I've been watching the tree cutters outside taking down all of the Emerald Ash bore damaged trees. For some reason they always take down the limbs of the tree first, even using a Skyjack to gain addition altitude to reach the top branches. Only when a bare trunk remains, do they chop down the main tree itself.

To me that seems inefficient. Why not just just cut down the whole tree and then chop off the branches when it's safely on the ground? From my point of view:

  • It would be safer to deal with the branches on the ground where they can't fall on your head.
  • It would be easier because there would be no need for the Skyjack.
  • It would be faster as multiple guys could work on multiple branches at the same time.

Now I understand why you wouldn't do this with limited space, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

  • 1
    Once a fallen tree is on the ground, there are great spring stresses in the wood. Cutting the branches can result in unpredictable sudden movements. Apr 27, 2022 at 23:41
  • 2
    @PolypipeWrangler - as an arborist once told me, "an unpredictable tree is a dangerous tree".
    – Jurp
    Apr 28, 2022 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


A tree with its branches weighs a surprising amount, usually much more than someone not in the trade thinks. In addition, branches can act somewhat like sails if a tree is taken down with all of its branches intact, making its ultimate location on the ground hard to estimate.

Cutting a tree down is one of the more dangerous jobs out there—it's easy to make one tiny mistake and become seriously injured or dead. To make the job safer and the final resting place of the tree more easily estimated, arborists take off as many branches as possible before they cut the trunk down, as you've seen. This reduces the weight of the tree, removes the "sail effect" of the branches, and makes "controlling the drop" possible. You may also have noticed that as the branches are cut they are removed from the job site, either by immediate chipping or by being piled up someplace nearby. This gives the crew an escape route in case something goes wrong.

You may have also noticed that at no time did the arborists use ladders. There is an excellent reason for this—any cut branch may "rebound" and sweep under the tree. If a cutter is on a ladder, they will be swept off the ladder and, quite possibly, seriously injured. A good rule of thumb to follow is: unless you are a certified arborist, your feet should never leave the ground if you're pruning or cutting a tree.

  • So true, even with safe working practices arborists are injured every year. Trees are big and very heavy!
    – kevinskio
    Apr 28, 2022 at 13:12

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