How to Cut Down a Tree Safely

Fun fact: My grandfather had thirteen siblings. Five of his sisters never married (and never had kids,) but even with that, my father has more cousins than he can count. These days, most of the cousins are between 50 and 80 years old, and all but three of the original fourteen children have passed away.

My Great Aunt Elsie is one of those three remaining siblings. She's currently in her nineties, and lives in a little house in Western Wisconsin, less than an hour from where she and her siblings were raised almost 100 years ago. She never had any kids, but luckily has a number of nieces and nephews who live in the area and check in on her pretty regularly. 

Enter us. Aunt Elsie had a very dead tree in her front yard that needed to come down. So last week, my dad, my aunt, and I trekked over to Aunt Elsie's with the goal of removing the tree. This was a totally new experience for me and my aunt, but my dad's an old pro at this, apparently. Three hours later, that tree was down and on its way to the city's yard waste disposal area.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

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Materials and Tools
  • Chainsaw- For cutting tree
  • Ladder- For cutting high branches
  • Rope- For guiding falling pieces
  • Loppers- For breaking down the smaller tree pieces
  • Tarp- For easy movement of small pieces
  • Brooms/Rakes/Leaf Blower- For final cleanup of small pieces
  • Ratchet Straps and Trailer- For transporting the tree to waste area
Get Started!

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How to Cut Down a Tree
Step 1: Cut Small, Reachable Pieces from Tree

You'll note that Step 1 isn't "cut down tree at base." While that's totally possible to do with a chainsaw, it ends with a giant tree falling in a rather uncontrolled way. Who knows what it will land on. Plus, in addition to getting the tree down, we need to transport the tree pieces to a yard waste disposal center. Moving a large, fully-intact tree might be possible for commercial enterprises, but for us DIY-ers, we'll need that tree to be in smaller pieces.

So instead, we started by cutting individual lower branches off the tree with the chainsaw. If the branch was too large to fit in the trailer, my dad cut it with the chainsaw in multiple places, working his way in toward the trunk of the tree.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

This went really fast. Chainsaws are powerful machines, I guess. Not even five minutes later, the yard/tree looked like this:

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

At this point, we stopped cutting the main tree, and started breaking down the cut branches.

Step 2: Break Down Fallen Branches

My dad and aunt were using the two pairs of hedge clippers we brought to break fallen branches into smaller pieces, while I walked around collecting small pieces and depositing them on a tarp.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

When the tarp got full, we'd pick it up and transport the branches over to our trailer, which was parked across the street.

Pro Tip: If your tree has been dead awhile and is pretty dried out, hedge clippers aren't really necessary. Shortly after we started, I realized that for the most part I could break the tree down with my hands.

Step 3: Cut More Branches Off Tree

Once we'd cleared the yard, we started cutting more branches. These were obviously higher up. I'm going to break this into two sections: what we did and what you should do instead.

What We Did

My dad climbed up into the tree and tied a rope to one of the branches. The goal was that someone (in this case, my aunt) would hold the rope, and pull the falling branch in the direction we wanted it to go. That way, the large branch would avoid hitting the house/porch/dad.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

Spoiler Alert: This didn't go so well.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

Yeah, he got thumped by the tree. I didn't get a picture of him lying on the ground, since we were all too busy making sure he was okay (he was fine.) Regardless, it wasn't an ideal outcome.

What You Should Do Instead

Grab a ladder. Repeat step 1, except on a ladder reaching the higher branches. If there's a branch you're worried about hitting something important (Dad got in trouble for hitting the flowers,) grab a rope and guide the piece where you want it to go like we tried to above. If the pieces are smaller/lighter, this should work better.

Step 4: Repeat Step 2

Repeat steps 1 and 2 until all the branches of the tree have been cleaned up.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Step 5: Cut Down Base

Once a stump is all that's left, cut the truck of the tree right above the ground.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

This was really heavy, so we rolled it off the grass, then tied a rope around it and dragged it across the street to the trailer. Speaking of which, by the end of this our trailer was pretty full.

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

We used the ratchet straps to not just secure the branches in place, but also to crush them to make room for more branches.

Step 6: Clean Up
Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

There were a fair amount of twigs and debris littering the yard and walkway. We spent a couple minutes raking the yard and sweeping the sidewalks, and then we were done!

My aunt and I were both shocked at how quickly everything went. This is an easy afternoon project, given there are a couple people breaking down the tree limbs. The heat and sun were really the worst parts, it truly wasn't that laborious of a project! If you've been debating hiring someone to remove a medium sized tree in your yard know that it's totally possible to DIY it!

If you found this helpful, save this post to Pinterest so you can find it again later!

Dead trees are dangerous to have in your yard. Learn how to safely cut down a tree with this step by step tutorial! #Backyard #HomeImprovement

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