How to Cut Down a Tree




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Warning! Get really drunk first. Then it won't hurt so much when you chainsaw your face off and crush your family.

First step - find a tree to cut down. No problem. As soon as you know how to cut down a tree people will sense it and constantly ask you to cut down trees for them.
It will help if you know some of the technical vocabulary:

Equipment: Every piece of equipment used in this process is called a "Widowmaker".
Tree Anatomy: The tree and every part of the tree is called a "Widowmaker".
Terrain Analysis: Everything in the vicinity of the tree is called a "Widowmaker".

Act really confident and relaxed as shown in this photo. (pics by ex_mo)
I'm saying "you mean this tree over here?"

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Step 1: Cut a Notch in the Felling Direction

Make it a big notch that goes more than halfway through the tree.
The "mouth" part of this notch faces in the direction you want your tree to fall.
If the tree is mostly upright and the branches are sort of symmetrical it will want to fall that direction.

We tied a rope to the top of the tree to help it fall in the direction we wanted.

Step 2: Cut Toward the Notch From the Other Side.

Cut from the other side toward the big notch.
When you get close to the notch the tree will start to lean away from you. If it doesn't, or if it leans the wrong way and binds your saw blade, have the Oompaloompas pull on the rope tied to the top of the tree.

Step 3: The Tree Falls

As it starts to lean, make your escape to one side, because the butt of the tree can kick back.

There isn't any very safe place to be, because branches can break and fly anywhere, or the top of the tree could pull something down with it.

If you didn't cut all the way to the notch you can leave a sort of "living hinge" that will keep the tree from falling to the side.

My cousin's father-in-law was killed by a vine that got pulled by a tree as it fell.

Step 4: Now What?

I misjudged the height of the tree and the distance to the nearest neighbor.
I have no depth perception. That's why they wouldn't let me fly jets.
It fell in the right direction, but it skinned the next tree over and hung up in it.

There are always problems like this. This one's called a "widowmaker" because you've just compressed the spring of a giant trap, and now you've got to walk into it and saw through the trigger.

A digression: In the lower left of this frame you see a couple of handsaws laying on the ground. Those are old "bow saws" also called "swede saws" because of where they were invented.
One of our old Minnesota neighbors cut firewood for a living with a big old crosscut (cuts on both strokes) two-handed handsaw in the thirties. He was just getting by selling four cords (a unit of measure for firewood) a day. Then he bought one of the new Swede saws, started cutting 8 cords a day, and had enough money to get married.
The tubular steel bow puts the blade under high tension so the blade can be very thin without puckering, and because the blade is narrow it won't bind in the kerf as much. So they can cut a very narrow kerf, removing less wood, and do it fast with less work than previous saws, which weren't much different from what the Romans had.

Step 5: Saw Up From the Bottom

There's no safe way to proceed, here's my cousin Rod's method:

Saw up from the bottom until the tree starts to sag, using the upper edge of the saw.
In the photo you can see the sawdust being shot forward.
This is a dangerous cut.
If the saw binds up it can kick back and alter your appearance.

Then saw down from the top until a good outcome ensues.
If it looks like the saw might bind in the top you can cut a notch instead of a single cut.

Step 6: Check Yourself Into the Clinic

I stand in awe at the sight of this forest giant laid low.

If things don't go so well, your loved ones will get to contemplate your own mortality.

I think I'm done playing with chainsaws for the day. That log will make a great bench just the way it is.

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32 Discussions


3 years ago


There are plenty of newbies searching the web for advice. Unless they read the comments there is no way for them to know its a parody. Yes, we can laugh at the insane tactics and amusing writing, but unless you actually have some experience with a chainsaw there is no way to know that this is satire.

Simply change it to HOW TO NOT CUT DOWN A TREE. It will still be funny. Otherwise, take the damn thing down.

1 reply

Reply 2 years ago

Dude, you gotta be freaking shi**ing me. The first thing the article says is "Warning! Get really drunk first. Then it won't hurt so much when you chainsaw your face off and crush your family." Come on! If by some chance you know someone that views this as a serious "how-to" on being a lumberjack please put as much distance as possible between them and chainsaws. Thats for everyone's safety.


4 years ago on Introduction

I'm not going to follow directions from a post that doesn't even take itself seriously, especially when lives and property are at risk. See better instructions at Family Handyman, "Cut Down a Tree Safely."


5 years ago on Introduction

Even though Tim is wearing Capris, Crocs, and a soft topless hat and not wearing gloves, I am sure he knows that safety is a priority.

I would point out that when cutting your notch you should make the bottom of the two cuts first - especially on a big tree. If you cut the bottom last then you will fight the weight of the wedge besides everything else that is trying to go wrong.

The angle on the back cut is not a necessity unless you are worried about the tree slipping backwards into something like a fence or house.

If you think you might not be able to handle the job and worry about it going wrong you should probably call somebody with knowledge, experience and insurance. It may be a little steep but always cheaper than a new house.

The picture below is of a "canoe" hanging over a house and a shop. It is a branch that weighs about 500 Lbs and is hollowed out with rot and cracked on top - just waiting for a strong wind. This one in particular ( near Canon City, CO) could not be seen from the ground so when I snapped a pic with my cell phone and showed it to the home owner she immediately asked for me to cut and lower it from our bucket truck.

The other picture is of me standing next to a 90 ft+ Cottonwood (p.deltoides) that the City of Florence, CO had me fell and remove. I used a tractor and a dump truck with cables and ropes to direct the fall away from two perpendicular power lines.

Freia Canoe in Cottonwood.jpgMe by big Cottonwood.jpg

9 years ago on Step 1

Chaps? hearing protection? safety glasses? gloves? The notch should be no more than 1/3rd of the diameter.

1 reply

Even though some of the folks reading this think it is hilarious, I am concerned that some knucklehead will attempt to cut down a tree with this method of "more than half way" . At least with that angle on his felling cut it was less likely to snap back on him, but still, as dead as that tree looks, if it had been a bigger tree???

I think it would be VERY dangerous to cut your wedge as much as you say. It should be about a fifth of the trunk diameter and no more. Too much wedge and the tree may jump off the stump and swing around at you as it hits other trees overhead. The idea is to make a small wedge cut and then the main cut from the other side to meet that wedge cut. To help the tree go where you want it you can use felling wedges. I suggest that you tie a string or rope around the tree then use spray paint to mark your cuts. You want the notch to be right at the felling cut to create a hinge of sorts. The notch should be a 90 degree cut towards the line of the felling cut and that cut should be close to as flat as possible on a straight tree. If the tree leans, then you need to take that into consideration. Research determining tree lean or plumb bob it to see how far it is off. If it is only a foot or two, you can work with it. More than that and you should not be doing it if you are reading this. The wedge should be 60° above the line and 30° below that line. For a bigger tree, using a felling wedge inserted in the felling cut when it is deep enough. You
can sort of see the wedge shape on the side closest to the where the tree is in the photo with the quad. This was a big Douglas Fir on our property that had died. It was at the back corner near where a neighbors house was so I dropped it along a ditch between our houses. I paint marked it because the tree diameter is bigger then my saw blade so I wanted to know where my cuts were when I got around it.


7 years ago on Step 3

Hey man, thanks for the Info.

Ive not got the money required (and prolly never will) to hire a pro. What the heel makes a pro anywAy?.

I have to learn to do this myself as I cant even afford to buy firewood.

I live in a remote area, theres plenty of trees and the local authorities allow firewood collection for domestic use without a permit or fees. so i need to learn how to do this just to keep warm. In fact im dam lucky i even have a wood fire heater, I sure as hell cant afford electric heating.

I understand this is extremely dangerous. Im hoping that with an attitude of respect for what I am doing, I will keep myself and others safe.

My chainsaw is not big enough to do the biggest trees too. however today my first tree is some kind of Australian Bottle brush, and while its not huge, it is near a whole heap of fences. so im in research mode ATM.

If you DO have the money it is prolly smart to hire a pro. But if your broke, and you must keep yourself and/or family warm, then dont be afraid, people have been risking their lives to keep warm or collect food/water or other essentials since the first cavemen.

I also just gotta say this. Dont listen to the people who are suggesting you ignore this guide. They are all happy to say this article is wrong, but best I can tell none are suggesting how its wrong, let alone how to do it right.

I've been asking around a little, and I'd be looking at between $100 for a guy a few miles away to come do it (but he was drunk when I visited him, and hes not a pro, licensed or insured) all the way up to $400 for a licensed dude with a business ( I assume hes insured) to travel an hour to get here. Either way, even if it was $100 for a pro, i cant afford that every time I need firewood.

How does one become a pro? are there courses, apprenticeships, trainee ships etc? Is one called a pro, just from being licensed and insured?

I reckon you just be extremely careful, and do it yourself, just make sure you watch every video on you tube that teaches how to do this read every DIY article on it too, ask questions and pick brains. If after that you don't feel confident, DON'T DO IT!!!


7 years ago on Step 5

You will please also notice that in step 5 cousin Rod is displaying the latest in Xineese safety footwear.

The secret to this product is the toughened canvas upper. After the tree lands on your foot all the pieces are ready packaged for the ambulance trip!



8 years ago on Introduction

the worst thing you can do is cut down a tree from a ladder, this is how most accidents happen. You wanna get in the crotch of the tree and cut down the limb u want and if u notch a tree halfway, its too much. The Noch should be 2/3 in the tree.


8 years ago on Step 6

Well done & very funny! Despite all the naysaying commentators, you can't argue with success! This is so funny that I had to share the info with my brother.

Tree Guy

8 years ago on Introduction

This is hilarious! This is one of the funniest tree cutting down articles I've seen. I think that most people would see that his is a joke so for all of you who are worried about the misinformation in this post; laugh a little! Basically, every thing that you could do wrong is being done in this example.


8 years ago on Introduction

my dad took a chainsaw to the gut this summer, yes the blade was moving, and all it gave him was a bad case of rug burn, but his favorite shirt was not so lucky


9 years ago on Step 2

I climb, prune and remove trees for a living and this looks like a disaster.  You would be better off hiring someone unless you have extensive knowledge of the different fiber strengths of different species.  Nearly every week I hear about another home owner who thinks they can do this safely and ends up dead, cutting off an arm or leg (or someone else's), or dropping a tree on a car or house.  I work with a chainsaw daily and it never ceases to amaze me the lack of respect that people have for these tools.  Chainsaws are not something to joke about and can cut your face in half before you know what is going on.  Google chainsaw accidents, go buy some chaps, hearing protection, safety glasses, boots, and gloves.  Use the saw for cutting up fire wood, I strongly urge you to not attempt felling trees. 

El Zagna

9 years ago on Step 1

A notch that is "more than halfway" through the tree is too much. Between one-third and one-half  is more like it.


9 years ago on Introduction

well, I took your advice and got really really drunk and now I think the tree looks great and I can now wait til it dies and falls down by its self; it is not close enough to the house to matter anyway.  what I can't remember is why i wanted to take down that beautiful tree anyway.

thanks again and bottoms up.


10 years ago on Step 2

The back cut should be horizontal, not on an angle as you are showing here.

You should wear eye and hearing protection when using a chain saw. I don't think it's a very good idea to be wearing shorts and there is no excuse for crocs, especially when operating a chain saw.