Cutting Down Trees with an Axe

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  • 2-5 hours
  • Advanced
  • 0-200
What You'll Need
Safety glasses
Work gloves
Steel-toed boots
Leather sheath
Felling axe

Although modern power tools have rendered it all but obsolete, there is sometimes no substitute for the time-honored tradition of using an axe to cut down a tree. However, felling a tree isn't as simple as just hitting it with the axe. There are safety procedures to follow and techniques to practice. If you aren't careful and you don't take the proper steps, you could end up hurting yourself or dropping a tree on your home.

Safety Tips

First and foremost, there are several important safety issues to consider before you take an axe in hand. Sharpen the bit (cutting edge) regularly and after each time you use the axe, and apply oil to the axe head to prevent rust. If the axe head is not securely fastened to the handle, it can come loose in mid-swing; a handle that is cracked or split is just as dangerous. Wear safety glasses and steel-toed boots when chopping and make sure that you can maintain a firm grip on the handle. Also be sure that you have more than sufficient clearance for your swing and that onlookers remain at a safe distance. Finally, your axe head should be sheathed when not in use, or it can be left wedged in a log or tree stump.

Step 1 - Select the Right Axe for You and the Job

Be sure you have the right axe for the job. A felling axe is used for chopping logs or trees perpendicular to the grain, but there are two types of felling axe: a rounding axe is used on hardwoods and a wedge axe is used on softwoods. The handle of a felling axe is typically 31 to 36 inches long. Pick a size of felling axe that you will be comfortable with—not too light and not to heavy.

Step 2 - Anticipate the Direction the Tree Will Fall

Try to get the tree to fall in the direction of the prevailing wind. Consider also the direction in which the tree leans if it is not exactly vertical. Keep all your belongings clear of the area where the tree is expected to fall. To be on the safe side, make sure that any vehicles are parked outside of a radius equal to the height of the tree. Also, plan an escape route at least 45 degrees from the direction of the falling tree.

Step 3 - Start a Notch

Cut a v-shaped notch (kerf) about waist high into the tree in the direction you want the tree to fall. Cut to a depth of about 1/3 the diameter of the tree.

Step 4 - Start the Felling Cut

Cut another notch on the opposite side about a foot above the first. The wood between the two cuts creates a “hinge,” holding the tree in place as it begins to fall.

Step 5 – Continue to Cut into the First Notch

Expand the width of the first notch in an upward direction until it approaches the height of the second notch. When the tree begins to fall, make your way to safe distance back along the escape route. Be aware of any branches on nearby trees that might become entangled with the falling tree.

After your tree is taken care of, make sure you have a plan for disposal. The tree itself can be easily cut for firewood, if you have a wood-burning stove or fireplace, but you will need to contact professionals to remove the remaining stump if you don't have the proper tools yourself.