How to Safely Cut Down a Large Tree

The ability to safely wield an axe or a saw to fell timber is a bedrock outdoor skill--essential for building shelter and for clearing a fire line. If you are injured or lost, a smoky fire created by burning pine treetops can save your life. Here's how to cut most trees safely, but this is dead serious, dangerous business. Unless your survival depends upon it, don't attempt to topple a tree more than 10 inches in diameter.

1 STUDY THE SITUATION

Trees tend to fall in the direction they are leaning or, if the trunk is upright, to the side that has the heavier branches. Make sure the tree has a clear path to fall and you have a clear escape route. Reject rotten or hollow trees, which can break in unexpected places. Check for any dead limbs.

2 MAKE THE FACING CUT

Make a notch on the side of the tree facing the intended direction of fall. This cut should be about one-third the diameter of the trunk; go deeper and the tree may fall in the opposite direction. Start at the top and cut downward at a 60-degree angle, then make a second cut horizontally to remove a wedge.

3 MAKE THE BACK CUT

Start a horizontal back cut about 2 inches above the flat bottom of the notch. Stop when there are still a couple of inches of wood (the hinge) between the back cut and the notch. The tree should start to fall. Cut too deeply, or make the cut at the same level as the facing cut, and the tree may kick back.

4 MAKE YOUR ESCAPE

After making the back cut, turn the saw off before retreating to your safety zone. Stand behind a tree at an angle away from the line of fall--never directly behind the tree you cut. The sound of the tree hitting the ground will scare the hell out of you, but if you've made the cuts cleanly, only your ears should hurt.