Safe DIY tree felling

Winter and early spring are the perfect time for felling trees because all those bare branches make it easier to see what you're doing. But whether you are a seasoned professional or a homeowner, tree felling is a dangerous business that requires proper planning and the right working techniques to make sure it is done safely and effectively.

Charles Henderson, Husqvarna's Tree Professional Business Development Manager, knows a thing or two about this. “Winter is the tree-felling sweet spot. The lack of leaves makes it a breeze for arborists and loggers to assess a tree's health, spot any potential issues and pick the right ones to cut down,” he says. “Homeowners should also take advantage of this opportune time if they need to cut down any trees in their gardens.”

Remember though that the most important part of tree felling is safety first! Whether you're a pro or a first-time tree-feller, Henderson recommends following these six steps to complete the task with confidence.

  1. Start with a Plan
    Before commencing any tree-felling project, it's crucial to plan. Take a close look at the tree's surroundings and identify any potential obstacles that may interfere with the felling process. Consider factors such as the tree's size, shape and proximity to structures or power lines. This assessment will guide you in selecting the right tools and safety equipment needed for the job. For bigger trees, a chainsaw will always be the most efficient and effective tool and it makes post-felling work a lot easier too.
  2. Identify the Felling Direction
    Carefully study the tree and assess the direction in which it naturally leans. Additionally, take note of the wind direction, as this should align with the tree's natural lean to ensure a controlled fall. Clear the area around the tree and in the direction of the intended fall to create a safe working zone.
  3. Trim the Trunk
    Before making the felling cut, it's essential to prune the tree's trunk by removing any branches and twigs up to shoulder height. This will ensure that you have a clean and unobstructed cutting path to enhance the safety and precision of the tree's fall.
  4. Determine the Cutting Technique
    If you are using a chainsaw, the appropriate cutting technique depends on various factors, including the tree's size, slope and the size of your chainsaw bar. There are different cutting methods such as the notch and back cut technique or the plunge cut technique, each suited for specific scenarios. If you're unsure about the best approach, don’t chance it. Get advice from a professional.
  5. Inspect for Rot or Disease
    Inspect the tree's timber and lower part of the trunk for any signs of rot or disease. A weakened or decaying tree can behave unpredictably during felling, posing significant risks. If you detect any structural issues, reconsider felling the tree and consult an arborist for expert advice.
  6. Establish an Escape Route
    Before starting the final cut, make sure you have a clear and safe path of retreat. This path should be at a 45-degree angle away from the direction of the tree's fall. Having a designated escape route is crucial for maintaining your safety during the felling process.
    Henderson reiterates prioritising safety above everything else: “Even with careful planning and preparation, tree removal can be hazardous. If you feel uncertain or uncomfortable with the process, hire a professional with the necessary expertise and equipment.”
    He also emphasizes the need to plant one or two new trees for every tree felled. “This practice is essential for maintaining a balanced and thriving ecosystem. By planting new trees, we can offset the environmental impact of tree removal and ensure a sustainable future, keeping the cycle of tree planting and cutting in harmony.”

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Chainsaw sculptors at work

This spotted eagle owl was carved during the Sabie Forest Fair in 2010.

The art of chainsaw carving has its origins in the ancient craft of woodcarving. Unlike the slow and deliberate methods required in woodcarving, however, chainsaw carving sees artists harness the power of modern technology to create their masterpieces.

According to David Bithrey, Area Business Manager for Husqvarna South Africa and six-time National Chainsaw Speed Carving Champion, chainsaw carving is an expression of self. “Chainsaw carving is a dance of skill and dexterity, and a duel between the creation in your head and that which the wood shows you,” says David, who goes on to explain that while his love for chainsaws developed at a young age, he only became aware of chainsaw carving, in its artistic form, much later on in life.

Entered into a competition unaware by his mentor in 2008, his first time carving was both exhilarating and frightening. “I was wielding one of the most dangerous pieces of forestry equipment to create something so delicate, and honestly, I had more guts than skill at that stage of the game,” he says.

Despite being placed second last in that competition, David was hooked and worked hard at mastering his art before he finally won a competition, and took the title from that same mentor, several years later.

Today, he is one of the few chainsaw carvers in South Africa to have been published in both local and international magazines, and several of his pieces have found their way into homes and collections around the world. Despite these accolades, David admits to having made his fair share of “firewood” over the years and encourages those new to chainsaw carving to see these “mistakes” as learning opportunities and to not compare themselves to anyone else.

“Everyone has their own style when it comes to carving. The key is to just get started,” he advises and maintains that the way to learn the craft is through mentorship, skills development and trial and error.

“When I first began, I had almost no skill in carving and no idea that some machines were more appropriate than others for the task at hand.”

Polish chainsaw sculptor Dariusz Nowak used a Husqvarna to carve this chair out of a solid piece of oak at the Forest Fair in Sabie, back in November 2006. The piece was sold before he’d even finished carving it.

Over the years, however, David has indeed learnt that a workman, or an artist as the case may be, is nothing without his tools. “As a chainsaw carver, you need to be able to count on your equipment all the time. You are fighting several factors at the same time: your plan for the carving, the way the timber reacts to your saw, fatigue, the time element in competitions, and more. The last thing you want to worry about is your tools not performing. That’s why I use Husqvarna chainsaws. The 353 chainsaw is my favourite, as it is just such a well-balanced machine with more than enough power to perform seemingly impossible tasks,” he says.

For those looking to try their hand at chainsaw carving, David had some final words of advice to offer: “Enjoy creating something new out of something old. Be brave, be bold but above all else be SAFE. When you’re working with a tool designed to carve through timber, inches away from your face or legs, safety is not a question, it’s a necessity,” he concludes.

Interested in trying your hand at chainsaw carving? Explore Husqvarna’s range of chainsaws at or pop into your closest stockist to discuss your needs.

Speed carving champ David Bithrey shows some delicate touches with his chainsaw.
Completed Tea Set by David Bithrey.

STIHL SA celebrates 25 years

The evening was enjoyed by staff from STIHL South Africa, the global STIHL Group and STIHL dealers. From left to right: Norbert Pick (STIHL Group Executive Board member), Anil Hoolasi (Supply Chain Manager for STIHL SA), Ammerentia and Gert Venter from GP Lawnmowers, Rudi Kruger (National Sales Manager for STIHL SA) and Johannes Wetzel (STIHL Regional Sales Manager for Africa and Asia).

Representatives from STIHL SA and the global STIHL Group recently celebrated over 25 years of the brand’s presence in South Africa. STIHL SA was the group’s first sales and marketing subsidiary on the African continent, opened in November 1996 by Mr Hans Peter Stihl, a direct descendent of the group’s founder Andreas Stihl.

The 25th anniversary event was held at Birchwood Hotel in Johannesburg and was attended by STIHL SA staff, STIHL dealers, as well as STIHL international representatives, Norbert Pick (Executive Board Member for Sales and Marketing of the STIHL Group) and Johannes Wetzel (Regional Sales Manager for Africa and Asia). The 25th anniversary should have been held in 2021, but the July unrest and COVID restrictions necessitated the delay in celebrations.

STIHL develops, manufactures, and distributes outdoor power equipment for many industries including forestry, agriculture, landscaping and construction. Internationally, the STIHL Group's sales network consists of 42 sales and marketing companies, approximately 120 importers and more than 55,000 independent, authorised dealers in over 160 countries. STIHL has been the world's best-selling chainsaw brand since 1971.

Gateway into Africa
Commented Norbert Pick in his address at the 25th anniversary event: “South Africa is said to be the gateway into Africa and for STIHL this has been true. What we have learned in South Africa, we have been able to apply to other African markets. Just this week we officially opened our second STIHL sales subsidiary on the African continent, in Nairobi, Kenya. We have also recently opened a marketing office in Côte d'Ivoire. So, STIHL is on the move in Africa and looking forward to growing with our network of dealers throughout the continent,” he said.

STIHL Group Executive Board member Norbert Pick, Gaby Dunkley and Dave Hutton, former Managing director of STIHL South Africa

“Our subsidiary in South Africa is solidifying its position in Southern Africa. We will continue to invest in Africa and in the Southern African region. We came here to stay and to grow, no matter the challenges, which we have mastered and will continue to master in the future as well,” said Norbert.

History of STIHL in South Africa
STIHL’s presence in the South African market began with an importer, Dowson & Dobson in 1956. Then, in 1962 a representative from the STIHL factory in Germany came to South Africa to establish an official importer here. One of his calls was to Motor & General Supplies, where it was his unenviable task to try to persuade a conservative management team to take on the role of official STIHL importer in South Africa. On his return to Germany, he had to tell Andreas Stihl that a large South African company had ordered a grand total of five chainsaws!

These first five chainsaws were duly shipped to South Africa for Motor & General to introduce STIHL to the local market. Despite this slow entry, these models were soon to become household names in the South African timber industry and subsequently Motor & General began importing Stihl chainsaws by the container-load, some 620 units at a time.

In 1982, David Hutton took over the management of the STIHL division of Motor & General. On his retirement in 2011, his son, Hayden Hutton, took over the reins as managing director of STIHL SA.

One of the first STIHL chainsaws to be imported into South Africa.
Modern chainsaws are powerful, efficient and safe when handled the correct way.

A century of business
STIHL’s origins go all the way back to 1926 when Andreas Stihl founded an engineering office in Stuttgart. From there, in a quest to ease the demanding heavy labour of forestry work, he began the development of his first chainsaw. In 1927, Stihl launched this chainsaw, the electric trimming chainsaw with a 2.2kW electric motor weighing in at a hefty 48kg. He followed this with his first petrol chainsaw, the STIHL type A tree-felling machine in 1929. Andreas Stihl applied the principal of only supplying his products through specialist dealers who could provide expertise, guidance and excellent after-sales service, a corporate policy that exists to this day.

Back in the day it took two or three men to handle a chainsaw.

“STIHL is a multigenerational business, and many third-generation family members are active in the business today, including Dr Nikolas Stihl, chair of the advisory board and the supervisory board, positions which he took over from his father, Hans Peter Stihl, son of the founder, Andreas Stihl. We have a generational story at the South African subsidiary as well, because I was fortunate enough to take over the management of the subsidiary upon the retirement of my father,” said current STIHL SA MD Hayden Hutton.

“Whilst our 25th anniversary maybe the excuse to celebrate, it is not the only thing that we celebrate. It has taken tremendous effort from all of us to create what we all currently enjoy as part of the STIHL South African family. To all our dealers and to my staff, I would like to personally thank you for the contributions that you have made to the success of STIHL in South Africa. I am extremely excited about what the future holds. During the unrest last July, when our premises were destroyed and our stock looted, we stood together as a family. We relied on our strong relationships to maintain good cooperation internally and with you, our dealers. And from across the seas, the STIHL family, executive board, and staff in the headquarters and factories, all stood ready to lend a hand and to support us.”

STIHL South Africa Managing Director Hayden Hutton with STIHL Group Executive Board member Norbert Pick.
From left to right; STIHL Dealers Mirko and Loraine Gregorini (Lawnmowers and Turf Trading), Sonica and Ettienne Spamers (Homegrown Contractors) and Lucille and Bruce Mason (Berry’s Garden Machinery).

Respect your chainsaw – top 6 chainsaw safety tips

Chainsaw-related deaths are rare, but they do happen. Injuries, however, are a little more frequent and that’s why Mark Odell, Product Manager from Husqvarna South Africa, says that whether you are a seasoned professional saw operator or an occasional user, your chainsaw deserves your utmost respect.

He says that when used correctly, chainsaws are incredible tools that save time, effort and labour costs, particularly for landowners and forestry professionals.

“However, whilst Husqvarna has world-class safety features on all their chainsaws, it is important to remember that most chainsaw accidents are as a result of being hit by the felled tree or a branch, so operator safety training is as important as safe equipment. Operators must be fully educated on chainsaw safety before they even pick up the tool,” he adds.

Six safety tips that every operator needs to know:

  1. Avoid kickbacks by never using the kickback zone of the saw
    A kickback happens when the chain catches something solid and flicks the machine upwards, towards the operator, often resulting in nasty wounds to the face, neck or upper torso. The risk of kickback is simply too high when using the upper part of the nose of the guide bar, so it’s critical that you avoid using this part of the saw and only use the pulling zone of the chain (i.e. the underneath part of the saw).
  2. Make sure all safety features are working
    To achieve a safe working situation a modern chainsaw must be fitted with the following safety features:
    • kickback guard and chain brake
    • throttle back
    • chain catcher
    • right-hand guard
    • accessible stop control.
    Remember to regularly inspect these features and always make sure you have a sharp and properly filed chain. Husqvarna chainsaws have an additional safety feature in the form of the TrioBrake™ which is triggered if the hand holding the back handle touches a second guard.
  3. Guard against chain breaks
    If a chain is going to break, it will probably be whilst it is working. You need to make sure that the guard underneath the chainsaw, protecting your hand on the back handle, as well as the chain catcher, are both firmly in place. It is similarly placed underneath the chainsaw, as the chain goes into the sprocket.
  4. Adopt the correct grip and stance
    Sheer exhaustion or sometimes even the anticipation of the end of a shift can tempt operators into compromising their hold on the chainsaw and/or neglecting their posture. Most safety features rely on the correct handling of the machine so there can be no concession when it comes to firmly gripping the chainsaw with both hands, and wrapping thumbs and fingers around either side of the handles. Knees rather than backs should be bent and the machine held close to the body rather than with outstretched arms. And never use the machine above shoulder height.
  5. Be extra careful with the small stuff
    Most accidents happen when operators are clearing a path to the tree to be felled or when they are cutting branches off. In these situations, kickbacks are far more likely as the chain can inadvertently connect with branches and sticks that are not in the operator’s line of vision.
  6. Wear the right clothing

One of the most important lines of defence for chainsaw operators is personal protective equipment (PPE). Head to toe protection is critical so head protection, eye protection, hearing protection, gloves, chainsaw chaps or pants and safety shoes are non-negotiable. The right hearing protection is your top priority and while it should be sufficient to reduce the noise of the saw to acceptable levels, make sure you can still hear other people, trees cracking and other warning signals as this could save your life.

“Chainsaws are undeniably one of the best industrial inventions and are indispensable in several businesses and homes. We aim to equip Husqvarna customers with the best tools in terms of both efficiency and safety, so please contact your nearest agent who will happily assist by not only providing you with fit-for-purpose equipment - but training too,” concludes Mark.

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