How to Fell a Tree: Pro Tips From an Arborist

December 2, 2022

It's one thing to cut down a small sapling while your feet are firmly planted on terra firma. It's an entirely different task to cut down a tall tree that requires climbing and trimming before dropping it with precision.

Professional arborists who specialize in felling trees possess a unique combination of skills to take on such a task. To learn how it's all done, we asked Jake to take us along as he fells a 40-foot black birch tree at the DudeRanchDIY.

What is an Arborist?

An arborist is a professional who deals with planting, maintaining, and diagnosing trees. But they’re also known as tree surgeons and can fell trees. There are several reasons to have a tree cut down including:

  • It’s too close to your home or other structures.
  • It’s diseased, hollow, rotten, or dead.
  • It has experienced damage after a storm and is weakened.
  • The roots are disrupting the foundation of structures or driveways.
  • You’re clearing a space.

It’s important to reach out to professionals if you’re considering having trees removed, especially larger trees that are unpredictable and can cause harm to your surroundings.

How Do Arborists Cut Down Trees?

In this profession, it's always safety first so a careful plan to get up a trunk is a must. To get a climbing rope up a tree, a throwball is used. The throwball can be launched by hand, an air cannon, or a slingshot. For really tall trees, a drone can also be used. The climbing line provides the arborist with a safe point of attachment to maneuver up and down a tree. Professionals also wear climbing saddles and wood spikes, or gaffs, that are attached to boots that give them grip as they climb.

A buck strap, or positioning lanyard, allows an arborist to “walk” up a trunk and to position themselves ergonomically in the right spot on a tree when making cuts.

When an arborist is ready to begin the tree-felling process, the first step is to start cutting the horizontal branches. Typically, a small undercut goes about halfway through the limb, and then a top cut is made to create a “snap” effect. Next up is limbing the more vertical branches using wedge cuts to help steer falling limbs in the correct direction. With the limbs out of the way, the very top of the tree is then cut.

The final phase is to “drop the stick”.  Using a series of lines and knots, an arborist can safely maneuver the tree to fall precisely to the desired spot on the ground. Once a tree is leveraged to fall a certain way using a tractor or vehicle to help pull it over, a wedge cut is made a few feet off the ground. Then the arborist makes a cut on the opposite side of the wedge cut to fell the tree.

Once on the ground, small limbs and branches are fed into a wood chipper and useable firewood can be processed with a log splitter. For more tips, be sure to read up on how to mark, buck, and split firewood.