Hung up trees: They are undoubtedly the most frustrating part of tree felling. Nothing can put more of a damper on your time in the woods than having to push, yank and tug on a half-fallen tree stubbornly wedged in the limbs of another. But don’t get too bent out of shape. There are several methods of dealing with the problem, and with practice (and maybe the right equipment), you’ll be able to fell a hung-up tree in an instant. In this article, we will discuss these methods in order of ease and convenience (easiest first). But first, let’s talk safety.
The Safety of Hung-Up Trees
There is a misconception that hung-up trees are incredibly dangerous. All activities involving a chainsaw and falling trees are inherently dangerous (take a look at the diagram on the bottom of this article), but I reject the idea that hung up trees are uniquely dangerous. Most danger in tree falling comes from unpredictability. Once a tree is leaning more than 15 degrees, most of the unpredictability is eliminated. The tree is going in the direction of lean (plus or minus some rolling), and that’s that. The danger in tree hang ups comes not from the physics itself, but from the bad decisions you make as a result of your frustration. Emotions can get the best of us, especially when already fatigued, and few things can elicit as much emotion and fatigue as a stubborn tree. Thus, it is crucial to keep a cool ahead and approach the situation rationally. Leave the scene to cool down if you have to. The tree isn’t going anywhere, and if it does, problem solved.
The most common bad decision people can make in frustration is to cut the standing tree the felled tree is stuck on. DO NOT CUT THE STANDING TREE IT IS STUCK ON. As mentioned earlier, a hung-up tree has limited unpredictability, which means it WILL fall toward you if you cut the tree it is leaning on. Moreover, the extra forces levered on the standing tree increase tension and compression in different areas across the stem, meaning the potential for unpredictability is INCREASED there. In short, there is absolutely no safe way to fell a hung-up tree by felling the standing tree it is stuck on. Don’t do it, though it may be tempting.
With that important note out of the way, let’s begin
1. Felling Levers
Felling levers are by far the easiest way of dealing with and preventing lightly hung up trees. They are a truly necessary tool for tree felling. They don’t always work, of course, but they provide the optionality of two methods for getting trees unstuck. If you don’t have one, save yourself countless hours and headaches and buy one. Seriously.
Felling levers are incredibly simple tools. They are essentially small wedges with long handles you stick in the back cut that allow you to push or lift the tree past any obstacles, be they branches or gravity. This is especially handy when felling young, dense stands where hang-ups are the result of mere branch and twig friction. However, if you get used to using one, you will likely find they are a superior method of felling trees for many situations. I usually use a lever successfully in 90% of instances when a tree doesn’t drop immediately. Rarely do I finish the job with wedges as most do.
Admittedly, the greatest utility of a felling lever isn’t in getting trees unstuck, but in preventing trees from hanging up in the first place. beginning a descent with a felling lever helps the tree gain a lot more velocity and momentum in less time versus gravity alone, so it has more ability to push past trees and branches as it falls. Once the tree is stuck, it loses its momentum, at which point getting the tree down is considerably harder.
As mentioned earlier, felling levers provide the optionality of utilizing methods of felling hung up trees, so even if the lever itself is ineffective, they still give you the ability to roll the tree.
2. Rolling the Tree Out
Most felling levers come with an attached cant hook, which allow you to hook on to a log and roll it in one direction or another. If a hung-up tree is caught on the edge of branches or beside a main stem (not in a crotch), it can usually work to use the felling lever’s can’t hook to roll the tree in the direction of least resistance. However, to do so effectively requires slight modifications to the hinge and possibly severing the tree entirely. Here’s how to do it safely.
As it is (assuming you felled the tree correctly), the tree will be attached to a linear hinge, which will prevent the tree from rolling. To allow the tree to twist, we have to transform the hinge into a pivot point. To do this, first determine the direction of roll, then cut about 15% into the edge of the hinge on the side the tree will roll toward. This is the side that is likely under compression, so making a small cut will release the compression and prevent your saw from pinching.
Next, it is important to position yourself on the opposite side of anticipated roll, as making the next cut could cause the tree to release and roll rapidly, in which case you need to be out of the way. Once in a safe position, commence the second cut on the side opposite to the direction of roll. Cut in enough to leave a small pivot point for the stem, but not enough to sever the stem entirely. See the diagram below for reference.
Once these cuts are made, the tree can roll freely and may fall without any further assistance, but most of the time, the tree will still require encouragement. Simply use the cant hook to grab onto the side of the stem and use the lever to roll it to the side as seen below. Again, be sure to stand on the side away from the direction of roll.
If you are still having trouble, try severing the stem completely from the side of the second cut as shown above and roll it again. The next methods will require the stems to be severed anyway, and occasionally the stem may give enough after it is severed to come down. Otherwise, the next two methods are guaranteed to get the tree down.
3. Using a Winch or Log Dolly
If all else fails, the preferred method to fell a hung-up tree is to use a winch or log dolly to pull the tree out of the branches of the tree it is stuck on. Unfortunately, this method requires the use of expensive equipment. However, if you fell trees often, making the investment in this equipment is probably a good idea, as it really does make life easier when felling a hung-up tree.
Using a winch to fell a hung up tree is fairly straight forward. a choker or pair of tongs is placed at the base of the severed stem, and the tree is pulled in the opposite direction of felling. In other words, the tree is pulled out of the branches from its base. Virtually any winch can work for this, be it attached to an ATV or a made to be portable. You can also use a come-along, though they are not as versatile.
I prefer log dollies over winches for their speed, ease of use, and mobility, but they are a more specialized piece of equipment, and they tend to be more expensive. A log dolly is a log arch on wheels with a lever that allows you to pick up on the base of the log and pull. In most cases, as soon as the base of the tree is lifted, the tree will simply slide back and fall out of the tree it is stuck in. It makes the process almost effortless, and it is a must-have piece of equipment when cutting in younger, denser stands.
4. Bucking the Hung-Up Tree
Finally, we have the least desirable method to fell a hung-up tree: Bucking. However, because it requires no additional equipment other than a chainsaw, it may be your only option. The method works by incrementally cutting off small pieces of wood from the stem until either the angles change sufficiently to pull the tree out or the weight of the tree is sufficiently reduced to eliminate the friction or allow you to manually pull the tree out. The reason this is not a desirable method is because it could require you to damage the wood products you are harvesting. If you are cutting firewood, cutting off small pieces of the stem may not be a big deal, but if you are harvesting sawtimber, a lot of product is effectively ruined. Additionally, if the tree is really stuck, bucking the stem won’t be able to get the tree out until almost the entire stem is cut up. Thus, it is a time consuming and annoying method of dealing with the problem. Nonetheless, it may be your only choice.
To buck a hung-up tree, cut a small wedge on the side of compression, which will be the top side. Then you can come in from the bottom and cut the tree toward the apex of the wedge. The wedge allows room for the compression of the tree to collapse in on itself and let the tree fall as you cut. Continue the process going up the stem until the tree falls, but watch out for the tree as it falls, and only cut small pieces at a time. Never hold the chainsaw above your waist when bucking, otherwise your control of the saw and thus safety is compromised.
Best Method: Don’t Get the Tree Hung-Up
Genius, right? Though obvious, it bears repeating. Even with the methods listed here, Felling a hung-up tree and getting it unstuck is a pain and takes time. Thus it pays great dividends to take your time when setting your notch and hinge to ensure you have the best possible aim and setup. This is especially true when you have a lot of trees to fell and you want to do it quickly. It can be easy to rush the job and create even more hassle. Resist the urge. Take your time, practice the art of felling, and always be safe!