How to Cut Down a Tree Safely

Tree trunk cut down in wooden area

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Trees are valued landscape features. They give us shade, act as windbreaks, and provide natural beauty to our yards. Well-maintained trees can even add resale value to the home. Yet sometimes those trees do need to be cut down. They might have become an eyesore or a nuisance or they may be blocking the house, other trees, or foliage. In extreme cases, trees can become safety hazards when they are dead or insect-ridden. 

Cutting down a tree by yourself with safety in mind is not as simple as turning on the chainsaw and yelling timber. There are a few crucial tips to be learned for how to cut down a tree safely. Plus, the most important part of cutting down a tree safely is knowing when it is best to hire professional tree experts.

  • 01 of 10

    Check With Your Local Permitting Agency

    You may need a permit to cut down trees, even on your own property. Communities often regulate the removal of trees that are larger than a certain diameter. This is especially true when your property is in an environmentally critical area or near a shoreline or watershed.

  • 02 of 10

    Suit Up With the Right Safety Gear

    Proper tree-felling safety gear includes:

    • Helmet
    • Hearing protection
    • Safety glasses
    • Clear face screen
    • Chaps
    • Long-sleeved shirt
    • Pants
    • Steel-toe boots
    • Protective gloves
  • 03 of 10

    Make Sure You Have the Right Tools

    Start with a properly sized chainsaw for the job. For smaller trees, chainsaws in the 16- to 18-inch length work best. If the trees are especially small in diameter, you may even be able to use a 14-inch chainsaw. Choose either an electric or a gas-powered chainsaw, based on how much cutting you expect to do and the distance from a power source.

    Another important tree-cutting tool for safety is a felling wedge. Pounded into notches that you have cut with the saw, a felling wedge helps you steer the tree to fall in a certain direction. Plus, it prevents the saw from becoming stuck in the notch.

  • 04 of 10

    Estimate Where the Tree Will Fall

    If you think you know how tall a tree is, you just might be wrong. Calculating the height of trees is difficult because you cannot measure it with ordinary measurement techniques. Instead, estimate with an axe handle or any comparably sized stick.

    1. Find a stick that is the length of your arm.
    2. Hold the stick upright, perfectly vertical, at the bottom of the stick. Your arm must be straight and horizontal.
    3. Walk back or toward the tree until the top of the tree matches up with the top of the stick.
    4. Mark where you are standing.
    5. Measure the distance from your standing position to the tree. This distance is roughly the height of the tree.
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  • 05 of 10

    Clear the Surroundings to Create a Felling Area

    The area where the tree will fall must be clear of all obstructions such as structures, power lines, outbuildings, vehicles, garages, and even other trees. If the tree falls on another tree, it can be difficult and dangerous to extract.


    Generally, you’ll want to create a generously sized safety radius of twice the height of the tree.

  • 06 of 10

    Work With a Partner

    When you cut the tree with a partner, you have both a second set of hands and an observer who can keep an eye on the tree.  

  • 07 of 10

    Devise an Escape Method

    You should never stand on the side of the tree where you expect it to fall. Even so, you still want to look for two escape routes—on your side of the tree—just in case the tree does fall in your direction.

  • 08 of 10

    Be Observant and Listen

    A tree that is beginning to fall usually will announce itself with a cracking sound. Take frequent cutting breaks, both for rest and so you can see whether the tree is starting to fall—or to lean in an unexpected direction.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Evaluate Whether the Pros Should Take Over

    Tree-cutting is one of those projects that looks deceptively simple. Yet cutting a tree cleanly, predicting where it will fall, and doing all of this safely is often a job best left in the hands of professional tree experts. Tall trees, large-diameter trees, nearby obstructions, and unusual features of the tree are just a few of the reasons why you may want to hire a tree removal service. Unusual features include large dead branches, dead trees, or trees that lean in one direction.

  • 10 of 10

    Know What Not to Do

    Hazardous do-it-yourself tree cutting techniques are numerous. Some of the most frequently used techniques that can result in injury or death include:

    • Standing on top of a ladder when cutting the tree down or any parts of the tree
    • Miscalculating the fall length and hitting a power line or the home
    • Not watching for loose or dead branches
    • Cutting directly over your head
    • Not being aware of pets or bystanders