How to Chop Down a Tree with an Axe

How to Chop Down a Tree with an Axe

At first glance, chopping down a tree might seem like a simple task.

We just need to find a suitable tree and hack away at it with an axe until it falls down, right?


There’s so much that could get out of hand if we choose to neglect certain parts of the entire procedure.

The most important thing to consider here is that we don’t have to strain our muscles. Instead, we need to use our brain.

That includes carefully inspecting the tree to see where it’s best to strike. Moreover, we have to know from which angle to swing and which way it’ll fall (more on that later).

To chop down a tree successfully, we need to pay equal attention to several important factors. Therefore, we need to use the right technique, utilize the necessary equipment, and chop in a safe manner. Additionally, we have to know how to select the right tree and axe for the deed. Otherwise, we risk causing unnecessary damage to the environment.

Choosing the Right Tree

Which Trees to Target?

The first (and often the most important) step is to choose the right tree to chop down. We can’t just run about and chop down anything, can we? We have to avoid chopping down a tree that’s on someone’s private property or under the government’s protection. Otherwise, we risk having to pay a fine and getting in trouble. Trees are a natural resource, therefore, they’re limited and protected. That’s why there has to be a purpose as to why we’re chopping them down.

Now, selecting the right tree might depend on what we intend to use it for. For example, we might want to build planks out of it or simply remove it because it’s an obstruction. Alternatively, we might want to use it as firewood, since that seems to be the number one reason for chopping it down.

Choosing the Right Tree

On a side note, if our readers want to know more things about firewood, such as splitting and seasoning. Refer to this article for splitting firewood and this article for seasoning firewood.

Our advice is to always inform yourselves about the origin of the tree and whether it belongs to someone or not. On the other hand, there are certain scenarios where it’s perfectly fine to chop down a tree without asking. For example, if we notice that the tree is wobbling around and looks generally unstable, we should get rid of it. That way, we’re actually doing a good thing, since we’re preventing it from eventually falling down and causing damage.

Therefore, we should always target old and dead trees while trying to avoid chopping down saplings. However, keep in mind that dead trees can be dangerous to deal with sometimes because their limbs are liable to snapping at any point.

Singling out a Tree

So once we take into account and follow these general rules, we can start looking for a suitable tree. There are two important factors to consider here. First of all, we need to select a tree that has enough room to fall to the ground. Otherwise, it might get caught mid-fall by other trees, and we’ll require specific tools to proceed. Second of all, we need to look for trees that are straight and have a diameter of 24″, at least.

Selecting the Right Axe

Now, once we know what to chop down, we can start looking for an appropriate axe. There’s a variety of axes out there, but not all of them can be used in the same way. For example, carving, splitting, and chopping wood are all different activities that require different axes. Here is a list of the best felling axes.

Selecting the Right Axe

The Handle

We can’t really chop down medium and heavy-sized trees with an axe that doesn’t allow us to grab it firmly with both hands. To successfully fell the tree, we need that momentum while we’re swinging at it horizontally. That’s what’s going to allows us to make a deeper cut from both sides of the tree. In order to do that, we’ll need an axe with a handle that’s long enough. A full-sized felling axe with a 36″ in length will do the job just fine.

The Profile of the Axe

Next, there’s a considerable difference when it comes to the profile of these axes. Chopping axes tend to have a broader profile and a blunter wedge-shaped edge. These features help it drive between the wood fibers and split the tree apart.

Splitting axes, on the other hand, won’t make it easy for us to chop down a tree. We talked about their features in our article about the best axe for splitting wood. Reading it might help you grasp what we’re talking about here. The main reason, in short, is that we can’t generate the same amount of force when we’re swinging it due to its narrow design.

Therefore, the head of the axe should weigh somewhere around 3 lbs. Here is a perfect felling axe to give you an idea.


Sharpness isn’t specifically tied to the design or the model of an axe, but we deem it appropriate to mention it nevertheless. Before we chop down a tree, it’s important that our axe is as sharp as it gets. It’s going to speed up the whole process, which is especially beneficial if we have to chop down more than one tree. We have a guide on how to sharpen an axe for our readers if they want to inform themselves better about the whole procedure.

Wearing Safety Gear

It almost goes without saying that we should value our safety above everything else.

There are so many things that can go wrong while we’re chopping down a tree. The worst part of it all is that we can’t know for sure what’s going to happen.

For example, falling limbs, branches, and other flyaway objects might hurl at our face. Moreover, there will be a lot of splinters and blisters around us, and they can easily end up in our hands.

In a nutshell, we need to think about what the separated bits of the tree will do once we chop it down. They are most likely to snap when the tree starts falling down.

Wearing Safety Gear

Therefore, we have to think in a preventive manner and equip ourselves with the necessary safety gear. That includes wearing safety goggles, work gloves, ear protection, steel toed boots, etc. It’s also a good idea to bring someone with us who will keep an eye while we work. There’s always something that we might miss, which doesn’t have to mean that they will too.

Planning in Advance

One of the key things to do is to prepare ourselves for when the tree starts falling down. We need to know which way it’ll fall (more on that later) and where to move safely. So having an escape route planned out before we start chopping down the tree can only be beneficial. If we brought other people and pets with us we need to make sure that they’re at a safe distance too.

Take note of the fact that the tree can still fall literally anywhere, despite our attempt to guide its fall in a particular direction. So it’s better to clear the area around the tree (the radius will depend on the length of the tree) before we chop it down.

We can also look for weak points in the tree and use that to our advantage. Perhaps there’s a spot where there’s no bark, and it would allow us to hit it more effectively. Close inspection of the tree always provides us with details such as those.

If you notice the tree is leaning a particular way, it will probably be easiest to have it fall that way. Unless you need to fell the tree the opposite direction of the lean.

Steps on How to Chop down a Tree with an Axe

Now that we know how to plan things out, what to chop and which axe to use, we can finally address the details. There are several steps that we should follow if we want to fell the tree successfully.

Tying a Rope

In most cases, the first step is to tie one end of a rope to a high and thick branch of the tree. We need to tie the second end to another tree or a stable surface (a large rock, for example). It might be a good idea to target an object that’s furthest from the tree we intend to chop down. That way, we reduce the chances that the tree will fall directly on the object where the second end is tied.

Tying a Rope to Chop a Tree Down

We also need to make sure (and double check) whether the rope is as tight as possible. We tie the rope because we want to affect the direction in which the tree will fall. If it’s loose, then there’s really no point in tying it. To ensure that the loop doesn’t get loose, we can back it up with several additional knots.

Which Side to Chop?

There are two possible ways of chopping down a tree with an axe. We can either choose to chop it from either side or only one. The principle is essentially the same because we need to use horizontal swings. However, both methods require a bit of know-how and skill. That’s why we’re happy to share our tips and guide our readers through the process.

Chopping from One Side Only

Before we start chopping, we need to position ourselves so that we’re hitting the tree with our main hand. People should consider the fact whether they’re right-handed or left-handed during the planning phase as well. Either way, the strike needs to end up directly in front of us.

We need to chop the tree in the direction we want it to fall at a downward angle of 45 degrees. There’s no need to rush anything, so it might be a good idea to proceed slowly and chop in controlled motions.

Chopping from One Side Only

There’s a common misconception where people think that they need to hit the tree in the exact same spot every time. That’s completely unnecessary. In fact, it should be avoided because we need to make a wedge-shaped gap in the tree’s trunk. Why do we have to do that? Because that’s going to direct the tree where we want it.

Chopping from Both Sides (V Shape)

The chopping principle for the second method is almost identical except some minor differences. We still need to make a deep cut at a 45-degree angle into one side of the trunk. That should be the side that faces the direction in which we want the tree to fall. It’s going to take several strong chops to carve out that gap and extend it to one-third into the tree trunk.

Once we’ve done that, we can move on to the other side. There, we need to make a deep horizontal cut that’ll end halfway through the trunk. The only thing that’s going to keep the tree in place will be a small strip of wood that’s been left out. At this point, the tree is likely to be unstable so we can expect it to fall soon.

Be Attentive at All Times

We need to keep our eyes and ears peeled at all times. There’s no real way of knowing what might happen, and when, for that matter. One way of ensuring that we don’t miss anything is to stop after every 2–3 chops and inspect the tree. We need to scan for any traces of movement by looking upward at the branches. If we notice that the tree is swaying or leaning, it means that we’re almost done. In addition, we should listen if anything’s happening inside the trunk of the tree. Even the slightest cracking sound might signal that the tree is going to fall.

Once we notice that something’s happening we should act immediately and get away as far as possible. Trees can be a bit tricky when they’re falling. Even the most experienced lumberjacks find it difficult at times to determine when exactly a tree is going to fall. There are numerous factors that influence that, such as the age and the condition of the tree, etc.

A tree can be extremely dangerous once it starts falling (an obvious statement, we know). It might start swaying and spinning around as it’s falling down. The reason for that is usually the slanted ground on which it stands. Alternatively, our rope might cause it to move around randomly. There’s also a possibility that it’ll snag the branches from the other trees. Whatever the case might be, one thing is certain — we need to stay far away from it.

Moving and Processing the Tree

The final step is to clean up all the mess that we’ve left out (including the branches). Not doing so might affect other people and the wildlife, especially if there’s a lot of debris.

Moving and Processing the Tree

This article I wrote goes over the procedure of felling, limbing, bucking etc.

As for the trunk, we have to process it into smaller pieces so that it can be stored away. Alternatively, you can learn how to remove a tree stump here.

The Bottom Line

The methods that we’ve presented in this article might not be the only ones out there. We’re certain that there are people who like to do things differently, and we respect that. However, these methods are the ones that have worked for us, which is why we wanted to share them.

We hope that our readers were able to extract some value from this article and find the info that they were looking for. Thank you for reading, and remember that safety always comes first!


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