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How Do You Notch a Tree to Cut It Down? [7 Easy Steps]

To notch a tree when cutting it down, first assess the tree. You may need to remove limbs, cut off a top portion, or correct tree lean during the felling process. Once you have determined it’s safe to fell your tree, begin by using a chainsaw to make a flat cut one-fourth of the way through the tree between ankle height and waist height. Then, make a cut that starts above the flat cut and angles down at 45 degrees until it meets the back of the flat cut. Remove this notch of wood. Now, you’re ready to make the felling cut in your tree. When done right, your tree will fall toward the side where you cut the notch.

How do you notch a tree to cut it down?

Why Do You Notch a Tree to Cut it Down?

Notching a tree is essential for controlling the direction that your tree falls when cut. By cutting a notch you create a natural direction that the tree will fall towards when you make your felling cut. Remember, the side of the tree that you notch is the side of the tree that will fall toward the ground.

  • Correctly notching a tree controls the direction the tree falls when a felling cut is made.
  • A tree will fall toward the notch. You should always notch the side that you want to fall toward the ground.
  • Never cut down a large tree without notching it first.

If you don’t cut a notch, the tree may fall in any direction. Never cut a tree without notching it first. This is extremely dangerous because the tree may fall onto you or nearby people and buildings.

What Shape Notch Do You Cut Into a Tree?

The ideal notch when felling a tree is triangular in shape. The bottom of the triangle should be flat. Cut it parallel to the ground between ankle height and waist height. The second cut of the notch should start a few inches above the flat cut. You should cut it so that the angled cut meets the flat cut. The ideal angle for the second cut is 45 degrees.

How Big Should the Notch Be When Cutting Down a Tree?

The notch you cut into a tree should never be more than one-third of the diameter of the tree trunk. Cutting a notch too deeply can cause the tree to fall unexpectedly. Most professional arborists cut their notches one-fourth or one-third through the tree. The exact size of the notch depends on the size of the tree you’re cutting down. A notch that is one-fourth of the tree’s diameter will get great results.

7 Steps to Notch a Tree for Felling

When notching a tree while cutting it down, it’s essential to follow proper safety precautions. The tools and materials you’ll need for this job are:

  • Sturdy work clothes: steel toe boots, pants, long sleeves, and heavy gloves.
  • Proper PPE: Hearing protection, safety goggles, and a hard hat.
  • A well-maintained, oiled, and fueled chainsaw.
  • Rope.
  • A ladder (if branches must be removed before notching).
  • Felling wedges (to properly fell leaning trees).
  • One or more assistants.

Felling a tree is not a solo job. For your safety, enlist an assistant and lookout. This person should stand well clear of the tree-felling area, but close enough to help in case of any emergencies. Additionally, if you are not experienced with chainsaw use, hire a professional arborist to cut down your tree.

Examine the Tree

Before you begin notching your tree, take a closer look. Are there large branches that make one side heavier than the others? Is it so tall that the top of the tree will hit a building, fence, or other items when it falls in the desired direction? If any of the above is true, you will need to remove branches and upper portions of the tree. Follow our guide on how to fell a tree in the direction you want for more details on this process.

Clear the Felling Area

Make sure all people, pets, vehicles, tools, and other items are cleared from the falling path of the tree before you begin notching the trunk. In the event the tree falls before you make the felling cut, you want the area to be cleared and safe.

Check for Tree Lean

If your tree is growing straight, the process of notching and felling it will be simple. However, a leaning tree is more difficult to cut down. Check out our guide on how fell a leaning tree before you make your first cut. There are special steps to take to keep yourself safe whether you are felling a tree with or against the lean.

Make a Flat Cut

Begin your notch by making a flat cut with your chainsaw. Begin the cut between ankle height and waist height. Make your cut parallel to the ground. Cut one-fourth to one-third of the way through the trunk.

  • A tree will fall toward the notched side, so make sure you begin your first cut on the side that you wish to fall toward the ground.
  • At a point between ankle and waist height, make a flat cut one-fourth of the way through the trunk.
  • Stop at this point—do not attempt to cut more deeply.

Remember, the notch must be made in the side of the tree that you wish to fall toward the ground. In other words, a properly notched tree will fall toward the notch. Not away from it. So, it’s essential to make your first cut on the correct side of the trunk.

Make Your Angled Cut

Choose a spot a few inches above the first cut for your second cut. Your goal is to cut downwards at a 45-degree angle so that your angled cut meets the back of your flat cut. Use your chainsaw to make this cut precisely.

  • Use your chainsaw to make an angled cut that slants downward to meet the flat cut.
  • The angled cut should make a 45-degree notch in the tree.
  • Make sure your angled cut and flat cut meet precisely.

It’s important to make a cut that is not too shallow or too deep. Your angled cut should precisely meet the back of your flat cut. An angled cut that is too shallow will not make an effective notch. If the two cuts don’t meet properly, the tree may fall in an unpredictable manner.

Remove the Notch of Wood

Once you’ve made your two cuts, the notch of wood should come free. However, sometimes there is a small portion of wood still holding the notch in place. If this happens, you can use your chainsaw to slowly deepen the two cuts until they meet and the notch comes free. Otherwise, you can use a sledgehammer or an axe to knock the notch loose. With the triangle of wood removed, you will now have a perfect notch in your tree.

Make a Felling Cut Opposite of the Notch

To cut down your notched tree, begin a felling cut from the side of the tree directly opposite of the notch. Begin your felling cut 2 inches (5 cm) above the bottom of the notch. Cut from the backside of the tree toward the notch. However, do not cut all the way through to the notch. Stop when there is 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of wood between the notch and the felling cut. Cutting all the way through to the notch is very dangerous and results in an uncontrolled fall. When a tree is properly notched, it will fall on its own with this process.

  • Begin a flat felling cut on the side of the tree opposite the notch.
  • Begin your cut 2 inches (5 cm) higher than the bottom of the notch.
  • Cut until there is 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) of wood between the felling cut and the notch.
  • Do not cut all the way through to notch.
  • Stand to the side of the tree when felling, not directly in front or behind.

Make sure to stand to the side of the tree as you make your felling cut. Do not stand on the notched side because the tree will fall onto you. Similarly, do not stand behind the tree, where you are making the felling cut. The trunk may kick backward during felling. As you cut toward the notch, the tree will naturally break and fall in the direction of the notch.

Which Way Will a Tree Fall When Cut?

The side of the tree where the notch has been cut will always fall toward the ground when the job has been done correctly. This means that once the notch has been made, make sure no people or pets walk into the tree’s felling path. Once you begin to make your felling cut from the opposite side, the tree may begin to fall at any time.

What is the Best Way to Notch a Tree when Felling?

In order to notch a tree for felling, follow these steps:

  • Check your tree to make sure it is safe to notch and fell without removing branches or top sections.
  • If branches and upper sections must be removed, use a ladder and chainsaw to do this safely.
  • If your tree is leaning to one side, follow specialized steps for safely cutting down a leaning tree.
  • Clear the area where the tree will fall before you make any cuts.
  • Make a flat cut one-fourth of the way through the tree trunk.
  • Make an angled cut that begins above the flat cut and slants down at 45 degrees to make a triangular notch.
  • Remove the notch of wood from the trunk if it does not come free immediately.
  • Make a felling cut from the opposite side of the tree, toward the notch. The tree will fall on its own.

This system works well for cutting down large trees. However, it’s important to use safety gear, properly handle a chainsaw, and enlist the help of a lookout when felling a tree. If you are inexperienced with chainsaw use, contact a professional arborist for tree removal.

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