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Planning Before You Cut

planning before you cut

Workplace injuries never occur when a job is going according to plan, which is why planning is such an important aspect of arborist safety. Before getting started, you should always ensure you have enough employees for the job at hand, as well as the proper equipment and tools.

That way, you’re prepared for any unexpected situations the job might throw at you, and you can handle these issues accordingly.

This blog will walk you through the entire process, so you can ensure you’re properly prepared before you make your first cut.

Know Your Plan

Felling a tree, or several trees, with a chainsaw takes careful planning that should never be overlooked. The last thing you need is for you or another worker to have to dodge fallen limbs, or for the tree to land outside of your designated fall zone.

Failing to plan ahead, or even planning as you go, is a recipe for disaster. This can result in miscommunications and even disagreements, each of which come with their own issues.

When dealing with heavy tree limbs and dangerous chainsaws, split-second miscommunications can often lead to serious injuries. Disagreements that should have been hashed out ahead of time can slow down a job and even create conflict that keeps your team from being on the same page.

Here are a few tips for creating a foolproof plan:

  1. Pinpoint the direction in which you want the tree to fall. Look at the tree’s surroundings for homes, powerlines, fences, and other structures that could be damaged when the tree is cut down.
  2. Be aware of other trees in the area. Felling a tree can create a domino effect on smaller or weakened trees that it catches on. Even if your tree falls where you want it to, other trees could fall in unexpected ways if struck during the cutting process.
  3. Clear the area of undergrowth and other obstacles. Branches, fallen limbs, and other obstacles are hazardous and should be removed before you cut down the trunk of the tree.
  4. Be aware of any underground objects. Drains, pipes, gas lines, and water lines are common in residential areas. Failing to account for these obstacles can be disastrous when felling heavy trees or operating vehicles through yards.
  5. Review the plan before you begin. Even if the job appears to be straightforward, and even if you’ve already discussed your plan, it’s always smart to review it before you get started. This not only makes the plan more concrete, but it also ensures each person involved with the job is engaged and aware of what is expected of them.

A plan is only effective if everyone involved remembers it and follows it.


Proper Tree Cutting Techniques

Before attempting any proper tree cutting techniques, begin by clearing a safe work area around the base of the tree you are cutting down. While doing this, plan two escape paths opposite the direction you are planning to fell the tree. These escape paths should each be at a 45-degree angle to the tree away from the felling direction.

If you’re cutting down a tree that is fewer than six inches in diameter, simply make one cut through the trunk.

However, larger diameter trees require a more complicated cutting technique. There are several tree cutting techniques to choose from, but one simple, effective method includes two basic cuts: the undercut and the back cut.

Undercut and Back Cut

The first step is to make the undercut. This is a V-shaped cut made on the side of the tree in the direction you want it to fall. The first half of the undercut is often made parallel to the ground, and then a second, slanting cut is made to form the “V.”

You may also prefer to make an open-faced undercut, which is a wider “V” that offers a near 90-degree opening. This may be preferred because it gives additional room for the tree to fall before the “V” completely closes.

Once the undercut is made, move to the opposite side of the tree to make the back cut. This cut should be made slightly above the hinge point of your undercut. This cut releases the stress on the trunk of the tree, ensuring that it falls in the direction of your undercut.

As you make the back cut, leave a small strip of wood to serve as a hinge. The tree will pivot on this created hinge, falling in the direction of your undercut.

Ensure that your back cut is never lower than your undercut because it will often reverse the direction the tree will fall. Additionally, when making your back cut, never cut all the way through the tree to the under cut because it destroys the “hinge,” and you will lose control of the tree. Once the tree begins to fall, turn off your chainsaw and make your way toward a designated escape path.

Limbing a Tree

If you are removing limbs from a standing tree, there’s one universal rule of safety: Do not make any cuts above your shoulders. Attempting to cut a branch that is above shoulder height means you’ll be holding the chainsaw far away from your body, making it much easier to lose control of the saw.

If you are limbing a tree that is on the ground, evaluate it before you begin. Be aware of smaller trees that might be trapped under your felled tree, or even branches holding the tree off the ground. Look for dead branches or other debris that could still be above you; dead branches are known as widow makers for a reason.

Once you have checked for all hazards and are ready to limb the tree, consider these tips:

  • If the tree is not on flat ground, always stand on the uphill side of the trunk. Standing downhill could cause you to be injured or trapped by rolling logs.
  • Ensure you have solid footing, are standing in a balanced position, and nothing is impeding your movement.
  • Start at the base of the tree and work toward the top.
  • Always cut on the side of the log opposite you; this ensures the log is between you and the saw, offering additional protection.

Where to Drop the Tree

As mentioned above, assess the area for homes, powerlines, fences, and other structures that could be damaged when the tree is cut down. Don’t just assume that a structure is far enough away to avoid damaging it. Trees are often taller than you realize, so they’ll likely reach farther on the ground than you expect.

Ideally, you should have a drop zone at least two times larger than the tree you are cutting to ensure you won’t damage anything when you cut it down. Additionally, once the drop zone is determined, make sure nobody enters the area without first determining if it is safe to do so. Using the proper tree cutting techniques listed above should ensure your tree falls in the designated drop zone, but you can also guide it there just to be safe. The chainsaw will do the majority of the work, but arborist rope can also be used to pull a tree in the preferred direction after the cut has been made.

How to Move and Clean Up

The larger a tree is, the more difficult it is to move and clean up. The best way to efficiently move the tree and clean up the area is to use speed lines. Instead of dropping limbs straight to the ground and relying on manpower to haul them to your woodchipper or another designated area, speed lines can do the heavy lifting for you.

If you want to learn more about how to set up a speed line for tree removal, check out our blog: The Benefits of Using Speed Lines for Your Tree Service.

If you’re dropping limbs straight to the ground and must move them to another area, cut off excess branches so they are easier to roll to your destination. Once the larger limbs are taken care of, make sure to rake the area to eliminate any excess debris.


Even when everyone knows and understands your plan, communication is still important. Many things can go wrong with operating chainsaws and other tools, especially when working with large trees. As you work through your plan, make sure to continuously communicate with your other workers.

Communicating when, why, and how you’re going to act before you act will significantly decrease the chance of workplace injuries.

Work-related injuries cost businesses billions of dollars each year, which is why planning before you cut has so many benefits. In addition to having a solid plan for any tree work, it’s important to be prepared with the proper equipment for the job. Trust Rock-N-Rescue’s wide selection of durable, proven, and useful arborist rope, climbing gear, tools and hardware, and rigging to make your job safer and easier than ever.

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