Cut With Care

Often, a lot is said about using cutting tools, particularly in relation to our personal safety, but what about the things we cut?

As an instructor running courses, I often need to harvest materials from the woodlands. I also maintain the trees on some of our sites and some of my neighbour’s land, and I try to do so in a sympathetic manner.

So, to the point in question. I was explaining to someone the other day how their tree had been badly pruned in the past, and it would require extensive work to restore it over a period of years. I had thought possibly the person cutting it didn’t know any better, so I’ll try and share some of what I know in the hope that it may save a tree or two.

Firstly, why do we need to cut trees in the correct fashion? Well, the two pictures below shows a correctly removed branch and a badly removed branch.

A correctly removed branch
A badly removed branch

The first picture shows a branch that has been correctly trimmed, note the fact that the collar has enclosed most of the wound. This protects the main trunk from various things such as rot and insect attack, etc.

The second picture shows one that has been, well let’s just say not so well pruned. leaving a stub that has died back and is starting to rot down, causing structural harm to the tree.

As you can see, bad pruning is less than ideal so let’s have a look at the best way to take a limb off a tree, particularly a heavy one. This system will work on vertical limbs as well, however for the purposes of this blog I’ll stick to horizontal branches. Best practice on anything larger than you can support with your free hand is to use a two-stage process. The first stage is removing the branch in a manner that ensures it will come away cleanly, using a step cut.

The pictures below show the step cut. You pick a point slightly out from the trunk and start with an undercut i.e., you put your first cut in from underneath, cutting either just less than halfway through or until it starts to grip the blade.

Step cut, your first cut in from underneath

You then begin cut two, the top cut. This should be placed slightly further out from the trunk than the first cut, but not too far. I recommend about a pinkie width at most when dealing with craft size material up to wrist thick.

Cut two, the top cut

When completed the branch should drop away cleanly, leaving a stump which we cut with our stage two cut.

When completed the branch should drop away cleanly

This is best done with something like a fine-toothed pull saw, such as a Silky Gomboy, or similar. At a push it can be done with a Bahco Laplander, however the cut is rather rough as you can see by the comparison below.

Done with a Bahco Laplander
Done with a Silky Gomboy

You should then trim it off at the branch collar, as in the pic below.

Trimmed off at the branch collar

Remember you should only cut green material if you have the landowner’s permission.

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