One of the biggest dangers when felling trees is when one of them barber chairs.
This is when the tree trunk splits vertically, one side of the split trunk kicks out (usually in the direction of the saw), and then it falls without directional control.
There are certain types of trees, like alder, and examples of trees, such as when they’re leaning, that are more likely to do it.
After a brief example of what barber chairing is, we’ve got 7 stunning videos showing it happening (with no one getting too hurt)!
Barber Chair Tree Felling
What causes a tree trunk to split vertically?
It happens most often with leaning trees, trees that are rotten, trees that have all their weight to one side (due to growing towards the sun, for example), and sometimes due to weather conditions like extreme cold.
There are also some types of trees that are more likely to do it. For example, alder, maple, yellow cedar, and spruce trees.
You can see the somewhat humorous example of a tractor picked up by a barber-chaired tree above. The trunk split vertically and picked up the tractor as it kicked back.
No doubt it gave the operator a fright!
Now, check out these insane videos of trees barber chairing.
1. White Fir Barber Chair
First up is this stunning white fur tree barber chair from Jeremy Cadotte – the action is at the 1:10 mark.
The tree was rotten on the inside and just fell apart as it came down.
Some of my favorite reactions to this video include Dieserscherzkeks comment:
That’s the most impressive barber chair I’ve ever seen. Which is not saying much, because I just today learned what a barber chair even is. Anyway, it is quite spectacular. Good you made it out alive.
And from Jeremy himself:
I didn’t die!
Advice on what went wrong includes:
- Should have done a bore cut and made a deeper notch…
- …or tied it hard about 15′ above the tree then tie again at another tree about 1′ fr the ground then made a notch carefully while listening for cracking sounds.
- I was taught to wrap a chain around any hollow or leaning tree that might armchair. I really can’t tell what that guy was trying to do. The felling cut was too low and not really well planned out.
- The cut is below the wedge – looks part rotten but probably would not have barber chaired if cut correctly.
And a final comment from Michael:
I suspect he knew the tree had the potential of barber chairing. He looked up several times and was standing in a position on the side of the tree away from the potential split.
I see some criticism in the comments but this logger knows what he is doing. Sometimes s*** happens. All you can do is be ready.
If you cut enough trees, at some point it will happen to everyone.
2. Huge White Ash Controlled Barber Chair
The title of this video is, ‘Is this the biggest Barber chair you’ve ever seen?”
And I can only answer yes, yes it is.
It is a massive barber chair and the guy on the saw (Daniel) doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about filming it up close.
The action starts at around the 1:20 mark when the tree starts creaking over. It takes almost another minute before the barber chair pops out.
This was not an intentional barber chair, but it was expected and controlled – hence why there’s no panic.
Daniel wrote in the YouTube description,
This 44 plus inch DBH dying white ash was a prime candidate for a Barber chair.
This cut was made at 5:23 p.m. and all the brush and wood stacked in the cul de sack by 8:23 p.m.
So there was no time for fooling around last day of dry weather and a very high end property. I was trying to preserve the lawn. The new Bobcat all wheel steer A300 did an amazing job with this heavy wood.
And I did all the cutting with a 24″ bar for the entire tree, falling and bucking.
As it turned out the Barber chair was not unexpected but I did put a Coos Bay cut to the lay on the lean side, so it was not intentional.
Directional control was a nonissue, as we had wide open lawn.
It turned out that the Barber chair was actually a blessing in that it made the big wood easier to cut and move with the loader
I think the coolest thing about this video is the sound that that wood made cracking and popping for some time before the trunk split
A lot of experienced loggers may look at it and say it’s a very dangerous situation that was created but it really wasn’t.
I was ready for the trunk to split at the stump. And we didn’t even need the machine to get her to drop. We simply cut from one side and when enough of the compression had been taken off that side and the trunk shifted the whole piece just dropped.
Because I was using a modified coos bay which was faster, easier and actually much safer than using a notch, even if there was a plunge behind the notch. I was making that cut with a 24″ bar. so making a good notch and back cut would have been a chore.
I may not have had enough bar to reach the center of the cut, which doesn’t matter with a coos bay. It should be obvious to anyone with experience that the coos bay would have worked if I had kept cutting.
The reason that the split took so long is that the amount of fibers holding the top on the stump had been severely reduced by the coos bay.
The bottom line is that the cut would have worked 100% safely if I had kept cutting even another couple of seconds.
This guy is experienced, trained, and ready for the barberchair, and he got a great video out of it. However, it’s best to run your escape route when you suspect it’s coming.
3. Maple Tree Barber Chair
This next video shows a tree unexpectedly barber chairing at the 6:16 mark (it’s been set to play from that point here).
You don’t get a good look at it because the logger is running away as it goes, but the glimpses are enough.
What went wrong?
In the comments, Andrew says:
The tree barber chaired because there wasn’t any face notch cut in the tree, just a curf cut acting as a face notch.
On small trees you can get away with that but on bigger trees not taking the time to make a proper face notch is just asking for a dangerous situation like a barber chair.
While Joel said:
Sharpen your saw, biggest enemy to a faller is a chain that you have to force through the wood aspecially as the tree releases. You want to keep up with it for that second or so after it starts to fall to prevent the tree from splitting.
And Mad Jakal said:
A few things would help here. Talking about the barber chair split tree.
Remember to LOOK UP when cutting close to the end of the felling cut. You NEED to know what will very likely happen before it will happen and if not know as absolutely soon as possible.
Looking up will give you the most instant idea when a tree is beginning to fall. Forget about watching the saw near the end.
Blip the throttle and cut small bits near the end and watch the top for movement. Learn about tension and compression. Types of facecuts, open face, humbolt, conventional. Understand the dynamics very well.
You can learn more about these types of cuts in our ‘how to cut down a tree’ article.
4. Small Oak Intentional Barber Chair
This is an educational video showing how to cut down leaning trees.
At the 4:35 mark, Terry intentionally causes a small oak tree to barber chair as an example of what happens when you cut a leaning tree incorrectly.
This is a small oak, so it’s a low-stress barber chair.
Also, because it’s very green wood rather than brittle or rotten, the event happens slowly and in a more controlled manner. This is opposed to what we’ve seen in the videos above when the entire tree can fall apart very erratically.
Terry then states how the tree is just as dangerous, if not more so, after the event. Getting it down from this position, especially if it’s a large tree, requires a lot of skill.
If the tree is still held up, rather than breaking off altogether, there is a lot of tension in the tree.
Unfortunately, in this video, we don’t get to see how he brings the tree down to the ground, though he does explain what to do.
Even the best PPE can’t help you when you get in the way of a barber chairing tree – while some tree climbing helmets can withstand a hit from a branch, they won’t hold up to an entire tree trunk.
5. 30-Foot Maple Barber Chair
Next up is this 30-foot barber chair from Buckin’ Billy Ray Smith using his Husqvarna 372 XP.
He really thinks through his strategy for taking down this cluster of trees, makes sure he has a clear escape route and gets out of the way as soon as he hears the tree pop and sees the wood split.
The moment the tree splits is captured on the video perfectly, and Billy Ray instinctually moves out that very second, knowing what’s about to happen.
Billy’s commentary afterward is great:
Hahahahaha, I love it! Big barber chair…. I love it! That thing was loaded boy… I was expecting it, I just wasn’t expecting it so soon. I heard it crack and I just left…
And it really is a huge split up the trunk.
Billy’s explanation of what happened, and why he choose the cut method he did is interesting to listen to as well.
Because he had made a notch prior to the back cut, the tree was not held up as in the previous video, making the aftermath much easier to deal with.
6. Tree Barberchairs, Then Strikes Worker
This next video is actually just an animation that was made after an inexperienced tree faller died as the result of a tree barber chairing.
The silver culture workers were clearing brush alongside power lines. One of the workers decided to drop the trees, though they didn’t need to be removed, nor did he know what he was doing.
The man was cutting the trees straight through with a sloping cut, rather than making notches and back cuts. He cut a 16″ alder tree, which is prone to barber chairing, and the alder kicked back and fell on him, killing him.
The video explains what went wrong, how it should have been cut, and what can be done to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Some helpful comments on the video includes this one from Bulletproof Pastor:
Alders are widow-makers.
My cousin (experienced logger/feller) warned me to wrap a 3/8 chain above the cut of any alder I might fell. That weekend I followed his good advice and it probably saved my life.
As soon as I started my back-cut there was a loud “BANG” and I stopped to listen for anyone shooting as that is what it sounded like. I continued my cut and fell the tree only to find my chain embedded into the bark. I had to cut a 16″ section of the tree above chain to release the tension.
That tree would have barberchaired had the chain not kept it together. I owe my cousin my life. The vertical split in the trunk went over 15′.
And this one from Matt the Welder:
I’m literally in the ER with a broken leg because of a barber chair right now.
Guy I was with said my notches were too big. Went smaller, the tree barber chaired up to 12 feet. I didn’t have time to react and got struck on the hardhat. My left tibia and fibula were broken. Lucky to be alive.
Hundreds of people do die each year from barber chairing trees. Tree falling is not something to mess with if you don’t know what you’re doing and aren’t trained.
Always wear a chainsaw helmet – the Pfanner Protos is considered to be the best and is commonly used by arborists and other tree workers.
7. Riding A Log
It’s captioned, ‘And my Luigi today who was entitled to a free rodeo ride?.’
A couple of guys are spectating and “helping” the gentleman with the saw dropping the tree. Everyone stays put as the tree drops, gets hung up in other trees, and kicks back.
Thankfully he wasn’t killed, as could have very easily happened. Instead, he’s got bruises in places you don’t want bruises, and he probably won’t be standing near any falling trees anytime soon.
Some of the comments:
- Bet that filled the eyes with water ?
- Common sense is not that common anymore
- Singing falsetto
- And God said, this one should not reproduce!
- Cheaper than a vasectomy
- He almost stuck the landing – so close
It’s a really good example of where not to stand and why.
Tree Trunk Splits Vertically
So now you know what it’s like when a tree trunk splits vertically, and why!
It’s not all that uncommon, and it should be at the back of your mind whenever you’re dropping trees. However, there are certain techniques you can use to make it less likely to happen.
If you’re ever cutting down a leaner, make sure you do your research, or better yet, get a pro in to take care of it for you. Chainsaw accidents do happen.
Next up, check out this video of an arborist almost getting destroyed!