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My First Complete DIY Tree Removal

A friend of mine had a tree in his front yard that he wanted removed. The tree had been topped many years ago and was not very healthy. He received a permit from the city to cut it down and he asked me to give him a hand. Having ran a rental business for many years, I have had the opportunity to deliver and demonstrate countless equipment rentals to customers that were working on some phase of a tree removal project. However, until this point, I have not had the opportunity to drop and dispose of a tree from start to finish in a way that left only firewood remaining. What a great opportunity to spend some first hand time operating a pole saw, chainsaw, wood chipper and stump grinder. As one can see from the images, my wife helped and posed for a number of photos.
My First Complete DIY Tree Removal

Step 1: Limbing The Tree

First we went rented a pole saw so that we could saw off some of the larger branches before dropping the whole tree. Since the tree was not super tall, we could have skipped this step and jump straight into chainsawing the tree, but I really wanted to try out the pole saw on a tree with larger limbs. Also, it was nice to have the branches removed first so that we could just focus on the tree trunk once the tree was down. Wow! What a cool tool. Basically the pole saw is a chainsaw on the end of a pole. I was surprised by how quickly it cut through the branches. It almost felt like it was faster than a chainsaw, but I think the reason it cut so fast was due to the way the branch was already pulling down at the base of the branch near the tree trunk and that preventing the binding that you would get when chainsawing on the ground.

What a great tool for cutting branches within the reach of the pole. I only had two concerns while operating the saw. First, that I positioned my body far enough away from the branch so that when it fell, I would not be in the way. Obviously. The higher the branch, the more vertical the saw pole will become. The manufacturer has recommended angles and distances, but we were working on a hillside so I had other positioning issues to contend with. Second, I was a bit concerned about the weight of the unit. It's not very heavy and it feels well balanced, but I still had to exert effort to place the saw into position. Once in position, I relied on gravity and maybe a little downward force to push the saw blade into the tree branch. Long story short, cutting branches was a lot of fun and I would have loved to keep cutting more branches, however, we ran out. Time to cut the tree down.

Next we cleared all the branches that I cut down with the pole saw. We separated them into two piles. Once pile for wood chipping, the other for firewood. Anything over 2 inches think was thrown into a pile for firewood and anything less than 2 inches was thrown into a pile so we could run it through the wood chipper.
Step 1: Limbing The Tree
Step 1: Limbing The Tree

Step 2: Felling The Tree

Before cutting into the tree we did several things. First we looked for any strange and uneven grouping of branches in the tree that could cause the tree to lean the wrong directing when falling. Next we inspected the tree for decay and rot that could cause the tree to buckle during cutting or cause the tree to alter course on the way down. We confirmed that the tree was straight and had no strange curves. We also checked the wind direction and general slant of the tree. Everything looked good. Since already limbed the tree, we did not have to worry about loose or dead limbs falling on us while cutting. We also confirmed that the fall area had no large trees where our tree could get hung up. Finally, we identified two escape paths that could be used in the event that the tree decided to fall in the wrong direction.

We made our undercut in the tree. This is the pie shaped wedge that is taken out of the tree that also sets the direction that we want the tree to fall. Then we made the back cut a little above the undercut. This releases the strain on the back side of the tree and allows it to topple over. We did not cut all the way through the tree. This is by design since we want the tree to have some material to use as a hinge. If we cut all the way through we could end up loosing directional control of the tree. We quickly got out of the way when the tree started to fall. It fell exactly where we wanted it.
Step 2: Felling The Tree

Step 3: Bucking

Next we began bucking the tree. Bucking is the process of cutting the tree into small manageable lengths that allow it to be transported out of the way. In our case, we were cutting the tree into 22" lengths so that the rounds (aka: logs) could be split using a hydraulic wood splitter. I was surprised by how long it took to cut the tree trunk into manageable pieces. Sure gave our chainsaws a workout also.

Once the tree was bucked, we loaded the rounds into his truck and drove them up the hill to the hydraulic wood splitter.
Step 3: Bucking

Step 4: Stump Grinding

Next we rented the 13 horsepower stump grinder and got it ready to start grinding down the stump. The stump grinder works best when the stump has been cut as close to the ground as possible. That way, we could focus our time and energy on grinding the stump below the ground. This machine allows us to go as low as 10 inches below the ground. The stump was about 24 inches in diameter and we used the chainsaw to cut the stump down to about 2 inches above ground.

Next, we created a level platform for the stump grinder to operate on. Since the tree was at the base of a hillside, we were always working at a little bit of an angle. This made it difficult to operate the stump grinder because the ground was a little muddy and the wheels kept getting buried or stuck. We position the grinding head over the corner of the stump and began grinding away about a half inch at a time while pivoting the head from right to left.

Once a large half moon shape had been carved into the stump then we re-position the head of the stump grinder closer to the remaining stump and continue the process.

Back and forth for what seemed like about an hour until the stump was gone and only the remains of some roots could be seen in the side of the hill. Normally stump grinding does not take this long, but the wet mud and the hillside made things take a lot longer.
Step 4: Stump Grinding
Step 4: Stump Grinding
Step 4: Stump Grinding

Step 5: Wood Chipping

Next, we rented the wood chipper / shredder and started in on the pile of branches that remained. We had already separated everything over 2 inches in diameter so that it could be used as firewood. Everything under 2 inches was then shredded. Slowly, one branch at a time, we shoved the branches down the wood chipper shoot. This trick with this wood chipper is to allow it to digest what has been put into the machine before adding too much more. This way, we keep the machine from getting plugged up.

It was nice to finally see, first hand, how an entire pile of branches can be reduced to saw dust. We ran it inconsistently for about 1.5 hours and finally got through the pile of debris. It didn't clog up even once. It's important to point out that we were also very patient with the machine and we did not put more into the shredder than it could handle at any given point in time. We know from experience with this machine that if we get impatient with it then it will be more likely to bog down and clog. This is because the revolving blades inside the machine work to break down the debris until it is small enough to fall through the holes under the shredding mechanism. If we add more debris while the machine is still working on existing debris then it will only slow down and possible clog.

Once the stack of branches was reduced to a pile of chippings we then placed the chippings in and around the stump hole as filler so that it was not such an obvious hole in the ground.
Step 5: Wood Chipping

Step 6: Mission accomplished

We loaded all of the rented equipment back up and headed to our respective homes for some much needed rest. Wow! Eliminating a tree is difficult work. I can't imagine how much harder it would be without the wonderful YardRents rental equipment and tools.
Step 6: Mission accomplished