In order to cut down a leaning tree, extra precautions must be taken. Directing the fall of a leaning tree to prevent dangerous breakages requires patience and taking the right steps to control the tree’s fall.
- Felling Against the Lean: Use felling wedges to correct the lean when felling.
- Felling with the Lean: Use a chainsaw to make special bore cuts, to prevent dangerous breakage and kickback during felling.
Felling large trees near houses, as well as felling smaller trees (10 inches diameter or less) also requires specialized steps, precautions, and orders of operation. It’s key to follow these processes in order to protect yourself, as well any structures, equipment, or other people in the felling area.
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How to Get a Leaning Tree to Fall Where You Want
A leaning tree will naturally want to fall in the direction of the lean when cut. This may not be desirable as the tree may be leaning toward your house, fences, or other trees that you don’t want to be damaged. To control the direction a leaning tree falls when cut, do the following:
- Cut branches off large trees prior to felling.
- Use felling wedges to correct tree lean.
- Contact an arborist to safely fell trees with heavy lean that cannot be corrected with wedges.
Cutting the branches off a large leaning tree prior to felling the trunk can help reduce weight and leverage, making it easier to correct the lean of the tree with felling wedges in future steps. The goal is to correct the tree lean with wedges so that the tree stands straight. If this can’t be accomplished with felling wedges, then the tree may not fall as desired. In this case, it’s best to consult a professional arborist.
How to Fell a Tree Against the Lean
Cutting a tree so that it falls in the opposite direction that it is leaning is a common goal and one that you can achieve on your own. For this job you will need:
- Tripod Ladder or Extension Ladder
- Felling Wedges
- Sledgehammer or Mallet
With these tools, you can direct a tree to fall against its natural lean. This will protect your property and yourself.
Leaning trees often have more branch and leaf growth on the side that is leaning towards the ground. This puts increased leverage on the tree, making it more likely to fall in the direction of the lean when felling. To compensate for this, remove the branches from the tree before cutting the trunk.
- Using your tripod ladder or extension ladder to reach upper branches.
- If you are using an extension ladder, secure it to the tree with a rope, to prevent it from slipping or falling.
- Tie a rope to the handle of your chainsaw. Climb to the top of the ladder, then haul your chainsaw up to you. This is safer than attempting to climb with your saw in hand.
- Remove tree branches using the 3-cut method.
This process will reduce the weight of the tree, as well as lower the center of gravity, making trunk felling safer and easier.
Notch in Direction of Intended Fall
Cut a notch into the side of the tree in the direction you want it to fall. Make the notch by first making a flat cut 1/4 of the way through the trunk. Then, make a slanting cut above the first, so that the two cuts meet and a triangular notch is removed from the trunk.
- Cut a right-angle notch in the side of the tree opposite the lean.
- The notch should be 1/4 of the tree’s diameter.
- The notch can be made at about knee height.
For ease of cutting, make your notch at a height that allows easy cutting and safe handling of the chainsaw. This is typically between ankle and waist height.
Begin Felling Cut
Begin a straight cut through the tree, toward the notch from the opposite side. Make sure to only go deep enough that you can drive felling wedges in behind the chainsaw bar without interfering with the saw. About 1/3 of the tree’s diameter should still remain in between the felling cut and the notch at this point.
- Begin your felling cut from the ground-facing side (leaning side) toward the notch.
- Cut just deep enough to allow wedges to be driven into the cut without interfering with the chainsaw bar.
- 1/3 of tree diameter should remain uncut between the notch and felling cut, to prevent unexpected falls at this point.
If your tree is too small to cut in this way without risk of falling before you drive in the wedges, see below for our tips on felling small leaning trees.
Drive in Felling Wedges
Without removing the chainsaw from the felling cut, leave it running with the chain locked to prevent accidents. Then, using your sledgehammer or mallet, drive your felling wedges into the felling cut.
- Do not remove the chainsaw from the cut. Leave chainsaw running in felling cut with the chain locked. This way, you can drive in wedges and then begin cutting again.
- Use a sledgehammer or mallet to drive felling wedges into the felling cut.
- Use multiple felling wedges to correct lean. Use additional shims if necessary.
- Drive felling wedges into the cut until the tree is standing straight upright.
- If tree lean cannot be corrected with felling wedges, it is unsafe to complete felling. Contact a professional arborist for help with tree removal.
Make sure your felling wedges do not contact the chainsaw bar or chain, as this can cause damage or breakage. Drive several wedges into the cut until the tree lean is corrected and it is standing straight.
Complete Felling Cut
Now that your tree is standing straight and the lean has been corrected, you can complete the felling cut. To do so:
- Unlock the chainsaw safety.
- Continue your felling cut toward the notch.
- Remain out of the tree’s intended fall path at all times.
- Stay alert. Establish at least two exit paths in case the tree begins to fall in an unexpected manner.
It’s important to stay vigilant at all times. Although a properly wedged tree will fall in the direction of the notch, stay cautious and retreat to a safe distance if there is any sign of uncontrolled fall.
How to Fell a Tree in the Direction of the Lean
Although it seems much easier than felling a tree against the lean, felling a tree in the direction it is leaning can be just as dangerous. If felled incorrectly, leaning trees can split and kick back toward the chainsaw operator at high speeds. This can cause serious injury. It’s essential to follow the right steps.
For this job, there are no wedges required. The only tool you’ll need is your trusty chainsaw. Although it is advised that you use a ladder and remove tree branches before felling.
Make a Notch in Direction of Fall
Cut a notch in the ground-facing (leaning) side of the tree. Maneuvering the saw and angling the cuts may be difficult due to the tree’s lean, so take your time.
- Cut a notch on the side of the tree that is leaning toward the ground.
- The notch depth should be 1/5 of tree diameter.
- Cut the notch at knee height or lower.
Do not cut the notch too deep, as the tree’s weight and lean may cause it to fall unexpectedly. Cut the notch about one-fifth of the way through the trunk.
Make Bore or Plunge Cuts
After notching, do not make a standard felling cut from the side opposite the notch. This leads to dangerous tree falls and breakages that could injure you or any others nearby. A large tree cut this way can kick back toward you with deadly force. To cut safely, do the following:
- Make a “bore” cut into the side of the tree. Essentially, you will slowly stab the chainsaw into the tree from the side, midway between the notch and the side opposite the notch.
- After making a bore cut from one side, repeat from the other. Now, there should be a “hinge” of wood between the notch and the boring cut, plus another “strap” of wood between the boring cut and the side opposite the notch.
- Make your bore cut slightly above the notch, as seen here.
This step is essential when cutting a leaning tree with the intention of letting it fall in the direction it leans. Don’t make the mistake of taking leaning trees lightly, no matter what direction you intend to fell them.
Make Felling Cut
After making the notch and bore cuts, make your felling cut through the “strap” on the side opposite the notch. Saw toward the bore cuts.
- Saw through the side opposite the notch. The goal is to cut through the “strap” to join the felling cut with the bore cuts.
- The “hinge” near the notch should be 10% of the tree’s diameter. This will result in a safe felling without unexpected tree breakage or kickback.
As always, make sure you and any assistants are clear of the falling tree’s path. Remain alert for any unexpected circumstances.
How to Fell Smaller Leaning Trees Against the Lean
Leaning trees 10 inches (25 cm) or smaller in diameter are simply too narrow to accommodate a process of notching and wedging without cutting through them completely. If you want to fell a small tree against the lean, follow the steps below.
Make Your Felling Cut First
Make a cut on the ground-facing (leaning) side of the tree first. This cut should be about 1/2 of the way through the tree’s diameter.
Drive in Wedges
Drive wedges into the first cut until the tree is straight. It will be much easier to wedge and straighten a smaller tree than a large tree.
Make Your Notch
Make a small notch on the side of the tree opposite the first cut. This notch does not need to be any deeper than 1/4 of the tree’s diameter.
Fell the Tree with Wedges
Return to the wedges you used to straighten the tree. Standing well clear of the tree’s intended fall path, continue driving the wedges into the tree. It will begin to tilt in the opposite direction of the natural lean and will fall where you intend it to.
How Do You Fell a Leaning Tree With a Chainsaw?
To cut down a leaning tree and cause it to fall in the opposite direction of its natural lean:
- Cut off large branches, to reduce weight and leverage.
- Make a notch on the tree, in the direction you want it to fall.
- Begin a felling cut from the opposite side of the tree.
- Drive wedges into the felling cut. Pound them in until the tree stands straight.
- Complete your felling cut.
This process will allow you to direct trees to fall against their natural lean. It will help to protect your house and other structures. Leaning trees of all types pose challenges during removal, however. Although it may seem simple, felling a tree in the direction of its natural lean also requires special steps to prevent dangerous and unexpected tree breakage. With the right process and tools, you can take down leaning trees on your own, safely and effectively.