Tree-Felling Technique

Thursday, January 7, 2016

You've finally decided to cut down some of those bothersome trees in the back 40.

Grab your chain saw, safety glasses, a helmet, and earmuffs. Then analyze how to follow through on your project before you make a cut.

John Olson is a woodworking professional in Iowa. He says the first step is to determine if the tree is leaning and if it will fall in a natural direction. Next, cut a wedge toward the direction you want the tree to fall.

"I usually do the bottom cut first, followed by a top cut," says Olson. "A lot of times when I do the bottom cut, I try to cut straight in horizontally, although sometimes I can come in a little bit underneath.

Then the top part of that, I cut second. Usually I cut about a quarter to a third of the way through the tree. Following that, I have my back cut on the back side."

On many chain saws, there's a line molded into the saw on both sides that can usually tell you which direction the tree will fall. When you cut your wedge, Olson says to put the saw bar all the way in the cut and sight down the line for that visual.

There is no single way to fell a tree. Olson says he tailors the method to what he's cutting down.

"For smaller trees that are leaning, I can get away with maybe just doing a little cut on the fall side and then cut in from the back side," he says. "Especially if I come a little bit down at an angle, it'll fall without much problem. For larger trees, it's much more important to cut a wedge and to take my time. Probably the hardest thing to deal with is when I cut into a larger tree and it's hollow, because then I don't have the structural integrity on the inside. In that case, I just have to watch it carefully when I get in there."

Olson says it's important to take your time and be aware since the tree doesn't always go where you desire. Make sure to have two escape routes planned in case things don't go well.

Removing a Stump
There are basically two ways of getting rid of a tree stump: grind it down or simply wait for it to rot. Another option is to leave it there and use it as a pedestal for container plants.

Kim Coder is a forestry professor at the University of Georgia. He says blowing it up, digging it out by hand, or burning a stump can be dangerous, and it doesn't always get rid of the offending wood.

The quick-and-easy solution for total removal is to rent a stump grinder or hire someone to do the job.

"The grinder has a real wide blade on it, and it just chips the stump," says Coder. "Chip it down 1 foot below ground. Then you have to do something with all the chips. Usually the best thing for chips is to use them elsewhere in the landscape as mulch. You don't want to put them back in the hole where the stump used to be. Fill that space with soil."

If you have the time and the patience, let the stump rot away. How long this takes depends on several factors, including how far north you live.

Coder says the same tree stump in Florida will decay in two years; it will take six or seven years in Minnesota.

One way to give Mother Nature a boost is to cut the stump as low as you can, scar the top, and add nitrogen fertilizer.

"Take a hatchet out and scar up the top of the stump," says Coder. "Keep it fertilized, moist, and away from the sunlight. This will accelerate the decay.

"After a year or two, sprinkle some sugar on it," he says. "Your neighbors will think you're crazy, but what you're doing is making the soil ecology and the succession of decay organisms work for you."