How to Fell a Tree

Things you’ll need:

  • Helmet with ear and eye protection
  • Chaps (preferably with Kevlar mesh lining, which is designed to bind up the chain in the unfortunate event you touch your leg with a spinning saw. Yeouch.)
  • Steel-toed boots and chainsaw gloves (padded with Kevlar) are also a good idea.
  • Supervision by someone who has done this before.  Nothing you’ll read here or anywhere can replace the guidance of an experienced logger. You can kill yourself an astonishing number of ways with a chainsaw, gravity and even a small tree.

 Step 1:  Assess the area for danger. 

Look for overhead hazards such as power lines and dead or hanging limbs. Is the canopy of the tree you plan to cut down entangled with another tree?  Pay attention to how hard the wind is blowing and its direction – this can effect the fall. Also, be aware that the sheer impact of a downed tree can cause other trees to come crashing down on your soft head. It pays to be a little paranoid here.

Step 2:  Assess the tree for lean.

Standing in the spot where you’d like the tree to land, hold up your hands to encircle the canopy of the tree.  From there, draw an imaginary line straight down from the center of your hands – this will tell you the lean of the canopy. If that line falls three feet to the left of the tree’s base (as it did in my case) this indicates a three-foot side lean, for which you’ll have to compensate when making your notch cut.  Walk 90-degrees to the left or right and repeat this process to assess the front-to-back lean of the tree. If at all possible, plan to let the tree fall in the direction it is leaning and let gravity work for you.

Step 3: Make your notch cut.

The notch cut consists of 2 intersecting cuts that converge perpendicular to where you want the tree to fall.  The width of the cut should be 80 percent of the tree’s DBH (diameter at breast height).  In my case, my tree was about 10 inches wide at my chest so the optimal length for my notch was 8 inches.  Also since my tree was leaning three feet to the left (looking at the tree) I wanted to overcompensate and aim to land my tree three feet in the opposite direction.



Step 4:  Making your hinge / Bore cut

In this step you’ll take your saw and plunge the bar straight through the trunk of the tree leaving a hinge. This is perhaps the most important step.  Once all the cuts are made, the hinge will be the only thing that controls the tree’s fall to the ground.  At this point, many people just cut toward the notch from the back of the tree until the tree starts falling.  But this is dangerous: the tree could start to fall at any point, creating an uneven hinge – leading to an uncontrolled fall, or unpredictable stresses and fractures in the tree itself.

Before the tree starts falling, it’s best to create as perfect a hinge as possible.  You essentially skewer the tree with your saw parallel to your notch cut. With your saw at full throttle, plunge the bar of your saw straight through the trunk of the tree, carefully straightening your angle of attack to minimize kickback and to avoid cutting through your hinge.  Once your saw pokes through the opposite side, take a moment to assess your hinge and adjust as necessary so that it is 10% of the DBH. In my case, the tree was 10 inches DBH, so I aimed for a 1-inch hinge.  Take care make your plunge cut level with the notch cut.


Step 5:  Back cut and escape plan

First, figure out which way you’ll head once your saw is free of the tree – ideally at a 70-degree angle away from the direction of the tree’s fall. Once you feel good about your hinge, rev your saw to full throttle and pull your saw away from the hinge and through the back of the tree. Then put on your chain brake and make your escape.

12Once you’re done your stump will hopefully look something like this.


It may take a while until you can drop the tree exactly where you want or for your stumps to be textbook.  But if the tree is on the ground and you’re still standing in the end, it’s a success.

The rest of the week’s photo can be found HERE.  Happy and safe cutting!



  • January 14, 2013 at 9:35 am // Reply

    PS – The phrase ‘fell a tree’ is a funny one in my book. I’m only familiar with using the word ‘fell’ as the past tense of ‘fall’.  But apparently, ‘fell’ is also a verb that means ‘to knock, strike, shoot, or cut down or to cause to fall.’ And if you knocked a tree down yesterday, it was ‘felled’. 

  • January 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm // Reply

    Great stuff Erik. Back in the early 80’s I was in a Vocational Ag program in High School (FFA all the way!) and studied “Natural Resources.” Part of our classroom work was exactly what you described … and I even competed in the state wide competition each year, though never in felling, I did win log rolling when I was a senior! Keep up the great work!

    • January 14, 2013 at 6:21 pm // Reply

      And to think, I was running around in a toga for JCL when I could have been log rolling in high school instead!

  • January 18, 2013 at 12:44 am // Reply

    Hello Erik,
    I’m a new reader to your blog and I have to say I’m impressed. I’m interested in possibly learning these skills and forming an Eco Villiage Commune.

    But first I’d need to learn these skills. How far along are you?

  • February 23, 2013 at 9:52 am // Reply

    Excellent post; loved the detail and emphasis on safety gear, but gotta ask…where are your gloves? I’d think with the snow on the ground you’d at least have a pair on regardless of what you are out and about doing. If I ever get back to Wisconsin or living in the outdoors this will definitely come in handy.

    • February 24, 2013 at 5:32 pm // Reply

      Hi Scott.
      Gloves must be in my pocket. It gets HOT cutting down trees! As long as it isn’t too cold, I sometimes feel like I have a better grip without them.

  • March 29, 2013 at 4:09 pm // Reply

    I have to say this is one of the best articles ive found on “how to cut down a tree”. One think id like to add to is the plunge cut. It can be tricky at first so always keep an eye on the tip of the bar. Any time you are using the tip of the bar the chance of a kick back goes way up.

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