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How to Cut Down a Small Tree, and When to Leave This Work to the Pros!

August 27, 2020

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If you need to know how to cut down a small tree on your property, it’s important to note that this work can be done by a homeowner in most cases, but only with the right equipment and safety procedures in place. It’s also important to know when you should leave this work to tree-trimming professionals!

Homeowners might also consider when it’s time to remove any tree from their property, including indications that it’s diseased and decayed or simply won’t thrive. You might also consider some tips on how to ensure your property looks its best after you’ve cut down that small tree and what to do with all that wood as well!

Safety First Before You Learn How to Cut Down a Small Tree!

Whether you’re planning on cutting down a small tree without a chainsaw or you have a large axe in the garage ready to go, it’s vital to remember safety first! Even lightweight chainsaws can cause serious injury in tree cutting if handled incorrectly, and splintered wood often flies in any and all directions, also risking injury.

professional tree cutting

Before you begin, secure children and pets far away from your worksite and check for unexpected visitors often while working. Know your surroundings; look for overhead wires and other obstructions as well as uneven ground. Remove rocks, fallen branches and twigs, and other hazards; cover holes and openings in the ground as needed.

Choose what’s called an escape route; this should be two different directions in which you can run if the tree should start to fall or slide toward you. Pause often while working to double-check your surroundings and ensure you and any assistants are safe and avoiding distraction, and that your escape routes are always clear.

Next, note your attire. Wear clothes made of thick, durable cotton, flannel, or wool so they repel small wood chips and splinters. Choose a button-up shirt with long sleeves and keep everything buttoned all the way, to cover as much skin as possible!

Also, wear tough, durable cotton or denim trousers and steel-toe work boots with ankle protection. Invest in thick cotton work gloves and heavy-duty eye protection, and a hard hat! When using a chainsaw or any power tools, protect your hearing with proper inserts or coverings, and wear chainsaw chaps or leg protection. Long hair should be pulled back neatly and kept out of your face and eyes.

As even a small tree can cause severe property damage, avoid parking your vehicle near that tree and remove items near your workspaces, such as a lawnmower and other such tools. You might also cover a nearby fence and landscaping features with a thick tarp, to help minimize damage from falling branches.

Before cutting a small tree down with a chainsaw, check the chain brake and throttle. If using an axe, ensure the axe head is secure and the handle in good condition, without splitting. Never use any tools that look old, worn, in poor condition, or otherwise damaged. Check your axe or saw on a small stump or log before addressing a tree that needs cutting, so you know everything is in good condition and ready for use.

how to cut down a small tree


Planning for How to Cut Down a Small Tree

There are some things that you want to do, and some things that should be filed into the never do this when cutting down a tree category. Your first step in how to cut down a small tree with a saw or an ax is to choose the target or the desired direction of the fall. Note if the tree has a side or back lean; typically, a lean, as well as overhead hazards, determine the tree’s “bad side.” You’ll want to avoid this bad side during the last or feeling cut.

Start cutting the tree with a face cut, lined up with the target and perpendicular to the ground. This face cut determines how the tree will fall once cut entirely and should work about 1/3 of the way through the tree trunk. Next, you’ll want to add a hinge cut; this is a wedge cut, typically at a 45-degree to 70-degree angle downward toward the face cut.

These cuts should start small and get larger as you work through them, but don’t cut through that hinge! You’ll want to remove that wedge once it’s large enough to weaken the tree. As you create this wedge, you might need to make a small cut on the side of the tree opposite the face cut and insert a wedge or shim. This reduces the risk of the tree falling opposite the target.

Look around for hazards and ensure no one is in the way before you make the final release cut and remove the wedge you’ve created. If the tree doesn’t fall as expected, continue to make small cuts along that wedge so you keep weakening the trunk.

How to Cut Down a Small Tree with an Axe

You can cut down a small tree without a chainsaw; it requires more physical labor, but this is how trees were felled for centuries before chainsaws were invented! First, invest in felling wedges. These wedges are inserted into your cuts as you make them, preventing your axe blade from getting pinched in the process. They also put added pressure on the cut trunk, encouraging the tree to fall.

never do this when cutting down a tree

Before you start cutting a small tree down without a saw, inspect it carefully. The vibrations created by chopping at a tree loosen dead and decaying branches, which can easily fall on you or any assistants nearby! Start felling your tree by cutting off any loose or obviously damaged branches. Use heavy-duty pruning shears on small branches if it’s awkward to operate an axe around the tree’s top.

You also want to note if the tree is leaning heavily is loaded down with large branches along one side. No matter your efforts, that tree is likely to fall in the direction of its lean. Plan accordingly and begin by removing the treetop rather than felling it at the trunk, to avoid property damage.

Once you’ve shortened the tree and stripped it off as many branches as needed, you can make the same face and hinge cuts you would with a chainsaw. Add your felling wedges to the face cut as you go, tapping them in with the backside of the axe head. As with using a chainsaw, don’t cut through that hinge but let the weight of the tree do the work in felling it for you!

When Is It Time to Cut Down a Small Tree?

Both mature and small landscaping trees add lots of visual interest to any property; in some cases, they may even increase your property’s overall value. Trees also offer shade to the ground, keeping it from getting scorched in the summertime, as well as a nesting place for birds that might eat otherwise bothersome insects around your yard.

While trees offer lots of benefits for your property, there are times when it’s better to remove them! An arborist can tell you if a tree is decayed beyond healing and repair; in some cases, however, a tree might be so rotted inside that its bark begins to peel and branches dry out, both of which are signs that it’s time to cut it down. Trees infested with termites and other harmful pests might also need removing, to protect the rest of your property.

If you have a tree on your property that just refuses to thrive no matter how often you have it pruned or otherwise nurtured, it might not be native to your area! Like flowers and other vegetation, trees often grow best in their native habitat; trees that thrive in cold weather might wilt under the hot, tropical sun, as one example. If your property’s tree is struggling and not native, it’s not likely to ever thrive and should be removed.

There is also nothing against removing a tree simply because you don’t like its appearance or placement on your property. A tree in the way of your building plans, view of the horizon, or an exterior window should be removed, so you enjoy your property and your view from both indoors and out!

How to Enhance Your Property After Removing a Tree

Your might notice your outdoor space looks a bit bare and far less lush once you cut down a small tree, and especially if you remove any large, mature trees or other landscaping features! One way to add lots of visual interest without blocking the view is by flowering shrubs; try lilac bushes or honeysuckle for both color and a beautiful aroma in your backyard.

If your home’s exterior walls now seem a bit barren and lackluster once you remove trees near the house, add flower boxes under the windows and paint the home’s trim a crisp white. Decorative shutters also add a stunning touch and help break up long, boring outside walls.

how to cut down a small tree

For more visual interest along your property, consider some hardscape features. Landscaping refers to items that grow such as flowers and shrubs, whereas hardscaping includes items that don’t grow, such as brick, concrete, and stone. Retaining walls protect property from excess moisture or erosion, but can also be decorative, providing a bit of height and depth to your space. Stacked brick borders and edging also add lots of visual interest and some separation between your landscaping and lawn.

What to Do With That Wood After Cutting Down a Small Tree

After you’ve felled that tree, what to do with all that wood? One vital tip is to ensure the tree was healthy and free of diseases and pests before you burn that wood or put it in your household rubbish. Moving infested wood can mean transporting those harmful pests with it so they simply move on to another tree!

Your area might also have building codes or other regulations that dictate what you can do with wood cut from your property, to contain harmful smoke and fumes. Some softwoods also don’t burn very well; you might notice that your planned bonfire produces more smoke than flames, or that you struggle for hours to keep the fire going.

If you’re unsure the condition of the tree you just felled or have no way of disposing of that wood, call a tree trimming expert or tree removal service. They will easily identify the wood species, condition of the tree, and if the wood is salvageable. They will also be familiar with local codes and regulations that affect how to dispose of that wood!

If the wood is safe for disposal, you might consider renting a wood chipper. This makes quick work of breaking down that wood so you can bag it up and put it in the rubbish or take it to a local disposal site. Use extreme caution when using a wood chipper and ensure you break down that tree into manageable pieces before feeding it into the chipper.

When You Don’t Know How to Cut Down a Small Tree

cutting down small trees

If you’re not sure how to cut down a small tree, rely on the services of a tree removal company near you! Remember that tree trimmers specialize in removing trees of all sizes and varieties, not just mature trees. They can make quick work of trimming and digging up landscaping trees and know how to contain termites and pests when removing infested trees, ensuring your property is protected.

A tree removal company can also suggest a native tree that might thrive on your property or a more attractive tree species. Their advice ensures your property looks its best and you’re happy with the end result for years to come, so give them a call if you’re not sure how to cut down a small tree in your yard.


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