Trees and Shrubs forum: I cut down half a pine tree by hand

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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
Feb 25, 2017 11:08 AM CST
All the broken trees in the last storm got me thinking. This tree came through fine. But it had two trunks with the larger one leaning toward the house and the smaller one leaning away. At its current size, it would not do much damage if it fell on the house, but it could grow taller fast.

I cut down the smaller trunk. I think that will cause the larger one to grow branches on the side that had been blocked by the smaller one, which may correct the lean. Feel free to give an opinion on whether that will work, vs, I should hire a professional to remove it.

The remaining trunk is over a foot wide near the ground. Elsewhere on my property, pines that thick at the base got up to nearly twice the height. So at its current size the little bit of lean is nothing for the strength of the trunk. I was mainly worried the big one would keep reaching further away from the smaller one if I did nothing. The other thing it should reach away from is an oak. If it does that, it should be weighted in a safe direction.

The one I cut down was 9 inches thick near the ground, and 7 inches thick 40 inches up where I cut it. It was 35 feet high and had a 15 foot wide span near the top. The remaining one is just a couple feet taller and its span near the top a few feet wider.

I used a little pruning saw and a hammer and chisel. I have a little electric chain saw. But I underestimated the size of the task and over estimated the danger and decided against the hassle of oiling it before use and cleaning it after.
With a pruning saw, you have very good feel for when a tree will finish the job on its own and can walk away. This tree had 30 seconds from when it started to finish on its own to when it fell. It also was very clear it was going in exactly the intended direction, so I just walked a short distance away, turned and waited.

I thought a pruning saw would do the job alone, with a diagonal cut downward from the side closer to the other trunk, so the lean (away from the other trunk) would relieve the pressure. No such luck. The cut quickly got too tight to move the saw in. I alternately used hammer and chisel to widen the side I was opening and to break a little notch out on the far side (which I couldn't do at all with a pruning saw because that side bound up before sawing half an inch. Anyway a sloppy and slow job for a 7 inch cut, but done.

Which brings me to another question: For the health of the tree (don't care about appearance) should I re-cut it lower and cleaner at some point with the little electric chain saw?

The top fell off the bigger one two years ago and it had been leaning a slightly safer direction before that (away from both the oak and the smaller one). It seems to have regained a lot of width near the top, but not a lot of height, since then. At some point a small branch near the top turns vertical, grows rapidly and replaces the trunk. But this tree seems delayed at doing that. If it breaks again at 35 feet up (as tends to happen more often than the whole tree going down) it isn't near enough to anything to do real harm. My only worry is that it would continue unbalanced growth enough to pull the whole tree over.
[Last edited by jsf67 - Feb 25, 2017 11:20 AM (+)]
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Minnesota (Zone 3b)
RpR
Feb 25, 2017 7:09 PM CST
jsf67 said:The top fell off the bigger one two years ago and it had been leaning a slightly safer direction before that (away from both the oak and the smaller one). It seems to have regained a lot of width near the top, but not a lot of height, since then. At some point a small branch near the top turns vertical, .

Not all trees do that. I know from experience. Some just get wide with a hollow center.
I have taken down and trimmed a fair number of trees from twenty to sixty feet high.
Just why are you doing all the doodling around work you are doing.
A good, sharp gasoline chainsaw, with a small blade, can handle trees and branches up to sixteen inches wide easily.

Removing the trunk of a true two trunk tree, will not cause it to grow branches where there were none before, with the possible exception of some species of evergreen trees but they will always look unbalanced.
Deciduous trees will set branches till they become a entwined maze.
Evergreens are shallow rooted, they are only as strong as the root system.
Evergreen trees are often trimmed up, i.e. low branches removed for simple reason of not having deal with annoying low branches and reduced wind resistance.
Evergreens flex better than deciduous trees and can bend over to a amazing degree without going over. The lower branches act like a wind dam in a storm meaning their is greater forced pushing on the shallow roots causing them to fall or permanently lean.
The good thing is evergreen trees often fall softly or just lean on buildings.

If you want a tree to fall a certain way you always notch it so it will fall that way.
I have seen expensive chain saw screwed up because some one did not think he had to notch a tree or branch.
If you are not certain a tree or branch will fall the way you want it to, you NEVER cut without another person on ropes to prevent it from going where it should not.
Deciduous trees are more susceptible to twist or kick back but even with evergreens, leaving something to chance is a disaster for misery if you do not have large clear fall area.

[Last edited by RpR - Feb 25, 2017 10:52 PM (+)]
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Eastern Massachusetts (Zone 5b)
jsf67
Feb 26, 2017 1:23 PM CST
RpR said:
Not all trees do that. I know from experience. Some just get wide with a hollow center.


THESE evergreens always do. Tops breaking off is very common. Two year delay in regaining significant height after the top breaks off is uncommon. But looking at all the other evergreens, I'm pretty sure it would be evident if any had a ten year delay in replacing a broken top. Nothing looks like that. So in a few years this one will regain the height it lost.

RpR said:Removing the trunk of a true two trunk tree, will not cause it to grow branches where there were none before,


I hope you're wrong. I'll try to remember to check again in a year. These trees seem to constantly grow branches and have them either break off or die. Lower branches tend to die. Upper branches tend to break off in heavy wet snow.

The side nearest where the other trunk was, has fewer branches. The dead branches extend higher up. The live branches are shorter. My many single trunk evergreens act the same way relative to nearby (up to ten feet away) trees that influence them. There are more and longer branches on the side away from the other tree. When all those branches fill with snow, the tree has a scary lean. Occasionally, that unbalanced snow load is enough to uproot the whole tree.

RpR said:but they will always look unbalanced.


There was a steady, not very strong, wind today that made the remaining trunk lean the opposite way from normal. So it is still flexible enough for that to shift. But it is snow, not wind that uproots these trees. If it had grown with just one trunk, I'm sure it would be unbalanced away from the oak. Very few of these trees are ever balanced. They all bend under unbalanced snow loads, then usually the top breaks off, but sometimes the whole tree comes down. Unbalanced in any direction, other than directly away from where I removed the smaller trunk, would be fine.

RpR said:Evergreen trees are often trimmed up, i.e. low branches removed for simple reason of not having deal with annoying low branches and reduced wind resistance.


Low branches die on their own quite fast, then dry out and snap off leaving ugly but otherwise insignificant stubs. If the trunk gets a lot of sun (very few do) new low branches will grow, then despite still getting sun will die once they reach a significant length, as if the tree can't make up its mind.

RpR said:If you are not certain a tree or branch will fall the way you want it to, you NEVER cut without another person on ropes to prevent it from going where it should not.


And get someone more reliable than my adult sons:

A few years ago, I put a rope 15 feet up a birch that was leaning toward the house, over to a 3 to 1 pulley of thinner rope attached to a stronger tree away from the house, with slack to pull on well out of range of the tree. I notched the side away from the house, then pulled in the rope hard enough to straighten the tree up (remove the lean toward the house) then asked my adult sons to hold the rope and take in any slack as the trunk got weaker. Then I started cutting the house side with my tiny electric chain saw, with my sons shouting complaints about how slow I was and how boring the task was. Then they shouted "call us when you really need us", dropped the rope and walked away. As the tree started to move, by reflex I jumped back still holding the chain saw (saving it). The tree swung surprisingly slowly as I backed further away, but didn't stop at its original lean, but slowly crunched up the wood above my cut to settle the top of the tree gently onto the roof, bending not breaking where I had tried to cut. No damage to the roof, but a much trickier removal job than if it had fallen correctly.

My brother in law was very mad at me (I think without justification) for an earlier incident in which I was on the rope and he brought his gas chain saw, to remove three pines sick enough it was a wonder they were still standing, with a very narrow range of safe angles to bring them down (and in his opinion contrary to your opinion, too tall, thin and sick for notching to be safe or helpful). First two, I attached a rope and put it under a lot of tension, then he walked over with the chain saw and cut part way through and had plenty of time to walk away as the uncut portion bent and the weight of the tree added to my pull and each dropped exactly where I aimed. Third time, I attached a rope and put it under a lot of tension, then he walked over with the chain saw and the root ball popped up and the tree went over fast before he touched it, which was scary with him that close. But he had approached from correct side and wasn't actually in danger. It went down too fast for me to take in slack, and landed a few degrees off target on a small tree I hadn't meant to destroy. But if anything that close to target angle had really mattered I would have hired professionals. 45 or more degrees wrong in one direction would have taken out my power line and 45 or more wrong in the other would hit my neighbor's porch. But I did the math on the rope system and more than 20 degrees off target was impossible.

[Last edited by jsf67 - Feb 26, 2017 1:37 PM (+)]
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