Plunge Cut

Generally, I don’t kill trees. Save for the inconvenience of having an occasional and errand limb chopped, or losing some awkward outgrowth in the name of aesthetics, my trees normally have little to worry about. They are huge and healthy and dutifully litter the lawn with their seasonal dendric drippings. I don’t let them desiccate, and in return they treat my family to shade and swings and sewage problems. We grew to understanding each other, and I think they are happy, insofar as trees can be happy. At the very least, not a single one has decided to leave by itself.

Now the time has come to upset the druidic balance and remove one entirely. The tree in question is a large syringa, maybe as old as I. It dutifully carried bird’s nests and at least one tree house. It has dense ivy running up the eastern side of the trunk. Altogether a nice, well behaved tree. I hope it understands that I’m not killing it as punishment, or to make an example out of it in any way. Its only crime was to grow where I now need to build something: the tree occupies the only sufficiently dark nook suitable for a modest backyard observatory.

It was not an easy decision, naturally, but eventually I’ve convinced myself that the tree had a long and fruitful life, that it was alien to South Africa, that – now that I think about it - it really generates a lot of raking effort come early summer, and that it is morally excusable to get rid of nature in order to study nature. With this set of delicate rationalizations, the problem has now morphed into one of logistics.

And if you are starting to wonder what this has to do with skepticism, here it comes. Quotes from two professional tree fellers were requested, and duly disbelieved.
Now, many chaps fancy themselves competent (or at least enthusiastic) handymen. I am not above such delusions, and reinforced by the incredible quotes, I’ve decided to tackle the job myself. Besides, if you have decided to murder something, it’s only proper to do the wet work yourself.

Having made my decision that there is really no reason why I shan’t do the felling myself, I went outside and took another look at the tree. It appears to have grown quite a lot since I saw it last. Its trunk seemed disproportionately large compared to my saw.
After some research, I found that there is a special technique in felling such large trees. It involves dipping the saw bar-end first into the trunk and then wiggling it around in a special way. It is one of the procedures that the instruction manual emphatically and paradoxically advise you not to attempt unless you are experienced in it. But what the heck, maybe the tree should be offered at least some chance for revenge.


How are you going to build this observatory? I thought about building one as well but mine would be shed with a sliding roof. Knowing my handiwork the first bit of wind and it would be gone. I would be to scared to leave my scope in it, so really no point in building it. One thing about cutting trees with chain saws that had tree houses build in it: Be careful of nails in the wood!

Morning Tweefo. You are quite right: I can see that lots of steel has been hammered into the old boy during its lifetime. You’d swear several generations of Greenpeace activists have done the rounds. Some of it is almost completely grown over by wood, so special care is called for. I’ll check the area with a metal detector first.

Re the observatory, a simple shed on a concrete floor with a roll off roof should suffice. I’m not bothering with building plans, so effectively it must pass as a wendyhouse. Leaving the scope inside is a must … its really getting to be a pain to set up every time only to have the clouds roll in during the process. I’m sure you know the drill. :slight_smile:

Here’s the theory.

Do you have enough space to fell the whole tree in one go? If you don’t, it can radically change the operation. About two years ago, Dr 'Luthon64 took down a syringa tree with a trunk diameter of about 70 cm that was standing beside a wall and a pool pump installation, surrounded by other smaller trees. Working from the top down, he used a long ladder, some ski rope and bow saws for the upper foliage, and an electric chainsaw and short lengths of chain fixed to the trunk with coach screws to cut down the trunk in lengths of about a metre. The chains acted as hinges and prevented the pieces of trunk dropping onto anything fragile. The whole operation took two weekends but the worst part was carting away all the bits.


If it is any consolation, syringa trees (Melia azedarach) are classified as Category 3 invaders, which means you are allowed to have them on your property if they predate the legislation, but you may not cultivate new ones. Cutting down your syringa has a green hue to it.

Yes, know the drill. Luckily, here on the highveld the weather does not change that quickly. What scope do you have? Mine is a 8" Meade LX90. A goto scope but I miss my first one. Now you just stand there, look through, choose something, it moves to it, you look and so on. After half an hour you’ve seen what you can. In the old days I knew how to find things, took hours but the joy in locating it!

Provided it comes down where I want it to, my measurements and calculations show that it should just fall short of hitting the northern house wall. If not, Pythagoras had better know how to apply glazing putty.

Thats quite a list … I’m surprized that we are playing host to so many nasties. Suppose it is better than having to destroy a yellow wood or similar. Speaking of wood, if I get nice chunk out of the tree, maybe I should fashion it into a short observation stool…

The one I want to build the house for is a Celestron 120 F8.3 achromat riding on an EQ5 mount. It tracks but doesn’t locate, so finding stuff is pretty much a hunt and peck star hopping exercise. That LX of yours is quite the dream machine!

Whatever you do be careful. I’ve seen people damn-near kill themselves with chainsaws twice. And they were truly handy people. Those things should demand a great deal of respect, they’d go through you even faster than they go through wood.

The problem is bad things happen when you combine a ladder, a deadly instrument, and huge pieces of lumber falling/bouncing around which could hit any of aforementioned (You, the ladder, or the deadly instrument).

Ja please be careful. How much was the quotes?

Cutting the tree down is one thing but removing the stump is another.

When you attempt the job, send your wife away, she’s bound to distract you and cause you serious bodily harm, arm yourself with a trustworthy “handlanger”, be it your garden help or some other male. The feminist in me is screaming in horror and fury with this little quote, but bloody hell, its the truth. Wives generally get all emotional when their menfolk attempt something potentially risky.

Good luck, my S/O chopped down one and there’s another two to go in the backyard (one dead and the other lifting up the pool’s bottom), its not a task to tackle lightly.

Definitely. Luckily, I’m a huge old physical coward, which helps tremendously when it comes to self preservation. Moreover, eight years of wedded bliss does a lot to convince one that brazen actions will not go unpunished :stuck_out_tongue:

Would you believe, more than the price of a new orange and white two-stroke saw! :o

Thanks, and for the tip also … will wait until the missus is safely at work.


I rented one for R400 the other day. Personally it is not easy work at all, as it would seem.
Plus the dam thing scares the crap out of me.

What about the stump do you need to remove it as well?

Don’t think so. I’m interested to see if one can get some workable hardwood out of the trunk, and make it into something pretty. If not, we’ll just assimilate it into the garden as a creeper covered feature. :-X


Use the stump as the mount for you scope. It going to be very stable plus you don’t need to dig it out.

Well u could do that

Now THAT’S a big ash tray! :slight_smile:

I have been amiss in not giving you advice on felling the tree yet, but trust that it is still in time. Here goes:

  1. Before starting, ensure that you have insurance against acts of Kent.
  2. Remove your children from the tree-house.
  3. Adults playing in the tree-house should be left there.
  4. Invite the neighbours’ children for a tree canopy adventure.
  5. Remove some of the Christmas decorations, or at least switch off the lights.
  6. The porcelain manger with the nativity scene may be left in the tree.
  7. Extinguish the braai under the tree.
  8. Remove the cat, parrot cage and parrot from the tree.
  9. Park your bike far away.
    10 Only set up your telescope after felling the tree.

I hope I have been of help.
Good luck!

;D Good points all, Hermes: things they don’t tell you anywhere else on the interwebs!

I have seen a very good example of how not to do it online though.

I was wondering if the tree has met his end yet?