October 29, 2006
It is the small stuff that can kill you. And if it doesn’t kill you it can cost you lots.
Having operated a chain saw for 28 years I may be more at risk of injuring myself than
the novice user. There is in arboriculture a phenomenon that leads to headlines like
“experienced operator injured by chainsaw”. It’s called complacency. I had the opportunity to attend a professional chainsaw operator instructor certification course a few years back and was surprised that we would be spending 3 of the 5 days in a hands on field school. I was at the time operating a chainsaw on a daily basis and was confident in my ability to drop the tallest tree with little effort. What I didn’t know was that the smallest tree still requires more than a little thought to land it safely where it should go.
The basic geometry of tree falling has remained unchanged from the Stone Age.
In fact beavers, rodents not known for there cerebral abilities, use the same methods as we do. Cut or chew a notch in the side of the tree that has the greatest lean,
then go to the opposite side and make a back cut. Unfortunately Mr or Mrs Beaver sometimes never return to the lodge, they fall prey to the uncertainty of tree felling and get crushed. I’m not sure what goes through a beavers mind when he is felling a tree
but if you are not focused and concentrating on the basics you may not make it back to the lodge either.
The basic technique with a chainsaw involves making a horizontal cut no more than 1/3 of the way into the tree ninety degrees from the intended direction of fall. The tree generally will fall in the direction it is leaning. The next step is to cut a notch by making a cut on a forty five degree angle from above the first cut to meet in a perfect apex. This cut should not run over, under or behind the first cut. It is called a pie cut because it results in a perfect pie shaped piece. The last cut comes in from behind parallel to and slightly above the first; it should stop before it meets the pie by at least one inch. This small piece of remaining wood is called the hinge or holding wood. It will direct the tree and may save your life.
Any variation from this procedure and you will have problems. What problems?
Lack of control is the primary problem. With a large tree the problem becomes larger. If the hinge is cut incorrectly the tree may fall in an unintended direction. If the hinge is cut through, the tree will fall without control and in any direction. Take the time to review basic tree felling technique and don’t let your mind wander while chain sawing. Each cut involves risk and should be performed with care and caution. If you don’t it could cost you not only your lodge, but your life.