How to Chainsaw a Tree

Mj 618_348_how to chainsaw a tree
Illustration by Joe McKendry

Every year, there are over 30,000 chainsaw-related injuries nationwide. That means a lot of chainsaw-wielding homeowners are making haphazard cuts straight across the trunk, probably without reading the tree's natural lean. We asked Tirso Rojas, a California firefighter who spends summers cutting trees on the fire line, to break down his technique. The first order of business, he says, is getting a hard hat, some Kevlar chaps, and a freshly sharpened chain. "Sharp chains make smooth cuts," he says. "Smooth cuts are safer."

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1. Size Up
Look up to determine the tree's natural lean – that's the direction it wants to fall. The right lie (where you aim it) will account for that lean to avoid nearby trees, houses, and people.

2. Aiming Cut
Make a level cut at about thigh-level, perpendicular to the direction of the tree's lie. The cut should be one-third of the way through the tree's diameter – more, and it falls too quickly; less, and it might not fall that way at all.

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3. Face Cut
Six to eight inches above the aiming cut, run the saw down at a 45-degree angle until the ends of the two cuts meet. Remove the piece of wood.

4. Back Cut
On the opposite side of the tree, spot your chainsaw two inches higher than where you made your aiming cut (about waist high) and make a final flat cut. Stop two or three inches before meeting the face cut, leaving an even strip of wood connecting the tree to its stump. This acts as a hinge.

5. Falling
You might need to drive in a wedge. When the tree starts to fall, walk away at an angle. "Make sure the top doesn't break off and knock your lights out," says Rojas. A fibrous strip – the remnant of your hinge – is all that should be on the stump's smooth surface: "Your stump is your signature."

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