Thinking of cutting down a small tree? Think safety first. Always.

The Rule of Fives*

Operating a chainsaw can be dangerous work. This page was designed as a quick study guide for  the casual user and does not substitute for the owner's manual or a chainsaw safety class. The Rule of Fives, developed by foresters and professional loggers, reminds the user that there are five stages to safely cutting down a small tree (less than 12" diameter at breast height): 1) personal protection, 2) saw safety check, 3) know your surroundings, 4) the felling plan and 5) the stump plan.


Proper chainsaw outfit

1. Personal Protection

Most importantly, how are you  feeling today? Don't operate a chainsaw while fatigued. Get a good night's rest and eat a healthy breakfast to help you stay alert. 

The goal is to get back home in one piece. 

Dress for safety:

  1. Leather boots with ankle protection
  2. UL approved chain saw chaps or leg protection
  3. Head protection (hard hat)
  4. Hearing protection
  5. Eye/face protection




chainsaw with scabbard
Chainsaw with scabbard protecting chain

2. Saw Safety Check

The following must be present and working properly:

  1. Chain brake
  2. Chain catch
  3. Throttle lock
  4. Spark muffler
  5. How does the saw look overall? Is it well-maintained?

1. Chainsaw brake

chain catch
2. Chain catch


chainsaw trigger
3. Chainsaw throttle lock

chainsaw muffler
4. Simplified drawing to show muffler location


tree felling escape plan
Illustration of the escape route

3. Know Your Surroundings

  1. Be aware  of overhead hazards
  2. Remove tripping hazards
  3. Clear work space: remove any brush, interfering branches, and potential spring-poles
  4. Escape route: minimum 15 feet from the stump at 45 degrees from the direction of the fall.


 4. The Felling Plan

  1. Is the tree sound without excessive lean? If in doubt, call a professional. 
  2. Determine the target or direction of fall
  3. Determine the side lean in relation to the target
  4. Determine the back lean in relation to the target
  5. Identify the 'bad side' based on overhead hazards or lean. This is the side you will avoid during the felling cut.


5. The Stump Plan

  1. Line up the direction of the face cut with the target, compensating for side lean, if necessary. The face cut determines the direction of the fall.
  2. Calculate the hinge dimensions: hinge length = 80% of diameter at breast height or dbh (4.5' from base); hinge thickness = 10% dbh. For example, the hinge dimensions on a 10" dbh maple will be 8" for the length and 1" for the width.
  3. Begin the back cut slightly above the bottom face cut line. Wedge the back cut, as needed, to counter the lean.
  4. Do not cut through the hinge.
  5. Always look up for hazards and around for your teammates before the final release!
  6. A tree dbh twice the length of a chainsaw bar would be best felled by a technique called the plunge cut. This is an advanced technique and should not be attempted without the proper training first. This section only covers a conventional cut.


The first cut should be perpendicular to the ground at a length of 80% dbh with the second cut coming down at 45-70 degrees, meeting the first cut perfectly. Remove the resulting wedge.

conventional felling cut
Illustration of a conventional cut with wedge

face cut with wedge
A wedge is placed on the side with the lean to aid in directional felling.

The hinge is vital in controlling the direction of the fall. Do not cut through the hinge.

*created by Thomas Worthley (UCONN), J.P. Barsky (CAES) and Bill Girard (Game of Logging)