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Cutting trees

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

1-General safety rules include

a. Inspect the saw before each use. Make sure the chain is sharpened and has the proper tension. Check the chain brake to make sure it is working.

b. Plan your cutting job safely. Avoid such hazards as electric lines, dead limbs, roads and bystanders. Check wind direction and the lean of the tree to be felled.

c. Start the saw safely. The safest method is to start it on the ground. Make sure the saw sits securely; the chain isn’t touching the ground, and hold the saw in place with your right foot on the handle.

d. Protect against “kick-back.” Don’t modify or remove the chain brake. Always manually activate the chain brake when moving from cut to cut.

e. Keep a stable, safe stance while cutting.

f. Do not saw above chest height, nor reach far out with the saw.

v. Wear protective gear including: eye and ear protection, a helmet, work gloves and protective clothing. Avoid loose clothing.

2-Basic Cuts

It’s important to understand the basic cuts, which include felling, limbing and bucking.

a-Felling: Tree felling can be easy or difficult, depending on the tree, the location and the intended direction of fall. Before you start, plan the fall of the tree. Also look for any dead branches that might fall during the operation. Remove any obstacles from around the tree. Determine the fall trajectory by looking at the natural lean of the tree and taking into consideration wind direction. If possible, fell the tree with the natural lean. Wooden or plastic wedges can also be used to help start the tree in the right direction. Plan an escape route off to the side, not directly behind the tree.

Different tactics are required for different size trees. The notch method is used for trees small enough that the bar will reach across their diameter. First step is to cut a notch in the direction of the fall and about 1/3 the diameter of the trunk. Remove the notch and then make a back-cut two inches higher than the back end of the notch. Do not cut all the way through to the notch cut. Leave a 2-inch hinge to guide the fall of the tree. If the tree doesn’t begin to lean in the proper direction and there is room behind the saw blade, drive a plastic or wooden wedge in place to start the fall. This forces the cut open. Continue to drive wedges in place to force the tree to fall. Or continue cutting to the hinge, if necessary, until the tree begins to fall. As soon as the tree begins to lean, remove the chainsaw and get away fast. Leave the chainsaw if necessary. Larger-diameter trees require other methods, including the draw across and apple core as shown.

b-Limbing or delimbing: Once the tree is downed the next step is to cut away the limbs to leave the final log. In valuable woods such as walnut, even the limbs can be important to the wood forager. Limbing can be as dangerous as felling due to the tension on the limbs from the weight of the tree. Begin limbing on the outer ends of the limbs. Cut the upper branches first if possible and work downward and back toward the trunk. If limbs are too high to reach, cut them off at the trunk to allow them to fall downward. Buck the smaller branches and limbs at the same time they are limbed, cutting them into firewood or saw board lengths, depending on their diameter. Anything less than 8 inches in diameter should probably be cut into firewood. Be extremely careful in cutting off the limbs the tree is resting on. A lot of pressure is applied to these limbs. When the pressure is released by cutting, the tree may drop suddenly, or even roll over. Make these cuts slowly and carefully from the bottom of the limbs to release tension and be ready to move quickly out of the way.

c-Bucking: Cutting the tree into firewood or saw-log lengths is called bucking. First determine the length of logs that can be milled. This will depend on whether you have a mill, or plan to have the log milled by a commercial saw mill. In most instances this length will range from 12 to 16 feet. The most important factor, however, in home creation of lumber is cutting the trunk to get the most useable wood. This is especially so with crooked trunks. Even two 4-foot sections are better than wasting material in an 8-foot log because the log is crooked.

d-Milling: Sawing the log into planks, or milling, is most often done by commercial sawmills. In large-scale operations the logs are skidded or pulled to a loading yard. With today’s portable chainsaw or bandsaw mills the logs can often be milled in place. For a fee a sawyer will bring a portable bandsaw mill to your property and saw the log. One-man mills are also available for do-it-yourself milling operations. The best grades and clearest lumber are found immediately inside the bark. In most instances the logs are turned to create a “cant” with four straight sides.

e- Kiln drying (KD) or Drying: If the wood is to be used in rough-sawn projects, construction beams, planking or fencing, it is sometimes air-dried for a month or two, or even used immediately. One example of a good wood that must be used immediately is sycamore. It is lightweight and works easily, but twists and curls unless fastened down immediately.

Wood used for fine furniture, house trim and other projects must first be dried. Most woods must be dried down to 6-percent moisture. Commercial kilns are often used to kiln-dry woods. But the simplest drying method, although the most time-consuming method, is to air-dry wood. This is an ages-old, traditional method. I have air-dried many board-feet of lumber in the loft of our barn. All that’s required is a dry area with plenty of ventilation. It does, however, take quite a bit of time. Soft woods, such as cedar or pine can air-dry in a couple of years. The hardwoods, such as oak or walnut may require from four to ten years, depending on the thickness and species. Air-dried wood should be “conditioned” for several months in your home or shop. The first step is to coat all ends with paraffin or boiled linseed oil. Then stack the wood on a perfectly flat surface with “stickers,” or 1/2-by-2-inch flat pieces of wood placed between the planks. This prevents the planks from twisting or warping, but allows air to circulate and gently dry the wood cells.

f-Planing and Finishing: Once the wood has been properly cured and dried, it must be kept stored in a dry area and stacked perfectly flat. It can then be planed to the correct width. Or you can create a special molding for a very distinctive project or home interior.

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