Earlier this month I had little choice but to take down a large dead pine tree that threatened to fall on our house. While it is doubtful that anyone would want to cut a tree of this size for firewood, all trees eventually drop. Some can be safely left to do so on their own; (if a tree falls in the forest, etc.) it is always possible however, that a tree in an inconvenient or dangerous location will require more active measures. Since no rational person would want to appear or “World’s Dumbest” I thought perhaps seeing how I worked through my problem would be helpful. Please note: I make no claim of expertise and every tree is different. If a reader has the opportunity and means to hire or consult with a professional, I would strongly advise them do so.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)
Photo number one… the tree: As can be seen in this picture nearly all the heavy branches and corresponding weight was on the side toward our house.
Photo number two… safety equipment: Helmet, logging chaps, and leather gloves. A good helmet will save your hearing, keep wood chips out of your eyes and provide some modest protection from falling branches or “widow makers”. If you do not own a helmet, I urge you to purchase one.
At least in theory, the fabric logging chaps I wore will tangle the teeth of a running saw stopping it before it cuts your entire leg off. The necessity of wearing work boots and leather gloves goes without saying.
Photo number three… the tools: Of particular note are the 100’ of cable, the 12 volt power winch (A come-along could have been used but I happened to own a 1,500 lb. single line pull winch.) and lastly, the plastic wedges I use to keep trees from rocking back, closing the felling cut and pinching the bar. The big advantage of a plastic felling wedge is that you can continuously continue to tap them into the cut as you saw deeper into the tree without any risk of damaging the chain should it inadvertently come in contact with the wedge.
Photo number four… After deciding which direction I wanted the tree to fall, my next step was to determine where to chain off the winch to drop the tree safely. The anchor point I choose was the tall poplar tree to the left in this picture.
Photo number five.. In this picture you can see how I chained off the winch to the foot of the tree. By the way, the yellow base is just a homemade steel plate with a rebar loop that can be either chained off to a tree or for an emergency off road excursion, simply draped off the ball on a trailer hitch.
Photo number six… With the cable in place and drawn taunt, (it was after all a decidedly dead tree) the next step was to remove as many of the heavy limbs as I could safely reach on the back of the tree. I used a 24’ ladder and an electric chain saw for limbing as it was light weight and much easier for me to manage while holding onto the ladder with my other hand. If I had not had electricity available, I would have used a pruning saw. Removing the limbs and all that excess weight was to make it less likely that the tree would go over backwards when cut.
Photo number 7… The next step was to remove the remnants of a large branch, darn near half the tree in fact, which had gone down on its own last spring. Until everything to the left of the line of bark had been removed I could not begin my 65 or 70 degree undercut/felling notch. (A felling notch, the center of which aims directly at the point where you want the tree to fall, begins with a straight cut to about 80% of the tree’s maximum diameter. The second cut starts several inches to a foot or so above the first cut and is brought down on about a 65 degree angle to meet the back of the first cut. When both cuts are finished, they take out a section that looks a lot like an orange slice.) Starting from the back of the tree, I like to make my felling cut about 4” above the bottom of the felling notch. When all goes according to plan, the tree will fall when the felling cut gets to within a few inches of the notch. The uncut wood between the two cuts acts as a hinge to lay the tree down.
Photo number 8… This picture of the butt shows just how small the hinge (uncut wood between the felling cut and the undercut) became. Had it not been for the two plastic wedges I kept tapping in as I made the felling cut, there is no question but what the tree would have rocked back pinching the saw and possibly even gone over backwards.
Photo number 9… The winch and cable worked perfectly dropping the tree exactly where I wanted it to go. I have a 100’ tape and out of curiosity I measured the length of the tree, it was 77‘. The odd shaped stump’s largest diameter was 44 inches, the smallest was 35 inches.
A couple last notes: First, count on it - when you look up and see a 77’ tree falling toward you, even when you are certain you are safely beyond its reach, the pucker factor will go up in a real hurry. Lastly, if I sound a little anal when it comes to wearing safety equipment it is because a young man who drove stock car for me in the 70’s, died of a fractured skull when struck by a falling branch. A helmet might or might not have saved his life, none of us will never know.