How to Fell a Tree Using a Chainsaw

USA, Montana, Lakeside, lumberjack felling tree
(Noah Clayton/Tetra Images/Getty Images)
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Cutting a Tree With a Chainsaw - Safety Is a Must

Logger Ready to Fell Tree
Logger Ready to Fell Tree. All Photos by Rochana Schultz

Tyson Schultz is an Oregon logger and uses his chainsaw every day to fell trees and buck the logs.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, "More people are killed while felling trees than during any other logging activity." Safety must be of utmost concern when approaching a tree to cut.

Protective clothing should be purchased along with your saw. Cutting trees with a chainsaw is particularly hard on the eyes and ears. Always use protective glasses and ear plugs. Steel capped boots and non-slip gloves are also recommended.

The American OSHA Regulation 1910.266 requires that employed chainsaw operators wear:

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6. Combination Head Protection  Buy from Amazon

These requirements are for professionals who know what they are doing. A casual user should take note of this and have as much protection as a professional, if not more. Understanding that safety is important, let's fell a tree.

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First, Determine the Felling Direction and Clear Fall Path

Using the Chainsaw
Using the Chainsaw "Gun Sight".

Always try for a clear fall path and landing when determining your tree felling direction. Avoid felling a tree onto stumps, large rocks or uneven ground. This will prevent cracking and other damage to the tree.

Determine the clear fall path. Along with a clear landing, this is the most important factor in deciding what direction to fell a tree. Visualize the fall path in all directions and identify those directions that are free of other trees. Finding a clear path will eliminate lodged trees, throw back, and damage to the tree being felled as well as the other trees.

Start the top cut of the face using the gun sights on the saw to make sure it goes exactly where you need it to go. You may want to paint a black line on the side of your saw. Where that line points is where the tree will fall.

Always observe the lean of a tree. It is generally easier and safer to fell a tree in the direction that it is already leaning. This makes for a cleaner fall and eliminates the need to use wedges, allowing gravity to do the work.

To make removal easier, fell the tree so the butt faces the skid road. Also, fell the tree consistent with the felling pattern of other trees. This also makes for efficient limbing and removal. Fell in a direction that will minimize the chance that the tree will roll or slide.

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Begin Cutting by Creating the Notch or Face Cut

Cutting the Notch
Cutting the Notch.

Your first notch or face cut is created by making a top and bottom cut that extracts a slice of wood. In most cases, This cut should face the direction in which the tree will be felled.

In the picture Tyson Schultz is creating what is called a "Humbolt notch." You might want to compare this notch with an open-face or other conventional notches at the Department of Labor site.

Starting the bottom cut of the face, begin on the side of the tree rather than the front. It is easier to line your cuts up if you begin by making an intersection of cuts. All you do is pull your saw out of the top cut and tilt the bar down.

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The Top Cut and the Bottom Cut Makes the Notch

Timber Fellers Notch
Timber Fellers Notch.

The Top Cut

The top cut is the first of two cuts that result in a V-shaped notch. The notch is made on the side of the tree that you want it to fall. Here is the procedure for making a top cut:

Starting Point -- Begin at any height as long as you allow enough room for the undercut.
Angle of Attack -- Cut downward at an angle consistent with the type of notch you are making. Many people use the Humbolt notch which uses a horizontal top cut and allows for using the saw's sight.
Ending Point -- Stop when the cut reaches 1/4 to 1/3 of the trunk's diameter or when the cut reaches 80% of the tree's diameter at chest level.

The Bottom Cut

The bottom or undercut is the second of two cuts that result in a V-shaped notch. The notch is made on the side of the tree facing the direction that you want it to fall. Here is the procedure for making a bottom cut:

Starting Point -- Begin at the level that will create at least a 70 degree notch opening.
Angle of Attack -- Cut upward at an appropriate angle - 20 degrees for an Open-face notch.
Ending Point -- Stop when the cut reaches the end point of the face cut.

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More on the Face Cut - Try for a One Piece Slice

The Face Cut
The Face Cut.

With the face all out, both sides should match up perfectly. This is very important at this stage because if there are any extra pieces of wood or cuts here, it can adversely affect how the tree falls.

The photo shows the removed face cut and the watermelon shaped part that comes out of it.

If your bottom comes up short of the top cut and the top cut is in the tree deeper that the bottom, you have a condition known as a Dutchman. It can be a mistake but it can also be used to your advantage. As a tool, you can use the Dutchman to swing the tree to the left or right after it begins to fall over.

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Making a Back Cut, the Third and Final Cut

The Back Cut
The Back Cut.

The backcut is the third and final cut and is made on the opposite side of the notch. The backcut disconnects almost all of the tree from the stump leaving a hinge that helps to control the tree's fall. Here is the procedure for making a backcut:

Starting Point - Begin on the opposite side of the notch at the same level as the notched corner.
Angle of Attack - Cut flat along a horizontal plane.
Ending Point - Stop at the point that will leave a hinge width that is 1/10 the tree's diameter.

Always start this cut from the side of the tree and work your way around to the back. This will help get a level cut that will meet the cut on the other side of the tree when you get there. At this point, you need to be careful not to cut too fast. You can take too much off the side you can't see and lose the tree to any direction it wants to go.

It is best for the inexperienced to cut for one or two seconds and stop to look and see what is going on. Keep your backcut parallel to the face cut and stop cutting about two inches from the face.

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The Falling Tree and a Felling Retreat

The Falling Tree
The Falling Tree.

The direction of safe retreat from a falling tree is at 45 degrees from the sides and back on either side of your cutting position. NEVER move away directly behind the tree. You can be seriously hurt if the tree butt kicks back during the fall.

Never turn your back on the falling tree. Back quickly away to a distance of 20 feet from the falling tree. Position yourself behind a standing tree if possible.

At this point, it is best to be uphill at a 45 degree angle from where it (tree) is falling and as far away as possible. It will probably be loud when it hits the ground so don't be too nervous about that.

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Limbing and Bucking - Cut Your Tree Into Logs

Bucking and Limbing
Bucking and Limbing.

Limbing is cutting branches off of felled or standing trees. Bucking is sawing felled trees into sections called logs. The length of the logs is dependent on the species of the tree and type of final product.

Always start at the bottom of a hill and work your way up. This prevents having to work downhill from other logs that were felled earlier.

The main point to remember here is that limbing and bucking must be done on the uphill side of each tree or log, where rolling or sliding of logs may be expected. Precautions, such as chocking or moving to a stable position, must be taken to prevent the logs or the butt from striking you while limbing and bucking wind-thrown trees.