How To Cut Down A Tree With A Chainsaw

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So you’ve got a tree that you need or want to cut down with a chainsaw but aren’t quite sure how to go about doing it. Seeing as cutting a tree, or felling a tree, can be dangerous, any fear is well placed.

After all, it’s best to be safe than sorry when dealing with nature bigger than you.

In this guide, I’ll explain the types of cuts you need to know, how to go about the whole felling process and I’ll show you how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw in a safe manner.

What Kinds of Trees Can You Cut with a Chainsaw?

This is a crucial question before you get all excited about tree felling.

Any tree can be cut or fell with a chainsaw, you just have to know what you’re doing. You don’t want to walk up to a tree twice as large as normal and assume you can cut it the same way you cut down your small Christmas tree. Instead, you should take someone more experienced with you and ask for their opinion.

Short trees and tall trees can all be cut with a chainsaw. Depending on the size of the tree trunk and where the tree is located, you’ll have to use different methods. Your chainsaw will be able to handle any tree you throw at it with a little patience, but it can’t keep you safe from making a dangerous mistake.

Of course, there are areas where you aren’t allowed to cut down trees. If you’re in a national forest or a protected park, it’s incredibly likely that you don’t have the right to cut a tree. If you’re unsure, consult a local forest ranger and let them know where you plan on going and how tall of a tree you are planning on cutting. If the property is your own, it’s still worth checking.

If you want to cut a tree because it’s rotted or ruining some part of your property, you are still able to use a chainsaw. Be careful with rotted trees though as they can be less predictable and fall more suddenly. If you find out the tree you’re cutting is rotten after you’ve already started cutting, proceed with more caution than usual and be prepared for it to fall apart.

how to fell a tree with a chainsaw

How to Begin Cutting a Tree with a Chainsaw

The first thing to know is that you can’t go right out into the forest and start cutting or felling a tree. Many forests have protection and you could be on the nasty end of a heavy fine if you don’t ask around first before you fell a tree.

The first step to actually cutting a tree with a chainsaw is finding out if it’s even possible. You should know exactly where you plan to go (what forest, where it’s located, things like that) and then get in contact with the local authorities.

Remember: if you’re going out of state to fell a tree, you need to contact the authorities for that region! While you may be friends with your town’s forest rangers, they won’t have the most accurate information on out of state forests.

Get all the proper permits and permission before heading out into the forest to fell a tree and make sure you keep them in an area that’s easy to find. If you’re hiking in, pack your papers in your pocket instead of leaving them in your car. It’ll be much better this way if you do happen to encounter someone who doesn’t think you’re supposed to be doing what you are.

Wear the Right Gear

If you’ve never used a chainsaw before, then you may not be familiar with what the proper safety gear to wear is. Believe it or not, you can’t wear just anything when heading out into the forest to cut a tree. You could get hurt if you wear the wrong thing and when working with a machine like a chainsaw, you don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

When using a chainsaw, one of the most important things you can wear are safety glasses. You can purchase special chainsaw glasses if you really want to be safe, but sunglasses will work too. The idea is to protect your eyes from the wood chips that are bound to fly when you start cutting that tree.

You’ll also need to find good hearing protection. Earplugs or heavy headphones specifically for operating gas chainsaws or similar machines are advised. Chainsaws are loud and you’re going to spend a lot of time pretty close to one, so make sure to get good ear protection or you may end up with hearing damage.

No matter how hot it is, when you cut a tree with a chainsaw, you must wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and thick, long pants. These will protect your body from flying wood chips and debris. It’s also vital that you wear heavy boots, ideally with steel toes. You don’t want a heavy branch falling on your foot and leaving you stranded or hobbling around the woods.

Wearing the right protection ensures your safety throughout the process of cutting down the tree. If you wear loose articles of clothing such as a scarf or a long, floppy hat, they could get caught in the chainsaw and hurt you. Be smart when getting dressed and don’t let high temperatures trick you into wearing something unsafe.

Inspect the Area Closely

Once you’re out in the woods and ready to fell your tree, do a good, thorough search around the tree area. Get rid of any loose branches or underbrush that could trip you in case you need to run. It should be said that you should make sure any direction is safe to run in. Trees are predictable and the one place you don’t clear around the tree will likely be the one place you need to run in an emergency.

It’s also important to take note of where your tree is located. Are there any power lines nearby? Other trees that could fall if your tree hits them? Know the area like the back of your hand before even getting your chainsaw started.

While it may seem like a lot of work, you need to clear an area in the full radius of your tree. If the tree you plan on cutting is twenty feet tall, the area where you plan on felling it needs to have at least twenty feet of clear space.

Be aware of any trees nearby that could be negatively impacted by the felling of your tree. Neighboring trees that have rotted or have poor root systems are a hazard you need to be aware of even after cutting your tree and you most certainly don’t want them to surprise you.

Pick a Direction and Clear Low Branches

Figure out the direction you want for your tree to fall. It’s not guaranteed that the tree will follow your planned path, but you shouldn’t just make it up as you go. Find your preferred direction where the tree will fall and then stick to it.

If there are multiple safe directions for the tree to fall, then that’s fine. However, if the tree is leaning a specific way, it’s best to continue in that direction. Make sure the path is completely clear though. You don’t want it to accidentally take down another tree and start a domino effect.

Often, the direction to fell a tree would be the side of the tree that’s the heaviest.

After deciding on your fall direction, start trimming the low branches. You don’t want anything to get in your way once you start making cuts to fell the tree.

Cut away branches that could hit you and pull them well out of the way of your escape path. Don’t let them become a potential hazard. You want to be able to walk away at any time or angle without any problems.

Beware: when cutting low branches, don’t cut above your shoulders. While it may seem like a nice idea to get branches away from your head, raising the chainsaw above your shoulders is a recipe for disaster. You’ll be much safer stopping once you’ve reached shoulder height.

In general, you start the entire process at the top of the tree before moving down to the base of the tree.

Start Your Cuts

Now comes the fun part. You should have already done a bit of research ahead of time and figured out what types of cuts are available to you when using a chainsaw. Here’s a quick overview.

Basically, you’ll need to make three cuts when you want to fell a tree. Two of them will be on the face and one of them will be located on the back.

Let’s talk about the face cut (aka notch cut) first.

You need to know that there are three different types of notch cuts.

The first type of cut is an open-faced cut. It is the most accurate for getting your tree to fall in the direction that you want. You’ll start by making a cut down at about 45 degrees. You’ll finish the cut by making another 45-degree cut, but coming from below. It essentially looks like a double face cut.

The second and third types of cuts are very similar. The conventional notch cut has one top cut angled downward and a flat cut at the bottom that makes a triangle. The Humboldt notch has a bottom cut angled upward and a flat top cut that makes a triangle.

Always remember to stand to the side of the tree for your top cut and never to stand frontwards when felling a tree.

After you make your face cuts, you’ll cut from the back of the tree to disconnect it. The rule of thumb to remember here is to start cutting on the side of the tree before moving towards the back.

Your face cuts should go about 25% deep into the diameter of the tree trunk, so the majority of the tree trunk will be cut from the back. This is to prevent a falling tree from landing on top of you or prematurely, though there is still the risk and it’s important to always pay attention.

Now that you’re done with the face cuts, you’re ready for the back cut.

how to cut down a tree with a chainsaw

The Back Cut

You make the back cut on the opposite side to the face cut. This is an essential cut as it is the one that will really detach the whole tree away from the tree stump.

Start making your back cut at the opposite side, at a few inches above the top cut of your face notch. Once you get about an inch or two from the front notch, stop cutting.

The tree will fall at any time once you’ve started cutting the back cut, so don’t get too caught up in cutting and stay aware of the tree at all times. When it does start to fall, watch it closely and get ready to move away if the tree starts to fall in the wrong direction. At this point, you should be able to move away quickly to your escape path.

Finish Up

Once you’ve made your cuts, your tree should fall right and easy. If the falling tree gets lodged, it’s best to get an experienced logger to help instead of trying to do things yourself. Using your chainsaw to fell a tree could result in the saw getting stuck. Make sure not to leave your tree without marking or roping off the area. Other people may not see it.

Other than that, once you’ve cut your tree using a chainsaw, it’s time to chop it up and get out of there. Congratulations! You’ve cut a tree all by yourself!

how to cut a tree down with a chainsaw


In the end, cutting down a tree using a chainsaw isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Do your research beforehand on how to cut down a tree and maybe even take an experienced individual with you. In order to prevent unfortunate accidents, however, it’s important to remember to go prepared and stay aware.

Ultimately, safety comes first so do not rush anything, especially not with something as dangerous as cutting down a tree. Always keep to the side of the tree as a rule of thumb as that’s the safest position for you.

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Hi, I'm Mike - but my friends call me Backyard Mike. I'm the founder of this website, and I'm addicted to outdoor power tools. I love to work with wood and share my knowledge here on this website with you. You can find more about me here.