Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

February 2012

Looking for H.H.E.L.P.  (Part 4)

“Sit up straight” is something most of us have told our kids to do from time to time.  Every now and then, they actually do what we ask and on occasion, without verbal protest.  Try telling that to a tree.  We might not hear any verbal protest, but we also won’t see a response.

We continue with our “Felling Five” steps of “H.H.E.L.P.” this month by addressing Lean.  Lean is simply calculated as front, back, left or right in relationship to the desired targeted direction.  Lean can also be a combination of forward-left, forward-right, back-left or back-right.  Weight distribution of the branches must also be factored in to the lean identification.

While felling a tree with its natural lean is usually the preferred direction of fell, there are several reasons why we may want, or need to drop it against this lean.  For instance, a sawyer may need to avoid other trees to prevent hang-ups and falling debris.  Preventing damage to structures or any number of obstacles are also common reasons for felling against the natural lean of a tree.  Reasons more specific to loggers include avoiding a de-valuing breakage, protecting the residual stand, disturbing the felling pattern or neighboring property lines.

When felling against any lean, bore cutting techniques are the safest and most preferred.  While dealing with a heavy forward leaner, bore cutting assists in avoiding the barber chair hazard.  For back and side leaners, boring techniques allow us to use our beloved felling wedges.  With all leaners, bore cutting allows for a controlled release.  It is important to mention here that only experienced cutters should practice this technique and attempt felling trees against their natural lean.  As with any advanced felling technique, evaluation, planning and practice is very important.  A good sawyer will know their limitations; what’s possible and what isn’t.  Evaluating the task at hand and knowing if you have the skill set and / or necessary equipment available is extremely important.

The important thing to remember is that if things don’t go according to plan, and we’re blessed enough to live through it, we take the time to learn and improve.  



Aiming a side leaner can be tricky.  Of all the formulas, measuring tools, gages, guides and gimmicks, one statement holds true;  When it come to a leaner, aim the top, not the stump.  By aiming the top and countering the side lean we are dealing with, we can pull the top of the tree on our target, which will bring the rest of the tree with it.

In the Northern and Appalachian Hardwood regions, hand-cutters commonly only have felling axes, wedges and the almighty skidder at their beckoned call.  Arborists are more familiar with ropes and rigging, while the west coast fallers are accustomed to the use of hydraulic felling jacks in extreme cases.  Regardless of the techniques and tools at your disposal, planning each move and cut will help avoid any unwelcome surprises.  Avoid building unnecessary stored energy anywhere in the tree while setting up for the decent.  It may be acceptable to apply enough pressure with equipment or rigging to hold the tree in place and maintain stability while executing the proper cuts.  An offset, low release cut on the stump will allow the sawyer to retreat into a safe zone.  Build pressure slowly and steadily to trigger the final release and voila!  (…hopefully).

Sometimes it’s that easy, sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes we have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  The important thing to remember is that if things don’t go according to plan, and we’re blessed enough to live through it, we take the time to learn and improve.  We’ve often heard the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.  Not only is that insane, for a sawyer, it can also be deadly.  Do we not owe ourselves, our crew and our family continuous improvement and a positive attitude toward safety and education?  Stay warm.

See you next month.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or