The safe way to fell a tree

Tree felling can be hazardous work. Here's some important information to keep you safe while toppling a tree.

The safe way to fell a tree

Plan your escape route

  • A tree may twist in falling. The branches of neighbouring trees may restrain it too, causing the trunk to slide across the stump.
  • Large branches may break off and crash to the ground as the tree falls.
  • Always consider where the tree you're felling is likely to fall. Work out at least one escape route in advance, in case things go wrong.
  • The best escapes are away from the crown and off to the side, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the intended line of fall.
  • For good footing, prepare a clear area around the tree's base.

Give the tree a scarf

  • To help a tree fall where you want, cut a wedge, known as a "scarf," out of the trunk. This is done on the side facing the direction the tree is planned to fall.
  • The scarf is made with two cuts: first a horizontal undercut, then a face cut that's made at a 45-degree angle downwards to join the undercut.
  • A third cut, the back cut, is then made at a shallow downward angle that approaches the undercut, but stops short about three centimetres (1 1/2 inches) above it.
  • Make sure there's about four to six centimetres (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches) of uncut "holding wood" left. This acts as a hinge when the tree falls and helps to tilt it in the desired direction.

Learn the art of tree-jacking

  • To improve the accuracy of felling, modern forestry techniques include methods such as "tree-jacking."
  • This involves the cutting of a "box" into the back cut, into which a hydraulic jack is inserted.
  • The chainsaw is pulled through when the back cut is complete. The jack is then operated by means of a hand lever to force the tree to fall in the direction of the scarf.

Trees can pivot too

A pivoting technique allows you to coax a tree to fall in the desired direction, even when it leans the other way. Here's how:

  • Make the back cut so that the hinge or holding wood is thicker at one side than the other.
  • As the tree falls, the trunk clings to the wider end of the holding wood, ­causing it to pivot in that direction.

Tree felling is dangerous work, so safety is your first concern. Have the right tools ready and make accurate cuts that help the tee fall safely. And if you have any doubts, don't hesitate to contact a professional.

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