This description of felling with an ax is meant only to give the reader a generalized idea of the felling procedure. It should not be construed as a training guide. A faller needs to judge many variables-some deadly if misjudged-before attempting to cut down a tree. The information presented here is just a guide to help prevent some common mistakes. It focuses on ax techniques rather than felling techniques.
Never start chopping until you are sure there are no branches or brush in the way. An ax deflected by a small branch or twig can cause a serious accident. Be sure your fellow workers are in the clear.
Decide the direction in which you want the tree to fall, ideally with the natural lean of the tree. If not, you may have to use special techniques and equipment to offset the lean, techniques a novice should not try. Your ax can serve as a plumb to determine the tree’s natural lean. To do so, hold the ax in your hand above your head at arm’s length (Figure 82). Grip the very end of the handle with the ax head down. Use the ax as a plumb to sight around the tree from different positions as you walk a circle around the tree. Be sure to take into account the crown mass, which side the branches are on, and whether there is more weight on one side or the other.
Figure 82–Using an ax as a plumb. A hard
hat is required here (drawing by Frederic H. Kock).
Consider wind direction. A slight breeze on the ground can be more powerful at the top of a 60- to 100-foot tree. Wind can change the direction of fall with unpredictable results. Heed the warning of an old country-western song by Sonny James: Don’t Cut Timber on a Windy Day. Decide the direction you will need to move the log after it is down on the ground. Try to drop the tree in a clearing, if possible.
After you have determined where the tree is going to fall, gently swing your ax handle fully extended over your head in a 360° arc to make sure there are no obstructions (Figure 83). Walk around the tree at arm’s length with the ax fully extended to make sure that there are no branches within this circumference. Clear the underbrush for an escape path at about a 45° angle to the direction of the planned tree fall. The route should be clear of all vines, branches, and rocks–anything that you might trip over. Never stand directly behind the tree as it falls or during your escape. If the tree kicks back, or if the tree slabs and splits, the back portion will kick straight back.
Figure 83–Clear an area completely around the tree before
starting to chop (drawings by Frederic H. Kock).
“Widow makers” are another danger. These are usually dead branches in the tree you’re felling or in neighboring trees that might be knocked down by the tree you are cutting. You should always wear personal protective gear during these operations. Hard hats and safety glasses are a must.
Make sure your footing is secure and stable. Chop only when you are well clear of other people. Stand with your weight evenly distributed with both feet planted about shoulder width apart. Check the distance to stand from the cut before you start to swing. Start swinging with a very gentle easy motion in order to gauge your distance and your power stroke.
The first cut will be the front notch or the undercut in the direction of the planned fall (Figure 84). This notch should be about one-third to one-half of the diameter of the tree when felling strictly with an ax. If a crosscut saw is used in combination with the ax, the front notch should be no more than one-third of the diameter of the tree.
Figure 84–Notching a tree to determine the direction of fall
(drawings by Frederic H. Kock).
Use your ax as a sight guide to determine if the notch is in the proper direction of the fall (Figure 85). A double-bit ax is best for this purpose as it makes a perfect T-square. Place the head of the double-bit ax in the front notch that you have just cut, with the handle pointing directly in the planned direction of the fall. If the handle does not point in the planned direction of the fall, you must re-chop the notch until the handle points in the right direction.
Figure 85–Using a double-bit ax as a
T-square to indicate the direction of fall.
Now begin the back cut, or the final felling cut, on the opposite side of your front notch. The back notch should be a minimum of 2 inches higher on the stump than the front notch. The back notch is cut to within about 2 inches of the tip of the V on your front notch (Figure 86). Never cut completely through the back notch to the front notch.
Figure 86–Back notch or the final felling cut.
Remember the rule when placing your cuts to create a notch–near, far, and middle to remove each chip. Always place the front notch and the back notch as low on the tree as possible while standing safely and comfortably. As the back notch gets deeper, closing in on the 2 remaining inches of hinge wood, keep glancing toward the top of the tree. The tree will start moving there first, allowing you to detect whether the tree is going to fall in the planned direction. A gust of wind blowing opposite the planned direction of fall can get you into serious trouble at this point.
When the top of the tree starts to move in the direction of fall, move a few yards back away from the tree at an angle (Figure 87); never move directly behind the tree or in front of the fall! Keep your eye on the top of the tree while making your escape. You should get as far from the tree as possible. Keep your eye on the tree long enough to make sure not only of its direction of fall, but to look for widow makers that can be thrown back in your direction. As the tree is going down, continue to look overhead. You are only safe once the tree and broken limbs are on the ground.
Figure 87–Plan and clear escape routes at an
angle away from the planned direction of fall.