Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

cedar wood 1 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already downCutting wood is doubly satisfying for me. Not only am I keeping my house warm, but I’m cleaning up. Here on the farm trees fall down and drop branches all the time. When I moved back to the farm in 1999, I had a wood stove and a teacher’s salary. As children growing up in a big drafty house we all carried the wood my father cut, but we never even carried the chainsaw. Time for a change.

If you are interested in learning to cut wood for yourself, make sure you have a good familiarity with handling and maintaining your chainsaw. Here is my last post on that.

Cutting up downed trees is easy, but you just need to understand how the wood will fall or shift as you cut it. Where is the tension; do you need to cut from the top or the bottom? Where should you stand? Really think about it, or you will at the very least pinch your chainsaw and there it will stick in the tree until you get other tools or another chainsaw to get it out.. At the worst, you will get hurt. Seriously, here is a scary story, required reading:

My mother wanted a satellite dish. The installer said that a certain branch was blocking her reception. My father said fine, you can use my ladder and my chainsaw. The clever young man declined, but offered to hold the ladder while my 70 year old father ascended about 30 feet into a poplar tree to do it himself (needless to say had my mother or I been on the farm we would have dissuaded him).  The branch he cut swung down and knocked the ladder out from under him, and he fell to the ground, breaking his pelvis in two places, tearing several tendons in his ankle, cracking his skull, and lacerating his scalp.  He had to be airlifted to Baltimore. Thank God he wasn’t hurt worse.

downed cedar 3 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

This asymmetrical dead cedar will be easy to cut up, except for the cat briers.

OK, back to work. Let’s start with this old cedar tree that blew down. It had been leaning on another tree for a while, and there is a reason they call those widowmakers. I wasn’t going near it. But now it is down and you can see that because it grew close to another tree all its branches grew off to one side. This will make it easy to get the main trunk away, and if I want since it is in a hedgerow I can just leave the brush there. However there is a lot of complicated tension in the branches, and I will need to watch it not to get my saw blade pinched in a cut.

downed cedar 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

I made small cuts from either side until I saw where it was going

Cut side branches off flush from main trunk. If this tree had been lying differently I might have first cut the branches off at the smallest usable thickness and worked my way in so as to keep from cutting small branches on the ground and dulling my saw in the dirt. The disadvantage of doing it that way is that if the branches are flexible they can shake around and pull the chain off the bar if you have carelessly allowed it to get loose. This picture shows how a heavy branch can slide when you cut it, rather than bend up or down. I was lucky not to pinch it. I had my feet well clear and I made small cuts from both directions until I saw what was going to happen.

cut wood 7 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already downHere you can see how easily this trunk came away. When you are cutting up a big trunk like this, think about how you will be splitting the “rounds.” Cedar is super easy to split, unless there are knots in the wood, and there often are. “Bucking” a log is marking out how you will cut it by making small nicks in the trunk with your saw. I know how deep my woodstove is, but I also know a hard-to-split mess when I see it, so I try to really gnarly logs a lot shorter, either in hopes of splitting them anyway, or sliding them in the stove as a disc, or just throwing them on a bonfire. A nice boring straight round is what I want.

downed cedar 5 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already downNow I can throw the big rounds (dead cedar is light) in the truck and clear space to get at the branches that are big enough to bother with. I really love the smell and crackle of cedar, and will cut pieces as small as my arm, or even smaller for kindling. Dry cedar catches nicely.

cut wood 2 225x300 Cutting up a dead tree that is already downOk, now lets take another cleanup project. I have a low dead osage orange branch that is really good size, and I have decided to cut it off the tree to open up the view and ease the weight on the tree which is leaning anyway. For now I decided to leave a piece of it there because it makes a nice place for us to sit and admire the sunset. I know the branch is going down, but may twist, so I take off branches that could whack me first, standing out of the way and cutting from the top down.

Osage orange has major BTUs and catches easily, so I will use every bit of this branch. Besides, it is an area that needs to be cleaned up anyway. I do actually cut the branches into lengths right on the branch once it is down (not safe to cut over your head) because they are small and I will definitely get into the dirt and dull my chain if I cut flush at the major limb first. It is pretty stiff and I made sure my chain was on tight. Any brushy stuff left over can start a brush pile right in the field, since I plan to cut up some living small trees that are growing up too close to the shed. The heat of dry osage orange is what I need to get a green brushpile to start.

cut wood 300x225 Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

Cut off branches too small for use, being careful not to endanger your chain.

The wood is a gorgeous yellow color, which might mean the tree has medicine in it for liver ailments. In the Amazon every tree has miraculous healing powers that are known to the indigenous people.  I sat and sketched and took notes all day. So why not our own trees? We have lost so much by destroying Native American culture.

Ok, before we quit, let’s cut up this dead cherry tree. It is leaning out so I know I can easily stand next to it and cut downward, and it will fall right down without any surprises. It has been dead long enough that there is no brush to deal with.

cut wood 6 225x300 Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

when the heavy part of the trunk is cut I will be able to pull the rest of the tree off the cinderblocks.

The only thing I have to watch is that there is a pile of cinderblock rubble somebody forgot here. It was meant to go down the bank for erosion control many years ago. If my blade touches it there will be sparks and a dull chain to sharpen.  I will just buck it out, slicing out the fork as short as I can because it is hard to split, and then cut in all the areas that are safe, then pull the now easily movable log to where I can cut it, finish up and start loading the truck.

That was a satisfying day’s work, and I am ready for a hot shower and a beer.

pickbourn landscape 5 300x224 Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

Time for a beer.

2 thoughts on “Cutting up a dead tree that is already down

    • Of course, so they can help you carry the wood! I’m convinced it is why my dad had so many daughters. I do most of my work by myself, and just chuck the wood into my truckbed, but it is jolly when my husband and I are doing cleanup together. But ok, time for a slightly funny story:
      My husband is a preacher’s son, and I am a professor’s daughter. A very all around capable professor, but nonetheless, I can be a dingbat. We had a lot of rain, and a bunch of big locust trees in our hedgerow went down. So, this is not a dead tree lying flat on the ground. Even those can shift, so if you are using a chainsaw by yourself cutting up a big heavy tree, be careful to watch how it can shift. The tree central to this story was fully leafed out and covered with springy branches, so it was not really all the way flat to the ground, see? I began cutting at the base where I knew the cut would open up as I cut top down. I was close enough to the base to step behind the stump if it shifted when it detached. Here’s where I SHOULD have been cutting alone. The light of my life waved to me from the other end of the tree. He had the mower hooked up to a little wagon, and I waved back, believing that he was letting me know that he was aware I was cutting the tree and would be standing away should it move. I continued cutting and as the last bit began to snap I pulled back and stood behind the stump. The tree rolled to the right and I looked up to see in horror that my sweetie had remained standing next to the top of the tree and was now being chased and whopped by inch-thick branches. Had he run five steps south rather than run west in the track the tree was rolling, he would have been fine. Had he understood that a whining chainsaw in my hand and the trembling of the tree meant that the tree could move, he would have been fine. As it was he was knocked down, mad, and sore, but thank God not hurt. I cut him loose and sent him to the house for a hot shower and a break.
      I learned that nothing can ever be assumed, and that if someone you love is near your work, you need to double check that they know what is going on, even if it means cutting off the motor and walking fifty yards through brambles. Be careful. Don’t take chances. Make sure your footing is steady and your head is well back from the blade, as it could bounce if it hits a nail or something. Keep a cellphone in your pocket in case your are injured. Injuries can happen to experienced people. My friend got knocked off a tractor by an overhanging branched and the discs ran over him. He laid out in the field all night before anyone realized he was out there. Bad way to die.
      Thanks for commenting! Sorry I have been neglecting my blog- I have been traveling some and then playing catch up- I’m back now.
      Cheers Susan

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