How to Cut Down a Tree with a Chainsaw | Safety Measures & the Gear You Need

If you need to get a tree out of your yard, cutting it down is going to be a difficult and hazardous task. If you take the time to learn how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw using proper equipment, safety measures, and procedure, the task shouldn’t take you too long. 

It’s worth mentioning that if you’ve never done this before, hiring someone to do it for you is going to be safer. However, it can also be very expensive. If you feel up to the task, please follow this step-by-step guide we’ve put together for you. By the end of this article you’ll know everything you need to know about felling a tree with a chainsaw.

Step by Step Guide to How to Cut Down a Tree with a Chainsaw

Cutting down a tree isn’t about just getting a chainsaw and hoping for the best. You need to take proper safety measures and know the right procedure on how to cut down a large tree with a chainsaw. This will ensure the tree comes down the right way without any injuries or damage to your home. 

The tools and safety equipment you’ll need before you begin are:

  • A tree felling permit (check your state or local ordinances to find out if you need one)
  • A hard hat
  • Goggles or a safety visor
  • Earmuffs for hearing protection
  • Heavy-duty work gloves
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Chainsaw chaps (made with numerous layers of Kevlar to protect your legs and lower torso)
  • Quality chainsaw with sharp chain (the shaper the better). The size of the tree you’re dealing with will tell you if you need a gas powered chainsaw or an electric powered chainsaw of the right size.
  • Tree feeling wedges and an axe
  • A long sturdy rope or cable
  • First aid kit (just in case)

Do you have everything you need? Good. Let’s continue with step-by-step instructions on how to cut down a tree.

The Proper Way to Cut Down a Tree with a Chainsaw

Before you start, please read this guide thoroughly so you don’t miss anything in the process. It doesn’t matter if you’re cutting down a large tree, or if you want to know how to cut down a small tree with a chainsaw: if you miss a step, you could risk hurting yourself or worse.

1. Evaluate the area thoroughly. It’s important to know how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw near a house, or any other structures nearby. Note any sheds, doghouses, flowerbeds, gardens, gazebos, powerlines: anything that the tree could possibly fall on. Also note how far away your house is from the tree. Keep any people at least fifteen feet away from you and the tree as well, so they don’t get hurt by the tree or flying debris.

2. Pick a fall direction. We’ll go over this in more detail later, but once you’ve made a note of anything the tree could possibly fall on, determine which direction you want it to fall that will keep it away from those things. This will hopefully be in the direction the tree naturally leans. 

3. Make your first cut. You don’t want to just cut straight through the trunk. You won’t be able to control the direction of the fall that way and could potentially be dangerous. Instead, stand with your left shoulder pressed against the tree and cut a 70°degree cut into the trunk on the fall side of the tree. 

4. Make the second cut. Cut into the trunk horizontally until you meet the bottom edge of the first cut. Pull the wedge piece of wood out, and you know have your wedge cut.

5. Make the felling cut. This is the last cut you should have to make and will be the cut that fells the tree. Move to the opposite side of where you made your wedge cut. Start about an inch or two above the height of your wedge cut. At first saw about ¼ of the way into the tree, then stop and shut your saw off.

Don’t pull the saw out. Take one of your felling wedges that you bought, then insert it into the opening you just made (you might need to hammer it a few times with the head of your axe). Then fire the saw back up and continue, but don’t cut all the way through. Leave about an inch or two for your hinge. 

As you’re making this final cut, pay attention to what the tree is doing and be ready to make a hasty escape (following the route you planned out) the second the tree begins to fall.

How to Trim a Tree with a Chainsaw

If everything went to plan, you have successfully felled the tree. But don’t celebrate yet, that was the hard (and most dangerous) part. There is still more work to be done. 

The next step once the tree is felled is to trim the branches off the trunk. This is called “limbing”. If you want, you can begin this process before you fell the tree using pruning chainsaws. It can help you get some of the larger branches out of the way first before cutting the entire tree down.

Starting at the base of the tree, work your way up carefully. You can use upward cuts with the top of the bar (not the nose, as that can cause hazardous kickbacks), or downward cuts with the bottom. 

Some people will opt to do what’s called offsetting cuts. That’s when you make a partial cut on one side of the limb, and then cut through an inch or so closer to the trunk. This can keep the saw from getting violently stuck in the bark (called binding or pinching).

Save any branches that are trapped under the tree until you roll the trunk around. Cutting them while they’re under tension could cause them to spring towards you. 

Removing a Tree Stump with a Chainsaw

You’ve felled the tree, and you just finished clearing all the branches from the trunk. The next step is to cut and remove the tree stump that’s left behind. 

Though you may be thinking you could just leave it, don’t. This can eventually lead to insect infestations, especially termites. You don’t want those termites to eventually find their way to your home.

This is going to be a long process, so you may want to stop now, and begin working on the stump another day.

Put on your safety equipment again, then with your chainsaw, cut the stump down until it’s as level with the ground that you can get it. As you’re cutting, make sure to keep consistent, steady pressure. If you don’t use enough pressure you could damage the cutters, but too much and you risk kickbacks. 

Once it’s low enough, get yourself a shovel and begin digging around the stump. This will expose the roots so you can cut them. You will need to expose all the roots, so you’ll be doing a lot of digging. 

Make sure the roots are exposed enough to work around with your chainsaw. Once they’re properly exposed, use the chainsaw to cut through the roots. When they’re all cut, get your digging or landscaping bars and start working on prying the stump out of the ground. You may need to get someone to help you with this step, as it can be infuriating.

Once you get the stump out of the ground, you can dispose of it however you want.

An orange chainsaw in front of the cut wood

Cutting a Fallen Tree with a Chainsaw

The last step is to cut up the fallen trunk of the tree. This process is called “bucking.” The best way to do this is to cut part of the way into one side of the trunk, then roll the trunk over to cut through from the other side. This will both keep the chainsaw from hitting the ground and keep the bar from getting pinched. 

You can also try using felling wedges to keep a cut open while you saw through the trunk, just like you did when you sawed the fell cut before.

Make sure the pieces you cut off the trunk are in manageable sizes so you can easily move them out of your work area.

How to Cut a Leaning Tree Down with a Chainsaw

Sometimes trees can be very difficult, making your task that much harder. For this article, we’ll cover how to cut down a leaning tree with a chainsaw. 

If the tree you need to fell is leaning heavily in one direction, inspect the possible fall path to see if there’s anything in the way. If nothing is in the way, you have nothing to worry about. 

However, if you find that the fall direction needs to be in a direction opposite from the tree’s natural lean, this can become tricky. You may need to do a few calculations, but the idea is that you will need to pull the tree away from it’s natural lean, over the top of the hinge that you’ll be making.

The best way to do this is to use a combination of shims and wedges to lift that side of the trunk. The heavy-duty cord or cable we listed before can also help with this. Tie it around the tree trunk (somewhere above where you’ll be cutting) and anchor the cable along the intended fall path. This can help keep the tree from falling in the wrong direction.

Determining the Fall Path

As we mentioned before, it’s important to determine the fall path before you fell your tree. Not anything that could possibly be in danger of getting crushed should the tree fall on it, and plan for the fall path to go somewhere else. 

If the tree is leaning in the wrong direction you want, as previously mentioned that could get tricky. If, at this point, you’re not sure you can accomplish the task, it’s okay to call up a professional for help. That’s what they’re trained for. 

If you believe you can do it yourself, invest in a strong cable to tie back the tree in the fall direction, and also make sure you have plenty of wedges and shims to help lift the trunk over the hinge.

How to Fell a Tree in the Direction You Want

A man felling a tree with a chainsaw

When felling a tree, you want to take every step to make sure it falls in the direction you’ve designated. This will make sure it doesn’t fall on anything it shouldn’t, like your car, the house, powerlines, etc. 

Before you make your first cut, mark a line around the tree trunk around waist high, so you know where you need to begin cutting. Cut your notch, with the apex of the cut meeting the line you drew. Then make the back cut about 2-5 inches above the line. Use wedges in the back cut to force the trunk to lean and hopefully fall in the direction you want it to go.

Staying Safe While Cutting Down a Tree

Learning how to cut a tree with a chainsaw is a huge deal, and it’s important to know all the proper steps and possible dangers.

In order to stay safe, please don’t forget to:

  • Buy proper equipment. Hardhat, eye and face protection (shields that attach to the hard hat are best), ear protection (chainsaws are very loud), work gloves, steel-toed boots, Kevlar pants or chaps.
  • Use common sense. Don’t swing the chainsaw around (even if you could), especially if the chain is moving. Always shut it off or use the chain break when not cutting something. Know the area you’re working and clear away anything (if possible) that could get damaged.
  • Make sure other people are at least fifteen feet away from you and the tree while you’re working. 
  • Don’t run the chainsaw when you’re tired or drunk. If you start getting fatigued, stop for the day and return when you’re refreshed.
Susan Carmichael
 

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