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Tree-Climbing and Felling Technique

Advice on felling 100-foot trees while leaving a 10-foot stump. April 14, 2005

I have been felling some diseased Douglas fir trees (100'+) the past few weeks. I am interested in learning about felling a tree with a diameter of about 5' at a point 10' above the ground. We want to leave the lower 10' of the tree upright and attached to the stump so that I can carve a bear out of it. I have the climbers, saddle, and flip rope to make the climb and a Sthil MS 660 (36" bar) to make the cut. Any caveats that I should know about? Is this sort of thing ever done or is it foolish?

Forum Responses
(Forestry Forum)
From contributor D:
I'm not an expert at tree felling, but I've felled a few that I thought were big. Everything I've ever read says to never climb a ladder or such to fell an entire tree.

I've seen guys top down entire trees, though, using a rope rig, but they do it in small pieces. The only way I could make sense of doing what you are doing is if you top down the entire tree, and only take the trunk a manageable piece at a time, like 104s or even smaller if the wood is junk. Even this sounds extremely risky to me, but it sounds safer than climbing and felling the whole tree which might kill you by heart attack before the tree hits you or cuts your rig as it falls away with your leg torn off your torso.

How about topdown cutting with a cherry picker? They make some of them pretty long and you'd probably be able to get a good idea about the best position for the box before the cut. It doesn't sound like much fun, but topdown with a picker sounds a lot safer than the rope bit and anytime I'd ever use any saw with a 3' bar would be from a stationary position, too. The danger with a cherry picker is clear, too. If the log doesn't go as planned, it could hit the picker and down you'd go. I guess in that consideration, you might want to tie off the picker to the rest of the tree.

Don't make your decision on my advice, as I'm not qualified to answer beyond a general opinion. For that damn bear idea, I'd never for an instant consider climbing up 10 feet and felling the whole tree with a 36" bar. If it was a good practice, someone would have written about the right way to do it, but I've never seen anything in writing on it, so my hunch is most guys would think it insane.

For all the work involved, compared to a straight drop, maybe it'd be better to take it down and then re-erect the ten foot section using concrete or something in the bottom and a crane.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. It's a 125'+ fir tree. Hanging onto the tree through the use of climbers and a saddle only 10' above the ground handling a small motorcycle engine with a 36" bar attached sounds like a challenge to me. I think I'll climb the thing, limbing as I ascend, and drop 10'-12' sections until I get to the point at which I wanna drop the thing. Thanks for the voice of sanity.

From the original questioner:
I think you got the right idea with that plan. Yeah, it is more work and will take longer, but you'll have control over the tree and the tree won't have control over you.

Make sure you only allow a one man spotting crew at the site with you and make sure you have ordained rules about that person's role and where they must stay on the site. Those are going to be some pretty big chunks coming down a long way. If you are felling in a residential area, it would be wise to ask for a neighborhood police officer to keep onlookers out of harm's way as well. I always seem to attract a crowd when I'm doing dangerous stuff and it is really unnerving when people say, don't worry, I'm a long way away, when they are too close.

Just a little fun falling log physics. The cants that fall from the highest parts of the tree will be going over 55 mph when they hit the ground.

Now, the not fun part?Anyone that is hit by even a small piece of this tree will die. The human body cannot withstand 10 or 100 pound projectiles hurled at it with that much velocity. Ironically, when the pieces are falling, the safest place to be is in the tree.

Good luck. That is a bigger tree than I've ever taken down.

From the original questioner:
Luckily these trees are on a 160 acre private property in Pescadero, Ca. So, there will be nobody around except for the property owner who has an emergency plan in place in case I screw up. The tree will fall onto a clear pasture with nobody around. I've felled 8 100' fir trees so far without problem on this property. We're making a video of me doing this, so if I survive I'll maybe send it to you. ;)

From contributor S:
Springboards! The old timers made stumps that high as a routine to get away from the swelled butts and gnarly grain at the ground level.

Having felled large timber for 15 years in the Pacific NW, I can say I would much rather stand on a springboard I can get off of than be tied into a stump with a climbing rope. It also sounds like a lot of work to start from the top and work down when your only goal is a 10' high stump.

You could make all the cuts in the tree and leave a strap in the back to cut last or fall against the lean so the last thing you did was pound the wedges or pump the jack.

From contributor M:
Contributor S is right. Springboards would be safer than topping your way down. Depends on whether you have done this type of thing before. Topping is for real pros. I watched a fellow on the Queen Charlottes top some 8' Sitkas around the camp. Definitely not for an amateur.

From contributor K:
I like the idea about the 10' bear! I don't know how much chainsaw carving you do, but I have never had good luck carving fir. It cracks and checks a lot worse than WRC or redwood, pitch pockets bleed every summer, and they don't have the rot resistance of the other woods. I have carved a couple dozen animals from fir (Doug fir) - the biggest being only about 6', but I won't carve it anymore unless someone really, really has to have fir. Even then, I warn them that it won't hold up as well as other woods. The other thing is moving it. If I wanted it that big, I think I would either cut the whole thing down, then buck a 10' section and winch it back upright to carve. If you ever have to move it and it's not carved with much of a base, it will be a bear (no pun intended) to cut it off. Either way, best of luck with it.

From contributor A:
I've been working as a tree surgeon for a few years and have had occasion to tackle a tree like yours. The biggest was 7' diameter at eye level. Up 80' it was still 3' through.

I have to tell you that it's not a walk in the park and don't even approach the job if you are not used to climbing, heights, big saws and most important, tree felling.

If you are going to do it, by all means take the branches off, but leave the ones which are pointing the direction of the fall just for assistance. If you've never climbed before with a saw, don't make this job your first. It could also be your last.

If you're going to do it anyway, use a cherry picker. At least you have the chance to get yourself in the best position to cut and also get away if things go wrong. I would not recommend anyone to use a 066 up higher than 10' or so. Topping with an 066 is just mad. Get a smaller saw, otherwise your arms will be like jelly when it comes time for the really important cut a the bottom (10').

Make sure you have a good, deep birdsmouth cut - at least half the tree, and the cuts should meet exactly. The felling cut should slope downwards to end with a good size of hinge about 4" thick and about 2" above the bottom birdsmouth cut. Be sure to cut the centre out of the tree from the front of the birdsmouth before you start the felling cut.

Personally I would not take this tree down in sections. Just top and then do the major fell.

From contributor N:
I'm a professional arborist and have done many a sectional felling, straight felling, and have also used blocks, friction devices and so on. Some of the larger trees I've done were about 150-160 foot and about 8-10 foot at the bottom. They were Douglas fir. So long as you are comfortable with being 10 feet in the air, I see no problem with felling at this height. Try it at 60 foot doing the same thing and you'll find it's no different than standing on the ground, but most importantly make sure your cuts are correct and your judgment of weight distribution and lean-gravity is correct, or else the shit might hit the fan. All this said, I love climbing big trees with big saws and do it on a regular basis. So get into it, but only if you're in your comfort zone.