How to Fell a Leaning Tree in the Opposite Direction

How to Fell a Leaning Tree in the Opposite Direction

If we’re honest, many of us thought there’s much less to do when you’re a homeowner.

In reality, owning a house and having a yard demands a lot of work. Trees can be somewhat of a nuance at times – especially if its leaning at a tricky angle.

Unless you just want some firewood to season from a tree playing hard to get.

Obviously, it would be much easier to learn how to chop down a straight tree.

Such is life.

When we look around, we mainly see trees that lean to one side or the other. So how on Earth do we handle that?

Well, what we’ll definitely need is some common sense, a saw, and a sharp axe for felling or chainsaw.

The rest of the process is in this article.

Step #1: The Assessment

It’s usually not that difficult to figure out whether a tree has an offset center of gravity. Most of the time, the lean is pretty obvious. In fact, it generally occurs because of large limbs that grow unevenly on one side of the tree.

However, it’s not so uncommon that the offset is so subtle that we don’t even notice it.

Take a real good look up and down at the tree. 


Either way, when a tree has an offset center of gravity, that means it would fall in a particular direction once we cut it down.

Now, when the tree we want to fell stands in the middle of a clearing, it won’t really matter to which direction it falls, right? Especially if it’s a small tree, cutting on the side opposite the lean will do the trick.

But, if the tree is in our backyard, leaning toward the fence or that barbecue we spent hours building… It’s a problem. Therefore, the basic felling approach won’t do.

In such a situation, it is extremely important that we consider every possible scenario in which things go wrong. Once we assess the possible risks and the direction of fall, we must clear the area and determine our own escape route.

Step #2: Calculating the Back Lean

Whether we like it or not, felling a leaning tree involves doing some math.

Namely, once we’ve assessed the direction of fall, we need to calculate the amount of back lean we can expect. Here’s how it’s done:

  • We should move to stand away from the tree.
  • Using a weighted string or an axe as a plumb, we need to sight up to the top of the tree at 90 degrees to the direction of fall.
  • We ought to note that location on the ground.

Basically, the back lean is the distance from the point we’ve marked on the ground to the apex of the undercut we’ve planned. The apex will act as the front of the hinge and as the pivot point of the falling stem. It is important to note that the entire weight of the tree must go over the pivot point in order for it to fall.

For the sake of further illustration, we’ll imagine that the tree we’re felling is 60 feet tall. In that case, the approximate back lean we need to overcome is 3 feet.

Step #3: Measuring the Diameter of the Stump

This is a rather simple step. All we need to do is measure the distance between the front of the hinge and the back edge of the tree.

Measuring the Diameter of the Stump

The reason why we need to know the diameter is the fact that it would help us figure out the number of tree segments. Namely, a segment is a part of the tree that has a height equivalent to the diameter of the stump.

Step #4: The Face Cut (a.k.a. The Undercut)

Once we’ve assessed the situation and mustered all the courage we need, we can begin with the face cut. Essentially, that’s the cut we’ll place on the side of the direction of fall, and it consists of two cuts.

The first cut is supposed to be perpendicular to the trunk, and the saw should go through no more than ⅓ of the trunk. The second cut should go above the first one, at a height approximately twice as big as the depth of the first cut. It needs to connect to the inner side of the first cut, so we ought to cut downward. The goal is to cut out a wedge-shaped piece toward the direction of fall.

Wedge-shaped Cut

Going back to our numbers, if our trunk is 18 inches in diameter, our first cut will go about 6 inches into the trunk. Furthermore, we will start our second cut 12 inches above the first cut, and will most probably be about 13.4 inches long.

Step #5: The Back Cut

In case we’ve opted for the no-wedge approach, the cutting won’t stop at the undercut. In fact, once we’ve made a face cut, we should move to the back of the tree.

At about 1 inch above the face cut notch, we should start the back cut. As we progress toward the face cut, we need to start paying attention to the entire tree. Namely, that is the moment when the tree will start falling.

Step #6: The Escape

We need to remember that, no matter how small the tree is, we don’t want to be in its way once it starts falling down. So we need to mind our escape route. As soon as we determine that the hinge is thin enough, it’s time to run. Or at least walk away really fast at a 45-degree angle from the center of the cut.

Other Things to Consider

  • Plan ahead and take the weather conditions into consideration.
  • Decaying trees are not good candidates to fell.
  • Tackle smaller trees at first in order to minimize the risk of accidents.
  • Do not underestimate the tree’s mass.
  • You’ll be left with a tree stump after, here is how to remove it.

Final Thoughts

If felling a tree still sounds like something you ought to do on your own, we’re glad we helped. Just remember — proper assessment and common sense are the keys to a successful felling. Good luck.


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