First, let’s address something I am asked quite frequently about “felling” trees. On several occasions, I have been asked why we use the word “fell” in reference to cutting down trees in the present tense, when the word “fell” is defined as the past tense of “fall.” While this is true, that “fell” is the past tense of “fall,” as in, “I fell while hiking yesterday. As a result of my fall, I sprained my wrist.” “Fell” is also the present tense of the verb “fall”, as in “to make a tree-like object fall”. In addition, “felling” would be the gerund, noun-form, of “to fell”.
Speaking of felling timber, let’s delve into one of the first observations we should make when deciding to put a tree on the ground: Selecting a felling direction. I actually read in a popular landowner publication once, that standing close to the trunk of a falling tree was safe because it only took a few steps to clear yourself from the direction the tree is falling. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?! Did the author not realize that he would be standing under the canopy of a falling tree, or that the butt of the log could more easily whack the stuffin’s out of him while standing so close?!? I swear…some people’s children…
When it comes to selecting a direction to fell a tree, there are a handful of considerations to make. Most of these are common sense:
1. Which direction is the tree leaning?
2. Which direction would I want the tree to land for ease of safe processing?
3. Are there any present or potential hazards due to felling the tree in the desired direction?
4. Do I have a large enough hole in the canopy to accommodate the tree being felled?
5. Does the desired direction of fell allow for an adequate escape route?
Just because a tree is leaning a certain direction, we are not limited to that direction only. In every chainsaw class, we focus on the open face notch & bore cutting method of felling trees because this has been proven to be the safest method to put a tree on the ground. One reason for this is that the tree doesn’t fall till the sawyer is ready for it to fall, rather than the tree controlling when the sawyer runs. Another reason is that the tree is most under control using this method because of the hinge required for the proper application of these techniques. With proper hinge establishment and placement, as well as incorporating proper use of felling aids such as wedges, several options may be available to the sawyer for direction of fell.
Evaluate the present hazards, both overhead and on the ground. Next, picture the tree on the ground. When it comes time to limb and buck the tree, will there be adequate room and footing to perform the tasks ahead? Consider the hazards that will be present once the tree is down. Can they be mediated safely? Be sure to make a plan for those situations as well.
Throwback is an often overlooked hazard when selecting the direction to fell your tree. It is the flying debris that gets thrown back toward the stump as the canopy of your falling tree brushes against the trees adjacent to your target. This contact with other trees is referred to as “push through”. Push through should be avoided, if possible. However, trees are often grown tightly together, so no contact with neighboring canopies is often unavoidable. Regardless, take in consideration the amount of push through your tree may experience and evaluate the risk of throwback.
Finally, and most important, the selected direction of fall must allow for at least one adequate escape route. As you recall from the previous H.H.E.L.P. series in the FISTA Report, an escape route should be 45 degrees, opposite the direction of fell and allow enough room to get AT LEAST 20 feet away from the stump. An adequate escape route, that is used, can place you in an area safe from falling, overhead hazards, throwback hazards, as well as hazards at the stump and from the butt.
We’ve all heard “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree”, but the ignorance should! Let’s all work together to continue evaluating safer ways to do our jobs, no matter what they might be. Feel free to share your discoveries. We will put them to the test and continue evaluating and improving our training programs. Have a safe “fell”, oops, “Fall”…Autumn!
Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University. Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments. He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA. For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org