DIY Tree Removal Tips

Dangers of DIY Tree Cutting and How to Stay Safe

DIY Tree Removal Tips

Removing a tree yourself can seem like an easy way to save money. However, tree removal is very dangerous work that requires proper training and equipment. Attempting to cut down large trees without experience puts you and your property at risk.

While some small tree trimming and pruning projects may be manageable for a homeowner. Full tree removal is best left to the professionals. Read on to learn when you should call the experts, how to safely prep your site, equipment needed, proper tree felling technique, and common errors that lead to accidents and fines. With the right approach, even major removals can go smoothly.

Why Consider DIY Tree Cutting

Before deciding on DIY, consider why you want to remove the tree yourself:

Save Money

Professional tree services often charge several hundred to several thousand dollars. The cost depends on the tree size, location, access, and if grinding the stump is included. Doing it yourself can potentially save a lot of money.

Feeling Handy

Some homeowners are quite hands-on and feel up to the complex task of safely cutting down and disposing of a mature tree. Pride and self-sufficiency may drive them to DIY.

Limited Budget

For those with very limited budgets, professional tree services may not be an option at all. Attempting tree removal DIY may be the only way, despite the risks.

While these reasons are understandable, they do not outweigh safety. Tree work accidents can lead to exorbitant medical bills, property damage, and lawsuits. Think hard before going the DIY route.

When To Call The Professionals

DIY tree removal is only advisable for smaller, isolated trees up to 10 cm in trunk diameter. Anything larger should be done by a certified arborist. Specifically, you need to hire experts for:

  • Trees over 30 feet tall or 9 metres
  • Trees leaning toward your home
  • Multi-stemmed or extremely dense trees
  • Trees located close to power lines
  • Hollow or diseased trees
  • Trees adjacent to busy roads or walkways

Fully removing large, mature trees requires commercial equipment like bucket trucks, chippers, and stump grinders. The job also demands extensive technical knowledge, training, and manpower. Don’t take unnecessary risks with high-stakes tree removals on your yard.

Assess and Prepare The Site

Before cutting, assess what felling the tree will affect. Check for:

  • Nearby buildings, vehicles, or other valuables
  • Pedestrian or driver traffic areas
  • Above and below ground utilities
  • Fences, gardens, pathways, etc.
  • Wildlife habitats with restrictions

Also thoroughly inspect the tree itself for size, lean, rot, and branch structure.

Then prepare the site by:

  • Selecting a drop zone so the tree falls safely
  • Pruning problem branches
  • Clearing away brush and obstacles
  • Setting up traffic control if needed
  • Gearing up properly (see next section)

Correct site analysis and preparation prevents accidents and damages.

Essential Tools For DIY

Don’t attempt tree removal project without these essential safety gear and protective equipment:

Protective Gear

  • Hard hat (Class E)
  • Eye protection (Safety goggles)
  • Hearing protection
  • Work gloves
  • Steel-toe boots
  • Long sleeves/pants

Proper Tools

  • Chainsaw suitable for the job
  • Wedges and sledge to control felling
  • Ropes or come-along for limbing
  • First aid kit and fire extinguisher

Other Supplies

  • Fuel and oil for chainsaw
  • Barriers like cones or tape
  • Signs to mark hazards
  • Drop cloths to protect plants

Proper gear prevents chainsaw injuries and keeps you safe if limbs or the tree itself falls the wrong way.

Dangers of DIY Tree Cutting and How to Stay Safe

10 Steps For DIY Tree Removal

Follow these key steps when attempting DIY:

1. Evaluate Hazards

Assess dangers to yourself and property before starting. Have an escape route planned.

2. Clear Space

Remove brush, trim branches, etc so you can work freely.

3. Choose Drop Zone

Determine what direction is safest for felling the tree based on location of structures and wind conditions.

4. Make Backcut First

Cut a notch about 1/3 into tree 4-5 feet off the ground level oriented toward the drop zone.

5. Create Hinge

Saw horizontal cut that meets bottom of notch to control fall. Should be 5 cm above bottom to create a wide hinge of wood.

6. Drive Wedges

Use wood wedges to further encourage the tree to move toward your intended drop zone as it falls.

7. Retreat Uphill

Get away once it starts falling in case it “barbers chairs” or bounces back off other nearby trees.

8. Limb Tree

Once fallen, remove all branches while being aware of spring poles that could snap against you.

9. Buck Trunk

Using an up/down sawing motion, cut it into movable logs working from the crown down.

10. Clean Up

Dispose debris or cut/stack logs for firewood. Fill hole or grind out tree stump if desired.

These DIY steps require two people for safety. Always assess risks before chainsaw use and stop work if beyond your skill.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Even with preparation, things can go wrong fellling a mature tree:

Cutting too small of a backcut notch

This causes the tree to fall backward instead of your intended drop zone. The notch must be 1/3 of tree trunk diameter.

Forgetting wedges

These prevent the tree from settling backward as it falls. Use wood or plastic type to direct the tree.

Incorrect hinge size

The wood hinge after the backcut steer the tree’s fall. Make it around 5 cm thick. Too thin and tree may twist or slash sideways.

Saw binding

Forcing a chainsaw through a tree can get it stuck or twist it sideways violently. Keep saw moving smoothly, watch for snags.

Standing downhill or too close

Stay alert uphill and at least twice the tree height away. Expect bouncing or sliding.

Carelessness leads to falling tree accidents yearly. Always hire a professional removal service for big, risky trees near homes.

Pro Tip: Even a seemingly healthy tree can fall in the wrong direction so it’s better to use proper techniques when cutting. As a safety tip, always have your escape path planned, and never cut the tallest branch first. Saving that main stem for last gives you better control to maneuver the tree’s fall in the intended direction. Rushing the job or overlooking hazards puts you at serious risk.

10 Steps For DIY Tree Removal

Laws Around Trees

Most areas allow homeowners to remove trees on their private property without permits, with some exceptions:

  • Tree Preservation Codes – Some old, large, or specimen trees may be protected by city/county ordinance. Permits and fines apply.
  • Power/Phone Lines – Utility companies require advanced notice and may need to disconnect lines before removal around them.
  • Traffic Areas – You may need temporary street closure permits if taking a tree down next to a public road.

Be sure to verify local regulations before attempting removal. Professional arborists handle permitting issues as part of their service.


Felling mature trees is complicated and extremely hazardous. While wanting to remove entire trees yourself is understandable, safety must come first. Potential damage and liability simply isn’t worth DIY risks. Smaller landscape trees under 10 metres present less risk if carefully approached.

For the vast majority of homeowners though, hiring professional tree removal services is highly advised whenever cutting down large, complicated trees. Quality companies have extensive training, safety equipment, and manpower to remove any tree, even near powerlines and structures.

Don’t let the cost scare you. The expense pales next to a lifetime personal injury or damaged home. Some services even come in under expectations. Get competitive bids to find the best local tree removal crew for your specific situation. With experts, the job is done right and safely.

So consider DIY tree removal carefully. If they start looking too tall and menacing, pick up the phone before picking up a chainsaw!