How To Cut A Tall Tree With A Chainsaw?

Cutting down tall trees presents some unique safety risks. In this post, we discuss how to do it without being injured or harming any structures nearby.

Chainsaw Tree Size

Chainsaws can cut trees from as small as a few inches in diameter, to a many feet using a regular consumer chainsaw or professional model. Both electric and gas powered chainsaws can cut fairly good sized trees.

Chainsaw Tree Felling

Tree felling can be done by homeowners, arborists, and forest management workers. Once the tree chosen for felling has been marked with paint, it is ready to start the cutting process. The reasons for taking down a tree using a chainsaw include:

  • Storm damage (fallen branches blocking driveway, road).
  • A diseased tree (insect damage, rot).
  • You no longer want that tree (change of landscape design, building of new structure).

Safety First

When using a chainsaw, especially when cutting large trees, safety should always be first.

Before you start, make sure to have the following safety gear:

  • Chainsaw chaps (kevlar, leather, etc.)
  • Earmuffs or headphones
  • Work or logging helmet
  • Work gloves
  • Safety glasses
Chainsaw Tree Trunk

Steps To Cut The Tree Down

Here are the steps to take to fell a tall tree with a chainsaw:

  1. Get a measurement of the tree, either with a measuring tape, survey equipment, or just estimate with your eyes.
  2. Acquire the right permit for tree removal, even if it is on your own property. This depends on the city and state regulations you are in.
  3. Clear any obstacles to your work area and whre the tree and branches will fall. This is the ‘fall zone’ and should be clear of people or structures.
  4. Place orange traffic cones, stakes, signs, or other markers for anyone nearby to be warned of the area you are working in.
  5. Notice any surrounding trees or structures when you plan the direction of the tree dropping.
  6. Have a planned escape route when the tree falls to get out of its way. This should be 15-20 feet from where the tree will land, and in a different direction.
  7. Use ropes to guide the tree to fall into the chosen fall zone. This is especially useful if the tree is naturally leaning or there are fixed obstacles that cannot be moved away.
  8. Start by cutting the lower branches from the tree to clear the base.
  9. The first cuts on the tree are two cuts made in the bark of the trunk to help direct the fall of the tree in the right direction.
  10. Make one undercut. This is a v-shaped cut out of the trunk using the chainsaw facing the direction you want the tree to fall. This cut is very important to make accurately. The bottom of the v-shape should be straight, while the top cut should be at a 45 degree angle.
  11. This cut should be at the lower part of the tree trunk. Remove the wedge once it is cut.
  12. Make a back cut slightly above the height of the v-cut to get the tree to tip and fall. Make sure to get out of the way when it starts falling and head to the escape route.
  13. The felled tree cannot be left sitting there, so it must be cut up into chunks small enough to carry and remove with a cart or wheelbarrow.
  14. If the tree is made of wood good for burning, it can be used to make plenty of firewood. If not, then it will need to removed by truck from the property.

Chainsaw Safety Ropes

Chainsaw safety ropes are ropes attached to the tree to guide its direction as it falls. These should be placed prior to cutting. They should be used in conjunction with a choker (wire rope) and rigging to help guide the tree down safely.

Ropes should only be placed on trees that are obviously leaning, or about to fall.

Chainsaw Tree Notches

Cutting tree notches with a chainsaw is a way to shape a tree, or what is known as “topping.” It can be part of rejuvenating an overgrown tree with poor structure.

A v-shaped notch is cut at the base of the tree to guide its direction when it falls. Early chainsaw loggers began cutting notches for this very reason.

How Big Of A Tree Can You Cut With A 16 Inch Chainsaw?

A 16 inch chainsaw can not cut down a very large tree. A 16 inch chainsaw is more of a household chainsaw. Generally a 16 inch chainsaw can cut a 10-35 inch diameter tree by making multiple cuts at the base.

How Big Of A Tree Can You Cut With An 18 Inch Chainsaw?

18 inch chainsaws can cut very large trees down, which is why they are preferred for both homeowners and professionals. The diameter of the tree should be the determining factor as to whether or not you should use an 18 inch chainsaw. The average 18 inch chainsaw can cut a tree with a diameter of 15-40 inches, and if your tree is smaller than that, they are perfect for trimming.

A tree over 30 inches in diameter may require a professional to cut it. Even if the 18 inch chainsaw is able to do the job, it may not be safe for a homeowner to attempt it.

In Closing

The best way to cut down large trees is to hire an expert for the job. It can be extremely dangerous unless you know what you are doing, which is why hiring an expert will ensure that the tree comes down safely. When using a chainsaw for cutting any sized tree, always adhere to proper safety practices and wear PPE.

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Nick Klamecki, Author
About Nick Klamecki, Author

Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use. Learn more about Nick here or connect with him on LinkedIn | Medium