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I have a messy holly tree with lots of trunks. They're perhaps 10m (30') tall and very straight but only about 10cm (4') diameter.

I've been learning about face cuts and leaving a hinge but on such narrow trunks is that needed/correct? The holding wood would surely be super-thin. On the other hand if it kicked out and hit me in the gut or landed on my head it could be nasty so I'm nervous to just do a single cut.

What is the recommended way to take down this size of tree?

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    Hi Mr. Boy! Would you please post some pictures of your tree so we can see what you're dealing with? Later after it's done adding some "after" pictures would be helpful for the community too. This sounds like a big project. Stay safe! – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Sep 3 '18 at 18:57
  • Perhaps you can hire someone to do it for you if you are not confident enough? It might be better to watch and learn from safe distance... there will be other trees to fell. – False Identity Sep 3 '18 at 19:19
  • Four inch diameter is about the top of the size range for this technique, but don't forget that if you cut quickly through a branch with a power saw, it will just fall vertically downwards till the bottom hits the ground. That can be much more predictable than trying to make a face cut to control the direction of falling as it topples sideways, if you have the confidence to do it. – alephzero Sep 3 '18 at 20:16
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    I use a polesaw for those, and let them kick where they may since it's 8' away from me. Disclaimer: I use a polesaw for everything... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 3 '18 at 21:48
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Here's my two cents; I'm sure that others will weigh in as well. Caveat - I am NOT a certified arborist, but have had training and have taken down dozens of trees without hurting myself, anyone else, or any property.

Personally, I use only handsaws, not power tools, especially with a tree as small as the one you posted about. I feel that this gives me more control over my cuts. OTOH, it also means that sometimes I have to cut a tree down over two days or so if I get tired/burned out. I use a stick pruner to get about 18' up, then use heavy duty pruning saws.

Some rules/advice:

  1. Amateurs (such as myself) should never leave the ground when cutting/trimming trees. If you're on a ladder and make a wrong cut, you have no where to run to get away from the falling branch - and you're also at risk for falling.

  2. Plan your cuts before making them. Check your plan. Recheck your plan. If you're taking down a tree with multiple trunks/large limbs, you probably will need to re-evaluate your planned cuts after the first trunks come down.

  3. With a tree the size you've described, wind can cause unexpected things to happen, so I would only work on this tree when it's calm or with only a light wind. If it were deciduous, then you would have more flexibility when the leaves were off.

  4. I prefer to make multiple cuts on any trunk, working down from the top. This lessens the weight of the trunks as you cut them and allows for slower "fall speed", which can be a very good thing.

  5. For running-away-room-if-I-screw-something-up, I make the second-to-last cut at the three or four foot height, controlling the trunk's fall. I then take the remaining trunk to the ground.

  6. Wear eye-protection and, if possible, a hardhat. If you use a chainsaw, it's imperative that you wear proper personal protective equipment and ear protection.

Now to the actual cutting - I'd first limb up the tree as high as I could to remove weight and make the fall easier, then I'd pick a trunk with a clear fall line and back-cut the highest part I can reach with a downward diagonal on the side opposite where I want it to fall (make a hinge). When that falls, I'd repeat lower down. After this cut, the trunk is much thicker, so to prevent binding I'd cut a wedge out of it on the side where I want it to fall, then back-cut it with a diagonal. Repeat until everything is down.

  • My concern here is I've seen lots of negative discussion online about diagonal back cuts, where the base slides out instead of adding as a hinge – Mr. Boy Sep 3 '18 at 20:21
  • I may have described what I do somewhat inaccurately - when working on a high piece, I use a single diagonal cut, angled towards where I want the tree to fall. This forms the hinge. I do not cut where the diagonal leaves the tree, because then the piece you're cutting usually DOES slip and can easily land on you. It works well if you take it slow; I try to never completely cut through the tree, but try to allow the weight and lean to drop the trunk I'm cutting (sometimes with a little pulling help). Colin's point about using a rope to control the fall is a good one. – Jurp Sep 3 '18 at 21:23
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Hollies are notorious for suckering and sending up water shoots. The wood will likely be sappy, wet, and will want to bind up your saw. So make sure there is proper "set" on the saw teeth to ensure that each pass ensures the cut gets cleaned out. With the sap the tree will be surprisingly heavy, so watch out!

You may have a set of tree trunks all of which are suckers from an earlier cut of the main single trunk which responded by sending out multiple shoots that matured into "trees". In which case each one is likely to have a lean on it already that will pretty much determine where it falls.

Normally when dealing with thin, tall trees you want to control where they fall by running a substantial rope high up in the tree, attach it via a pulley to a vehicle so that as one person cuts the tree the vehicle pulls the tree towards the pulley.

Also you can help a tree fall the right way by using wedges. Cut into the tree, then hammer a wedge into the cut to force the tree to fall as you determine.

Safety first. Read Jurp's answer carefully. Remember, the tree will be heavier than you imagine. If in the slightest doubt, get professional help. A good workman is worth his hire.

  • I've been using a proper professional for larger work and anything involving climbing, but I've now acquired a saw and safety kit in order to do less difficult work... Already done some felling but not seen how to tackle the smaller stuff – Mr. Boy Sep 3 '18 at 20:19
  • And yes it is definitely a large trunk that was cut back and allowed to regrow, maybe 20-30 years back. Ugly but provides screening for now – Mr. Boy Sep 3 '18 at 20:20

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