How To Fell A Tree – The Ultimate Guide
Felling a tree is the process of causing a tree to fall down in a professional and safe practice. This procedure should always be fulfilled by a qualified expert. The process can be completed by means of cutting with a chainsaw, sawing with a handsaw, or chopping with a felling axe.
Over 700 hectares / 1,730 acres of trees are felled by experts in the UK alone each year. Arborists and forestry workers fell trees for many reasons, with the most common being to benefit from logging wood. Trees are also often felled for public safety reasons, such as in the event of decaying or leaning trees over busy roads. This can be controversial and tends to divide opinion like with this story.
So, how do you fell a tree safely? This starts with preparation.
Tree Felling Preparation
Tree felling can be an extremely dangerous job which is why preparation is crucial. Before you begin, it’s imperative that you plan ahead to know exactly which pieces of equipment the task at hand requires for safety, as well as performance. Safety equipment for tree felling can include:
Inspect The Tree
You should always assess the condition of the tree before you start cutting. This involves scanning for dead branches, loose bark, cracks, debris and diseases such as Dutch Elm Disease prior to starting the job. When assessing the tree, you also need to inspect the base for signs of root instability, further uprooted trees, roots near a river, cliff edge or other potentially dangerous positions.
Clear Tree Limbs And Buttress Roots
Another essential element of tree felling preparation is clearing tree limbs and buttress roots. Hanging limbs are hazards and can cause injuries, so make sure you remove all limbs up to your head height before you start felling. You can use the chainsaw or a tree pruning saw to remove limbs. It’s also important to clear buttress roots – these are large roots extending above the ground and are usually found on forest trees.
Decide On The Felling Direction
It’s important to determine the fall path before you start cutting – This is the best direction for the tree to fall. To determine this, you need to have clear surroundings available to ensure that the tree doesn’t fall onto other trees or rocks as it topples. This can result in unnecessary damage being caused to the surrounding area, or damage being caused to the tree as it falls, making the wood less valuable. If the tree is already naturally leaning, it’s much easier and safer to fell the tree in the same direction, providing the fall path is clear.
Plan Your Retreat Route
When you have decided on the felling direction, you need to plan the felling retreat. This is your escape route which should be 45 degrees from the sides and back on either side of your cutting position. As soon as the tree starts to topple, move away down your escape route. To further prevent injuries, make sure your escape route is never directly behind the falling direction in case the tree butt kicks back during the felling.
How To Fell A Tree – The Felling Process
Step 1. Sound Out The Tree
‘Sounding the tree’ is how you establish whether the tree is live wood or dead wood. You can do this by knocking against the tree with your felling axe. If the wood sounds hollow it’s a sign that the wood is dead or may be dying, whilst cracks and solid sounds indicate live wood. Live wood is harder to cut, so it’s best to sound the tree at different heights and points to find an area of dead wood, making the cut easier.
Step 2. The Horizontal Cut
This is the first cut and it should always be horizontal. It is the first of two cuts required to make the notch (otherwise known as the face cut). How do you notch a tree? You start by making your horizontal cut which should be no higher than hip height and should extend no deeper than one-third of the width of the tree. The tree will eventually fall perpendicularly to the horizontal cut.
Step 3. The Wedge Cut
The wedge cut finishes off the notch by cutting a wedge out of the tree. This cut can be made from either the top or the bottom of the horizontal cut. Both cuts must meet together accurately to configure a good hinge. To limit the possibility of kickbacks, you need to cut 3-inches above the acute angle of the original cut. When you have completed this step, take the wedge out of the tree to inspect it.
Step 4. The Back Cut
The back cut is the final cut of the tree felling process. This determines the thickness of your holding wood, which controls how the tree will fall. How do you make a tree fall where you want it to? Begin by creating a mark on the back of the tree where you want the back cut to stop. Note that the back cut should be at least 1.5-inches above your horizontal cut. Prior to cutting, you will need to stow a felling wedge into the tree to ensure it falls in the direction of the notch cut. This will also prevent the tree from settling on the chainsaw. You may require several wedges depending on the tree’s size. Finally, start cutting the back of the tree and bring your chainsaw around towards the holding wood.
Step 5. Escape Route
When you have completed your back cut, the tree should begin to topple. At this point, the cutter should be the only worker near the tree, and all other workers should be in a safety zone. When the tree starts to fall, use your safety route immediately to run clear of it. Ensure you stay focused on the tree and use your escape route when you see signs of it falling.
Certified arborist and world champion tree climber Mark Chisholm sums up best how to fell a tree with a chainsaw.
Tree Felling Equipment For Professionals
Now that you’ve read our guide on how to fell a tree it’s important to ensure that you own the best felling equipment on the market. This hardware is imperative to maximising your work quality and efficiency. Tree felling equipment includes:
PPE safety Workwear
Sharp Chainsaw Chains
Using a sharp chainsaw chain enables the cutter to saw down the tree with ease. High-quality chains are pre-stretched and manufactured using specialised steel. It’s also important to understand when to change a chainsaw chain.
Another extremely useful tree felling tool is the Silky Saw. This piece of equipment is typically used to cut small branches during felling preparation. Available as straight, curved and folded cutters, these sharp saws have long been the choice of professionals.
The Felling Axe comprises a razor sharp, thin blade used to slice through wood fibres. Their long, lightweight handles allow the user to swing with ease before the steel edge is driven into the tree with force.
Felling Wedges are used to ensure that the tree falls in the direction you want it to. This piece of equipment also prevents the tree from settling back onto your chainsaw while you cut. The wedges make the felling process more accurate and significantly easier.
For all your forestry equipment and tree felling tools, feel free to browse the Northern Arb Supplies website.