July 2006
Featured Articles

Fast Tree Felling

John Howle with all safety gear necessary for safe tree felling. It is important to use a chainsaw with enough size and cc power for the tree being cut.  
by John Howle

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), logging is hazardous because of the combination of chainsaws, foul weather conditions, and the immense weight of falling trees. For the landowner or lease hunter planning to cut a few trees, risks can be minimized with a little forethought before felling.

Saws and Safety

A sharp, properly tensioned chain is needed to complete a quick, safe cut. If the saw isn’t cutting in a straight line or fine saw dust is discharged instead of saw chips, sharpen the chain. Stihl Inc., www.stihlusa.com outlines a technique for keeping the saw and chain in safe, sharp condition. Go to information, then, Sharp Advice-A Guide to Chain Saw Maintenance.

Sharpening a chain only takes a few minutes with a round file, but the time saved with a sharp chain is well worth the effort. Most chains have a small, diagonal hash mark on top of each cutter. This provides a directional guide to help keep the sharpening angle correct when running the file through the cutters.

To make sharpening more consistent, count the number of filing strokes you make on each cutter. For instance, if you run the file through the cutter at the correct angle pushing upward and rotating your wrist for eight strokes, do the same for the next cutter. Once all the cutters on one side are sharpened, flip the saw around, 

clamp the bar into place, and file the cutters on the other side. Whether you are sharpening the saw or cutting a tree, be sure to wear thick, leather gloves.

  John Howle makes the first face cut at a 45-degree angle.

If you have correctly sharpened all cutters but the saw fails to feed itself into the tree producing small wood chips, it’s possible that the safety guide teeth need filing. This requires a flat mill file. Hit a few strokes on each safety guide tooth so the cutters will be able to grab into the wood more efficiently.

Be sure the saw has enough gas and chain oil to complete the felling process. Also, make sure the chainsaw you are using has an adequate cc power rating and physical size to handle the tree you are cutting. You want the saw to be powerful enough to cut through the tree quickly while providing solid control.

A hard hat with face shield and earmuffs will not only protect your eyes from blowing sawdust, they will protect your hearing. Whether the terrain is level or steep, wear steel toe boots with nonskid soles. To protect yourself against a broken chain or saw chain that has cut through a log quicker than expected, wear chaps that cover upper thighs to boot tops. Because of the potential risks involved in cutting trees, never work alone. Don’t depend on a cell phone to get a good signal if you get pinned down by a log.

Escape Routes and Felling Direction

Clear an escape route running at a 45-degree angle away from the direction of fall around the base of the tree. The safe area to stand while the tree is falling is 45 degrees back from the side and never directly behind or in front of the tree. If possible, stand behind a neighboring tree, and never turn your back on a falling tree.

After second cut is made, remove the wedge shaped chunk of wood.  
Following Hurricane Opal a few years ago, I checked the fences and found many uprooted trees. One particular tree seemed to have an unusual amount of pressure as I was cutting it. The top of another tree had pinned the top of this tree down. As I was making the back cut, a ten-foot section of the trunk split, kicking out the bottom  portion of the tree in a split second. This danger is known as a "barber’s chair." Fortunately, I was standing at the correct angle on the side of the trunk when the split occurred.

To determine felling direction, consider the height of the tree and the intended fall path taking into consideration wind speed and direction, slope of the land, weight and groupings of the limbs on each side, possible trunk decay, and bordering trees that create a lodged tree top. It’s safer and easier to fell a tree that’s already leaning in the direction you want it to fall.

The Felling Process

The simplest felling cut for trees larger than 10 inches in diameter is the conventional notch. This involves creating a notch or face cut at a comfortable height that will determine the direction of fall. Make the top cut on the tree trunk at a  downward 45-degree angle on the direction of fall side until the cut is through 1/3 of the trunk’s diameter. Next, make a horizontal bottom cut that stops when the cut reaches the end point of the top cut. You’ll then have a wedge-shaped piece of wood that can be removed from the front.

On the opposite side of the tree, make a horizontal back cut one to two inches above the lower face cut to put the tree in motion in the direction of fall. Stop the back cut at a point that will leave a hinge approximately 1/10 of the tree’s diameter to control the fall.

Make the back cut about two inches higher than the second face cut. Polymer wedges aid in felling direction. Provides powerful leverage.
Polymer felling wedges incur no damage to the chain if struck and can be driven into the back cut with a sledgehammer to aid infelling. One or two of these wedges
  This is the "hinge" that dictates tree fall.
driven into the back cut creates powerful leverage for felling the tree in the intended direction. Never tie a rope from the tree to a vehicle to aid in proper tree felling for obvious reasons.

If you consider yourself less than an experienced tree feller, hire a professional to complete the job, especially with trees larger than 10 inches in diameter. The investment of hiring a professional may well be worth the money in piece of mind and preventing loss of life or limb. For information on safe tree felling, visit www.osha.gov and click on "L" under the site index to find logging.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.