Felling Trees Against the Lean

Felling Trees Against the Lean Image

Illustrations by Joseph Smith

It is usually easiest to fell a tree in the direction that it’s leaning, but sometimes it’s necessary to fell it in the opposite direction. A tree leaning away from the intended direction of fall has “back lean.” By using wedges and shims to lift the trunk off the stump, you can compensate for the back lean and bring the tree up and over in the intended direction.

Once you have established the direction of fall, you can calculate the amount of back lean that must be overcome and the amount of lift necessary to do so through some simple calculations. While standing away from the tree, at a position 90 degrees to the direction of fall, sight up to the top of the tree using a weighted string or an axe as a plumb and note the location on the ground. The back lean is the distance from this point along the intended direction of fall to the apex of the planned undercut. The apex will be the front of the hinge and the pivot point for the falling stem. The weight of the tree must be brought over this pivot point before the tree will fall. In the 60-foot-tall tree at right, the back lean is three feet.

Next, figure the diameter of the stump by measuring from the front of the hinge to the back edge of the tree (see illustration). The stump diameter is used to determine the number of segments in the tree; one segment is a section of the tree with a height equal to the stump diameter. Thus, the 60-foot-tall tree with an 18-inch stump diameter has 40 segments (720 inches divided by 18 inches equals 40).

If you raise the back edge of the lowest segment one inch, you will move its front edge one inch forward. At the same time, the top of our 40-segment tree will move forward 40 inches, enough to overcome its 3-foot back lean. If the same tree had a back lean of 4 feet, it would require 1 ¼ inches of lift (48 inches divided by 40 sections = 1.2 inches) to overcome the lean. When calculating the lift, be sure to add in the 3/8-inch saw kerf, which means that one inch of lift will require 1 3/8 inches of wedge.

A combination of wedges and shims can be used to give you more lift. Cut discs of ½-inch to an inch in thickness from hardwood branches for the shims. Do not taper the discs, as that will make them weak and liable to break in the notch. Using two wedges, side by side, drive one home so that there is a gap between the stem and the top of the other wedge. Place a shim in the gap above the free wedge until it is snug, and then pound in the shim by driving the wedge. This should either fell the tree or free up the other wedge for a thicker shim. Repeat this process with increasingly larger shims until the tree comes up over the pivot point, and then gravity will take care of the rest.

Tricks of the Trade is provided courtesy of the Forest and Wood Products Institute at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Massachusetts. Information for this article comes from the Game of Logging training program.

 
Discussion
  1. Stephen F Margiotta → in Upstate New York
    Aug 11, 2009

    I understand the idea of a wedge and shim, however, the trees I am taking down are only between,7”-9” in diameter, some are back leaning and seem too small to use a wedge, as soon as I attempt to back cut my saw jambs & I cannot cut deep enough to apply any kind of wedge?

    I’m a bit frustrated. My trees are close together which poses another problem altogether. Do I need to use a come-along to apply pressure in the direction of my fell?

    Steve

  2. Keith → in Washington State
    Jun 29, 2010

    For a small tree, cut the back cut first, drive in a wedge lightly, and then cut the under cut.  Finish felling the tree with wedges.

  3. Jeff → in Ohio
    Jun 27, 2011

    Does the weight / size affect this ?
    A 3ft lean, but a 40” diameter 50 ft (a lot of weight), would there be enough strength for one to move this weight with wedges ?

  4. Mike Allen → in Kila MT
    Sep 05, 2011

    I hung one up today; it doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  The tree was leaning in an opposite way I intended for it to fall and landed against another tree in the wrong direction.  Headed back tomorrow up Griffin Creek with a come-along to encourage it to fall without killing me.  If it was a buckskin larch it would be an anticipated trip rather than an obligation.  However, since it is a lesser tree, it’s an obligation to just get it down.  If it doesn’t kick out and kill me, I’ll be in touch.

  5. dave → in corinth
    Sep 09, 2011

    You there, Mike? Should we contact next of kin?

  6. Alan → in New Zealand
    Mar 17, 2012

    The 1/4 cut technique is a good way of wedging small diameter trees.

  7. Bob Young → in Birmingham, Alabama
    Oct 22, 2013

    The best way how to cut a tree which leans different direction than you need it to fall down is to have a helper. Number one, you should always have safety gear like a hard head, safety glasses and gloves. Take a rope (make sure it is much longer than your tree) and either climb it or install a little log and the end of it. Throw it around stronger limb, make a knot (slippery eight loop) http://www.netknots.com/rope_knots/slippery-eight-loop. Make it tight and hook it up behind truck or atv. You can also use a few guys to pull.
    It depends how big the leaning tree is. It if is bigger tree, please don’t risk anything and call your local tree guys. It is not worthy to save $1000-$2000 to risk your life.

    Anyway, when your rope is tied and person in the truck or the atv ready, you can start cutting. Cut 70% notch into the tree with the length of 80% of the trunk’s diameter. Cut down slide first and then make upward cut to complete the notch. Make sure that your guy at the truck or atv start pulling little bit more. Then make the back cut toward to the corner of the face notch. While you cutting make sure your helpers pulling the rope more and more. This job needs to be done precisely. Your tree should start moving towards to your helpers, if you need to, cut little bit more and then escape the area by going on the left or right.
    Bob - Eastern Tree Service in Birmingham, Alabama

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