The importance of knowing how to properly fell trees should not be underestimated nor should the obvious danger be overlooked. Trust me on this one. Without the command of this specialized knowledge, you're going to be seriously handicapped in any forest environment. The list of things that may be constructed and accomplished with this one raw material is eternal.
Proper falling techniques are difficult to convey in text, which is why I covered this topic in much greater detail on video. In the Video Tutorial, "Timber Felling With Surefire Woodsman" I share the Trade Secrets of felling big and small trees.
"The Informed Woodsman" Tutorial shows you how to best utilize this resource for providing comfort items, shelter, warmth and security to your inner circle of friends and family! Learning to recognize several common evergreen species and knowing what uses they are best suited for is a big part of understanding this skill. Some species like Larch split more easily making them ideal for tools, shingles, weapons etc, while others (Spruce) are lighter in weight making lifting and stacking more bearable. Others, simply resist rot for much longer periods of time. Certain species make better fuel for warmth or cooking, while no evergreens are suitable for smoking meat. Wet or green wood creates more smoke than dry seasoned wood. A smoky fire may attract unwanted attention, so the woodpile also needs shelter.
The following only represents a smattering of what you really need to know.
Depending on their size and location, a good faller can cut between 20 and 100 trees in a single day. A cabin may take 60-150 small logs to build or a pasture fence could use as many as 500 or more rails, depending on the area you wish to enclose. It's not particularly difficult to learn to do it quickly and efficiently but it wastes time and energy to figure it out on your own. No matter whether you are using a hatchet, cross buck, chain saw or any other tool to fell trees, the cutting principles remain pretty much the same.
When cutting branches or small trees that are “loaded” with weight or tension, make a relief cut on the pinch side first. For example, cut a heavy hanging limb by making a relief cut on the bottom edge (pinch side). When the cut starts to pinch closed on the saw, pull the saw out of the cut and begin cutting on the opposite side (top). If you're tool does become pinched and can't be removed from the cut without damage you will need to start a new cut with a different tool to release the tool that's stuck. An ax and a saw make good companions.
Once you understand this concept, the technique makes cutting safer and prevents the wood from splitting before the cut is complete. If you’re cutting a spring-loaded limb or tree on the ground, always stand on the opposite side from where the energy will travel when released. Don't be on the downhill side of anything that might roll. THINK FIRST: Depending on the circumstances, this may mean sometimes you will have to release the tension some other way or more gradually.
The forests are filled with examples of bad cutting techniques.
In this example, the face cut has a shelf or bench in the back of the V. This bench must be removed before starting the back cut. The top and bottom cuts should join together perfectly.
This tree was damaged in a wind storm but leaving a bench or shelf in your face cut can have similar effects.
Here is an example of a deep face cut with no shelf in the back, this works, but doesn't leave much room for a wedge in the back cut.
In most cases, a shallow face cut like the one shown above will work just fine. Among other cutting techniques, the advantages and disadvantages of large and small face cuts is fleshed out in the Timber Falling video.
Normally, the hinge wood breaks before the tree hits the ground. However, in this photo, the hinge can be seen still attached to the tree and the stump. This gives the faller total directional control of where the tree will land. The ability to control the direction of fall will save tremendous amounts of energy over having a tree land unpredictably in a bad location.
When cutting down larger trees for firewood, building materials or site clearing, a face cut and clean hinge strap are needed to control the direction of fall. A back cut and face cut looks something like this (back cut) -< (face cut) the hinge wood is the wood left between the two cuts. The wood that remains between the two cuts is called the hinge wood, holding wood or strap wood. Never cut clear through the strap wood or the tree can sit down on the saw and fall freely twisting and turning in an unpredictable direction. If the strap has been cut thin and the tree is not falling the lean is too great and wedges or a tag-line are needed. Stop cutting, don’t keep cutting through the strap wood. Almost always, I recommend using wedges in the back cut, whether you think you need them or not.
No matter where the face cut is made, the tree will always want to fall where the weight is leaning. To direct a tree away from its natural lean, wedges must be driven into the back cut before the tree sits down on the saw bar. A tag-line should never be added after the cutting starts. Plan ahead! With wedges, (or pushing on small trees) the weight of the lean can be lifted over the face cut, in order to make the tree fall in the intended direction. If the tree still will not fall in the intended direction, the lean is probably too great to change the direction of fall with wedges alone. Never cut through the strap wood holding the tree, except in the following two examples;
1. The tree falls at least 1/3 of the way to the ground and hangs up in the limbs of another tree, thus preventing it from falling over. The strap wood can be cut to allow the tree to roll free. However, this is very dangerous. The tree can then rapidly slide backwards off the stump towards the faller.
2. On steep ground, the strap wood can be cut through after the tree commits to the direction of fall. This will allow the tree to sail much further down the slope when ever this effect is desirable.
These principles are extremely important to understand and are covered more in depth and explained in the video tutorial.
Two wedges are easier to drive than one and three is easier than two. If the tree refuses to fall after the wedges are driven fully into the cut and you have no other options (like more wedges), pull the saw out and start the cutting process over, either above or below the original cut. This time, make the face cut under the direction of lean and the dominate weight. Use extreme caution, the tree may decide to fall unexpectedly into the original cut. Don’t move straight back from the tree as it falls. When the tree starts to topple, move backwards and to one side, in case it contacts other trees and rolls or slides directly backwards off the stump.
FINAL NOTE: Dead trees are more brittle and therefore harder to control.