GIMME SHELTER- Tree take-down: Remember the Golden Rule

Keith Mann, Timberland Associates

Q: I have a thick dead tree 40 to 50 feet high that I want to take down myself, but it's leaning over a storage shed and a play structure. It's also pretty close to my house. Any tips on avoiding disaster?

A: Before you get started, remember that most estimates from tree professionals are free, so it's worth having someone come out to access the situation and make recommendations.

Then it's time for a gut check. Do you feel comfortable cutting down the tree yourself? If not, you might want to consider hiring a professional. If you don't know what you're doing, or even if you're unsure about how to do it, it can lead to crushed cars, damaged houses, or worse.

Although I've never known anybody who's had a tree fall on their house or storage shed, I've heard plenty of stories of people who have. 

If you do feel comfortable, here are a few tips for making the job go smoothly.

Number one– don't climb a dead tree. Although cutting the top off first is an option for living trees, it's too risky to climb a dead tree because it might crack or break. Instead, toss a thick rope up and over a branch and tie a slipknot around the tree. Before you start cutting, it's important to have something in place to pull or coax the tree in the direction you want it to fall. If it's a smaller tree– 30 feet or under– a strong helper pulling on the rope should be enough. 

For bigger trees, tie the other end of the rope to a tractor, truck, or ATV and pull it tight in the direction you want the tree to fall. You can also use a pulley system attached to another tree. Another option is simply pushing the tree over with a tractor once you've notched it. 

The most common mistake I see people make is not cutting the proper throw notch or no notch at all. Take you're time, and do this right. 

First, decide which way you want the tree to fall. On the side you want to hit the ground, cut a horizontal line less than halfway into the tree with your chainsaw or handsaw. Next, cut a 45-degree vertical throw notch above the horizontal cut and remove the wedge. 

Now go to the other side of the tree and remember the Golden Rule– begin cutting a horizontal line two inches above the notch. This is the time to pull or push the tree in the direction you want it to fall using one of the methods already discussed. Slowly, the tree should fall in the direction of the throw notch. Be careful.

Keith Mann