How to Chop Down a Tree With an Axe – The Right Way

Got a tree you need to chop down, and don’t have or want to use a chainsaw for the task? Chopping down a tree with an axe is easier than you might think. In truth, chopping down a tree with an axe is less a matter of brawn and more a matter of brain.

axe on top of dark logQuick NavigationFirst StepsThe Right TreeThe Right AxeThe Right StuffPreparation and PlanningWhich Way Will It Fall?What Next?Doing It Right: How to Chop Down a Tree With an AxeTie the ropeStart choppingKeep alertGet Out the WayProcess or Move It

First Steps

Before getting into how to chop down a tree with an axe, there’s some preliminary business to take care of first, namely which tree to chop and whether you have the legal right to chop it.

The Right Tree

Which tree are you planning on chopping down exactly and why? Chopping down any sapling at all, first of all, is a no-no. So, assuming it’s not a sapling, is the tree on your property or do you have the property owner’s permission to chop it down?

If not, you and your axe shouldn’t come near it. Incidentally, if chopping down a tree for someone else, it’s wise to get their request or permission in writing, just in case you should ever be asked to prove the request or permission sometime down the line.

Assuming you’d never do such a thing as chop down someone else’s tree without permission, it’s still worth examining your reasoning for chopping it down.

Is it old? Unhealthy?

Is it leaning or wobbling dangerously where it could cause harm to people, homes roadways or power lines?

Is it to be turned into firewood?

trees in forest

All of these reasons are good ones for chopping down a tree. If, on the other hand, it’s merely an eyesore or an obstruction or you simply wish to place a swimming pool, chicken coop, tool shed, or children’s playground in its stead, consider that trees are a vital natural resource and over 10,000 of them are cut down already every day. Consider the planetary impact of this permanent decision before you make it.

If you’re looking for a tree with a particular type of wood to use for a building project you’re undertaking or you’re searching for this year’s Christmas tree, consider that there may be many trees that fit your needs. Compare the pros and cons of cutting down each one before you decide which tree to chop.

Lastly on this topic, and it should go without saying, never ever chop down a tree on public land or protected land. You could saddle yourself with a hefty fine and, possibly, even worse.

The Right Axe

Not all axes are built the same, and not just any axe will do for all situations. For starters, there is a considerable difference between chopping axes and carving axes. The main difference is in their edges. The edge of a chopping axe is extremely thin but with a broad, thick poll. This is designed to help in splitting the wood apart.

A carving axe, by contrast, has a long, straight edge with a pointed, beveled face and a much narrower poll. This makes carving axes great for more detailed work but lacking in the strength and force needed to fell trees and split logs.

The best type of axe for chopping down a tree is a forest axe. These are chopping axes with flat, elongated heads and rounded edges. Their design allows them to more easily cut across the wood fiber’s grains.

Lastly regarding the axe, be sure that, whatever axe you use, the blade is properly and adequately sharpened before you venture to chop down a tree with it.

The Right Stuff

Although certainly a key part of the tree-chopping equation, the axe is only one part. In order to properly and safely chop a tree down with your axe yourself, you also need to be in possession of certain other essential equipment for the job.

The tools and equipment to have on hand before endeavoring to chop down a tree with an axe are as follows:

  • Safety goggles – to protect your eyes from falling limbs and other flyaway objects
  • Work gloves – specifically axe or woodcutters gloves, to protect your hands from blisters
  • A strong, thick rope long enough to tie tightly between two trees
  • Another person – to keep an eye on you while you work and call for help if the need arises

Preparation and Planning

Preparation is key to chopping a tree down with an axe safely and effectively. From where it will fall to how you will process or move it, you should have every step of the process clear in your mind before you take the first step.

Which Way Will It Fall?

To gauge the direction in which the tree will fall when you chop it down, see if it’s leaning in any particular direction. Could it potentially fall toward the home instead of away from it? Is there risk of damage to any nearby structures, byways or neighboring property?

If you’re chopping down a tree in the forest, check the surrounding foliage and terrain. Are there any nearby trees on which the felled tree might get caught on its way down? Are there any hills or gullies that might prevent it from landing as predicted? All of the contingencies you notice should be handled ahead of time before you ever take axe to wood.

lopsided tree

Not hard to imagine which way this tree would fall…

On the day of the planned tree-chopping, check the wind speed and direction as this can also significantly influence which way it will fall. If you have any doubt about this, ask an experienced arborist to advise you.

What Next?

Once the tree is felled, how do you plan to process or move it? Will you chop it up and split it on-site and haul it off in pieces? Will you rent a log hauler and carry it out of there? The reason you need to know this ahead of time is that the rotting and decay process, albeit slow, starts the moment the tree is severed from its roots.

The weather could further hasten that process, and, in the meantime, a host of insects and other critters could take residence and further the tree’s decay and destruction. If the tree is in the woods, do you have a plan for getting it out of there without destroying the surrounding foliage?

Doing It Right: How to Chop Down a Tree With an Axe

Once you’ve collected the proper tools, donned the necessary equipment and devised your plan, you’re ready to chop down this tree. Before proceeding, remember safety first. Be sure to inspect and clear the area of any bystanders, children or pets who may be in the path of the tree as it falls.

Double-check that there aren’t any new objects or equipment in the way that hand’t been there during your planning and preparation work. Check as well that there aren’t any limbs from other nearby trees or rocks or other objects in the path of your swinging as you chop. Once you’ve given the area the all-clear, it’s time to get to work.

Tie the rope

Tie one end to a high, thick branch of the tree you’re chopping down. Tie the other end to another tree or a large, heavy rock in the direction in which you’d like the tree to fall. Make sure that, wherever you tie this other end, it’s farther away than where the top of the tree will land. Make both knots tight and the rope between them taut.

Start chopping

There are two approaches to how to chop down a tree with an axe, both of which are quite similar with one marked difference: in one, you chop on one side alone; in the other, you chop on both sides.

In the first method, chop on the same side of the tree as the direction in which you wish it to fall. Chop slowly, in controlled motions, at an approximately 45-degree downward angle, as if to form one side of a “V” shape in the tree’s trunk.

As you chop, you won’t be striking the exact same spot each time, as if to saw a single slice through the chunk. Rather, you will be chopping out little wedges of the trunk in the vicinity of that general “V” shaped cut to produce an increasingly large and deep wedge-shaped gap.

In the second method, you will chop alternately on both sides of the tree, forming both sides of the “V” shape instead of just one. In this method, chop a wedge out of each side. First, chop a fat, 45-degree angle wedge on the side you wish the tree to fall. Take several controlled chops to form and deepen this wedge until it extends approximately one-third into the tree trunk. Then, chop a thinner and slightly less steeply-angled wedge on the opposite side a few inches above the first wedge.

The second wedge should cut deeper into the tree than the first wedge, ending a bit more than halfway through the tree. This will leave you with a small strip of wood remaining to hold the tree to its foundation. This narrow strip will act a hinge, of sorts, to help direct the tree into a more controlled fall, preventing the base from kicking up into the air while it drops. Optionally, using a felling wedge in the second cut is another way to make sure the tree drops in the direction you want.

Keep alert

Watch and listen closely for movement in the tree as it eventually start to pull apart on the opposite side from where you’ve been chopping (in method one) or losing stability in general (in method two). In method one, the tear that will form in the trunk on that side will complete the “V” shape you’ve been starting with the axe. Listen for cracks and groans coming from the tree as an indication to prepare to get out of the way before it falls. Regardless of your chopping method, observe the tree’s general stability at all times while keeping an eye occasionally glancing upward toward the top of tree to spot any leaning or swaying, all indications that the tree might be about to come falling.

Get Out the Way

felled tree falling

Once the tree is clearly starting to fall of its own weight without any more chopping necessary, make a perpendicular dash as far from it as you need to stay clear of its path. A perpendicular path away from the tree, to be clear, is a right angle from the direction in which it is falling, or crosswise.

If you must run in the direction directly opposite the direction in which the tree is falling, just be sure you’re either using the second method of chopping, which secures the base from kicking back into the air as the tree falls, or that you run far enough back to steer clear of the base in case it does kick back into the air.

Even running perpendicular to the direction of the tree’s fall, however, you should still overshoot your escape, since the limbs of a felled tree can cause it to swing around as it falls. While you’re protecting yourself, keep on the lookout for falling limbs or branches of other, nearby trees that break off after becoming entangled with the falling tree.

Process or Move It

The last step after chopping down a tree is cleaning up the mess you just made. Firstly, of course, this requires processing the tree, such as by chopping it into more manageable logs, or simply hoisting it away with some sort of motorized mover. Once this is accomplished, survey the area for any debris to clean up, particularly in areas where people or animals might be affected, but also paying heed to the natural landscape.

tree stump

Armed with this information and, of course, the right axe, you’re set to chop down any tree you come across. Just remember, when it’s all done, to treat your axe with proper care and safety precautions so that it and you are ready for next time. Clean it, being sure to dry it thoroughly if using any water or liquid cleaner, and stow it away safely where it’s protected from weather and pests and where children are protected from it.


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