Felling a Tree

Thanks to our friends the winter moths, there’s no shortage of dead trees on the Island – chances are you may even have a few on your property. Here are a few tips on how to take those trees down, trim off the branches, and leave your own limbs intact.

The first thing to do is determine which way you want the tree to fall. If it’s leaning too far in any one direction, you really don’t have much choice in the matter, however if the tree is reasonably upright, you can direct its fall by cutting a notch on that side.

Arnie Fischer Jr., owner of Moonlight Gardening in West Tisbury, says he makes the first cut – the bottom of the notch – angled slightly upward and extending about a third of the way into the tree. He then makes the second cut downward at about a 60-degree angle until it intersects the first cut – then he removes the wedge. If it’s a fairly good-sized tree, he’ll also cut in little guidelines.

The final cut is made from the opposite side of the notch. Arnie advises cutting at a slightly downward angle toward the notch, making sure where the cut ends is not above or below it. The idea is to not cut all the way through to the notch, but rather leave about an inch-wide “hinge” – which will keep the tree from twisting or kicking back as it falls. At that point, you can normally just push the tree over.

If you’re in a confined area or you are close to a house, Arnie also recommends using a rope to guide the fall. “Either climb up the tree or use a ladder to get the rope as far up the tree as possible,” explains Arnie. “You can also put a weight on the end of a line and throw it up over a branch. Then someone can pull on the rope and steer the way the tree falls.” For obvious reasons, just make sure your rope is longer than the tree or your assistant has good running shoes.

Once the tree is down, you can begin cutting the limbs. The trick here is to not let the chain saw get stuck or “pinched.” Arnie suggests cutting both down from the top and up from the bottom on limbs that have a lot of pressure on them – and if you again create a little hinge, the saw is less likely to be pinched. He always likes to have two saws though, just in case one gets stuck. But you can also use a sledgehammer and a wedge to pry the chain saw’s bar loose if you don’t have an extra saw.

When it comes to cutting the trunk up into lengths, Arnie’s method is to cut about two thirds of the way through the trunk in whatever lengths you want and then roll the trunk over and finish each cut from the top. That way you don’t run the risk of cutting into the dirt and hitting a rock, which can instantly dull the chain.

Arnie’s final words of caution are to be very careful when you’re cutting down on a branch not to let the top side of the bar inadvertently grab another branch or limb thus causing the saw to kick back; never straddle the trunk when you’re cutting, because it could roll and trap your foot; and by all means wear protective eye wear – I can tell you from experience that getting sawdust in your eye is no fun.

So if you are still game – go for it. But if you think you and chain saws might not be such a good mix, just sit back and turn on the History Channel’s Ax Men and watch the pros do it.