How to Cut Down a Dead Tree?

Cutting down trees, especially dead ones, presents a challenging task for most DIYers. If you’re looking up how to safely cut down a dead tree, then odds are you’re looking to fell something a little larger than a leggy sapling that’s getting too tall.

Cutting down a decent-sized dead tree is by no means an easy job, so you’ll want to prepare properly to make sure the job goes smoothly and according to plan.

Before we begin, make sure you have a plan for how you want to cut down the dead tree, the proper tools, and a little know-how, you should be able to tackle the job without issue. And if you feel the job may be too big for you to handle, it’s always a good idea to call in an expert to handle something like this for you.

First up, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need to complete the job before you begin. The last thing you want is to figure out you need to run to the hardware store while the tree is halfway cut.

Tools & Materials

First up, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need to complete the job before you begin. The last thing you want is to figure out you need to run to the hardware store while the tree is almost falling over.

  • Chainsaw
  • Chain & bar oil
  • Small axe
  • Felling wedges
  • Eye protection, ear protection, gloves, and work boots

How to Cut Down a Dead Tree – Guide

Step 1: Examine Chainsaw Condition

Before you start using it, it’s important to check the condition of your chainsaw and make sure it’s ready to operate.

Check the condition of the chain, and ensure it’s sharp and has no visible damage. Make sure the saw is topped up with chain and bar oil as well as gas or you have fresh batteries on hand if you’re using an electric saw.

chainsaw up close
Make sure to check the condition of your chainsaw before starting.

Make sure the chain tension feels good as well. You should be able to pull the chain away from the bar about a ¼” without too much effort.

You’ll also want to ensure that the bar is properly tightened and not loose at all. This can be adjusted by tightening the mounting nuts or with a hand tensioning knob, depending on your chainsaw model.

Step 2: Assess the Tree and Surrounding Area

Properly felling a tree is as much about planning as it is about the actual grunt work – perhaps even more. This is especially true when you’re talking about a dead tree, as they tend to be more unpredictable and have branches that can easily break off during the felling process.

dead tree leaning on smaller tree
Examine your tree’s surroundings to see if there are any potential hazards or hang ups.

Walk around the tree and take note of any potential hazards that may get in your way. Look for dead or loose branches, smaller trees, and other obstacles that might cause your tree to catch and not fall down completely.

Also, be sure to locate any nearby power lines and ensure your tree is well clear of them. If there are power lines nearby, don’t attempt to cut the tree; instead, hire a pro to handle it. This is a severe hazard and can even result in death.

Make sure to plan out and clear your escape routes for when the tree starts to fall. Plan out at least two routes on the opposite side from where you intend to fell the tree.

At this point, you’ll want to plan the direction you want the tree to fall in. This can be influenced somewhat by the way you cut, but if the tree is obviously leaning or weighted towards one side, then you’ll need to feel it in the direction it wants to go naturally.

Step 3: Clear Branches and Surrounding Trees

Next, you’ll want to clear out any dead or loose branches that might impede the cutting process. Use your chainsaw and small axe to remove as many of these as needed.

cutting down smaller tree
Cutting down smaller surrounding tree.

You’ll also want to clear out any small trees surrounding the felling area. In my case, the dead tree was actually leaning on two smaller birch trees that were keeping it upright. I had to cut both of these before I was able to fell the larger dead tree.

It can be difficult to estimate exactly how tall the tree you’re dealing with is, without a precise way to measure it.

One trick to estimate this is to hold your axe with your arm outstretched and line up the axe head with the top of the tree. Then walk backward until the entire tree is no longer visible as it’s blocked by the axe head. That distance is the approximate location of where the treetop will fall when it’s felled.

Step 4: Start the Notch

Cutting a felling notch in the tree is the preferred way to cut down any tree above 6” in diameter or so. A notch will ensure the tree falls in the direction you intend it to, and not the opposite way.

Start your notch on the same side you want the tree to fall – called the “fall side”. Start the notch at a comfortable height for you, you can always come back later and shorten the stump if needed.

The notch should be about a 1/4 to a 1/5 of the overall trunk diameter. Cut downwards at approximately a 60-degree angle and then cut up at about 30 degrees to form the bottom of the notch.

Step 5: Make the Felling Cut (Back Cut)

Next, it’s time to make the felling cut in order to get the tree to fall over.

Switch over to the opposite side of the tree and start cutting about an inch above the notch you cut in the previous step. It’s important that the back cut is above the notch and not below it, as cutting it below can actually cause the tree to fall in the opposite direction from where you intend it to.

Make the felling cut until an inch or two from the notch. The space between the back cut and the notch is called the ‘hinge’, as this portion effectively acts like a hinge to guide the tree in your desired direction.

If all goes well, the tree should begin to fall on its own when you complete the back cut. If it doesn’t you can apply gentle pressure to the tree trunk and see if it begins to fall over.

If not, you may need to use felling wedges to get it to fall. Hammer your felling wedges into the back cut using the butt of your axe until they start to lever or ‘wedge’ the back cut open and cause it to fall.

When the tree does begin to fall, drop your saw or axe and head to one of your planned exit routes as quickly as possible.

Step 6: Clean Up the Felled Tree

felled tree

Next up, clean up your felled tree by cutting off the larger branches and then segmenting the tree into smaller pieces that can be more easily moved.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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