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Cutting down leaning trees

 
pollinator
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Location: Northern Puget Sound, Zone 8A
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Wasn't sure if this was the best forum for this, so mods please move it somewhere else if it fits better in another location.

Getting ready to put up some fencing, and not wanting to have to repair or replace stretches too soon after getting it up I'm cutting down the trees that have a lot less life left than what I'm hoping to get out of the fence (20 years or so) and that would smash the fence if they came down after it was put up.  Trying to leave as many standing as reasonable.  I'm also trying to enhance the land for silvopasture, and that will require thinning to get enough daylight to the ground for forage to grow well.  

A lot of the trees on my property are red alders.  That tree, probably more than any other, can be be deadly to loggers, particularly when they are leaning heavily.  They have a real tendency to shiver and become a "barber chair" in those instances.  I've had some twist and fall 90deg from where I thought, and intended, for them to fall.  So I'm very cautious with them in general, and heavy leaners are pretty stressful.

Before you begin cutting on a tree you want to take down, make sure that you have a plan for escape and for dealing with it if hangs up.  For escape I always make sure I have at least 2 paths 90 degrees or more apart that I can run down to get to safety.  That way if the tree twists as it starts coming down, or hits another tree or stump or something and kicks out I can still be out of the way and not get hit.  A tree that's cut off but hung up is a very dangerous tree.  If you don't have the means to pull it out, or cut it in such a way as it comes out, leave it for later when you do have that ability, or hire a pro.

A technique I learned about that makes it much safer (though hardly foolproof, so don't attempt this if you don't have quite a bit of felling experience on easier trees first) is to make a shallow but very steep face cut.  Then plunge the saw through the tree aiming to keep it about 2" above and behind the base of the face cut to maintain the "hinge" you need.  Once through the other side of the tree make sure you've got a nice straight cut 2" above the base of the face cut all the way through the trunk and leaving about 1-2" of trunk thickness horizontally before the deepest part of the face cut.  Then cut the trunk towards the opposite side from the face cut, leaving about 2" of trunk on that opposite face intact.  This forms the "trigger".  Once you've done this the hinge and the trigger should be all that's still holding the tree up.  Look through the cut and ensure the trunk is only still intact at the hinge and the trigger.  If you missed anything clean that up before proceeding.

When you're ready for the tree to finish coming down cut through the trigger.  Be ready to jump and run because things can still go wrong.  If you've done it right the tree can't splinter because you've already cut it through where it would have tried to go bad like that.  But if you leave too much hinge, or too little trigger you can definitely mess yourself up.  

Before I tried this on a heavy leaner I tried it on a slight leaner.  Something leaning just enough to be predictable but not so much I really needed to do it this way.  In all I'd probably cut down 100 trees before I attempted this.  It's always stressful, and for me, personally, I've found that I can't cut down more than 3 trees in a day.  More than that and I'm asking to have an anxiety attack (this wasn't a problem before I developed Young Onset Parkinson though).  I have to say, I like it as a technique, but it's definitely not for a beginner with a chainsaw.
 
pollinator
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Wedges, properly applied, are also a big help in getting leaning trees to go the way you want them to.  I never go into the woods to cut timber without them.  
 
author & gardener
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Andrew, you are so right that cutting down trees requires great care and caution. It's a process that has to be respected because the falling of trees can be so unpredictable.

In addition to Walt's suggestion of wedges, my husband would also recommend good ropes or chains. Tying a tree off can help direct where it falls, especially if the branches cause it to be top-heavy in a certain direction. In these photos, Dan was trying to make sure it didn't swing around and land on the house!







 
gardener
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I very much second Leigh's suggestion.   Chaining off a tree to be very sure where it will not go is an excellent idea!
Of course Walt was spot on about always using wedges.
 
Andrew Mayflower
pollinator
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I pretty much always have wedges with me when falling trees.  Though for heavily leaning trees, especially ones known to barber-chair like red alder, there's usually very little that can be done with a wedge when you cut it like I described in the OP.  The one I cut down yesterday that inspired this thread was leaning 30-40deg from vertical.  Fortunately the with the way it was leaning there wasn't anything valuable at risk in that direction.  So I just let it fall where it wanted to go anyway.

Another one I dropped yesterday had a nice big leaf maple in the spot it would have naturally wanted to fall.  So I used a wedge to ensure it missed that nice tree.  Probably could have got it to go there anyway, but the wedge made sure of that.
 
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