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DIY Tree Removal: How to Cut Down a Tree Yourself

Before we jump into today’s post on how to DIY a tree removal, we want to give a quick disclaimer. There are a great deal of DIY outdoor projects that hold very low or minimal risk. For the most part, a poorly done or miscalculated DIY attempt results in nothing more than an unfinished or unsatisfactory result. However, DIY tree removal, and the process of cutting down your own tree, can be unsafe if executed incorrectly.

For this reason, we encourage all readers who are thinking about cutting down a large tree in their yard to exercise caution. Professional tree cutting services exist for a reason, and should be a first line of defense for those who do not feel prepared or comfortable with the tree removal process.

That being said, some homeowners simply love DIY projects, no matter their intricacy. And while it is not the easiest project in the work, do-it-yourself tree removal is possible. Here’s how you can get in touch with your inner lumberjack this season.

DIY Tree Removal: Step by Step

1. Assess the situation. 

How large is your tree? If the tree in question is a manageable size, begin by pruning small or broken branches. Determine if the tree is weighted or leaning towards a certain side. Trees leaning in an established direction are more likely to fall in the direction of the lean.

2. Assess and clear the fall zone.

Even trees with a marked lean can sometimes fall in an unexpected direction. To prepare for this, clear the ground around the entirety of the tree. Remove brush, play structures, or any patio furniture or containers.

3. Establish an escape route. 

Ideally, you will have two noted escape routes when the tree begins to fall. This will help ensure your personal safety.

4. Moisten the soil. 

A day before your DIY tree removal, thoroughly water the soil. This will loosen the ground and make it easier to dig on the day of removal. Dry or hard soil will be harder to break through.

5. Get the right safety equipment. 

You should never attempt to take down a tree without the right safety gear. Goggles and earplugs will protect your eyes from falling debris and your ears from chainsaw noise. Shield your hands and protect your head with gloves and a helmet.

6. Take measurements. 

In order to plan the extraction of the tree on your property, you will need to be ready to measure the trunk’s circumference. For every inch, you should be prepared to dig six inches worth of roots. Roots on mature trees are likely to extend to or beyond the edges of the tree’s canopy.

7. Make a notch and guide cut.

To begin the tree removal process, cut a sizable notch in the side of the tree, facing the direction you would like it to fall. From here, map a line around the circumference of the tree as a cutting guide.

8. Begin felling the tree. 

Using your notch and guide line, begin sawing through the trunk. As the tree begins to lean, remove the saw immediately and make good use of your memorized escape route.

9. Keep your eyes on the tree. 

Trees don’t always fall in the way you planned. Always keep your eye on a falling tree and be prepared to get out of harm’s way should it begin to lean in an unexpected direction.

10. Don’t go it alone. 

DIY doesn’t always imply you’re doing it alone. For high-risk activities such as cutting down and removing trees, it’s smart to have backup. Having another individual working as an observer can help to keep you safe from falling branches and debris.

11. Break down the tree. 


Once the tree has fallen, it will need to be removed from the area. To do so, begin by cutting off branches. Start from the base of the tree, working up towards the top. Wood can be dropped off locally, or cut and stored for firewood.

12. Remove the roots. 

After the tree has been felled and the branches and trunk have been broken down and removed, it’s time to deal with the roots. Some trees may be too big to remove on your own. However, if the tree is still small enough, you may be able to wiggle out the root ball.

13. Fill the hole. 

Once your tree is removed, you’re likely to be left with a decently sized hole. Fill the space with dirt, and finish with plantings, mulch, or grass seed.

Tree Removal DON’TS

When gauging if a tree in your yard is a good candidate for by-owner removal, consider the following:

  1. Is this tree too large to remove without the assistance of a ladder?

  2. Am I, at any time, going to find myself attempting to hold a chainsaw while on said ladder?

  3. Is there high risk of injury or property damage if the tree in question falls the wrong way?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, your tree is probably not the greatest candidate for DIY removal. In this case, calling a service can save you time, money, and prevent you from potentially serious or life threatening accidents.

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