How to cut down a leaning tree video

How To Fell A Leaning Tree

Felling any type of tree can be a dangerous business.

If the tree you’re looking to cut down is already leaning in one direction, that can make things even more challenging.

When it comes to cutting down large and small trees, safety is the most important thing.

Here’s the two ways of cutting down a leaning tree:

  • Cutting With the Lean — You’ll use specialized cuts with your saw to ensure that the tree falls in the proper direction and there is not any dangerous breakage.
  • Cutting Away from the Lean — You’ll insert wedges into the tree as you perform a series of smaller cuts in order to correct the lean.

Let’s take a closer look at felling these two types of trees and how you can get this job done quickly and safely. 

Table of Contents

Getting the Tree to Fall Where You Want (And Not Where You Don’t!) 

Even the largest, oldest, and most crooked trees can be safely brought down.

Leaning trees often want to fall in the direction of their lean.

This might be a good thing, or it might send that old oak right into your garage.

To cut down a leaning tree, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Remove heavy branches 
  • Uses felling wedges to correct the lean
  • Contact an arborist for professional support 

Now, let’s take a look at felling a tree in the direction of the lean. 

Felling a Tree With the Lean

If it seems like felling a tree in the direction of its lean is a much easier job, it’s because it is.

There are still a few things we need to keep in mind as well as a few basic steps to take in order to cut down a tree in the direction it is leaning.

The only tools you’ll need for this job is your trusty chainsaw.

You also might want to use a ladder and some rope to remove any heavy branches just to make the job a little bit safer and easier.

Check out this video for a demonstration of cutting a notch, a plunging cut, and felling a large tree.  

Make a Notch in Your Tree

The first step is to put a notch in the tree on the side it’s leaning.

This will ensure that it falls in that direction.

The notch should be no more than ⅕ the width of the tree.

The notch should also be knee height or lower.

The leaning side of the tree is the hardest to cut a notch into because if it’s awkward shape.

Make sure to take your time to get this cut right and get it done safely.

  • Cut the notch into the ground facing—that’s the leaning side—of the tree.
  • Cut your notch no deeper than one fifth of the tree’s width.
  • Cut the notch knee height or lower.

Make Plunging Cuts

Your plunging cut, also known as a bore cut, is the key to getting a leaning tree down safely.

You want to cut starting on one side just behind and slightly above the hinge of the notch you cut in earlier.

Start your bore cut on one side, and then move to the other to complete it.

This should leave you with the hinge of the notch and a small strap of wood still connecting the tree to the stump.

  • Perform your plunging cut just behind the hinge of the notch you just cut.
  • Start on one side and then finish the plunging cut on the other.
  • You should be left with the hinge of the notch and a small strap of wood on the opposite side of your tree still connecting the trunk to the stump.

Do not cut corners when making her plunging cuts.

Even though a leaning tree is inclined to fall in the direction you want it to, kick back can be deadly if the plunging cut is not successfully completed. 

Make the Felling Cut

The felling cut will be made by cutting through the strap of wood on the opposite side of the tree as the notch we cut in the first step.

After you cut through the strap, there should only be about 10% of the width of the tree still connecting the trunk to the stump.

This will snap as the tree falls towards the notch.

By completing the boring cut and then making the felling cut by removing the strap of wood opposite the notch, we are eliminating the risk of any dangerous kick back or breakage as the tree falls.  

  • Cut through the strap of wood opposite the notch.
  • Make sure that any assistants, family members, or anyone else in the area is clear of the area the tree is expected to fall in.
  • Safely going through all these steps will allow the tree to come to the ground without incident. 

Felling a Tree Against the Lean

This is a less common job, but one you can still do on your own.

You’re going to need a few tools to get this job done. 

  • Chainsaw 
  • Ladder
  • Rope
  • Felling Wedges
  • Sledge Hammer

Removing Branches

Trees typically grow branches more heavily in the direction they are leaning.

In order to remove some of this weight and get the tree to fall in a different direction, we’re going to have to cut off these branches.

You’ll use the rope to secure your ladder to the tree as well as to pull your chainsaw up to you.

It’s much safer to use the rope to lift a chainsaw up to you than it is to attempt to climb with a chainsaw.

  • Raise your letter to your desired height and secure it to the tree.
  • Tie the rope to your chainsaw and pull it up to you.
  • Safely begin removing branches from the tree.

Removing branches makes felling the trees against the direction of the lean a much safer process. 

Notching the Tree

Cut the notch on the side of the tree you want to fall towards the ground.

To begin this cut, make a flat cut about 1/4 of the way into the tree.

Then make an angular cut down towards the flat cut you just made.

When finished, the notch should be a right angle that is taken out of the tree.

Notches should be cut at a comfortable highlight that is typically somewhere around knee height.

  • Cut you were not sure about 1/4 of the way through the tree.
  •  Remember that notches should be cut about knee height. 

Start Your Felling Cut

Here’s where things get a little more complicated.

You’re going to want to start your felling cut with your chainsaw on the opposite side of your notch.

Cut about one-third of the way into the tree and leave your chainsaw bar in the tree and running.

Make sure to turn on your chainsaw safety so that it does not begin cutting by accident.

  • Begin your felling cut on the opposite side of the notch.
  • Cut about one-third of the way into the tree.

Drive the Wedges In

Next, drive your felling wedges into the cut you just created.

Felling wedges and shims should be used at this point to stand the tree upright.

If the tree cannot be straightened by using felling wedges at this stage, it is unsafe to finish this cut.

If the tree is still crooked after inserting felling wedges, you need to call a professional arborist and have them safely take the tree down for you.

  • Drive your felling wedges into the cut you just created to straighten your tree.
  • If the tree does not straighten, you need to have a professional arborist finish this job. 
  • Remember to leave your chainsaw bar in the tree during this stage as this will allow you to complete the cut later.  

Finish Your Felling Cut 

After you drive in your wedges, and only if the tree is now standing up straight, you can resume your felling cut.

Disengage your chainsaw safety and begin cutting towards the notch.

As your chainsaw’s bar approaches the notch, the tree will fall in the direction you have notched.

  • Disengage the chainsaw safety.
  • Resume cutting towards the notch.
  • Stay alert at all times as leaning trees can fall in unexpected ways.
  • Always have to clear paths of exit.
  • Make sure that everyone else is out of the range of the falling tree.

Leaning trees are often old, damaged, or rotting.

This means that they can fall in unexpected ways.

This is especially the case if you’re feeling a leaning tree against the direction of the lean.

Remember, safety is the first step in felling a tree. 

Tips for Felling Small Trees

Trees that are less than 10 inches in diameter are just too small to fill with any of the previous methods we have mentioned above.

Here are some steps that you can take to fill a smaller tree against the direction of the lean.

Make a Cut for Your Wedges

Your first cut should be designed to accommodate your wedges.

Unlike with our previous examples, we’re going to insert our wedges and straighten this tree before cutting our notch. 

Drive Your Wedges into the Tree

Next you’ll drive your wedges into the tree.

This time we will be removing our chainsaw from the tree before driving our wedges in.

Your goal is to straighten the tree here.

Again, if the tree does not straighten it is not safe to cut without an arborist. 

Cut a Notch

After the tree has been straightened, cut a notch into the opposite side of where you made your first cut.

Remember, the tree will be falling in the direction of the notch so plan ahead.

This notch should be no more than 1/4 of the width of the tree. 

Fell the Tree Using Wedges

Now it’s time to fell the tree using wedges.

Drive your wedges in with a sledgehammer, and they will begin to push you a tree over.

If you made your first cut deep enough, driving in the wedges alone should be more than enough to bring the tree to the ground. 

Can You Fell a Tree With a Chainsaw? 

Yes. Here’s how you can fell a leaning tree with a chainsaw.

  • Remove as many large branches as you can from the tree to lower its center of gravity and reduce its weight.
  • Cut a notch into the tree on the side you want the tree to fall on.
  •  Begin your felling cut on the opposite side of the notch.
  •  Drive wedges into the felling cut you have made and hammer them in until the tree stands up straight.
  • Complete your felling cut with your chainsaw.

Remember, if your tree fails to stand up straight you should have a professional arborist finish this job for you. 

How to Cut Down a Tree Safely

Make it fall where you want it! Check out these expert tree felling techniques.

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Wear the Right Safety Gear

Safety isn't a throwaway word when it comes to felling trees and running chain saws. You must take it seriously. There are a few absolutely essential safety gear items you need to wear for any chain saw work, and especially when felling a tree: - A logger's helmet to protect you from falling branches, a major cause of logging injuries. - Earmuffs and a face screen to protect your ears and eyes. - Safety glasses to keep the dust out. - Kevlar chaps, which will stop a chain instantly should you happen to drop the bar against your leg.

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Buy Felling Wedges

Two plastic felling wedges will prevent your saw from getting pinched during a cut. You can find these at any outdoor power equipment store that carries chain saws.

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Estimate the Felling Zone: How to fell a tree in the direction you want

Trees are taller than you think and reach farther on the ground than you'd expect. When you're planning on felling a tree, you can estimate where a tree will fall by using the “ax handle trick.” This is how to fell a tree in the direction you want: hold an ax handle at arm's length, close one eye, and back away from or move toward the tree until the top of the ax is even with the treetop and the bottom is even with the base. Your feet should be about where the treetop will rest after falling. It's just an estimate, though, so allow extra room if there's something the tree might fall on!

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Clear a Cutting Zone

Even when you're sure which way the tree is going to fall, you're still not ready to fell it. Cut away any brush around the trunk and clear two escape routes on the “non-falling” side of the tree. They should be about 45 degrees away from each other in opposite directions. The last thing you want is to trip while walking away from a falling tree.

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Size Up the Tree

Start by studying the tree. Don't cut it down if you see:

- Dead branches that are broken but attached, or that are actually broken off and supported by other branches. You're bound to knock a branch loose and have it fall on you.

- It is obviously leaning in one direction or heavily loaded with branches on one side. It will fall in the direction of the lean or load despite your best efforts.

- There are buildings, fences, power lines or other things you care about in the felling zone. If so, skip the felling and call a pro.

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Anatomy of a Proper Notch

When felling a tree, the rule of thumb is to make the depth of the notch one-fifth of the tree trunk's diameter. The goal is to make the angles as shown in the diagram (or as close as you can). The felling cut should meet the point of the notch. When the tree starts to fall, the hinge will help guide the tree to fall in the desired direction.

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Plan the Notch

You're going to be cutting a notch on the "fall" side of the trunk. Sight along the handle and adjust the saw until it's pointing toward your fall direction. The spot where the bar touches the bark will be the center of the notch. Before cutting, lay out the notch by marking with chalk or by scoring the bark with the chain saw. Make the notch at a comfortable working height. (You can always shorten the stump later.)

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Cut the Notch

Make the top cut first and then the bottom. When you're making the bottom cut, adjust your hand to control the throttle with your thumb. If you meet the top notch perfectly, the wedge will drop out of the notch. But most likely you'll have to extend the cuts from either the top or the bottom so the wedge can drop free.

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Use Wedges on Big Trees

If you're felling a tree that's more than 18 in. in diameter, go ahead and make your notch cut and begin the felling cut. Stop cutting as soon as you've penetrated far enough to pound wedges behind the bar. Leave the bar in the cut with the saw running, but lock the chain brake and tap in the wedges. Then finish the cut. Wedges will keep the saw from getting pinched in the cut if the tree leans back.

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Make the Felling Cut

Score a line connecting the apex of the notch on both sides for a cutting guide. The back cut should be parallel and even with the apex of the notch. Then make the felling cut. The instant the tree begins leaning, pull the saw free, set the chain brake and walk away along one of your escape routes, keeping an eye on the tree so you can react if it doesn't fall the way you planned. Never take your eye off a falling tree.

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A Lookout Might Save Your Life

When felling a tree, you'll be a lot safer if you have a trusted assistant standing a few feet behind you watching the top of the tree for falling branches and letting you know when the tree starts to fall. Have your assistant tap you on the shoulder with a stick to alert you when it's time to vacate the area. If it's early in the cut and you get the tap, leave the saw and walk away immediately. That means a branch is falling. Near the end of the cut, a tap means the tree is beginning its descent.

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Start Cutting Branches at the Trunk

After felling the tree, cut off branches starting at the lower end of the trunk and working to the top. Whenever possible, stand on the uphill side of the tree. Work from the left side of the trunk (as you face toward the top of the tree). This allows the safest and most efficient use of the chain saw because you can rest the side or bottom of the saw on the trunk and slice off the branches with a pivoting motion.

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Saw the Trunk into Firewood

Cut a log into 16-in. lengths for firewood by first sawing three-quarters of the way through the log. Then roll it over and complete the cuts.

Learn how to cut firewood multiple ways so you can use whichever tools you have available.

Originally Published: May 29, 2019


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