I've got a coupla' big pines in the front yard that I'd like to take down.
However, they're both big enough to hit the house unless the top sections
are taken off first. I've seen specialized saws specifically designed for
tree use, but don't have one. My smaller saw is reasonably nimble, but I'm
hestitant to just go leapin' up there with it. Anyone have any horror
stories or brilliant successes with a regular chainsaw up in the trees? I'm
certainly comfortable felling from the ground (wood heat and all that) but
haven't done a lotta tree work with a powered saw.
I'm with ya Tim. I've felled hundreds of tress while firmly planted on the
ground, but I'm hesitant to get up on a ladder and top one, unless I were to
lop off 6" pieces at a time until I got it down to the height I wanted.
I've been on roofs with a saw cutting vent holes for firefighting and that
was bad enough, I'm sure not comfortable doing the same from a ladder.
Not sure if this will work for you, but I recently had to have some branches
(large) removed that were rubbing on my power lines running from my meter
pole to my house. Since the power company is only technically responsible
for the feed to the meter, everything beyond that including overhead lines
is the homeowner responsibility. I corralled the local power company while
they were near by doing some other work and asked the line crew with the
cherry picker to come up my driveway and take care of this for me. They did
it no sweat. Wouldn't even accept a cup of coffee for the effort. Not sure
if you could leverage the same type of effort out of your local guys, but it
is worth a try. They have the truck, the chain saw and they usually don't
mind helping out.
Failing that, or some other free source of labor, I think I might resort to
other approaches. Don't discount the idea of getting up there with a ladder
and tying a good stout rope around the trunk several feet down from the top.
Hook the rope to a 4X4 and give it a pull. You'd be surprised at how easy
it is to break a trunk off like that. I've laid many a back hoe bucket up
against a tree as far as it would reach and broke the tree off. You could
even weaken the trunk at the point where you want it to break with a notch,
but I wouldn't think that's really necessary.
I can give you the horror story. In brief is was just trimming a large tree
and I was on the last branch I wanted to take down. 20 feet later, by the
way I did have enough sense to throw the chainsaw away from me, an arm
broken in 2 places and $4000 in medical expenses after insurance, I would
have been better off calling in a tree specialist.
Hope this helps guide your decision
I've taken down many trees from ground level from 20' to over 60' in
height, but I won't go up into a tree with a power saw.
I've seen professionals have trouble off of the ground. One small
slip can cause disaster.
My advice - hire someone to top the trees.
My $.02 worth.
I thought he said big pines? Don't know what he
meant by big. I wouldn't consider it big unless
it was at least 15-18" in diameter and over 90
feet tall. I wouldn't cut the top 20 feet off of
a 90 foot tree. Ever see movies of professional
lumbermen that top trees and how far the tree
swing when the top falls off? Or maybe a movie of
a nonprofessional who is tied to the tree but gets
thrown about 15 feet out of the tree and dangles
by one foot about 60 feet up?
That said, fall the tree in a direction that
doesn't hit the house.
On 1/3/2006 1:40 AM George E. Cawthon mumbled something about the following:
They must be pretty damn close then. I have about 3.5 acres of dense
woods on my property, next to about 5 acres of dense woods on my
neighbors property which goes on to the next neighbor and on several
neighbors over. It's so dense, that I can't see my neighbor at 150 ft
away, even in the winter with no leaves on the trees or underbrush.
Ditto the advice to hire a tree trimmer. Unless you've got the
equipment, training and experience to do it safely, stay on the ground.
There's no experience quite like being 20' up in a tree and having a
branch nail you.
Its a 2 person job. You up in the tree with the saw and a helper on the
ground with the rope. You tie the rope near the top of the section that you
want to cut off and as you start to cut through your helper pulls the
section over. With the section now hanging down you cut the rest of the way
through and let the section drop.
If you are simply taking out limbs tie the rope to the limb that you are
going to remove, toss the rope over a higher limb and let your helper lower
the limb after you have cut it clear of the tree.
There are some who take this to a choreographed art form. One company I hire
to take down trees close to other houses prior to construction has a crew
that is masterful at the technique.
The guy up the tree with the chainsaw, while kin to a monkey, is not the
most impressive of the two. The 'rope guy' on the ground is the one who
makes the whole thing work by releasing the rope at just the appropriate
time during the cutoff's swing.
By timing the release, he can make a four foot section of limb/trunk fall in
the back of a dump truck parked 30 feet away, like slam dunking a
Just watching generally shuts up all the tree hugging neighbors who come out
to bitch about the tree being taking down.
I don't fell a lot of trees like some of the other posters, but my father
and I had to take down about a 75 foot oak tree last year because it was
leaning towards their building. I climbed up a 30 foot ladder, attached a
cable around the trunk, and ran the other end to Dad's combination. He kept
tension on the cable while I cut the tree down. Now, with all that said,
there's no friggin way you'd get me to climb 30 feet or so up in the air
with a chainsaw and top a tree. I don't know where you live, but I'm in the
suburbs here and wanted a couple of 30-foot trees removed. Since space was
tight, I hired the job out, which only cost $300. Maybe you could find
someone who would just top them if that's all you want. Or just fell them
safely and let you do the cleanup. Around here, I could rent a cherry
picker if I was so inclined. Whatever you decide, make sure you listen to
that little voice in your head.
Tim and Steph. While the advice on how to top a tree is good, two
people, rope etc. having worked in my younger days with an arborist, if
you don't have the safety gear and experience please consider hiring
the job out. We always said that if a tree is properly cut, roped, you
can fall it with precision, rule two is that a tree does what it &*&#
pleases. Listening to the "little voice" is great advice. As
always, this advice it worth just what it cost ;-).
Go with a pro. It's not so expensive. I watch a crew take down a
couple of trees on a lot a short distance from my house last October.
The guy high up in the tree did use a chainsaw, but he also had a rig
on to keep him up there if he slipped. It was belayed from below with
a guy tending that line. Sort of like how mountain climbers do it.
There was a third guy below watching for the branches that fell. When
they did, He got them out of the way and cut them into smaller
pieces. Quite a system.
BTW, they were more than happy to let me take some log segments when I
asked. Nice guys.
I can give you the benefit of my experience.
25 years ago, when I was still immortal, I was trimming some large oak
trees in the front yard. I had cut firewood for supplemental income a
couple of winters, so I thought I knew what I was doing. I had a saw
small enough that I could handle it with one hand. No way would I ever
attempt this otherwise, even then. I cut several limbs from several
trees without any surprises. Then I leaned the ladder against a tree
trunk to cut off a 4 inch limb that was later measured to be 22 feet
from the ground. Since I knew what I was doing, I wisely made the
first cut from the bottom of the limb until it just began to pinch the
saw, then began cutting from the top side. When the limb fell clear,
the springy branches hit the ground first. The but end slammed into
the ladder, and suddenly I was standing in the air with a running
chainsaw. I was able to toss it aside on the way down, but I still
ended up with a fractured a foot.
I've done many dangerous things since then, but I've never gotten on a
ladder with a chainsaw. Nor will I ever.
"Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from poor
I trained first as a groundsman then as an arborist to work my way
through school--did that full-time for about 3 years. Since graduation
I've averaged about 5 jobs a year on my own for the past decade, mostly
for myself or friends as the opportunity arises, which I never seek
My advice would be for you to call all the arborists in your area and
ask for a quote. Talk with them about their experience, ask to see
their liability insurance papers, and check with the BBB for any
information about them. Then go with the one that gives the lowest bid
while being at least half-intelligent. If it's just a couple of big
pines, they should cost anywhere from $200-400 each, especially if
they're near buildings. I know that sounds like a lot, but really, it's
dirt cheap compared with problems that could ensue because of hundreds
of possible things that could go wrong, and that arborists are trained
It's not impossible to do it yourself, safely even, but you must be
willing to invest in the correct tools: one safety-blue line, one limb
line (roughly $100 each), one climbing harness with steel-cable guts
(about $150-200), a pair of good climbing spikes ($150), helmet w/
muffs and visor ($40), a small climbing saw (Stihl 09 if just for
occasional use, about $300), one larger saw for cutting the lower trunk
and the larger pieces on the ground ($400+, although the one you have
may suffice?), competent groundsman to help ($100-200 for a day).
You'll also need a way to cart the branches and trunk away, but you've
probably already figured that one out. Make sure your insurance is paid
In addition to the tools, you'll need to study trees, pines
specifically, which react differently to cutting than hardwoods. They
tend to SNAP at inopportune moments, especially if rotted--and you
can't always see if there's rot inside a trunk. You should get some
experience to be able to determine just how much force you can get away
with to get X top leaning Y degrees to fall Z direction. You should get
some experience to find out which cut to make in which place, where to
have your body positioned in case something does go wrong (and it does
even to experienced arborists), what redundancy systems you should have
in place for a particular situation (like backup ropes, another $200 or
so). Learn the basic knots that arborists must be able to tie quickly
for different circumstances (minimally a bowline, prussik, blake,
half-hitch, tautline, sheet). You must be able to climb, much like a
mountain climber, but with some differences: your equipment is much
heavier, so it needs to be good quality and fit well, otherwise it will
dig and hurt; you'll be carrying some heavy equipment and must learn to
trust your ropes etc., so simply practice until it feels comfortable.
It's best, overall, to start as a groundsman in order to watch how it's
done, then have the climbers teach you. I was fortunate to have two
wonderful and very skilled arborists invest their time for my education
in trees. They were very safety-oriented, a fact that I have come to
appreciate more and more with each passing year that I'm still alive.
I think you see my point by now: either do it right and learn the trade
correctly, or hire the skilled labor. Half-assing it will get you
half-assed, half-legged, or worse. Chainsaw accidents are among the
most common for inexperienced and even experienced users.
Timber-cutters don't lead the nation in the highest mortality rate per
job for nothing:
Also, check out http://www.elvex.com/facts08.htm
The gear, with the exception of the climbing saw, I've got. The rope skills
I've got down cold, after many years of climbing, caving and sailing. I've
taken down a lotta trees, so I'm comfortable there, too. What I don't have
is the tree experience. Given the piece of property I own, this would be a
tremendously useful skill. I understand the need to do it right, and I'm
fairly partial to keeping all of my limbs intact. Question is, can this
skill be safely learned by a reasonably intelligent person in a reasonable
time period at a reasonable cost?
OK, if you've got the gear and have climbing and cutting experience,
that helps. Still, combining those two skills up high is not easily or
quickly learned nor is it something to be taken lightly. With my
experience--which I'd estimate at having climbed and taken down from
the top about 50-60 trees--I still take a pass on about half the job
offers for no other reason than that I think it's too risky for my
So, be willing to make a fair assessment of your skills, and be
determined not to be afraid of stopping in the middle of a project and
saying to yourself, "I just don't feel safe doing that."
I like your determination and am the same myself. It's not rocket
science, after all, and if all the red-necks I see doing it can master
it, then so can I. So, I encourage you to try your hand, but do it
gradually. Read up a bit on the techniques. Don't start out with trees
near buildings. Pick a tree that can come down alone or would damage
only other trees. Climb it. Cut some limbs off. On one that's not too
tall, after you've limbed it, cut the top out. That'll give you some
indication, even if all things go smoothly, of how unpredictable trees
can be. It's a bit like the ocean: doesn't look that bad until you
actually get out onto rough seas in a small boat--then it quickly gets
Another analogy might be health and medical issues. Most of the time
when I go to the doctor for some minor procedure, I end up thinking:
what a scam, he's collecting so much for something any idiot could
master and do. But the truth is that it's not uncommon for those simple
procedures to go awry, even with experienced doctors.
Start out small and get some experience, then tackle those trees by
Good luck and keep us informed,
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