Whether it’s to clear the ground, open up the views or to make space for new planting, felling trees is one of the most important woodland management tasks and requires a high degree of skill. Improper technique can result in damage to property or serious injury to people. For this reason, tree felling should be left to qualified professionals with the right equipment and commercial liability insurance.
If you’re planning to fell a tree on your own, or with a group, consider undertaking a risk assessment before the day. Ensure that the work area is free from obstacles, especially overhead cables (don’t fell within 15m of power lines) and fences. If there are any areas of danger, mark them with hazard tape and/or warning notices to keep people out of the zone. It’s also a good idea to visit the site in advance to get a better understanding of the project and what the conditions are likely to be like on the day.
Before beginning to fell a tree, make sure that you are wearing protective clothing and safety goggles. It’s a good idea to have someone with you who can tap you on the shoulder if it’s time to leave the felling zone, and can watch the top of the tree to let you know when it’s starting to fall. It’s also a good idea for this person to have a saw themselves, so that they can quickly cut away any branches that are falling from the trunk or limbs.
A directional notch is a series of two separate cuts that remove a triangular section from the bottom of the trunk. It’s important to make the first notch cut from the side that the tree is leaning or heavily loaded on, and then the second notch cut from the front of the tree, which should meet the first notch at about one-third of the way into the trunk. The directional notch creates a weak point that helps to control the direction of the tree’s fall.
In addition to the directional notch, it’s essential to give the tree a sufficient hinge by making a horizontal cut (often called the ‘felling sink’) that runs from just behind the base of the directional notch to just above the felling cut. This will prevent the tree from becoming tangled in its own limbs and slowing its descent.
If the tree is a thinning species or has a large number of large limbs at its base, you may wish to cut an additional horizontal cut (often referred to as a’sawpit’) from the back of the trunk. This will help to reduce the amount of wood the tree needs to break into smaller sections as it falls.
This should be made at the same height as the directional notch and will create a hinge that is thicker at one end than the other, helping to reduce the speed and direction of the tree’s fall as it comes down.