When and why you should never cut down trees yourself

December 8, 2014

Cutting down trees is a high-risk activity. While it might seem worth it for the money you save up front, here's when and why you should never cut down trees yourself.
Laws to respect

Even the best informed citizens can accidentally run afoul of the law—and not knowing the laws is never a reason for breaking them. To avoid legal woes, here are some pointers to remember:

  • Depending on where you live and how old the tree is, you may be forbidden to cut it down. If it’s well situated, healthy and safe, you may not have choice in the matter.
  • In contrast, if one of your trees is in poor condition or poses a danger, the municipality may force you to cut it down.
  • Even if you have a large property and want to cut timber, you need to know the rules first. Regardless of whether you intend to build a house, install a pool, or cut firewood, there is usually a bylaw in place that limits the number of trees you can cut.

When to cut a tree

Conifers and evergreens can be cut down any time of year.

Hardwoods, in comparison, shouldn’t be cut until they have lost all their leaves. As such, cutting is best done at the end of October and during the winter when the weather is good. Why?

  • The tree will be lighter to cut because of less sap. It will also dry more quickly after cutting. What's more, if you’re cutting to harvest timber, it will cost less to transport.
  • It will be easier to determine where the tree and its main branches will fall.
  • Leafless branches facilitate trimming, since the tree's structure is more clearly visible.

When NOT to cut a tree

  • Even if the tree has lost all of its leaves trimming on a windy day can be very dangerous: branches can snap, ladders can fall, and power lines can touch the tree as they sway.
  • Rainy weather is not recommended due to such safety hazards as a slippery ladder. In addition, during a storm, perching on a metal ladder makes you a lightning rod.
  • During extremely humid conditions, which favour the formation of fungi and the spread of insects, the chances of spreading disease from tree to tree is much greater.
  • Trimming when there’s frost is as bad as trimming in rainy weather. Including the elevated odds of a serious tumble on a slick surface, or the chances of frostbite from being outside for a prolonged period of time, the risks involved are too high to make trimming a tree yourself worthwhile.

Specific steps expert arborists know

Still think you can make quick work of it with a chainsaw? The fact is tree cutting must be done in precise steps, especially when the tree is old and large:

  1. Topping: Removing all or part of the crown (head) when there's not enough space for the length of the tree to fall.
  2. Felling: You can yell "Timber!”
  3. Limbing: All branches are removed.
  4. Bucking: The tree is cut into sections for transport.
  5. Stump clearance: Extracting the remnants of the rootstock or parts of the roots visible from the surface.

Leave the job—and risks—to an expert

No matter if the tree is near a home or in the forest, it's always recommended that you use the services of an experienced arborist. From how to properly use a chainsaw to liability insurance, an experienced arborist has the right tools and knowledge to do the job safely and efficiently.

When and why you should never cut down trees yourself
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