Felling trees correctly

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Suggested techniques for safe chainsawing. December 17, 2002

I cut four nice oaks today and did much better than I usually do. I still pulled a few splinters in one tree.

I notched them about halfway through and then sawed from the other side about one inch above the notch. Am I doing this wrong? How do you make sure you don't pull splinters in a log? Should I be making my notch deeper than halfway through?

I also end sealed them as I dragged them up. I just used thick paint for painting roofs. I'm sure it will be better than nothing.

Forum Responses
To keep from pulling splinters, try this style of cut. First make your notch no more than one third so you don't lose control of the tree. Try to make a wide notch. I cut down first, then instead of flat, I cut up on the bottom. If you don't make a wide notch, it will close before the tree falls.

Second, make a plunge cut perpendicular to the notch, starting in the notch and pushing the saw right through to the outside. Start with the bottom of the tip and rotate the saw into the plunge cut. This will wipe out the middle of the tree and stop the pull.

Third, make your felling cut. I put mine right where the plunge exits. On really large trees, I actually fell from the hinge out by plunging parallel to the notch an inch or so back. As always, have a clear escape planned and be careful.

From the original questioner:
The best timber cutter I know saws them like you describe. He sawed, skidded and loaded 9000 feet of yellow pine a few years back and just sawed straight through. We felled one big white pine and two oaks and he did them like you mention. I'll try my luck at it that way and see what happens. It stands to reason if the middle and the biggest part of the tree is cut before the tree starts moving that it would help prevent splinters.

The biggest reason for pulling the center out of a tree is having the notch close too early. It causes the tree to lift rather than letting it fall over.

Be careful! A friend of mine, who is an experienced feller, got his foot hung as his tree was falling this past weekend, and it almost got him. He fell to the ground and the big pine fell within a couple of inches of his leg. He said that he thought it was all over this time.

I must disagree with the 'notch close too early' being the cause for pulling.

The instructors in the chainsaw course I did several years back explained these matters to me in great detail. They told me and demonstrated the fact that the tree will 'pull' unless the hinge is snapped. This needs to happen just before the tree hits the ground. It can only happen if the birdsmouth (or notch) closes at that point, which is usually between 30 and 15 degrees to the ground. If the notch closes before this angle, there is not enough inertia to snap the hinge and it will certainly pull. If your notch is too open (this is most often the case), it will not close at all and it will also pull. Remember that you must also consider the slope of the ground in front of the fell. If it's sloping away, the notch should be cut more open. If the ground is sloping towards you, it should be more closed.

I presume now that these splinters were in the center of the tree and not on the outside. If it was the latter, the problem is a different one - it means that you didn't cut the 'ears'.

Where is this pulling of splinters happening? Is it in the middle of the stump/log or on the outside edge near the bark?

If it's on the outside edge near the bark, then it's called a root tear, because the log is still attached to the stump and the roots and as it falls over, it tears up the side of the log. This can be solved using another couple of cuts, called corner nipping.

Corner nipping is done by making two small cuts on each side of the tree at the level of the center of the v in the notch. Each cut is made from the front facing the notch, again level and only a few inches deep and a few inches long, just enough to make the hinge area into a rectangular shape. (See rough drawing below.)

When releasing a tree by making a back cut from the outside after having made a plunge cut, the tree can move very quickly. So beware about how it's moving and get out of there quick. 37% of men killed by trees are from butt rebound. Good luck, and be safe.

From the original questioner:
The splinters are in the middle. In the drawing, the trouble I'm having is in the part marked as the hinge.

Thinking back, it seems the tree starts falling before enough wood is cut free. It's in this last couple inches when the tree is falling and I want to run instead of hanging around cutting more.

I'll try some of the above advice. I have been using a thin notch, so a bigger one shouldn't hurt any. And I think the plunge cut will help, too, because if I can cut the part splintering before it starts moving, it seems that would solve the problem.

The illustration is right on. The beauty of this technique is that everything is pretty much under control until you nip the last little bit marked "hold wood". It gives you one last time to look around and make sure no one has walked under the falling area, check your escape route, etc. As noted, the hinge is only 1" thick - thick enough to hold the tree on the way down but thin enough to break off.

If you elect not to use this method and the tree leans even the slightest bit over noticeable, you'll not cut far enough before it starts to fall and you'll chance cracking the butt of the log, pulling splinters, or having the butt of the tree in your face when it splits up.

I put a heavy web belt around the tree and cinch it up tight if there is any chance it might crack on the way down, especially hickory.

From contributor T:
I've tried paint of varying types as sealer and it has not worked for me. If these are valuable logs and not too old, try cutting off a foot from each end, then coat heavily with Anchor-Seal. Anchor-Seal must be applied within a couple of hours of cutting into logs to have maximum effect. It does work - I've used it since I started using my mill 3 years ago. I do see a significant difference with the A/S compared to not using it. The A/S will prevent drying cracks, but it will not do anything for stress-relief cracks caused by sawing the tree into logs.

From the original questioner:
Three of the 17 logs are very nice logs. They dole scale to 266 bd/ft and I want to quarter saw these for furniture wood. Problem with cutting back is that the nice ones are two 8 foot and one 10 foot. After cutting, this would leave one 8 ft and two 6 ft logs. I think I'll trim an inch off and coat them.

From contributor T:
I understand your reluctance to make firewood out of a couple feet of nice saw log. You might get away with taking an inch off a walnut, if it's not too old, but with most others you will waste it now or waste it later. You might try 3-4 inches. I think 1 inch will not be enough, especially if the logs have been cut for a while.

I use melted candle wax to end seal. I have a candle maker down the road and I buy slabs of wax for about $5 which will end seal a stack of about 50 m3. It's easily done and it is very effective. You just melt it to a liquid over the fire in a metal bucket and paint it on the end and about 1 inch up.

The trick to not pulling splinters is to cut into them before the tree falls. The only purpose of the notch is to give you a hinge to guide the tree down. Leaning trees are the only problem. They try to fall before enough wood is removed, so plunge cut until only a small tension strap is left on the back. Cut it and get out of the way.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).
Comment from contributor A:
When felling trees, the most important thing to consider is getting the heart. When cutting hardwood trees on steep slopes, it is crucial to get the heart out. There are many techniques for doing this and whether they are safe or not depends on the experience that a cutter has. "Bore cutting" is an acceptable method for felling trees on moderate sloped hills, however, in my opinion it is not a good technique on severe slopes because too much stress is put on the hinge, causing it to crack or even bust off the face of the log. I have found that on steep slopes, plunge cutting is the better method. In consideration of veneer quality trees, "stumpjumping" is the method I prefer to use. Most professional loggers either use or avoid this technique. For those of you who are not familiar, stumpjumping is a technique in which no notch or hinge is used. This technique ensures that there is no stump pull because the tree is actually sawed off the stump completely. This form of cutting is deemed "illegal" by OSHA and other organizations, but it is still widely used. Every cutter has their own method, and as long as they feel safe and confident, that's all that matters.

Comment from contributor B:
The plunge cut, or "open faced method," as I learned it, is a good method for trees that are already leaning in the direction that you want to fell them, and straight trees. With straight trees, I recommend using felling wedges. Place two wedges on either side of the tree, into the bore cut. This helps guide the tree where you want it. The plunge cut method can be tricky, and I would seek training before trying it. Rotten heart and sapwood can become a very big problem with this method. Make sure your hold wood is sound.

Comment from contributor G:
I read the comments on tree-felling with interest and was amazed that none of them emphasized how important it is to be aware of the wind and its fickleness. During the felling of a tree the wind can kill or maim you or yours as quickly as anything. Beware of the wind especially when the tree top extends above the hill on which you are cutting and you can't actually feel the wind where you are standing.

I always carry my small plastic wedges in my shirt pocket for handy access and my axe will be nearby, as well. When cutting alone, which you should never do I always have my little 2-way radio on my person as well, so I can radio a local monitor if I need help in a hurry.

Comment from contributor J:
I've been cutting hardwoods damaged by the Ice Storm of 98 in the Ottawa area. The point about the centers rotting is well taken, particularly for the oldest trees. Cutting the notch back into the center could cause a rotted tree to collapse or to fall backwards if it is unbalanced. Also, cutting the hinge by driving the point of the saw into the tree can result in it jamming and kicking back, better to cut in-line from the notch.

A problem not previously mentioned is dead branches and diseased tree tops that snap off and fall back on your escape route. Keep looking up! It is also impossible to determine the balance point of trees that have large unbalanced branches. I loop a 100 foot rope around the tree and push it high up with a pole, then run it through a pulley tied to a tree in the direction I want it to fall, and bring the end back well past the tree I want to cut. I winch it with a Comealong attached to an anchor tree, so it has to fall where I want it to go. The 1/3rd diameter notch about 2 inches thick at the outside is a good rule of thumb, less if the tree is leaning in the fell direction. It's also a good idea to cut through from the side opposite the notch at a downward angle, to prevent the butt kicking back if the trunk splinters.

I keep in touch with a safety person via radio when working alone. I prefer working alone because I'm not putting a helper at risk and can concentrate on my own safety and take my own good time. I've been safely cutting dead hardwoods for firewood alone for 35 years, which has to be more than luck.