There are many different ways to cut down a tree with a chainsaw, some of which are designed for specific situations.
For example, if a tree is on a lean you may need to drop it differently from how you would a straight tree.
I’m not a professional logger, arborist, or another type of tree worker, so for that reason, I’ve included a video below with 8 different ways to fell a tree with a chainsaw from the pros.
I have started felling small trees on our property (such as the dead tree I cut down pictured above and below) but I’m still learning as well. Please make sure you do plenty of research before you start dropping trees and get the help of a pro initially.
How To Cut Down A Tree
For this drop, I used the most common and easiest method to cut down a tree with a chainsaw.
The steps are:
- Ensure you have the right safety gear (chaps, ear protection, etc.)
- Ensure your chain is sharp and saw is ready to go
- Create a notch in the tree on the side you want it to fall
- Cut from the opposite side towards the notch
- Step back well out of the way while the tree drops
For this tree, I was just using the Husqvarna 450 Rancher which was plenty powerful enough for the job. It has a 20-inch bar on it which it is fine with, though it would probably be better with an 18″ bar max.
And while a step-by-step list like that can make it seem simple to cut down a tree, there is a lot more to it than that.
You need to know how deep to cut the notch and where to start the back cut, you need to know how deep to make the back cut and when you should step back.
Check out this video from Stihl chainsaws for some great tips and advice.
Many people think that your face cut needs to be quite large – even more than halfway through the tree – but this isn’t so and can be dangerous.
In felling the tree in the video above, the man uses his Stihl chainsaw to make a bore cut after making the face cut to have greater control over this particular tree.
Here are the steps he uses:
- Identify the hazards – things like power lines, dead branches, vines
- Assess the tree – consider lean and branch structure,
- Clear the work zone – remove debris and underbrush
- Make a face cut on the tree – a 70° angle, a third of the way into the trunk
- Set up a hinge – in this case using a bore cut
- Start behind the face cut about an inch – cut out most of the back of the tree
- Insert wedges at the start of the bore cut – two will do
- Finish cutting out the back of the tree – get out the way and watch it drop
You don’t want to start by felling large trees like this one – it really is best to start small and work your way up to larger trees.
Also, if at all possible, work alongside other experienced chainsaw users and those who have felled a lot of trees before. The best way to learn how to cut down trees is from those who have done it a lot.
If you are dropping bigger trees regularly, consider getting one of the best logging chainsaws to make the job easier and safer.
Next up are the 8 most common ways to cut down a tree with a chainsaw.
How To Fell A Tree With A Chainsaw
This video titled WORLD’S BEST TREE FELLING TUTORIAL really is a fantastic lesson on how to cut down trees with chainsaws (new channel from the presenter here: Guilty of Treeson YouTube and Patreon for supporters).
The team demonstrate 8 different ways to fall a tree with a chainsaw.
They are leaving high stumps in order for them to be pulled out by an excavator. Usually, they would leave them much lower so they aren’t as visible and could be removed with a good stump grinder.
1. The Humboldt
The Humboldt is the first cut demonstrated and makes it more likely that the butt of the tree will hit the ground first instead of branches or the top of the tree.
- Create a notch a little over a third of the way deep
- Back cut parallel to the notch
- Slightly insert your wedge into the cut
- Make sure your back cut is even on both sides
- Plan your best position for finishing the cut
During this cut, you can also see how to use felling sites and hear the importance of a full wrap handle in these types of situations.
Also, you’ll get an explanation of holding wood or hinge wood that helps to direct the tree to fall in the right location and control the momentum.
10% of the trunk should be hinge wood in this type of cut (and many others).
2. Gapped Face
The gapped face cut is said to be what old-time loggers would do for big trees.
This cut helps the compression spread out over a larger area wood fiber and gives the most directional control.
The downsides are that the tree hits the ground harder and will drive branches further into the ground and potentially damage the trunk.
- Cut into the tree horizontally a third
- Bring up your angled cut but don’t meet your first cut
- Knock out the wedge leaving a step
- Clean out the cut if needed
- Take off a further slice from below the notch
This is obviously one you have to watch to make sense of!
3. Conventional Face Cut
The conventional face cut is more like the method I shared in the introduction.
It goes by the names notch, face cut, and undercut – along with others – and it’s usually the easiest way to take down a tree.
This method is good for getting a stump that’s very low to the ground and ready for stump grinding.
- Make a horizontal cut a third of the way into the trunk
- Make your diagonal cut from above to meet the horizontal cut
- Remove the notch
- Make your back cut to meet your horizontal cut
- Leave 10% of the stump for a hinge
- Tap in a wedge if needed
- Get out of the way
You’ll also hear about the dangers of a ‘dutchman’ cut occurring – a dangerous occurrence where your horizontal cut goes deeper than your diagonal cut. It can affect the direction of your drop.
Also, remember that it’s better to make your cut too short than too long or deep – you can always extend the cut but you can’t put wood back in!
4. The Bore Cut
The bore cut or plunge cut has pros and cons as well.
It prevents a tree from barber chairing – one of the main causes of chainsaw death and injury – this is when the tree falls before being cut through.
The downside is that you have less control over the tree because you are cutting backward and out of the tree rather than towards the hinge which helps you tweak direction and that final moment of fall.
- Cut a notch into the trunk in the direction you want the tree to fall
- Plunge your chainsaw into the trunk while ensuring you leave a 10% hinge
- You can bore into the wood from further back than 10% and then bring it closer
- Once sufficient hinge is in place, saw backward out of the tree
The tree will drop quickly once that tension has been relieved from the back strap.
5. The Sizwill
How do you cut down a tree that’s on a lean?
The Sizwill is one way to do so, but it is a more advanced cut.
It’s difficult to explain in writing, and best to watch the video rather than trying to read the steps.
The tree that it is demonstrated on is leaning and has a lot of branch weight on one side, plus it’s close to a house.
While it can be best to use a rope in situations like this, the tree in the video isn’t leaning so bad to warrant that and so allows the team to demonstrate the cut.
What type of chainsaw do you think Jed is running?
Could be a Husqvarna 372 XP, but let me know in the comments below if you can make it out better than me.
6. Pulling With A Rope
For trees that are leaning more significantly, it’s best to use a rope and tractor/excavator.
You can see how to cut down a tree using a rope in the video, including the tools you should use to get a rope up in a tree (a throwball).
You want to make sure the rope is tied around the trunk of the tree rather than a branch.
Keep in mind:
- The rope should not be too tense
- You just want to hold it in place without pulling too much
- A conventional face cut is likely the best cut for pulling a tree over
- Make sure the person pulling the tree is further away than the height of the tree
For measuring the height of trees, consider getting a forestry laser.
7. Open-Faced Notch
In the 7th tree in this video, you can see what a bad face cut notch looks like and then see it pushed over by a dozer.
The open face cut closes slowly and gives more control, but it drops heavily to the ground and will usually break the tree trunk multiple times.
Features of a bad cut:
- It has a narrow opening
- It’s a short notch
- You won’t have any directional control
An open face cut is also a good open for trees that are on a lean.
If you like the look of the chainsaw helmets the Guilty of Treeson team are using, check out the Pfanner Protos Helmet here.
8. Backcut First
The final cut example is one in which you perform the back cut first.
It’s a more dangerous and erratic type of cut that should only be completed by highly experienced tree workers. It is OK to use on leaning trees as well.
- Shave off the bark with an ax (where you’ll be making the back cut)
- Make the back cut
- Insert wedges
- Cut out your wedge
- Smash wedges till she drops
As with all of these chainsaw tree-felling examples, you’ve really got to watch the video to understand the method. And then, only if you’re highly experienced should you attempt it – if at all.
Felling A Tree With An Ax
So that’s how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw – easy, right?
No it’s one of the most dangerous things you can do and shouldn’t be attempted without the proper chainsaw training, equipment, and experience.
The other alternative is to fell a tree with a good felling ax.
Check out the video above for some great tips and tricks while keeping in mind this is mostly only a good way to cut down a small tree.
Cutting down a tree with an ax follows a similar pattern to using a chainsaw.
Before you start:
- Consider any lean
- Identify a landing area
- Avoid areas where the tree might get caught up
You should also wear safety gear such as glasses and a helmet to keep yourself as safe as possible.
- Determine where you will the first cut
- 12 inches high is a good spot to make the cut when swinging with an ax
- Take a wedge out of the side in the direction you want the tree to fall
- Cut halfway into the tree horizontally and make a 90 degree cut to meet that cut
- Next, make your back cut to meet the horizontal cut of your wedge
- Make a smaller wedge on the opposite side of your first wedge, and slightly higher up
- Once you see the tree start to go, get out of the way and watch
As with using a chainsaw to cut down a tree, start by working alongside a reputable person who has a lot of experience. Cutting down a tree is not worth injury or death!
The best ax for you will depend on your height and strength – for some, even a double-bit ax or one of Gränsfors Bruks Axes will be suitable.
How To Cut Down A Small Tree
To cut down very small trees you could use a mini chainsaw.
These tools are really handy and usually have either a 4 or 6-inch bar on them.
I’ve used them for cutting down many small trees on our property and they actually work really well. They don’t leave as tidy cuts as a regular gas or battery chainsaw but that’s all good.
You would really only want to use a mini chainsaw for very small trees and bushes and you don’t really have to use much technique.
I usually start by first pruning off any larger branches and then slowly topping the tree bit by bit rather than just cutting it off at the bottom of the trunk.
You can see me discussing mini chainsaws on my YouTube channel where I use the saw mentioned above and the Denqir Mini Chainsaw.
I’m a big fan of mini-chainsaws when they’re used at the right time and in the right place.
Tree cutting really is an art, and not something anyone can jump straight into – go out and watch others do it in real life and learn from them first hand.
Personally, I prefer a chainsaw to cut a tree where possible – axes are more work than I want to do, but they’re alright in a bind.
Chainsaws were invented to make life easier and they certainly do that when it comes to tree felling.
Let us know if you have any questions, advice, or experience to share in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!