Helpful Tips

How to Fell a Tree

man felling a tree

Anyone can learn how to fell a tree, which is a process that requires careful preparation. However, learning how to fell a tree can be dangerous work, especially in yards with nearby buildings, trees, and other structures.

Even if you’re simply cutting up firewood in the forest, you should always prepare before you begin sawing. A tree doesn’t always fall where you want it to and it can bounce off a neighboring branch, or you could get injured if you’re standing too close due to lack of space. Whenever you’re cutting down a tree, make sure you have someone around that has experience with this type of challenging task.

Tree Removal Permits

Removing a small tree is usually a simple process. However, some states have rules and regulations requiring special permits before a tree is felled, either per city ordinances or for preservation reasons.

In any state, a utility company will have strict policies regarding utility lines and trees. The safest distance to plant a tree shorter than twenty-five feet is within twenty feet of a power line. If a tree is planted closer, there’s a chance the city or utility company will come through and remove the tree or trim it to their specifications.

Because these rules and regulations vary by state, be sure you check your city’s policies before felling a tree since the tree may have been improperly planted, putting it in a dangerous location.

The Dangers of Tree Felling

dangers of felling a tree

Felling a tree is a dangerous and difficult job that should be done correctly and with the right equipment. Proper tree felling requires an understanding of biology and physics, experience, and knowledge of the equipment you’ll use. Tree removal specialists are highly trained in the process of tree felling and have extensive knowledge that can help them identify certain dangers. While some homeowners may be tempted to handle tree felling on their own, there are many reasons why you should have a professional do the job.



The equipment used to fell a tree includes an electric chainsaw, hand tools, felling wedges, safety gear, and ropes. If you use any of this equipment improperly it can result in serious injuries or you may cause damage to your home, nearby structures, or the tree. Failing to focus for even a few seconds when you’re cutting a tree with a chainsaw blade can lead to catastrophic injuries. A professional tree feller will have the experience and training needed to cut down a tree and use this type of dangerous equipment properly.


Unexpected Falls

There’s always the chance that you make the wrong cut in the tree trunk and the tree falls where you don’t want it to. A falling tree can be a very dangerous situation.

Power Lines

Felling a tree that’s located near power lines can also be a very dangerous process. When a person or small branches make contact with a power line, it can result in electrocution, power outages, or damage to the power line.


Dead Wood

If a tree is infested with pests, rot, or disease, cutting into the tree trunk could be dangerous. Dead trees are also very unstable, so determining where they will land can be a challenge. It may fall in the wrong direction, into other trees, or on a nearby structure. Branches may break off and fall on you as you’re struggling to control and guide the tree during the fall.

Safety Precautions & Safety Gear

arborist wearing a safety gear

You’ll need to wear all the proper safety equipment when using a chainsaw, including work boots, gloves, safety glasses, hearing protection, and protective clothing.

A helmet will protect your face and eyes from falls, falling branches, and flying debris.

How to Fell a Tree

The first step of learning how to fell a tree is evaluating the surrounding area, searching for nearby power lines, other trees, and buildings, insects, rotted wood, dead limbs, or broken limbs. During this time, you can also determine the best way for the tree to fall and possible scenarios that can occur when you cut down a tree located close to other structures.

If you’re dealing with any type of inclement weather, such as hail, snow, wind, or rain, this could make the job more dangerous. If possible, hold off on felling and plan for another day.


How to Judge the Fall

Consider where the tree will fall naturally. Which way is it leaning? Look at how it’s balanced.

If it has too many branches on one side, this could cause it to be pulled over to that side as it falls. Take a look at the top of the tree. When it’s windy, if the tree is leaning in a certain direction, this can also have an impact on where it will fall.

Take a look at the trunk at waist height. Look for any holes in the trunk.

Large dead branches can indicate interior decay. If you have a reason to believe there’s extensive rot in the trunk, then you may need to consult an experienced tree cutter before you proceed.

Tree Falling Zone

You can use basic geometry to give you a rough idea of how tall a tree is, so you’ll know exactly where it will fall and what it may fall on.

  • Use your fist and extend your arm to hold your fist in front of you.
  • Your fist should be raised to eye level. Next, you’ll measure the distance between the middle of your fist to your eye.
  • Take a measuring stick and hold it perfectly vertical. With your arm extended, you’ll read the measurement in inches, above your fist.
  • Now, face the tree and sight with one eye, moving forward or backward until the top of the stick aligns with the treetop. Mark the location. The approximate height of the tree is equal to the distance between the tree and you.

 Factors that can Affect Other Trees

Man safely felling a tree

Wind, balance, and how the branches grow can give you a good idea of where it will land and whether or not it will fall on other trees, shrubbery, flower beds, or structures. With these factors in mind, look for a clear space where it will not cause damage.

Never attempt to fell a tree up a steep slope since it could kick back at you once it hits the ground.

Directional Felling

This term refers to the technique of felling a tree using a plunge cut and wedges. This is done to better control where the tree falls and how it falls.

Felling Cuts

By now you should know where the tree wants to fall and where you want it to fall. If the tree and you are within 45 degrees of each other, then you can proceed with felling the tree without making any special cuts. If you’re not sure of where the tree will fall, you can direct it by using a cable or some rope placed high on the tree as you’re able to reach it.


Make certain that the cable or rope is long enough so that whoever is pulling on the cable or rope doesn’t end up under the tree. You could also put the rope around a tree in front of where you want it to land so that your friend or assistant can pull it from the side to help guide it.

Tree’s Diameter

For medium-sized trees that are around 6 inches in diameter, you will not need to make any type of fancy cut.

For larger trees, once you have cut approximately 3/4 of the way through it, you can stand to one side, pushing the tree over into its bed.

For larger trees,  you can use a back-felling cut and an undercut. It’s possible to use an ax but it’s also dangerous to do so.

Tree Trunk Undercut

The first notch cut you’ll make is an undercut.

  • The undercut should be made on the side where you want the tree to fall on. Use a horizontal notch cut at waist height till you’re around ⅓ of the way through the tree. Start another cut with a downward angle. The cut should be far enough above the first cut at a 45-degree angle.
  • The horizontal cut should be perpendicular to the direction of the fall. You can use a straight handle double-bit ax or a handmade sighting stick to check this.
  • Next, you’ll insert the head of the ax, resting it on the first cut you made in the tree. The handle of the ax should be pointing in the direction you want the tree to fall in.

Final Cut

  • For the final cut, once you’re sure that the undercut is correct, go around to the opposite side of the tree and cut into the tree approximately 2-inches above the bottom of the undercut. The cut should be kept horizontal and should not be angled downward. Continue sawing, focusing on the uncut wood between the undercut and the back cut.
  • How the tree falls into the felling zone will depend largely on the cuts you have made and whether or not you’ve done them correctly.
  • As your saw, continue to keep the larger hinge uniformly cut. If the hinge is uneven, then it can tear from the thinner end of the hinge and hang back on the thicker end. This will cause the tree to twist, falling in a different direction than you want it to.


You’ll also want to keep an eye on the kerf.

The kerf is a space that the saw leaves behind as it makes its way through the trunk. This space can warn you of how the tree is going to fall.

Once you are halfway toward the undercut, you’ll notice the curve getting slightly bigger. This is a good sign that means the tree is starting to lean toward the undercut, which is exactly where you want it to go. Continue to saw and avoid cutting through the hinge until you hear a loud crack as the tree starts to lean enough to tear the hinge. Now you’ll shut off the saw and quickly move away.

Tree Felling Complications-When You Need to Stop Cutting

man taking caution in felling the tree

If the kerf is starting to close up instead of getting bigger, then you may have misjudged the way the tree was leaning or the balance of tree.

Do not continue sawing hoping that the tree will change its direction. If you continue to saw the kerf eventually will close and trap your saw. Before this can occur, remove your saw and have a friend place some tension on the rope attached to the tree, pulling it over in the correct direction.


You can also use some wedges in the final cut to open up space and saw a little more, then knock the felling wedge a bit further until the tree is weak enough and shifts in the right direction. If you decide to use this technique and you’re using an electric chainsaw, make sure that you use plastic or wooden wedges and avoid using a metal felling wedge which can damage the chain’s teeth.

A Falling Tree

After the tree has fallen, you can begin removing the outside branches, working your way in. Next, you’ll need to cut the tree into smaller pieces, which will make it easier to haul it off your property.

Final Thoughts

If this is your first time felling trees, make sure you take your time and think through every step. You can avoid or minimize injury by evaluating the situation, determining the tree fall location, considering the tree’s diameter, making the proper felling cut, and paying close attention during the cutting process. With patience and practice, you can learn how to fell a tree safely and quickly.