Sometimes, our beloved trees must be removed. They die, they decay, they become sick or injured beyond repair. Sometimes, trees grow too big or too close to houses and other buildings—their roots become exposed and rupture sidewalks, roads, pipes, or underground cables. Sometimes, trees planted too close together crowd each other out, competing for resources such as sunlight and soil. And, sometimes, trees need to be removed before construction can happen. Whatever the reason, the removal of a tree, no matter the size, can be potentially dangerous when not following proper safety precautions.
Most trees in residential and urban areas must be cut into manageable sections. This is the safest and most practical way to remove them. And just as cutting a tree down happens section by section, so too should you follow a step-by-step process to safely remove and dispose of your tree.
While DIY projects may be tempting for confident tree owners (and amateur removers), removing especially large trees on your own—or trees whose internal structures are severely compromised—can be extremely dangerous. You shouldn’t attempt such large projects without help, such as an expert arborist or tree removal service, like Mr. Tree. However, if you decide to remove the tree on your own, especially for smaller projects on your own property, check out these steps of cutting down a tree in sections.
Step #1: Clear Up First
Clear any moveable clutter, debris, or yard waste from the “fall zone” (see below). Remove the lower branches of the tree (a process known as “limbing”) with a pole pruner, reciprocating saw, or chainsaw at standing level. To maintain control of your chainsaw, never operate it above shoulder height. Always set the chain break on until you’re ready to operate it. Never drop branches or sections you cut, as any falling debris may cause injury.
Step #2: Secure Yourself and Your Tools!
Use a tripod ladder (regular lean ladders are not as secure) to reach above shoulder height for your beginning cuts. Position the ladder as close to the trunk as possible and secure the ladder to the tree with a rope. Use a rope to secure your chainsaw as well—never carry your tools, especially your chainsaw, up a ladder. It’s better to use a rope and pulley to safely lift your chainsaw to your work level. Use a fall-arrest harness, securing it to yourself and the tree according to the operating instructions, before ascending your ladder.
Step #3: Making Your Cuts
Before making your first cut, measure the length of the sections, trying to be as consistent as possible. Do not overestimate the length of your cut, as larger sections will be heavy.
Limbing the tree at greater heights will make individual sections more manageable and will help you avoid a branch striking back.
Make your first cut (the bottom of the top section) at a 70-degree angle downwards on the side of the section you want to fall, cutting into about one-third of the trunk. Next, lower your chainsaw and cut upwards at a 20-degree angle until you meet the end of the first cut, making a right triangle. Lower this wedge to the ground.
Lower the chainsaw, descend the ladder, and reposition and re-secure the ladder to the other side of the tree. Ascend to the same level where you made your first cuts and pull the chainsaw back to your work level. Cut straight through the trunk until you meet the angle of the first cuts. Ensuring the section is secure, lower it to the ground.
Repeat this section-by-section cutting process as necessary until you reach the stump. You have successfully removed your tree.
Before You Start Your Project!
- Consult an expert in tree removal such as Mr. Tree Services. Many local services provide free consultations and quotes for trimming, pruning, and removal. Some trees, including those located near a powerline, must be removed by a certified professional tree service, so it’s a good idea to contact the experts.
- Research your local county or city regulations for tree removal near existing permanent structures and in the public right of way. Some areas require that you obtain a logging or pruning permit or written permission before tree removal.
- Research the species of tree you plan to remove and study its condition carefully before committing to a plan of action—some trees may be in better shape than you thought and may not require immediate removal. Others, however, may be too compromised for safe DIY removal.
- As you plan your removal, always prioritize safety: assemble the proper equipment, including the safety gear listed on this online safety guide. In addition, follow the safety guidelines on this OSHA Quick Card for tree trimming experts.
- Estimate the fall zone—the space around the tree into which debris or the tree itself may fall. Even when cutting a tree down in sections, there’s still the risk of the trunk’s internal structure becoming more compromised and liable to topple. That’s why it’s important to estimate where your tree could fall in any direction.
- Take a course on proper chainsaw handling and maintenance.
- Ask a friend for help. Besides helping in the labor, having a lookout can save your life.
- Plan at least two safety escape routes for every cut, whether you’re cutting down a tree in sections or felling a small tree. You should be prepared to move immediately in order to lower the risk of injury. Safety escape routes should be angled at 45 degrees away from the falling direction of the section or trunk.
- Plan how to dispose of the branches, sections, and even the stump of your tree after removal. Most tree removal services can dispose of your trimmings, roots, branches, and sections. You may have to hire a removal service to remove the stump safely. You can also recycle natural debris at your local yard waste disposal facility—be sure to bring the waste on your own, as large waste cannot be collected curbside.