They should be about 45 degrees away from each other in opposite directions. The last thing you want is to trip while walking away from a falling tree.

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Size Up the TreeFamily Handyman

Size Up the Tree

Start by studying the tree. Don't cut it down if you see:

- Dead branches that are broken but attached, or that are actually broken off and supported by other branches. You're bound to knock a branch loose and have it fall on you.

- It is obviously leaning in one direction or heavily loaded with branches on one side. It will fall in the direction of the lean or load despite your best efforts.

- There are buildings, fences, power lines or other things you care about in the felling zone. If so, skip the felling and call a pro.

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Anatomy of a Proper NotchFamily Handyman

Anatomy of a Proper Notch

When felling a tree, 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.

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Plan the NotchFamily Handyman

Plan the Notch

You're going to be cutting a notch on the "fall" side of the trunk. Sight along the handle and adjust the saw until it's pointing toward your fall direction. The spot where the bar touches the bark will be the center of the notch. Before cutting, lay out the notch by marking with chalk or by scoring the bark with the chain saw. Make the notch at a comfortable working height. (You can always shorten the stump later.)

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Cut the NotchFamily Handyman

Cut the Notch

Make the top cut first and then the bottom. When you're making the bottom cut, adjust your hand to control the throttle with your thumb. If you meet the top notch perfectly, the wedge will drop out of the notch. But most likely you'll have to extend the cuts from either the top or the bottom so the wedge can drop free.

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Use Wedges on Big TreesFamily Handyman

Use Wedges on Big Trees

If you're felling a tree that's more than 18 in. in diameter, go ahead and make your notch cut and begin the felling cut. Stop cutting as soon as you've penetrated far enough to pound wedges behind the bar. Leave the bar in the cut with the saw running, but lock the chain brake and tap in the wedges. Then finish the cut. Wedges will keep the saw from getting pinched in the cut if the tree leans back.

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Make the Felling CutFamily Handyman

Make the Felling Cut

Score a line connecting the apex of the notch on both sides for a cutting guide. The back cut should be parallel and even with the apex of the notch. Then make the felling cut. The instant the tree begins leaning, pull the saw free, set the chain brake and walk away along one of your escape routes, keeping an eye on the tree so you can react if it doesn't fall the way you planned. Never take your eye off a falling tree.

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A Lookout Might Save Your LifeFamily Handyman

A Lookout Might Save Your Life

When felling a tree, you'll be a lot safer if you have a trusted assistant standing a few feet behind you watching the top of the tree for falling branches and letting you know when the tree starts to fall. Have your assistant tap you on the shoulder with a stick to alert you when it's time to vacate the area. If it's early in the cut and you get the tap, leave the saw and walk away immediately. That means a branch is falling. Near the end of the cut, a tap means the tree is beginning its descent.

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Start Cutting Branches at the TrunkFamily Handyman

Start Cutting Branches at the Trunk

After felling the tree, cut off branches starting at the lower end of the trunk and working to the top. Whenever possible, stand on the uphill side of the tree. Work from the left side of the trunk (as you face toward the top of the tree). This allows the safest and most efficient use of the chain saw because you can rest the side or bottom of the saw on the trunk and slice off the branches with a pivoting motion.

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Saw the Trunk into FirewoodFamily Handyman

Saw the Trunk into Firewood

Cut a log into 16-in. lengths for firewood by first sawing three-quarters of the way through the log. Then roll it over and complete the cuts.