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Cutting down leaning trees

 
pollinator
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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.
 
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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.  
 
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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!







 
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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
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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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Andrew Mayflower wrote: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.



Andrew, do you have a picture or can you sketch a diagram of what you describe with the trigger method? I’ve read about a triangle method that cuts the notch, then make side cuts before making the felling cut. I also saw something I think called a T cut that sounds like what you could be describing.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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I hope the sketch comes through OK.

The numbers are the order of the cuts.  1 is the angled part of the face cut.  As you can see I'm showing a much steeper angle than usual.  Cut 2 meets up with the bottom of cut 1 and completes the wedge of the face cut.  Depending on the severity of the lean and the other particulars of the tree and situation it can be perpendicular to the trunk or horizontal to the ground  Cut 3 is a plunge cut through the trunk and is parallel to cut 2.  It's 2" above the bottom of the face cut, and leaves 1-2" of material horizontally to form the hinge.  Cut 3 also leaves about 2" of material to be the "trigger" for cut 4.  
trigger.png
trigger
trigger
 
pollinator
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What Andrew is describing and using is often referred to as the Plunge Cut or Bore Cut method.  There are of course a range of opinions offered on the angle and size of the face cut, the thickness of the hinge, the placement of the plunge (level or above the hinge), and there are of course different styles of "trigger" as well.  Its amazing to me how the really skilled tree fellers will use all of these elements in combination to control how and where a tree falls - for instance these demonstrations:  


I've found that an appropriately sized tractor and ground tackle works well to encourage the tree to move the right direction.  Its important to use a block to move the tractor out of the direct line of the line, and to size the rope and tackle to have a breaking point below the weight of the tractor!  Unlike a chain or come-along which will prevent the tree , to an extent, from going one direction the tractor can increase tension and also help to keep the tree coming down through snags on surrounding trees.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Just to point out, my post was more about how to fall a leaning tree in a way that minimizes the risk of a "barber chair" event.  I make no comment on how this method might impact the ability to have the tree fall in any particular direction.
 
Eliot Mason
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Andrew Mayflower wrote: I make no comment on how this method might impact the ability to have the tree fall in any particular direction.



LOL - if you could ever figure that out with some certainty then you'd be a genuine genius!  After a recent day when only one of three trees went where I wanted, I felt especially un-genius-y.

Leaners are tricky, dangerous things and I've got two that I'll have to deal with soon.  The chance of barber chair (the outside edge of the tree is under tension, the inside edge of the tree is under compression.  if enough of the fibers under tension are cut, the remaining fibers may fail spectacularly - and dangerously) is real - and I suppose that the use of the plunge cut does indeed nudge the tree to just falling if those outer tension fibers fail before you cut them.

Thanks for sharing your experience.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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The reason the plunge cut works for trees at risk of barber chairing is that you are leaving the strongest, most consequential fibers for last.  By the time you cut them you've already cut through the ones that would have splintered, and therefore stopped it from being able to happen.  

It's a fine line though to walk.  If you leave too much in the hinge and/or trigger it can still barber chair.  Leave too little and it can go in a weird direction.  
 
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:The reason the plunge cut works for trees at risk of barber chairing is that you are leaving the strongest, most consequential fibers for last.  By the time you cut them you've already cut through the ones that would have splintered, and therefore stopped it from being able to happen.  

It's a fine line though to walk.  If you leave too much in the hinge and/or trigger it can still barber chair.  Leave too little and it can go in a weird direction.  



I'm going to quibble with your reasoning here ;) The bore cut method reduces barber chair risk for two reasons, neither being strength of fiber.
One, by not cutting the "trigger" area until the center is removed, you are holding the tree upright, not releasing it to fall.
Two, because you used the bore cut to remove wood between trigger and hinge, you are not chasing the breaking fibers of a falling tree, which can happen if you're doing a conventional back cut and essentially is what a barber chair is - the tree pulling fibers before you can cut them because it's falling too fast.

If the tree is leaning hard enough, it can pull your trigger. Which is why on some trees I use the bore cut, and once the hinge is set just go right out through the back directly, cutting fast before the tree gets to pulling.

No one has mentioned one of the major skill aspects of bore cutting, controlling kickback. When you go sticking the nose of the bar into that tree, you need to be very conscious of your kickback zone on the bar,and have solid control in case it does kick. You also want your chain nice and sharp, although that really applies all the time ;)
 
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FYI, here's a OSHA type video of a barberchair accident review.  Skip to 1:58 to see an animated recreation.
 
Peter Ellis
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Mike Haasl wrote:FYI, here's a OSHA type video of a barberchair accident review.  Skip to 1:58 to see an animated recreation.


I have watched that one before. I never put a saw to a tree without having first learned more about felling than that fellow ever managed to learn. Tragic, but straight up due to his own bad choices.
 
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Trees aren't supposed to grow at 45 degree angles? Can someone tell the trees in Wyoming!!!
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Peter Ellis wrote:

Andrew Mayflower wrote:The reason the plunge cut works for trees at risk of barber chairing is that you are leaving the strongest, most consequential fibers for last.  By the time you cut them you've already cut through the ones that would have splintered, and therefore stopped it from being able to happen.  

It's a fine line though to walk.  If you leave too much in the hinge and/or trigger it can still barber chair.  Leave too little and it can go in a weird direction.  



I'm going to quibble with your reasoning here ;) The bore cut method reduces barber chair risk for two reasons, neither being strength of fiber.
One, by not cutting the "trigger" area until the center is removed, you are holding the tree upright, not releasing it to fall.
Two, because you used the bore cut to remove wood between trigger and hinge, you are not chasing the breaking fibers of a falling tree, which can happen if you're doing a conventional back cut and essentially is what a barber chair is - the tree pulling fibers before you can cut them because it's falling too fast.

If the tree is leaning hard enough, it can pull your trigger. Which is why on some trees I use the bore cut, and once the hinge is set just go right out through the back directly, cutting fast before the tree gets to pulling.

No one has mentioned one of the major skill aspects of bore cutting, controlling kickback. When you go sticking the nose of the bar into that tree, you need to be very conscious of your kickback zone on the bar,and have solid control in case it does kick. You also want your chain nice and sharp, although that really applies all the time ;)



More or less 2 ways of saying the same thing.

As far as kickback, that is something that takes a bit of practice to get right, but once you know how to do it it's pretty easy.  This is part of why I cautioned that this is not a technique for a newbie to chainsaws or tree falling.  It's hard to describe in words how you do it.  If I can make a video sometime I will.
 
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