Skip to main content

How to cut down a tree without ending up in the emergency unit

A simple guide to cutting down trees

The cutting of trees is a serious business. Anyone who has given at least an hour of their life over to watching home movie fails will have seen countless mistakes where trees have fallen the wrong way, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Knowing how to cut a tree down is a useful skill for every outdoorsman, survivalist, or budding arborist who wants to clear some deadwood from their garden.




30 minutes

What You Need

  • An axe, saw, or chainsaw

  • Protective clothing

But don't just go indiscriminately hacking away at trees. Sure, felling a tree gives you the most reliable firewood — once it's properly seasoned of course — but felling live trees doesn't fall into responsible firewood collecting when you're camping. If you do need to cut a tree down though, you need to know how to do so safely. You might be a budding lumberjack, but that doesn't mean you're hardier than a mighty oak.

A man fells a tree in the snow.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to fell a tree

Before you start your tree sawing — or chopping if you're using an axe — you need to think about whether you're the right man for the job. I'm not taking anything away from you here, but remember those home movies? If there's a good chance that you're going to take out your house, your neighbor's truck, or even worse, yourself, then perhaps it's time to call in the professionals. If you're sure that you have a safe fall zone and are totally prepared, then it's time to gear up.

Step 1: Pick a fall line for your tree. You need an area where your tree isn't going to get hung up on other trees or vegetation, with a clear shot to the ground. You're going to make your first cut on this side of the tree.

Step 2: Ready to cut? Hold on a second there. Plan your escape route before you make that first cut. When that tree starts to fall, you need a safe place to go. The best option is to leave in the opposite direction to where the tree will fall, but at an angle to avoid any kickback.

Step 3: It's time to make your cut. Remember, this cut should be made on the side of the tree you want the tree to fall towards.

If you're using a chainsaw — or hand saw — make your first cut at around 60°, diagonally downwards towards the ground, stopping when you're around a third of the way through the tree. Then make another cut straight across to meet at the base of your first cut.

If you're using an axe, make your cut by alternating between cutting upwards and down, until you have an open-mouth style cut of around 45°. Again, this should go to about a third of the way through the tree.

Step 4: Make a straight cut — or as straight as possible if you're using an axe — on the opposite side of the tree a couple of inches above your first cut. Keeping your second cut higher should stop the tree from kicking up when it falls and reduce the likelihood of injury.

Step 5: When your tree starts to fall, make good your escape. Now is the time to shout 'timber' if it makes you feel authentic, although having lived with a couple who had a dog with the same name, things might not work out how you'd planned them.

Step 6: Once your tree is felled, it's time saw it into logs, split these logs, and season them ready to be used as firewood. Whatever you do, clean up after yourself!

Editors' Recommendations

Tom Kilpatrick
A London-born outdoor enthusiast, Tom took the first ticket out of suburban life. What followed was a twelve-year career as…
Review: How the EcoFlow Delta 2 held up to Hurricane Ian and its aftermath
A lesson in portable power: A review of the EcoFlow DELTA 2
EcoFlow DELTA 2 portable power station on the counter.

Years ago, shortly after my wife and I first moved into our home, we were hit by a storm. It wasn’t a hurricane, and it wasn’t a particularly bad storm, but it was a storm nonetheless, and it knocked out our power for over a week. We lost all of the food in our fridge and freezer. We had to drive to my in-laws to take a shower. There was no AC, and we live in hot and humid Florida, so it was absolutely miserable.

It’s an experience I’d rather not repeat, and yet, every hurricane season the opportunity is certainly there. More recently, Ian passed by us, wreaking havoc on the southern parts of the state. We live near Tampa, but fortunately, we were on the outskirts of the storm’s path. Still, there was ample opportunity to lose power, as we have before, and since our roof was damaged, the winds and rain were clearly dangerous enough to do some destruction.

Read more
Do All-Natural Bug Repellants Work? See How STEM Stacks Up
STEM mosquito repellent

I'll be blunt here: There are few products on the market that make my eyes roll harder than essential oils. Despite their claims, most essential oils are right up there with healing crystals, astrology, and power balance bracelets in terms of their usefulness, and there's no short supply of scientific evidence or first-hand testimony to support that statement.

So, naturally, you can imagine my surprise when I saw that manufacturing giant SC Johnson (which makes some of the best bug-busting products on the market including OFF! mosquito repellants and Raid wasp and hornet killer) had rolled out STEM, an all-natural mosquito repellant relying entirely on essential oils to keep bites off your body.

Read more
Everyday carry label The James Brand has a new collab for something you definitely shouldn’t carry daily
The James Brand's latest collab involves a hatchet
The James Brand Hatchet

The James Brand is well-known for its sleek pocket knives and minimalist multitools. This Black Friday, they're breaking new ground, unveiling a collaboration that might just be the coolest ever. It's a pleasant surprise to us that The James Brand has teamed up with Adler, a renowned German hatchet and axe maker, for their newest collaboration. And no, you read that right—it's not your typical pocket-friendly gear.
The James Brand reveals a new everyday carry hatchet for their lineup
Set to launch just in time for Black Friday, The James Brand and Adler are introducing the TJB x Adler hatchet. Crafted with precision, this collaboration embodies the ethos of both brands — a commitment to quality, functionality, and timeless design. Priced at $149, this hatchet features an American Hickory handle with a non-slip coating, offering a firm grip even in the most challenging conditions. The forged steel head, complemented by a protective sheath, ensures durability and sharpness, ready to tackle any task at hand.

If you're thinking of gifting this baby to a friend or loved one, this hatchet nestles within a stunning wooden box which is perfect for gifting and secure storage.

Read more