A Guide to Cutting Down Trees Safely With a Chainsaw

How to Cut Down a Tree SAFELY


A Chainsaw and a Tree – an extremely dangerous combination and could be a recipe for disaster.  We would all agree, right?

It doesn’t have to be…

In this post, I will guide you through the right way to cut a tree down SAFELY…  This article may seem mostly like common sense but you’d be surprised (and shocked) how many people actually don’t use these techniques and put themselves and others at risk of injury or even death. Ok, let’s start….

First and foremost, Safety Safety Safety.  This cannot be overstated.  Your safety and the safety of those near you is the single most important factor to be aware of when cutting down a tree and when handling power equipment like a chainsaw.  

Man Cutting down large tree with chainsaw

Safety Guidelines you MUST Follow
Personal Protective Equipment – PPE

Helmet  – A tree feller’s helmet can protect your head from small falling branches.  Make sure your helmet has facial protection also as this reduces the risk of getting flying objects on or around your face. A helmet obviously won’t do much if the whole tree falls on you but if you follow the steps in this guide, you will ensure that doesn’t happen.
Eye Protection -  A good pair of safety glasses or goggles is crucial as it stops any sawdust or other flying debris from damaging your eye

Ear Protection – A chainsaw is very loud and prolonged use without ear protection can cause permanent hearing damage.  To put this into perspective, a running chainsaw at close proximity will produce over 110 decibels.  A very loud rock band is around 100 decibels.  So only 2 minutes of unprotected use can start to do damage. So proper ear muffs or ear plugs are essential for chainsaw use.  For even better protection, you could use ear plugs then ear muffs on top. This is highly recommended for prolonged chainsaw use as this doubles your protection level.
Foot and Toe Protection – Safety boots are an important part of your PPE.  The steel cap of the boots will protect you from falling objects including branches that may fall on your toes.
Long Sleeve Heavy Duty Shirt – There’s a reason why lumberjacks wear thick flannel shirts.  They protect their bare skin on their arms from twigs and branches that may otherwise cause painful scratches and scrapes. 

Long Heavy Duty Work Pants – Once again, protection from scrapes, scratches and cuts are avoided by wearing long pants.  If you have Kevlar Chaps, that’s even better as they may also protect you from chainsaw kickback.
Heavy Duty Gloves – Our hands are a delicate part of our body and gloves will protect them from scrapes and cuts as well as reduce the chances of blisters forming on fingers and palms.

Identify and Clear Work Zone

 You need to work out the work zone based on the tree size, other objects in the area such as other trees, fences, buildings and other structures and people.  Make sure that the tree isn’t leaning significantly in a certain direction because then you won’t be able to control the direction it falls in.  Work out where you need to tree to fall safely and where your escape routes are.  You need at least 2 escape routes on the non-felling side.  So if your tree is going to fall towards the South, then you need an escape route towards the North East and the North West.  Once identified, then you need to clear any overgrown vegetation, logs, or other obstacles to make sure you have a clear escape pathway. 

Escape routes when cutting down tree
Estimating height of tree to cut down

It is difficult to determine the exact height of a tree but here is a good guide.  Hold an axe out at arms-length (see diagram) and close one eye.  Move away from the tree until you can see the top of the tree aligned with the top of the axe handle and the bottom of the tree aligned with the bottom of the axe handle.  Where your feet are is approximately where the top of the tree will fall.  This is very approximate so you have to allow a reasonable buffer so allow at least an extra 20% to be safe.

Once you have determined where the tree will fall, now you need to make that area safe.  If you are cutting a tree down at home or around your property, it is essential to keep others away and make them aware that this is an unsafe zone.  Be particularly careful with children and pets who may need supervision indoors to keep them away.  A good idea is to cordon off the work zone where possible to ensure others are aware that this is a no-go zone.

Creating the Falling Direction Notch

On the side where you want the tree to fall, cut a notch at a 70o angle. Start the chainsaw and carefully cut down into the tree at a 70o angle as shown in the diagram. The shallowest part of the notch should be the top of the cut, while the deepest area of the cut should be the bottom of the notch. Ensure that the chainsaw does not go more than ⅓ through the tree. The bottom of the notch cut should be 30-40cm off the ground. 

If the tree is leaning or has more density towards one side, in other words, the crown of the tree is not central, then the tree will fall in that direction regardless of the notch and will need more work to make it fall in the direction of the notch.  So in that case, to help it fall in the direction of the notch, there are a couple of things you could do.  If the tree is not too high, you could use climbing safety equipment or a ladder to climb up and cut down branches on the side where it is most dense to even out the distribution of branches.  Make sure you start your chainsaw on the ground and activate the safety brake before climbing.  If the tree is too high to be able to do this, then you will need to use a cherry picker or other lifting equipment to ensure your safety.  Make sure you are strapped in with a harness whenever using a cherry picker or other lifting equipment.

Another way to help the tree fall in the direction you need is to tie at least two long strong ropes near the top of the tree (at least double the height of the tree in length) and have strong assistants pull on those ropes diagonally in the direction of fall ensuring they are well clear of the tree fall area.  This can be extremely dangerous if not calculated and performed correctly so if you are unsure, please seek assistance from a professional.

At all times, ensure you hold onto the chainsaw handles tightly with both hands so you have complete control.

Make the Felling Cut

Now move to the opposite side of where the tree needs to fall and make a horizontal cut slightly higher than the horizontal part of the notch on the opposite side.  Once you have sawed enough to insert a wedge, leave the chainsaw in the cut then drive a wedge into the cut just made.  Keep cutting till about 10% of the tree remains uncut.  This will create the hinge that helps the tree fall in the direction you want.  When the tree starts to fall, start moving down your escape path keeping an eye on where the tree is falling.  Never stand behind the tree as it could bounce up and hit you.

Once the tree is on the ground, it is time to cut it up in sizeable chunks depending on your requirements.  Generally for firewood, you need to cut the log into 40 – 50 cm lengths.  With the tree on the ground, cut from the top about 4/5 of the way through then turn the trunk piece over and cut the remaining 1/5.  This way, you avoid getting the chain into the dirt and blunting it.

Creating notch in tree to cut down

All information in this article is purely for information only and Healey Green Pty Ltd, its employees or agents accept no liability for any injury, death, damage or other loss howsoever caused by person or persons following the information in this or any or any of our guides.  Always seek a professional if unsure.

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