Felling a Red Oak Tree

The most exciting thing that I do in our forest to finished flooring business is felling timber.
Today, it is much less exciting than when I was younger - before I knew how to cut timber safely!

I use methods taught in the "Game of Logging" and FISTA training, and performed over the past 10 years
by our best logger buddy - Mike Neta. Here is what I have learned.

These trees were killled the past summer by the Oak Wilt fungus, so they are indeed Mature and ready for harvest. I have not cut a healthy tree of this size for decades -
we let our good timber grow as long as it is vigorous!

Trees selected for harvest here are usually scattered, but when Oak Wilt is active, we often harvest a bunch of trees in one place. Either way, you need to pick the best spot to fell each tree to minimize damage to the forest, and make skidding the log efficient. You look over the tree carefully to see if there are any hazards that can be avoided. Dead branches, intertwined tree tops, grape vines.... Once you pick up a chain saw, you have to assume that the tree and its' neighbors will try to kill you in some way, so be very cautious.

The lean of the tree is very imporant, especially with a brittle wood like red oak. Most of our trees lean toward the sun and down the hill, but every tree must be assessed individually. Large branches can weight one side of the tree, producing side lean. How will the lean of the tree affect its fall toward the target direction I chose?

Before I start the saw, I have a cutting plan and a clear escape route to move away
from the tree when it begins to fall.

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I lean against the tree with my left shoulder and use the sight line on the saw to position the knotch.
The vertical cut is made first, angling into the tree slightly.

 

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A smooth downward cut with the saw is made to the stump height.
I want the upper side of the stump to be one inch above the dirt.
This is my tree, and waste is not acceptable, so low stumps are important.

 

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Next I cut the horizontal face of the notch.

 

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I am still leaning against the tree and look right down the vertical cut as I make the horizontal cut.
The saw blade is stopped when it lines up with the vertical cut.

 

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The small wood wedge falls out of the shallow notch.
I want the width of the notch to be about 80% of the tree diameter,
so the hinge has enough strength to control the tree as it falls.

 

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Next I back up on my knees and plunge my saw into the tree several inches behind the notch. The cut should be horizontal and at the same height as the notch. I then cut back toward the notch, leaving a one inch wide hinge. If the tree is small, my saw passes all the way through.
This tree is larger than my bar, so I cut in half way from each side.

 

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The bore cut is made from the other side - meeting in the middle of the tree.
You feel the saw hit the open cut. I then bore out the center of the tree,
leaving just the hinge in front and several inches of holding wood at the back side of the tree.

 

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This tree has a lot of lean to the left, down the hill.
A plastic wedge is pounded into the chain saw cut on the downhill side, right next to the hinge..
This wedge supports the wieght of the tree to prevent the hinge from crushing and failing too soon.
The wedge also gives a momentary push when the tree starts to fall,
encouraging the tree to move toward the trarget.

 

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So far, I made my notch, bored the close side & set the hinge -
bored the far side and set the hinge - inserted the plastic wedge -
and bored out the center of the tree.
The tree is supported by the hinge and the back holding wood -
it has not moved at all.

The old method of making a large notch, 1/3 of the way into the tree - then making a cut from the back towards the notch - allows the tree to start falling soon after the back cut is started. As the tree leans, the uncut wood tries to hold the tree up - often splitting the tree trunk up the middle. When the notch closes, the tree violently breaks off the stump, adding to the splitting forces. You don't realize how much splitting occurs with this method unless you sawmill and kiln dry the lumber yourself!
The other danger with this method is things can fall as the tree starts to move.
The chain saw operator stays at the stump for a long time as the tree is falling - very dangerous!

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When I am ready, I cut the last holding wood on the back side of the tree and quickly move away from the stump.
You hear a crack, then the tree starts to fall toward the target. That is the sign to go.
Often I move behind another tree, or get at least 15 feet away - then look back to watch for flying debris.

 

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Once things stop falling, I go read the story in the stump. This tree was 125 years old.
There have been two harvests in the past.

 

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A choker chain is wrapped around the top of the log and the winch line is attached.
These trees are near the edge of a field and will be pulled down the hill into the clearing.

 

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A small radio transmitter in my hand controls the pull of the winch line.
This tree had been broken off by the wind 35 feet up in the air, causing damage to the upper logs.

 

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One of the trees shows a green, brown, and black stain in the outer growth rings.
My guess is it is some kind of bacterial infection that would make these logs commercially worthless.
But we see the color as beautiful character!
Once the wood is kiln dried, this stain is not a problem but an asset to our business!

 

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Photos by Susie Young

The trees are bucked into logs. The old prehauler will pick up the logs and carry then 1/4 mile to the sawmill.

I cut four trees and pulled them out in about two hours - 1,200 board feet of logs.
This will make about $12,000 in sales next year!

Exciting Too!!

Another Example of Directional Felling      Felling a Large Maple Tree

Fetching Oak Logs up a Hill

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