Plastic wedge

Using wedges to fell trees

Wedges can help control the direction of trees falling even when they are leaning the wrong way.

In a previous article, I talked about my use of wedges for bucking logs.  In this article I will share some of my experience using wedges to safely and efficiently fell trees.

Many folks might think you only use a wedge when felling leaning trees. I do use wedges for that, but I also use wedges on trees with an unbalanced crown, when felling against the wind, or when it is difficult to tell which way the tree wants to fall.  In those cases, wedges provide more control over the timing and direction of the fall.

I usually carry a couple with me while I am felling; and I have a couple more in my toolbox for bigger trees.  My axe is always with me, too, for pounding in the wedges and other tasks.

Wedges are designed to do two things: (1) keep your bar and chain from getting pinched when making the back cut (or felling cut); and (2), tip the tree over in the direction you want it to fall.

When felling a back-leaning tree, think of your wedge as a lever.  You are trying to tip the tree’s center of gravity up and over the hinge.  That may seem like a big job for that inch thick piece of plastic, but in fact the wedge is up to the task.

It works like this: the bottom of the tree is raised one inch when the wedge is pounded all the way into the back cut so that it is flush with the tree.  But the top of the tree moves much further.  Depending on the diameter and height of the tree, the tree top can move several feet, changing the tree’s center of gravity in the process.

More often than not, you will need multiple wedges to get the job done. For smaller trees, one might be sufficient, but for bigger trees you may need three or four. The more wedges you use, the greater the leverage to tip the tree over.  Here is the process I use.

First, I cut the notch as normal, with the notch face pointing in the desired direction of tree fall.  Then I start the felling cut and stop when there is just enough room in the back cut to insert a wedge without it touching my chain.  I position the wedge so that it points in the direction I want the tree to fall.

I cut a bit more into the tree (without completing the felling cut) and then stop to drive a second wedge 2-6 inches away from the first.  This time I pound the second wedge in with my axe until it is tight, and I do the same with the first wedge.

I continue this process of alternating cutting into the tree and pounding in the wedges, always being careful to preserve my hinge.  If the tree hasn’t begun to fall by the time I have finished the felling cut, I pull out my saw and continue pounding in the wedges.

Sometimes I find that the wedge isn’t thick enough to tip the tree over.  In those cases, I overlap a couple of wedges at about 70 degrees to each other.  I alternate pounding in these two wedges until the tree falls.

There are a lot of really interesting techniques for using wedges to tackle even the trickiest trees. You can learn more about effective wedge-use by taking a chainsaw safety course.  Check with you local woodland owner organization to see where and when the next one will be held. Before long, you too will be using wedges to fell trees like a pro.