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anyone used a chain saw to top a tree?

Posted on 2011-09-20
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I have a tree to cut down. The guy across the street has cut trees before, topped them, etc. with ladders, without ladders, climbing, etc.

There is a nearby cable line that is about 33 feet from the base of the tree.
The tree is right beside the house.

We discussed the wedge that would be cut on the side, pointing in the direction of where we want the tree to land.

Then the hinge that would be left.

I read that the wedge should be 1/3 into the tree, and a 45 degree angled wedge.
Then on the other side, cut down, at a 45 degree angle, about 2 inches above the wedge.

The guy says the whole thing will fall down, parallel to the ground.
How can this be if there is a wedge?
Or if he is unable to complete the cut?

He plans to stand on the edge of my roof and make the final cut to top the tree.

He swears the top can not touch the wire.
If the top of the tree to be cut is close to, or longer than, 33 feet, how can it miss the wire that is 33 feet away?
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Question by:nickg5
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Gday from Oz

What you are visualising the tree to do, and what it does are 2 different things. If the tree has a lean, or picks up wind such as a pine tree you may have some issues. How tall is the tree, how thick is the trunk, how much gap between the houses. It may be smarter to lop it if possible, but chainsaws can be bad news when used unsafely (ie unbalanced positions on roofs, or above the head).

When you make you initial cuts, particularly the second on 'fall' side, ensure you leave enough 'meat' to help control the fall and direction. The meat may act to help twist the tree in its collapse, as well as prevent it from falling on the 'lean' side if is leaning.

Wegdes may also help, particularly if the tree does have a slight lean. Wedges also help for larger diameter trees to stop your saw getting clamped before or as the tree collapses.

A rope near the top that extends twice (important for safety) the height of the tree may be used to help guide the descent.  Check youtube to see why not to tie off short ropes to 4WD's.

The glory of complete tree fell, vs pruning is much greater, although you still have to clean up a big mess and run the risk of very expensive damage to yours or your neighbors property.  Go practice in the forest if you need to get your chainsaw tree felling skills up.  Your neighbor may be able to react to adverse situations that arise in seconds. The same amount of time it takes for a tree to descend on 2 houses.

Cheers
A
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by:Thibault St john Cholmondeley-ffeatherstonehaugh the 2nd
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This page looks quite good, it's a nice balance between those that say anyone can do it and those that say you will die if you attempt it without professional training.

I think a trained person to operate a chain saw is probably a good idea, but this page also goes into the 45 degree notch to decide which way the tree should fall, the use of wedges to assist the fall and help control the direction should the tree start to turn from the expected line, and the all important escape route (not directly behind the tree as it could kick back when branches hit the ground or anything else)


http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/safety/ae1025w.htm
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referring to my question, what is your opinion on the geometry of this?

If the top of the tree to be cut is close to, or longer than, 33 feet, how can it miss the wire that is 33 feet away?
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by:nickg5
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And will the top fall parallel to the ground (like the guy says) whether the final cut leaves a hinge, or not?
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If the tree is 35 feet above the cut and the wire is 35 feet away from the trunk I would think that it would be close enough to the wire to worry about it.
If he makes the cut at roof level will there be less than 33 feet of tree falling? Maybe that's how he calculates that it will miss the wire?

Not understanding 'parallel to the ground', is the suggestion that the top of the tree will turn through 90 degrees until the trunk is horizontal, then the fat end will begin to fall at the same speed as the top?
It could happen, whilst the top is resting and pivoting on the base the base is supporting it and the middle part of the tree will be acting as a hinge until the fibres finally separate. When the top is over at 90 degrees, the top will no longer be over the base, except for maybe an inch or so, and the fibres in the middle will break allowing the fat end of the top to fall straight down. ( A picture would explain that much better, I'll try to draw one if necessary). It 'could' happen that way, somebody with a lot of experience will probably know for certain, but with my lack of experience except with small trees I would allow myself to expect that it could fall in different ways.
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by:nickg5
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let me look for a photo on one of my previous questions to explain what I mean by the top of the tree falling parallel to the ground.
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by:nickg5
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look at the two photos here:
http://www.experts-exchange.com/Other/Math_Science/Q_27216645.html

I asked if the top would fall parallel to the ground.

paulsauve said:
that D (the distance from the trunk to the person on the rope) must be less than the length of the tree top which he called H.

In my case we will have someone on a rope, but in this case, D is the distance of the trunk to the cable TV line.

The tree cutter says the top will drop parallel to the ground and not hit the wire.
I am not certain on the wire not being in play.

Also, if a wedge is cut on the "fall" side, and then the guy stands on my roof and makes the downward cut:
1. If he does not cut it all the way through, there may be a hinge left and the hinge causes some backward motion that causes the butt of the tree top, the heavy end, to hit the house.
2. I assume that if he makes a complete cut, that yes, the tree top will fall parallel to the ground.

Geometry enters the picture since a triangle is formed by the tree top, the level where the cut will be made and the level of the cable TV line. If the top droops down because there is a hinge left after the cut, then the length of the tree top, only has to fall far enough, so it's length is less than the distance D (as it begins to fall, and the tip passes near the wire, and once past the wire then the length H is not a factor)

Conversely, if the cut is clean and there is no hinge, then the tree top should fall parallel to the ground. In that case, D must not exceed H. (right?)
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by:Bob Stone
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Sorry, but this reads like the beginning of a Darwin Award.

Having been a profressional tree trimmer when I was younger I can tell you the geometry of these types of cuts are a lot more difficult than they may first appear. If this is your first attempt at trimming a tree then this is an unsurmountable learning curve. Trees are notorious for falling exactly the way you don't want them to, kind of a farewell f**k you when you cut them down.

It isn't clear how tall the tree is and without some sort of fairly accurate measurement or a lot of experience doing this sort of work it is very difficult to accurately guestimate the hieght.

I would get at a few more people, some strong people with ropes to guide it down and at least one comfortable with climbing the tree to take it down in smaller bits from the top.

Good luck and I hope no one is injured and you do no property damage. With that in mind, it may just be cheaper in the long run to hire a professional.
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by:sdstuber
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you can't make an instaneous cut, fast yes, instant no.

therefore there WILL be a hinge, the top will begin falling as soon as you begin cutting.
it will start as minor sagging but that is still the start of the the fall

Since this is your second thread on this topic, you're obviously concerned about getting this tree felled properly.  

If you have concerns, bring in a professional.
In particular, licensed, bonded & insured.  
If something goes wrong, you'll be covered.

if your neighbor hits a wire and/or your house,  what will you and he do?

I felled a tree for my inlaws with the stipulation that I was allowed to crush anything and everything in a full 360 degree circle around the tree.

The tree dropped exactly where I wanted it to go, but there was no way I could guarantee that would happen.

Please be careful
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by:Jim Dettman (Microsoft MVP/ EE MVE)
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<<Good luck and I hope no one is injured and you do no property damage. With that in mind, it may just be cheaper in the long run to hire a professional. >>

 Can't second that enough.  I had a 60 footer with a driveway only 6' from it with a landscaping / retaining wall.  On the other side was my neighbors garden about 10' away.

  He dropped it section by section working from a bucket.  Each section was about 6' long and he never missed once putting it into a couple of square feet right next to the tree.

  You can't beat a professional for something like this and it's well worth the money.  Most don't realize how much damage a tree can do if it heads the wrong way.  Is your friend insured?  Keep in mind that if he takes out the cable line, you could end up being libel for the cost of repairs.

  And if you do leave a hinge and don't place it properly or cut it right, the top part may arc over and end up parallel to the tree (if the hinge doesn't break).

  Tree felling is a fine art that requires many years of practice.  Do yourself a big favor and hire someone that has the equipment to do the job right and is insured.

My .02
Jim.
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by:sdstuber
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Also note, regardless of who/how the actual cutting occurs...

You should call your local utility company before attempting any trimming near lines.

If necessary they can disconnect power during the project.
They may also do the trimming themselves if there is a danger to the utility integrity.
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by:nickg5
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Our cable company does not trim trees.
If I call them the day before the job, they will come out, at no charge, and lower the cable wire to the ground.
Then when we are through I can call them and they come back and re-connect (raise the wire).

The guy who owns the chain saw is experienced.
He can use a ladder to make the wedge cut. We plan to have two persons on a rope to influence the fall direction.
Then his plan is to stand on top of the roof and make the cut that causes the tree to fall. The tip of the roof is 14 feet off the ground.

I'll post measurements as soon as I can.

There is a 90 degree window in which the tree can not damage anything but the cable TV wire. If a wedge is cut in the middle of the 90 degree window, I can not visualize how the tree can fall outside the 90 degree area.

I've cut over 10 limbs as large as 5 inch diameter, already, on these two slender black walnut trees. The point of even doing that, was that I can not afford a professional. The small tree was topped yesterday using a rope saw. Borrowing a relative's chain saw will cut the rest at ground level. Height is now 20 feet on the smaller tree.
The larger tree has 2 small limbs and then two larger sections that would basically be called the "top."
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by:sdstuber
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If you're not going to hire somebody, and you trust your neighbor to do it for you
and you've already got a plan for the wire and you've already decided you can pull the limbs in the direction you want....

Then, what is the question?

If you're looking for external confirmation that you're doing the right thing, I don't think you'll get it here.

Your description sounds like you're trying to be careful.
However, without a professional inspection of all variables, nobody here can say "yes, it'll all turn out ok"
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by:nickg5
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The question is at the top:
And here:

The guy says the whole thing will fall down, parallel to the ground.
How can this be if there is a wedge?
Or if he is unable to complete the cut?

He plans to stand on the edge of my roof and make the final cut to top the tree.

He swears the top can not touch the wire.
If the top of the tree to be cut is close to, or longer than, 33 feet, how can it miss the wire that is 33 feet away?
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by:sdstuber
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>>> He swears the top can not touch the wire.

Is that on one Bible or two?  :)

but seriously...  the rest of your text sound like you believe him.

however you're right 33 feet >= 33 feet,  the gemometry is simple
if 33 feet of tree falls in the direction of a wire 33 feet away, then the wire will get hit.
however, your measurements are estimates and vague, so the "knowns" aren't reliable.

It will depend on the exact length of cut, height of cut, distance and height of wire, direction of fall,  direction of twist at the base during partial cut and any mid-air tumbling once in free-fall, direction and speed of drift from wind or obstacles (such as hitting branches below or bouncing off of the house)

So, yes it "might" hit,  but nobody here can tell you for sure.
Especially since height measurement of your tree is only an estimate and easy to misjudge.
And all twists and tumbles are unknown.

The point everyone is trying to make isn't to give you the run around.  We're trying to emphasize that we don't know and CAN'T know anything for sure.   So, if you have any uncertainty,  you should get an expert  ON SITE to do the trimming.

If your neighbor is your expert, then I guess go with that.  
If you don't trust his judgement then he's not your expert.

So, who do you trust?  Your neighbor and yourself?

Or people remotely on the internet that can't see the tree, the house, the wire, the wind conditions, any other obstructions that you haven't mentioned, nor do we have any knowledge of the quality of the tools involved, the skills of those using those tools, the abilities of any others involved.  

Even an expert on site with professional, accurate measurements will still admit to at least some level of uncertainty.  

If every tree-trimmer could absolutely guarantee that nothing would ever go wrong, then there would be no need for insurance for their jobs.   Since there is, that means sometimes, despite all best intentions, things do go wrong.

Please be careful.
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Here's my explanation of how it 'could' fall parallel to the ground. Please excuse the rough effort, I hand drew it with mspaint.

A shows the first 45 degree wedge cut on the side you hope it will fall, and the second cut from the opposite side.

B shows the tree starting to fall, it is flexing on a hinge that is roughly the width of the tree so if the fibres are flexible enough to bend before snapping the tree should fall toward the wedge.

C shows the tree now at 45 degrees, the wedge cut has closed and the tree is falling with some momentum now so should continue in the same direction as the hinge fibres finally break and the tree now levers on the outside edge of the closed wedge cut.

D shows the tree parallel to the ground. All the remaining fibres have separated, the tree's direction is toward the ground and there is nothing supporting the cut section as it is now free of the trunk it was cut from. With no support and with the downward momentum the only way it should fall is straight down and probably remaining horizontal.




For the 33 ft clearance, if the distance is between the base of the tree and directly below the wires, the cut section is 33 feet long/high, and the cut is below the height of the wires then there will be clearance as the top will fall in an arc. See the lower diagram.

tree-cut.JPG
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by:nickg5
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There is a 90 degree fall area that will result in no damage to fence or house.
To add the wooden fence, to the fall area, would provide a 180 degree area.

The point at which the tree is closest to the cable TV line, would be exactly at the 45 degree point.

I'll measure the distances from the tree, to the points on the ground, beneath the cable TV line, at these points.
Far left, far right, middle, half way between right and middle, half way between left and middle.
So, the 0, 22.5, 45, 67.5, 90 degree fall points will be covered.

And measure the height of the cable line.
 
I think the chain saw guy eye balled the height of the cable line, and assumed, maybe wrongly, without further measuring, that the arc of the falling tree top would clear the cable line.

Let me get measurements and maybe a photo.

RobinD:
In your top photo, the distance for the tree top to fall to the ground, if it falls parallel to the ground, is 18 feet.
In your bottom photo, there is clearly room for the "arc" of the tree top to miss the wire.

I was planning to keep removing limbs. That may be the plan, not sure.

I got into a bind with the latest one, and the 2 guys came over and used the rope saw, and it limped down on a hinge. It took 2 of us to pull it loose from the hinge. I was under the limb and the blade would bind off, back and forth, from one side to another. Being 24 feet down, I could not see the bind off.

It cut great with 2 persons, one on each rope, which we have discussed before.

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by:Jim P.
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It seems the issue is determining the height of the tree and how high up you will cut.

How to Measure the Height of a Tree

Once you determine the height of the tree, and the roof height -- a lot of these questions become less academic.

So if you determine the height of the tree at 40 feet, and the roof height at 14 feet for the point of cut then you have less than 26 feet of tree dropping.
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There are 3 things that can happen when the final, downward cut, on the side opposite the wedge, is made:
1. the top falls to the ground and the hinge does not break.
2. the top falls and the person doing the cutting, makes a complete cut, so the section of tree falls parallel to the ground.
3. the top hits the ground, and at that point, the hinge breaks.

#1 and #2 are both good and desirable results.
#3 is not, and only the guy on the chain saw can cause #3 to be a possibility, by not completing the cut.
I would want him to cut through the hinge so it breaks, before, or as, the top is heading down. This entire process won't take 10 seconds.

If the top hits the ground and then the hinge breaks, where can the heavy end, the butt, of the tree section go?
It can not do alot of pushing on the tree top, as if to drive it under ground a few feet.

The heavy end may spring backward some, and backward is 4 feet to the fence, 2-3 feet to the house and windows, 2 feet from the gas meter line.

This guy appears to get upset when you refuse his help. I'm not questioning his experience using chain saws. But, he stated that he would not be responsible for any damage to my house. If there is any doubt in his mind, that he can drop the tree top without damage, he should refrain from volunteering to do the job.

The cut will be made about 17-18 feet off the ground. If the hinge breaks, when the top hits the ground, there is no clarity on what happens to the butt of the section of tree.

I've never used a chain saw, so when the wedge is made, and the the downward cut on the opposite side is begun, I do not know if it is very, very, plausible for him to keep cutting for a couple seconds after he hears the crack of wood. To keep cutting would break the hinge and the whole thing should fall close to parallel to the ground.
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In one of the links I read it said that the person holding the saw should move away down his 45 degree line of retreat as soon as the tree starts to move. The suggestion was that the tree was coming down now anyway and there wouldn't be much if anything that could be done to change its direction. Staying close sounds unnecessarily dangerous.
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I read that, where the downward cut should be 2 inches above the wedge, and downward at a 45 degree angle. Then, when you hear the cracking of wood, turn the chain saw off, set it on the ground, and move away at a 45 degree angle, away from where the tree will fall.

The guy said he would make the cut from the top of my roof, and not standing on the ground. We'll have persons pulling on a rope to make sure it falls in the 90 degree window.
He then mentioned the use of a ladder. He has alot of land and has cut alot of trees. I doubt many have been 2 feet from a house.
I could easily remove the fence to add another 90 degrees to the fall area.
I can put boards up over the windows and concrete blocks around the gas meter.

I am very sure this slender tree, will fall near the middle of the 90 degree window. The issue is whether the hinge breaks when the top hits the ground.
That is the point at which I am not clear what will happen.
I think he can cause the hinge to break by keeping the blade on the wood 1-2 seconds past the break (crack).

I doubt the two of us can pull the rope hard enough to influence the butt of the section of tree. It is too heavy, I think.
Unless our rope is tied maybe 3 feet above the cut, and we pull it away from the tree and house.

I may proceed and remove the remaining limbs, etc. using my rope saw.
Then there won't be anything to top. The two trees can fall, without coming close to the cable line.
My Uncle loaned me his chain saw, but I will not use the saw, unless I am standing on the ground. To to it that way, requires the tops to be reduced.
I've previously posted photos of what is left.
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The top section would be about 17 feet off the ground. The guy with the saw would be standing on the roof, 14 feet off the ground. So, he will be at eye level or waist level, the same way he would be, if he was cutting it from below.
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In my hand drawn diagrams above, the hinge is severely strained if not broken at pic C and is separated in pic D. If it hangs together at C then I suppose there is a possiblility of the tree rolling sideways and falling unpredictably, or maybe it could hold and the top bends like a spring which could be quite nasty when it snaps as the butt end would most likely fly off somewhere and fast.
In one of the links it said that if the desired direction of fall was not the natural angle ie the tree is leaning in a different direction then a combination of ropes to pull it and two metal wedges hammered into the second sawcut would be used to encourage the correct direction of fall.
I can only really imagine the hinge not breaking if the lower (upright) part of the tree started to split and tear so it didn't separate from the top.
 
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Here is a photo of the way I read an article, about cutting the wedge, etc.

The wedge should be 30% into the "fall" side, and both sides of the wedge should be at 45 degree angles. Then on the other side, go up 2 inches and cut down, at a 45 degree angle.

It looks like if it is done that way, then the wedge in your photo C, would not be parallel to the ground. The 45 degree wedge literally forces the tree to fall that way.

Based on what I am thinking and seeing with this tree and the surroundings, is that I want the hinge to break clean, so the tree can fall horizontal to the ground. Or the hinge does not break. I think the guy on the saw, can help the hinge break, before the top hits the ground, by continuing to cut a second or two and get the hinge so thin, it has to break.
File0351cut.jpg
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by:XGIS
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Any chance of a photo of the tree?
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by:nickg5
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will post photo and all measurements of height of tree, height of cable wire, etc.
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by:Jim Dettman (Microsoft MVP/ EE MVE)
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You might find this helpful.  Basic stuff which I'm sure your friend knows, but may be of interest to you.

Jim.

 firstpage.pdf
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JDettman:
Ok, that says let the cut be made 2 inches up above the wedge, but with a straight cut.
And it says make sure to leave a hinge.

This wood is not that strong.
I am concerned that with the cut being made about 18 feet off the ground, that if the hinge breaks when the top hits the ground, that the back end of the tree top will go backwards toward house, fence, etc.

Here are 4 photos.

The first one shows the cable TV line from the street and where it connects to the neighbors house. On that same photo, the lower arrow is the smaller tree that has already been topped and ready to bring down. The upper arrow shows the taller tree, and it is heaviest over the house, due to that large limb on the left, and the tree is leaning slightly toward the house.

The second photo has points A, B, C.
A. The smaller tree that has already been topped, and the height of that tree is 24 feet. This height is used to estimate the height of the other tree.
B. The larger tree that needs to be topped, I think.
    1. Either by the guy with the chain saw cutting it about 17 feet off the ground.
    2. Or by me using my rope saw to cut the limbs you see on the left side of the larger tree.
C. This point is 34 feet from the ground. (14 feet from ground to roof, and 20 feet from roof to point C)

The third photo has points A, B, D, E, F.
A. and B. Same as photo 2.
D. The level of the roof which is 14 feet up.
E. Is the top of the smaller tree. This is 24 feet from the ground. The cut on the larger tree is expected to be made about 7 feet below that point.

So, the height of the larger tree with it's two large branches going left and right, as you see in photo 2, is estimated to be 50 feet, and that includes the limpy, leavy, top seen on the right.
Since the cut to top the tree, is planned for 17 feet off the ground, that leaves the height to be cut at near 33 feet.

Photo four is showing the tree and it's distance from the wire, at the two ends and the middle.
The tree is 45 feet from the wire as it crosses into my lot.
The tree is 47 feet from the a/c unit on the neighbor's house.
The cable TV wire is, at it's lowest point, is 12 feet off the ground.
The tree is 36 feet from the cable line at it's closest point.

This brings back part of the question.
And I can not tell the distance from the top of the tree to the cable TV line, as the top would fall.
If the 33 foot section of tree will fall, and enter the airspace occupied by the cable wire, then the question is whether the tree will hit the wire.
With the cable line only 12 off the ground, it appears there is enough clearance for the tree top to miss the wire, since the distance from bottom of the tree, to the wire is 36 feet.

The "arc" as the tree top falls (and this arc would be part of an imagined circle) seems like it may be small enough to clear the wire.
 
Anyone good at Geometry?
If the wire was lying on the ground it would be 36 feet from the base of the tree. But, the wire is 12 feet off the ground and the 33 foot section of tree to be cut, is 17 feet off the ground. Will tree top miss the wire as it arcs down?

I also need to learn how to use Paint. The red paint brush is very hard to control.
new-trees-009.JPG
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new-trees-003.JPG
File0352rrr.jpg
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by:Jim Dettman (Microsoft MVP/ EE MVE)
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<<Ok, that says let the cut be made 2 inches up above the wedge, but with a straight cut.
And it says make sure to leave a hinge.>>

  I'm sure their are a variety of methods each appropriate in certain circumstances.  Can't tell you one way or another.   I've done a couple of tree's and have worked with others felling them, but I am by no means knowledgeable on the subject.   But I remembered that their was some stuff in the chain saw manual and thought it might be helpfull.

<<This wood is not that strong.
I am concerned that with the cut being made about 18 feet off the ground, that if the hinge breaks when the top hits the ground, that the back end of the tree top will go backwards toward house, fence, etc. >>

  That's where the experience comes in; knowing the different techniques and the types of woods and how they behave.   What you see in the manual is for bring a tree down in one fell swoop.  

Jim.
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The smaller tree has already been topped, and it has to be cut down before doing the taller one. So, cutting that one from the ground level, will let me see how the guy is going to cut his wedge, etc. And how accurately the wedge, and cut, influences the falling. All this before we do the larger tree.

At one time he mentioned using a ladder. If so, he'd be in the line of fire, if the butt of the tree top was to go backward. This is why I was hoping the hinge would not break at all, or it would break long before the tree top has a chance to hit the ground, and cause backward motion.
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by:Jim Dettman (Microsoft MVP/ EE MVE)
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<<At one time he mentioned using a ladder. If so, he'd be in the line of fire,>>

 Sounds like a recipie for disaster to me.

Jim.
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The tree needs to be topped, maybe, and a ladder, or the saw guy leaning over the edge of the roof, are the ways. He has no bucket truck.
This whole thing started weeks ago as I was planning to cut all the lower limbs off, with a rope powered chain saw. I have other threads on that. And all that is over.
Maybe his chain saw is 18 inches or longer, and he can just stand there 14 feet up and cut it. I could not. I have access to a 14 inch chain saw and will not use it from the roof or on a ladder, per the Uncle who loaned it to me.
If he stands on the roof and the wedge has already been cut on the other side, and he can cut around waist level, then he should be ok, as he just backs away from the edge of the roof. The cut will be about 3 feet above the roof. Some risk there, that the butt backs up onto the roof, but I doubt it.
Fence sections, that are not being used, will be placed along the house to protect the brick and windows.
I'm planning to try to cut the limb that extends over the house. That limb makes the weight lean over the house.
Then again the cable company said they would come out and lower the cable line to the road, if given a day's notice.
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by:nickg5
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Good news that one is down and safely. At least you know roughly what to expect from the larger one now.
Remember to make sure that the ropes are plenty long enough so that when the tree is falling the people on the ends of them are well clear of the landing area - I know it's been said before, but could be forgotten in the excitement of everything else being prepared and wires being lowered.

Rotation could have been caused by balance or the relief of stress - there is no rule to say the tree is in balance just because it is standing up by itself. Wood is strong stuff and the tree may have grown heavy on one side but still be supported by the lower part of the trunk. Also, removing several of the branches could have set up stresses in the trunk which would be too strong to bend to relieve them until it was cut half way through.

Stay safe and good luck with the other piece.
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If the level of the pointed end of the wedge was perfectly parallel to the ground, and the guy's back side cut was not parallel, that would cause rotation (??)

He either cut un-evenly, or he pulled his saw back too quick.
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XGIS:
When you make you initial cuts, particularly the second on 'fall' side, ensure you leave enough 'meat' to help control the fall and direction. The meat may act to help twist the tree in its collapse, as well as prevent it from falling on the 'lean' side if is leaning.

The above seemed to happen on the small tree that was cut down today.
Something made the tree rotate, and it just missed the edge of the roof, though 14 feet of the 24 foot tree, was below the level of the roof.
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Cutting unevenly could cause it, if it got to say an inch remaining on one side and three or four on the other you can imagine the thin side parting first and allowing the tree to turn.
Wood does have its own internal stresses though, as the tree grows and branches develop there will be some tremendous forces trying to bend the trunk and it will grow thicker to support itself. As more branches develop the balance could change and as the trunk thickens some more these new growing fibres are stressed differently to the earlier ones. When the weight of the top of the tree is removed, this area of the trunk will be full of bunches of fibres all pulling in different directions.
Even something like building a house next to an existing tree can cause it to grow differently to seek the sunlight from a different angle and could cause stresses in the existing growth.
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