Tree Removal

Tree Removal

There are many ways to remove a tree depending on variables.

As there are many ways to trim a tree there are also many ways to remove a tree. How we go about removing a tree depends on many variables. For example:

  • Are there any things under the tree?
  • How far away are the nearest objects from the tree?
  • Are there any power lines or communication lines under or near the tree? If so what type are they? Are they communication lines with very little electricity in them? Are they service drops, (the power that goes into your house)? Are they distribution lines (lines that distribute power to many houses. {Deadly} Are they transmission lines (transmission lines transport large amounts of electricity across long distances up to 500,000 KV). {Even more deadly
  • Any fences?
  • Septic tanks?
  • What is the terrain like? Is it on a hill where things can roll?
  • Is the ground hard where something could bounce?
  • Does the ground need to be protected, for example landscaping or lawn such as a golf course or a septic tank, drain field etc.

Tree Felling (Falling)

If there is nothing under the tree and if all valuable things are far enough away in the direction that the tree is to be fallen then in most cases you could fall the tree.

Is there a clear pathway for the tree to fall? Are there other trees in the way of the direction that you want to fall the tree in? If there are other trees in the way then you could either damage the other tree(s) or the tree that you are falling could hang up in the other tree(s).

Is the tree leaning in the direction that you want it to fall?

If the tree has a slight lean in the direction that you want it to go, that’s a good thing. Then you cut out what’s called a face cut or (undercut) in the direction that you want the tree to fall.

Face cut or under cut. As long as the hinge wood holds and the tree starts leaning into the undercut, the tree will fall where aimed.

Then you start cutting the back of the tree (back cut) being carful not to cut through all the way. It is important to leave uncut wood across the inside of the tree between the undercut and back cut.

Hinge wood / hold wood.

We call this wood the hinge wood or hold wood. Because that wood acts like a hinge and holds the tree to the stump while the tree is falling.  As long as the hinge wood is holding and does not break off or get cut off then it forces the falling tree to follow the undercut. If the hinge wood breaks off or gets cut off the tree will take the path of least resistance and you have lost control over the tree felling.

If the tree is straight up without any lean then it needs to be forced over towards the desired direction into the undercut. This is normally done using tree falling wedges.

If the tree is standing relatively straight up and down, without much lean or without any counter limb weight going the wrong way. The tree can normally be tipped over using falling wedges. You can buy falling wedges at most any chain saw supply store or many big box stores and hardware stores. Tree falling wedges are normally made out of hard plastic these days. So if you hit the wedge with your chainsaw as your cutting and wedging, you wont dull your chain.

Make sure and notice which way the limb weight is favoring.

Let’s say that the tree is relatively standing straight up and down, but it has more limb weight on one side of the tree than the other, then it will pull more towards the heavier side. If the limb weight is favoring the desired direction of the fall, that’s a good thing.

In order to determine if weight is favoring one side more than the other. Look at the center of the trunk at the point that you are going to make your undercut and from there imagine a line going straight up to the top of the tree to determine the heavier side.

Stand back from the tree and while looking at the center of the trunk, draw an imaginary line straight up the tree. Notice which side has more mass, including the trunk itself.

It’s important to evaluate the direction that the tree wants to fall and by how much heavier its favor is in order to determine the counter force that needs to be applied to get it to go in the proper direction. If for example you see heavier weight going back in the opposite direction of the desired fall you need to apply a greater amount of force in the  direction that you want.

If the weight is favoring say 90 degrees to the direction that you want the tree to fall there will be extra force in that direction that needs to be compensated for.

Let’s say that you are wanting to fall the tree to the north but you notice a lot of extra limb weight (or lean) going to the west. And let’s say that there is a house also off to the west. With that extra force going towards the house I always give the example that it’s as if you had a rope up in the tree and it was being pulled towards the house. How much pressure that is being applied depends on how much extra weight there is on that side. As mentioned above, the tree will only follow the undercut as long as the hinge wood holds. So as the tree starts to fall in the direction that was desired, if the hinge wood brakes the tree could go in the direction of the lean and hit the house. As long as the hinge wood is holding the tree is forced to fall into the undercut.

Different species of trees have different strengths in terms of how well the hinge wood holds. And also the trunk could have rot or splits inside that can cause the hinge wood to not hold.

Even if the tree trunk is healthy and doesn’t have any rot or weaknesses in it, it’s hinge wood can still break off prematurely. Each species of tree has variable holding strengths. A healthy fir tree will act very much differently than a healthy alder tree. Alder trees do not hold it’s hinge wood very well. And it is also prone to split up the middle of the trunk if it has too much pressure pushing or pulling it. Barber chair. Many people get killed each year from barber chair.

Each year many people get killed from what we call barber chair.

Picture of tree barber chairing

If you have ever split firewood by hand using an ax etc. then you know that some wood splits much harder that others. A barber chair can happen when you are falling a tree, the trunk splits up the middle. This split can run up the trunk 30 or 40 feet. The reason that is can be so deadly is, let’s say that the trunk splits up the middle 40 feet. What happens after that is that the back half of the trunk, along with the rest of the tree, pivots over the remailing half of the trunk. Now this pivot point is 40 feet up in the air with the cutter still standing under the whole tree. As the tree pivots over the remaining half, the top part of the tree pivots over in such a way that now the tree is aiming upside down. This all happened in less than a second. It’s as if it just exploded on you. Then as the tree falls down towards you the top part of the tree hits first leaving the entire trunk of the tree up in the air. Then when the top of the tree hits the ground, the entire trunk will fall 20, 30, 40, feet or even more behind the stump. You cannot predict witch way it will go. You can not out run it. If you try to out run it you will not be able to see if you are running away from it or towards it. To outrun it would be like a mouse trying to outrun a mouse trap that it triggered. I have had that happen to me before and the way that I lived to tell about it was to stay in one place until I could see witch way it was falling and side step it.

The easier the wood splits, the more likely a barber chair can happen.

As mentioned above, the easier it is to for the wood to split the more likely the tree is to barber chair.

The way that a barber chair happens is that there is enough pressure on the trunk of the tree to split the trunk. As you are making your back cut you are at the same time moving the fulcrum point. So as you are cutting in the forward pressure is being applied at the point of the ever changing fulcrum point. If the tree has a lot of pressure being applied because the tree is leaning heavy or because you are pulling it too hard it can barber chair.

Ways to prevent barber chair.

One way to prevent barber chair is to tie a rope or use a chain binder above the face cut and back cut. This holds the tree together so that is can not split up the trunk. Another way is to climb the tree and take enough limb weight out to relieve pressure.

Ways that can work, but I don’t recommend unless you have lot’s of experience.

There are a couple of other ways but I wouldn’t recommend trying it unless you are an experienced tree cutter. One is to cut faster into the back cut in order to “stay ahead” of the split. As you are cutting the back cut into the trunk of a tree that is likely to barber chair you will be able to see the wood starting to split. If your saw is very sharp and you have a fast enough saw, as you see the split starting to open, keep cutting in past the split. By doing this you are moving the fulcrum point, therefore you are moving the point at witch the pressure is located in front of the split. Many times as you move the pressure past the split you will see a new split starting. This is a dangerous practice because you are also removing the hold wood as you cut in past the split. Remember, once the hold wood is cut off or when it breaks off you have lost control of where the tree will fall. Professional tree cutters do it all the time but they’ve had lots of practice. Also if you are out in the woods and the tree falls in the wrong spot, that’s one thing. But you are next to a house or power lines etc. that’s a whole different thing.

Another technique is to cut the center of the trunk out leaving the hold wood on the two outside edges. This is done by boring the tip of your saw into the center of the back cut. By cutting the center out the split can no longer run up the center part. But again I don’t recommend doing that because things can go really bad when it doesn’t go right.


    Three common ways to force the tree to fall in the desired direction and one uncommon way yet very effective.

  • Wedges: As mentioned above, you can use falling wedges. It’s always a good idea to have falling wedges with you even if the tree is leaning in the right direction.
  •  Rope or cable: You can put a rope or cable high enough up the tree to have sufficient leverage. And then pull it either by hand, by machine, equipment, rope come along, block and tackle, or vehicle. Or anyway that you rig it to where the forward pull is greater than it’s counter resistance.
  •  Push it with equiptment: Usually you would use a backho to do that job by putting the shovel on the back side of the tree and forcing it in the right direction.

Cutting some or all of the limbs off the back side of the tree: 

This way is not all that common but it is very effective. Usually the way that I would do that is to climb up to the height that I wanted to start cutting limbs off and from there I would tie in. (To tie in means to use my rope in such a way that I can sit in my saddle and repel down, little at a time). Sometimes I would tie in close to the top off the tree depending on how many limbs I wanted to cut off. By cutting the limbs off of one side of the tree leaves all the limb weight on the desired side of the tree. Let’s say that there was 1,000 pounds on each side of the tree in limb weight, by cutting one side off you would have one thousand pounds pulling on the desired side.

Here is a picture of Bruce piecing out a large fir tree in sections

                  Removing a tree in sections.

When there is not enough room to fall a tree then you need to remove it in sections. Depending on the amount of space that you have to work with will depend on the size of the pieces that you can take.

This is a picture of me cutting a spruce tree that was about 135 feet tall in just three pieces. If there is plenty of room we can sometimes take large pieces.

If you have a lot of room and you are on relatively level ground, then in some cases you can take very large pieces. There are times for example that I have cut say a 150 foot tree in just three or four pieces. And there are many times when there is not enough space, so we need to cut the tree down one limb at a time. Then after all the limbs are cut off we take the top out and then we section the trunk in firewood pieces.

If you are on a hill and there is something valuable that you need to protect, then you need to either lower the pieces or create a barrier that traps the pieces. Usually making a wall with the rounds and limbs.

When You are working on a hill you need to see what is down hill from you. Is there a house, a building,  landscaping, a street, parked cars etc. If there is then you need to make sure that the pieces don’t roll or bounce into whatever that it is that you don’t want to damage.

Lowering the limbs and trunk pieces.

When we are working in really close quarters and there is not enough room to safely let the debris free fall. Or if debris could roll or bounce into something or if you need to protect the ground, that we call the landing zone, for example a septic, drain field or landscape. Then you need to control the limbs and pieces by lowering them with lowering ropes. This is usually done by lowering the lowest limbs first and then working your way up the tree until you get to the top. Then you lower the top of the tree. We call this catching the top. Then we lower all the chunks of the trunk.

Many different knots, ropes, rope sizes, blocks, techniques and rigging are uses in lowering.


The main knots that we use for lowering are running Bowline, running Bowline backed by a half hitch (or two), clove hitch and what I call a speed knot.

Running Bowline
Running Bowline

   Backing up knots with half hitches

Adding half hitches does three thing:
1) lowers the odds of limb slipping out.
2) Helps hold the limb together so as to prevent barber chair.
3) Relieves tension from main knot


Any of the knots can be backed by one or more half hitches. There are three circumstances that you might want to back up knots with half hitches.

  1.  If the limb or chunk of wood is wet and slippery (especially smooth bark species) you want to start adding half hitches. I remember one time I was  removing a silver maple while it was raining cat’s and dog’s, I had a clove hitch backed by four half hitches on a limb that I was trying to catch, slip off. Luckily it didn’t hit anything.
  2.  Often times when you are lowering larger limbs especially with certain species of trees that split easily, the limb will barber chair. Barber chair means that the wood starts to split up the middle of the limb (or trunk). By adding half hitches it helps hold the limb together and prevent it from splitting.
  3. When you are lowering a very heavy piece, or pulling tight with equipment, adding a half hitch or two can help keep tension off of the knot. Evan a bowline or running bowline can become so tight that it becomes difficult or even next to impossible to untie. The whole idea and advantage to a bowline is that it is generally easy to untie. But if given enough tension even a bowline can become what we call an ax knot.  What we mean by an ax knot is that the knot becomes so difficult to untie that we need a ax to get it undone. (Smile)

I am going to add an entire post about knots to this website at some time in the future as time permits. But for now I just wanted to touch on some basics about knots.

                             In conclusion:

There are still money things that I could add about what is involved in removing trees. After having a  lifetime of working in trees you can’t help but learn a lot about it. But what I wrote here is probably more than the average person would want to know. If you have any questions about tree removal or any tree related questions I am always happy to talk about it.


tree work is a very dangerous occupation. Many people get hurt and killed each year doing tree work. So please don’t take any unnecessary chances. And make sure to get professional help that are qualified to do the work.

I have known many home owners that have gotten hurt very badly by trying to do it themselves. One person would never walk the same again after getting both legs shattered.

Make sure that whoever you hire is licensed bonded and insured. Also make sure that that they are current on there Labor and Industries.   I have also known many people who have hired services that did tree work for them and they either were not current on their liability ins or they were not current on there labor and industries insurance. Then if the worker got hurt or they damaged property the home owner became liable.

Thank you! And have a beautiful day.

Ken Hawley (360) 500-3638