How to Notch When Felling Timber

A discussion of the pros and cons of different notching strategies used when cutting down trees. June 14, 2014

I donít know if anybody has watched the show Ax-Men on the History Channel or not but they did something different on there from the way I was taught. When I cut a notch in a tree to cut it down I cut straight into the tree and then cut the wedge down to meet the horizontal cut. On Ax-Men they cut a line parallel to the ground, and then cut up (from below the line) to meet that horizontal cut. It seems to be six inches or so of the butt log would be lost doing this. Just wondered if anyone could explain why this is done?

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor M:
Actually, when you make the undercut the way you describe, when you are done, there will be an angle cut on the butt of your first log. That is where the waste is. With the Humboldt undercut, the waste is on the stump.

From contributor F:
Waste is one issue, but the major issue is safety. There is less likelihood of the stem coming back on the stump and you getting caught under the butt of the tree. The Humboldt cut is mandatory here in Oregon for safety purposes.

From contributor G:
I'm looking for a good web site or a reference book that will allow me to identify common domestic wood species by the bark. Does anyone have any suggestions?

From Contributor B:
I have a book called "The Tree Identification Book" by George W.D. Symonds. It has good pictures of bark as well as leaves, twigs and buds. I got it at Borders for about $20 bucks, and would highly recommend it.

From Contributor H:
It takes an extra 6-8" of the tree to use the Hombolt, that is why I use the other style (Iíve never actually heard a name for it). I believe it wastes more wood using the Humboldt because you have to cut it up higher off the ground, where using my technique you cut right off the ground.

From contributor D:
From what I have seen the cut may depend on what you're doing. On a good quality tree where you cut right close to the ground the standard (notch up) cut is better. Some trees, though, you can't do that low for one reason or another. That's the kind I see people doing the Humboldt undercut on, and that makes sense.

Personally when I need to cut something I use the standard notch, or sometimes on firewood or dead trees I will use an open face notch. For those who don't know, this uses an angled notch on both sides to make an opening just under 90 degrees so that the hinge remains intact throughout the fall. I like this for dead stuff because it can do funny things at times. If I am cutting firewood for myself I don't care about the loss anyway.

From contributor R:
The other cut is commonly known as here as a Northern Face Cut.

From Contributor O:
The Humboldt cut was originally designed as a good way to cut timber on a hillside because you could keep your notch on the downhill side of the stump and not lose material. When cutting on flat ground though, you lose length when you use the Humboldt, which is where a conventional top notch is better.

As far as safety, a tree cut with a Humboldt can still shoot back (although it's likelihood is reduced). The best way to deal with that possibility is by leaving a proper sized hinge attaching the tree to the stump and using an open face so that the butt and the stump stay attached as long as possible during the fall of the tree. This can be done whether your notch is above or below the end of the butt. See the open face, hinge, and latch felling technique taught by the Game of Logging course. This allows you to put the notch in the proper place for the given situation and still operate safely.