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How to Remove a Tree

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There are a good many reasons for removing a tree: some aesthetic, others practical. Some trees, for instance, may be healthy, but are getting in the way of the healthy growth of others by blocking sunlight. Dead or dying trees, on the other hand, should be removed for safety reasons (as well as aesthetic ones). Don't, however, start felling trees at first impulse, as replacing one could take years of growth.

This guide will cover the removal of average trees, in diameters of up to about 10 inches, heights of 20 feet or less, and sitting on relatively level ground. Trees that fall outside of these parameters - those that are very large and those not on level ground - are usually best left to professionals. At the same time, any trees that are in high risk areas (such as very close to a house) might be better left to professionals as well.

Before You Get Started

There are a few things you should do to prepare for the removal of a tree:
  • Survey the area surrounding the tree for obstacles: other trees, a fence, wires, etc.

  • Stand a little ways away from the tree to determine the way the tree is naturally leaning. Allowing the tree to fall in the direction it's growing in is your best option.

  • Check for safety hazards on the tree itself and remove them if possible. These could include dead or broken branches or any other loose objects or pieces.

  • Check the tree for wounds or rotten spots. Felling a tree that's rotten or hollow is dangerous, as you probably won't be able to control the direction of its fall. It's best to leave these trees to the professionals.

  • Determine two routes of escape you can use while the tree is falling, one on each side of the tree going away from the direction you project it will fall in.
If you encounter any difficulties you can't manage, call for professional help.

Felling a Tree

Before you start felling, choose the right tool for the job: a chainsaw for larger trees or a handsaw for smaller ones. If you aren't comfortable with using a chainsaw, try to get some help from someone who is. Keep in mind that coniferous trees contain a lot of sap that can cause your chainsaw to lock up and kickback resulting in serious injury. As mentioned above, if your nervous about this part, leave it the job to a professional. Also remember that tree felling is a time consuming job, and, with safety being of vital importance, it's not something you want to rush through. Plan to spend most of the day on this project.

First, you will need to make the "undercut." The purpose of this cut is to be a guide for the fall of the tree. The undercut is a V-shaped notch cut into the tree on the side of the direction you want it to fall. Try to make the cut as close to a 90-degree angle as possible. The undercut should go approximately one quarter of the way through the tree. The exact height of the undercut isn't crucial, since anything left behind after the tree falls can be cut away more easily. Make the cut at a height that's comfortable to work with.

Second, you will need to make the "backcut." The purpose of this cut is to release the stress on the back of tree, thereby allowing it to fall. Unlike the undercut, the backcut will be a straight line into the tree, not an angled notch. It should be made approximately 2 inches above the undercut on the opposite side of the tree. There are two important things to remember about making the backcut. Never make the backcut lower than the undercut, as the tree will tend to fall in that direction instead. Never cut through the undercut when making the backcut, as you will lose control of the tree.

The tree should begin to fall as you make the backcut. Once this happens, turn off the chainsaw and walk quickly down one of your chosen escape paths. It's important for you to step away from the tree because, oftentimes, the base of tree can bounce or slip backward over the stump.

Now that your tree is on the ground, you can begin "limbing" and "logging," the acts of removing the branches and cutting the trunk into logs, respectively. When limbing, start at the bottom of the tree and work your way toward the top, cutting branches on the opposite side of tree from you; this way, the tree trunk will protect you from injury. Logging involves cutting the trunk of the tree into approximately 24-inch logs (for use as firewood). If you intend to use the wood in some other way, you'll need to look up the appropriate cutting technique on your own.

Stump Removal

There are a few options for dealing with the stump of the tree. For one thing, you might consider just incorporating it into your landscape. You could hollow it out and plant flowers in it or, if it's large enough, turn it into a seat. Be creative!

If you'd rather get rid of it, and do so quickly, you have two options. Use a spade, pick, and pruning saw to cut the stump away from its roots, and, once free, pull it out and dispose of it. This is the most difficult method, but it gets the stump out of the way quickly. If you'd rather not do all that work, call a tree service to remove the stump for you.

You could also simply allow the stump to decay naturally. Remove any new sucker growth (shoots that grow off the trees roots or stump) as it crops up, depleting the stump's store of food. This will take a long time (5-10 years) but is easy. Once, the stump is dead, removal will be easy. If you want to speed this process up a little, drill holes deep into the stump and pour chemicals (like bleach) into them.

Adam Mandelbaum  Posted by Adam Mandelbaum on January 7, 2013

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