Cutting that top 15ft vertical limb... burned 2 of my 9's, more than a decade apart

MikoDel

Member
Location
SE PA
This is a good thread. I'm actually kind of frightened I have something to contribute.

I'm not a cat. Even they don't have nine lives. Maybe the first scenario I describe doesn't qualify as "burning one". But the second one DEFINITELY does.

About ten years ago I was topping (yeah yeah, I know...) a tree in my backyard that was eating up so much of the sunlight my grass needed. At the time I knew the species but I've since forgotten. I was about as high up as I could get, but in hindsight I'm sure I could've done better. I was cutting OVER MY SHOULDERS, about head height. Working w/my tree chainsaw, I notched the uppermost, vertical limb, and then proceeded to make the back cut. The limb was maybe 4" in diameter. Obviously I was too aggressive, even though I remember specifically thinking, "Go easy here... this branch is not inspired to lean in any direction. Take your time with the felling cut." There was some wind. The branch exploded apart, and the splintery, jagged cut fell directly into my collar bone area. It hurt, ha ha! I had to lift it up and off me and play with it to get it to fall. All in all, not too bad. If it had fallen into my face it would have really messed me up good. I don't think it even broke the skin but it was a violent impact. It seemed like I only touched the saw to the back of that limb, and it just flew apart. And I remember that tree having really supple, strong wood. We hung a low swing on a very long, lateral limb, and it bowed under the weight of an adult, but was fine.

F'fwd to the present. I was working in a conifer this spring, a take-down job. It was a small, tall pine, about 50' high. (attached) Halfway up there were four very scary high tension lines about 8' away. But I was completely mindful of those power lines. Once I climbed past and above them, every limb I felled or tossed never touched them, and neither did I. Now I'm at the top of the tree and I'm making the topping cut. I'm cutting at about the top of my shoulders. Carefully I notched the vertical, highest limb.

It was about 4" in diameter.

I had a tail of climbing line tied maybe 10" above my notch, and my idea was to use one hand to gently pull and try to guide it to fall toward into my wedge. There was some wind. Now the back cut. The homeowner was sitting in a lounge chair, a very safe distance away, watching me. The branch EXPLODED apart. It's all kind of a flash in my mind. The hand that was holding on to the rope that was supposed to 'guide' the limb flailed thru space, leaving me with no hold. I fell back suddenly and violently. My saw was screaming full throttle because as I fell backward my hand kept gripping it. It cut thru my climbing line in a split second, and deep enough into my "Safety Blue" homemade positioning lanyard to expose a nice deep tuft of blue. Good thing I didn't cut thru my 2nd line. Good thing the running chain didn't end up in my face. Good thing a lot of things.

Now... this summer. I'm doing a pretty big takedown... and I'm cutting the topmost, nearly vertical limb. (attached) Again, about the same diameter. I did both the notch and the felling cut with my HAND SAW. And I had NO PROBLEMS. And while I still may notch with a power saw, I will NEVER, in this kind of scenario, EVER make the back cut with anything other than a hand saw. That's just me. But I hope it helps YOU.
 

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Phil

Well-Known Member
Location
Oak Lawn, IL
Damn man. That's a frightening series of events you've described. Glad you came out the right side of the story. I can't speak the cause of the exploding limbs but I'd sure like to know scientifically what exactly caused that chaotic of a wood reaction once cut.

Body position and technique can definitely put you in a safer position to deal with something like this though. I'm backseat driving this I know but just for the sake of discussion... if you're cutting at shoulder height, you can likely cut at belly or nipple height. The more you reach the more exposed you are to loss of control. Also, put your weight in your lanyard or climbing line when you're making a cut. If you are able to fall some distance...that's bad. Our gear is not designed to take a fall from even a short distance. It's designed to be work positioning. On the pine it sounds like you were one handing the saw in the back cut while pulling on the little tag line you installed? That's an obvious no no if that's the case. Consider making the notch with the chainsaw then using your handsaw for the back cut if you're gonna need a hand free.

There's an old saying, "once bitten twice shy". In this case it's twice bitten twice shy haha. I don't think the answer is to always use your handsaw for the topping cut. While that will get the job done, a change in technique could also eliminate the chaos previously experienced.

Thanks for sharing. I need to go look up some info on exploding limbs. I've heard of trees exploding when cutting from the ground. I think a massive change is water pressure maybe? Got some researching to do now at least.
 

moss

Well-Known Member
For me it's not about whether the top above you "explodes" or not. It's about where the weight it is. There's no way you're going to push it over with your hand if you've misjudged the weight/natural direction of fall for the piece. The exploding part for me is "going through the hinge". If that happens in the situation you described the butt of the piece is going to try and spear you. I've gone through the hinge on a couple of small tops that were directly above me and got lightly thrashed, no harm done lessons learned. I've done many since and I pay really close attention to where the actual weight is not to mention wind conditions. And don't go through the hinge ;-)

Handsaw finish is definitely a good way to go in that situation.
-AJ
 
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Daniel

Well-Known Member
I had a tail of climbing line tied maybe 10" above my notch, and my idea was to use one hand to gently pull and try to guide it to fall toward into my wedge. There was some wind. Now the back cut. The homeowner was sitting in a lounge chair, a very safe distance away, watching me. The branch EXPLODED apart. It's all kind of a flash in my mind. The hand that was holding on to the rope that was supposed to 'guide' the limb flailed thru space, leaving me with no hold. I fell back suddenly and violently. My saw was screaming full throttle because as I fell backward my hand kept gripping it. It cut thru my climbing line in a split second, and deep enough into my "Safety Blue" homemade positioning lanyard to expose a nice deep tuft of blue. Good thing I didn't cut thru my 2nd line. Good thing the running chain didn't end up in my face. Good thing a lot of things.
That is such a bad scenario it would suggest you have no business climbing trees. It May sound harsh, but it's for your own good!
 

MikoDel

Member
Location
SE PA
That is such a bad scenario it would suggest you have no business climbing trees. It May sound harsh, but it's for your own good!
Hey look at you GO!!! You typed a useless comment!!! All by yourself!! Now, your childlike sentences are shining brightly on the internet. It's MAGICAL, isn't it, the SOUND of your OWN VOICE!?!!? And you even got a 'like'! YAY! I'm very impressed. Thanks for ANOTHER one of these contributions it takes the rest of us endless hours to sort thru when we search forums for real technology and answers.
 
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MikoDel

Member
Location
SE PA
For me it's not about whether the top above you "explodes" or not. It's about where the weight it is. There's no way you're going to push it over with your hand if you've misjudged the weight/natural direction of fall for the piece. The exploding part for me is "going through the hinge". If that happens in the situation you described the butt of the piece is going to try and spear you. I've gone through the hinge on a couple of small tops that were directly above me and got lightly thrashed, no harm done lessons learned. I've done many since and I pay really close attention to where the actual weight is not to mention wind conditions. And don't go through the hinge ;-)

Handsaw finish is definitely a good way to go in that situation.
-AJ
Hey MOSS!!!!!! Awesome to hear from you!! We met a long ago at a Treeman Peter & Patty event. Yes, I was going very easy in both scenarios to NOT cut thru the hinge. And I dont think there was wind in either case. I appreciate your and Phil's comment. I probably could have done without pulling that top piece to inspire lean. Only reason I did that was cause it was a decent size stem, the top of that pine. And if it fell the "wrong way", lifting it clear of the branches to lower it the way I wanted it to go would have been very difficult. But as it turns out that was the least of my worries!

Stay strong AJ!!!
 
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