After we arrived on our property in September, we spent most of the first month gathering supplies such as a chainsaw, four wheeler, winch, and axe. After we had the basics, we were ready to get to work building. First order of business, lumber! To get lumber we needed to fall some trees so we put on our hard hats, mixed up some gas and went to work.
When we were ready to do some tree felling, it was pretty easy because we already spent time walking the property to decide which trees to cut down for both lumber and timber framing. The first thing we need lumber for is building our hot tub deck. The reasons for the hot tub deck are many. Not all are obvious, but in short the reasons to build a hot tub deck with our own milled lumber include:
- To validate that our homemade chainsaw mill works
- To validate that we could, in fact, cut lumber from trees and the lumber would be usable
- To help us understand the amount and type of usable wood in a tree, thus helping calculate tree needs for the barn etc.
We decided that it would be best to cut down two douglas fir trees for the structure of our hot tub deck, which just so happened to be on the backside of our property. We will be harvesting some pine for decking, but will do that after the foundation and structure is completed.
Our Tree Felling Equipment
The success of our tree felling was due to proper equipment, tools and experience. It might at first glance that all you need is a chainsaw, but it would be wise to have additional tools not just for their practicality but also to keep yourself as safe as possible.
In falling these two trees we used every piece of equipment on this list, and we wouldn’t leave home without it in our ATV!
- Stihl 660 chainsaw: This is a pretty big chainsaw for felling medium-sized trees. The reason for the larger saw is that it will double as an Alaskan chainsaw mill that really needs at least an 80cc engine (the 660 has a 91.6cc engine). This helps increase longevity and reduce fatigue. Someday, we’ll get a second chainsaw that’s a bit more practical for smaller duty tasks. If you can only have one, go big or go home!
- Tree felling wedges: Once you cut a wedge cut into the tree, you will want to drive wedges into the opposite side to encourage the tree to fall towards the wedged cut. We use these Oregon Felling Wedges. They’re a bit shorter than most wedges and made of plastic. Short is important as you rarely have much depth to insert them before you run into your saw. They’re made form plastic which is helpful in case you need to cut through them without damaging your saw. If you use metal, you’ll have a mess on your hands. They also have small dogs, or little spikes, on one side that help them stay planted in the tree and not pop out.
- Fiskars splitting axe: This axe is pretty versatile. For felling we used this to drive the wedges into the tree. We love it because it has a composite handle. So far it’s been working fine! Supposedly the handle is indestructible. Time will tell…
- 1,000lb ratchet straps: We bought four of these to have on hand and it turns out, we use them constantly. In this case they helped us save a tree from falling on the neighbors property and vehicles! When the tree pinched our chainsaw and wanted to fall the wrong direction, we used all (4) 1,000lb ratchet straps in combination with wedges to coax the tree into falling where we wanted it to. Thankfully no one was injured and the tree is was in perfect condition with no breaks.
- 5/16″ Tow Chain: You just never know when a chain will come in handy. In the felling process we had intended to use this chain for dragging tree sections around. It came in super handy when we needed to save our tree from falling the wrong direction. We are quickly learning that you can never have too many tools on hand for when things don’t go according to plan. We’ve also used the chain and ratchet straps in combination to hoist tree sections vertically so we can get stands under them for milling.
- Hard hat: Anyone who is around when felling trees should be wearing a hard hat. It’s not just the tree you’re protecting again, but all the falling branches, pine cones, etc. You never know what might come crashing down.
- Safety ear muffs: Chainsaws are loud. We wear safety ear muffs when using the chainsaw to protect not just hearing by your ears from flying debris. It’s a good idea to wear them even if you’re a bystander. We use ear plugs too, but ear muffs are less annoying, are easier to take on and off and more likely to be used.
- Chainsaw protective chaps: If you’re going to do a lot of this work, or just want to feel extra-safe, you may want to invest in a set of chaps. As we will be working a lot with our chainsaw in the future, we will probably buy a set of these ourselves.
How to Cut Down Trees
Cutting down trees is fairly straight forward. Read this thorough guide to cutting down trees… no need to rewrite the entire thing! But in a nutshell:
- Decide the direction you’d like the tree to fall. Be aware of surroundings and make sure that you won’t be falling the tree on someone’s property, buildings, cars, people, pets, etc.
- Make a top cut into about 20-25% of the tree at a 60 degree angle.
- Make a horizontal undercut that meets the top cut.
- On the opposite side of the trunk, create a horizontal felling cut.
- Use a felling wedge as a lever to get the tree to begin to fall.
- Stand back or run if necessary!
Our Tree Felling Experience
As said prior, we decided to cut down two douglas fir trees on our first day. Here is an overview as to how each tree felling went.
Our first tree was located on the back side of our property on a hill (take a tour of our property here). This tree was fairly large, straight, and it looked like we should be able to easily fall it sideways. We didn’t want to fall it downhill at the risk of it snapping in half. We didn’t want to fall it uphill for fear it may become a missile down the hill. We made the top cut, undercut, and then as soon as we made the felling cut the tree began to fall. This happened within maybe three minutes… no felling wedge required!
It fell perfectly, although it did take off some branches from a young tamarack tree. (Jesse later hugged the Tamarack tree in appreciation.) We were able to mill some really great lumber from this tree, and we have a large clear butt section leftover to cut beams for timber framing.
This tree we decided to do second because it looked a little more tricky. The tree was not leaning the direction we wanted it to fall. It wasn’t crooked, but had a slightly bow in the lower trunk. In the direction of the lean were a couple of cars on the neighbor’s property. The risk of falling on the rigs next door was there, but we were pretty confident we could fall it where we wanted, the opposite direction from the lean.
We began the felling the same way as the first tree, but when we made the felling cut, the tree pinched the chainsaw immediately! The tree was determined to go the WRONG direction! We used (4) 1,000lb ratchet straps and our tow chain to attempt to pull the tree in the right direction, although we thought it was a lost cause.
We met the neighbors in a hurry to see if their cars (broken down) were of value, or if they could help us move them. In the time it took to meet the neighbors, the tree started to cooperate and there was a bit of slack in the ratchet straps. Another friendly neighbor who heard all the sawing showed up suddenly and gave us a hand. He was miraculously able to lift the chainsaw that was previously pinched. With some teamwork we were then able to tap in the felling wedges, crank on the ratchets and the tree fell beautifully. WHAT AN ADVENTURE!
While this isn’t my first time felling trees, it has been a long time since I’ve participated in this activity. After talking to some folks we realized that on tree #2 we made our top cut and undercut much too deep into the tree. A more shallow cut would leave more trunk to hold the tree up allowing for a deeper felling cut before the saw pinched giving us room to wedge the tree over. Sadly we don’t have much footage of all this experience as safety was the highest priority.
Up Next: Milling Lumber
Now that we have a couple of trees cut down, it’s time to start milling lumber with our DIY Alaskan chainsaw mill! At the time of this writing, we’ve actually milled up these two trees, but we will write some posts on how it went as well as share a lot of fun video footage! We’re happy to report that all went smooth and we are LOVING our homemade lumber! It’s way more satisfying than running down to Home Depot.
Okay, okay, we’ll give you a teaser… here is a sneak peak of our Alaskan chainsaw mill, and what some of our milled lumber looks like!
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