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Cutting Tree Limbs Safely


Cutting Large Tree Limbs is Dangerous Business


By Mark J. Donovan


Recently I decided to cut down a large tree limb on my property that was obstructing my view of Lake Winnipesaukee. The tree limb was about 8 inches in diameter and extended outward from a large oak tree by about 30 feet. In addition, it was situated about 25 feet off the ground. Consequently, when sitting on my deck the tree limbed obstructed the view of the lake significantly.


Instead of hiring a professional to cut the tree limb down, I chose to cut the tree limb myself using nothing more than a ladder and a tree pole saw.



I had contemplated using a chainsaw but felt uncomfortable with the idea of being 25 feet up on a ladder with a chainsaw and a massive falling tree branch.


Using the pole tree saw was slow and arduous, particularly because of the angle and position I had to cut the tree limb from. However after about 30 minutes of work and a gallon of sweat, I was making good progress, at least until I got to the sad point where the tree branch bound the pole saw. No matter how hard I tried to move the saw I could not free it up. I could, nevertheless, ever so slightly hear the branch cracking, so I knew it was nearly ready to topple.

Cutting Tree Limb

Photo By Mark Donovan


To help bring the tree branch down I decided to get a long rope and toss it over the branch to help pull it down. From the ground I pulled only a couple of times before the tree limb gave way.


When the cut tree limb began to separate from the tree trunk it initially just pivoted at the saw cut. However, as the tree limb swung down it separated from the tree trunk. When it did so, it went cart wheeling towards the lake, with the root of the tree limb landing in my small row boat.  Due to the size of the tree limb and the speed in which it came down it wound up creating a huge dent in the front seat of the boat. 


Observing the tree limb hit the boat was just the half of my learning experience that day.


As I saw the cut tree limb cart wheeling towards the boat, I chose to pull back on the rope to try to prevent the limb from hitting it. Instead, the tree limb whipped the rope through my hands and fingers so fast that I received large rope burns on one of my hands. This whole situation seemed to occur in about one nanosecond. Fortunately I did not have the rope wrapped around my hands or else I would have lost them. Sometimes we seem to forget the laws of physics in the heat of the moment. The tree limb had to weight nearly a ton.


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So I learned a few things that day on how to cut tree limbs safely. First, when cutting a large tree limb, it is important to make only a small cut on the underside of the tree limb. The bulk of the cutting should be done on top of the tree limb. This will prevent the saw blade from binding up.


Second, in the rare event you need to use a rope or cable to help pull down a hanging tree limb make sure you are not underneath the tree limb and that the rope is not tangled around your hands or feet.


Finally, make sure you have cleared out anything of value from around the radius of the tree. The radius should be at least 1.25 times the height of the tree.


Though I walked away with some severe rope burns on my hand and a heavily dented aluminum hull boat, I still feel fortunate. It could have been a lot worse and I learned a few things in the process. The next time I decide to cut down a large tree limb, I will be better prepared and won’t make the same mistakes twice.

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- Cutting Tree Limbs Safely -

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