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Hazards and Safe Practices in the Woodlot

By Brian Lawrence, CRSP, Consultant-trainer with Workplace Safety North

The purpose of this article is to make woodlot owners aware of some of the hazards and safe felling practices that are associated with the harvesting of timber in the bush.

The 4 Hs

Hardwood1b web 170HardwoodThere are 4 Hs associated with harvesting firewood from a woodlot:

  • Heat
  • Hazards
  • Heartache
  • Help


Many people rely on the harvesting of trees from their woodlot to supply heat for their houses, outbuildings and maple syrup production. When it comes to the harvesting of these trees, there are basically two categories of trees:

Softwoods (like pine, spruce, balsam, etc.) are generally less dense and therefore easier to cut than hardwoods. They are often used for kindling wood and building materials. They tend to have their largest limbs closest to the ground and are often balanced and symmetrical.

Hardwoods, (like maple, ash, oak, etc.) on the other hand, are generally more dense and therefore more difficult to cut than softwoods. They are generally the preferred choice for firewood as they tend to burn longer and take up less storage space for their BTU value.


Softwood web 170SoftwoodHardwoods tend to be top heavy when limbs start at a considerable distance from the ground. They may also be unbalanced due to the placement of large limbs. Due to their density, shape and limb configuration, hardwoods often pose unique hazards when being harvested. Certain hardwoods like maple, oak and ash may split when being felled, especially if they have a significant lean or large limbs on one side of the tree. This splitting of the trees is called “barber chairing.” A tree that has barber chaired can easily seriously injure or kill the person felling the tree. The following YouTube link shows a tree split into a barber chair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YAf61zz5VU. It is sad to read of the tragic incidents included in the comments below the video. These include the following:

  • “That reminds me of this one Friday we were at work and this old guy was talking to us about cutting a huge black oak in his yard over the weekend. We came back to the same spot Monday morning and the black oak was cut down but a huge barber chair stub was left. My boss jokingly said, ‘Damn man, wonder who died cutting that one?’ and the old man's son overheard us talking and said, ‘Well my dad is the one who died cutting that.’ And he wasn't joking. His dad really did get killed from barber chair.”
  • “Geez, you are lucky that tree didn't kill you. Two loggers were killed here a couple of weeks ago by trees that barber chaired.”
  • “Thanks for posting this. I've been cutting trees for 22 years, and I've chaired a few myself, before I got clued in to setting the hinge first then cutting to the back.”

Hardwood2 web 170HardwoodAdditional hazards associated with the felling of hardwoods include the fact that birch trees often tend to die from the top down. When this happens, dead limbs may fall on the cutter as the tree is being felled. On any species of tree, dead limbs that may be hidden in the tops can fall when the tree is being cut. Often limbs that break off from a tree being felled will “catapult” back towards the cutter when other trees are bent over from the felled tree. Trees may also fall out of control if there are heavy branches on one side of the tree.

Other hazards include the following:
  • Falling limbs from trees not even being cut (especially on windy days)
  • Dead trees (known as “chicots”)
  • Chainsaw cuts and kickback
  • Chainsaw getting pinched (and leaving a partially-cut tree standing)
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Skidding hazards (whether using horses, tractors, ATVs, etc.)
  • Exhaustion/heat stroke/heart attack

Many of us know of someone who has been seriously injured or killed while harvesting timber. They might be professional loggers or “weekend warriors.”

In November of 2013, a young logger was killed in the bush and left behind a young family.

In December of 2012, a 21-year-old logger was killed in southern Ontario. Christmases will never be the same for that family. Those who are left behind suffer heartache and anguish.


Fortunately most injuries and incidents are preventable and help is available!

There are ways to prevent serious injuries from occurring, but first it is important to look at the reasons why mishaps occur. These reasons include:

  • Lack of proper training
  • Failure to use proper procedures
  • Lack of proper equipment
  • Faulty equipment
  • Complacency (“won’t happen to me syndrome”)
  • Inattention/distraction

There are several issues that should be addressed before anyone enters a woodlot to harvest trees. These include the following:

  • Proper training!!!
  • The proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Proper chainsaw (with a chain brake)
  • Proper sharpening tools
  • Felling wedges and driving tool
  • Appropriate skidding equipment
  • An effective communication system (second person in attendance, cell phone, SPOT device [findmespot.com])
  • Adequate first aid kit

When it comes to chainsaw training, there are two-day and three-day courses available. Both courses include classroom and hands-on training components. With the three-day course, an extra day of field practice is included. Topics covered during these courses include the following:

  • PPE
  • Cleaning and sharpening of chainsaws (with the proper tools)
  • Proper file diameters and filing angles
  • Site preparation
  • Target selection
  • Escape route preparation
  • Aiming and cutting a proper notch
  • Proper felling techniques (both for trees with and without a lean in the desired direction of fall)
  • Felling aids
  • Delimbing techniques
  • Bucking techniques

In preparation for training, it is critical the participants have the proper PPE. This includes:

  • Head protection (foam-lined hard hat with side impact protection is recommended)
  • Hearing protection (orange or black Peltor muffs are recommended)
  • Eye and face protection (screen and safety glasses are recommended)
  • Cutter pants or chaps (with calf protection)
  • Foot protection (cutter boots are recommended)

Proper cleaning and sharpening equipment discussions include the following:

  • Selection of chainsaw (consider the STIHL 362C – it has a special safety feature not found on any other saw)
  • Types of chain
  • Chain manufacturers
  • Three common file diameters
  • File positioning
  • Three common top plate angles
  • Depth gauge setting and tools
  • The preferred size and type of felling wedge

Discussions for proper felling techniques include:

  • Site preparation
  • Target selection
  • Three types of notch
  • The “left, left, left” technique for properly aiming the notch
  • The most critical component of the felling process
  • Heavy leaners
  • Light leaners
  • Trees that are balanced or leaning opposite to the desired direction of fall
  • Bound-in trees
  • Must stemmed trees
  • Chicots
  • Trees that lean to one side of the desired direction of fall
  • Trees up to three times the length of the bar
  • “Four lines” that make tree felling simpler and safer!

Chainsaw training is offered anywhere in southeastern Ontario (Toronto to Quebec border and south of Pembroke) if there is a sufficient number of participants (usually a minimum of six) to justify a course. Woodlot owners (and others) are encouraged to make contact if they have any questions or would like to set up a training course.

Contact information: Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Phone: 613-332-8464

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