how to cut a tree branch

Fall Maintenance

Fall is a great time to get things done, period. I have been telling you that for years (Here & Here & Here).

A friend kicked off our long overdue patio paver project. And while I would LOVE to tackle that project DIY – 700+sf, two walks, multiple elevations and, well, a wife were telling me otherwise. “Hire it out,” they said.

patio demo begins

* My Fall To Do List

As the guys got to work removing thousands of brick from the existing patio, and as they began building out short sections of retaining wall, it freed me up to take care of a few other items that have nagged me and my todo list allllll Summer.

If you have followed closely, you know I have been replacing glass, reglazing and (re-) painting some of the wood windows around the house.  Along with getting that work done, I finally got my mulch pile (delivered in May/June) spread, I power washed (some), I fertilized (some)  and I got busy cutting back some of the dead growth on the mature trees around our property.

close up push point wood window

starting a power washer

mixing compost tea fertilizer from rain barrel

Tree Work -Shady-Yard

Those mature trees, while I do LOVE them (for numerous reasons), present some challenges around our yard. Mature Trees = Shade and we got lots of it – in the dense form. I actually priced out having a few of these (three) trees (hollies) thinned all the way up their 30 foot (or so) of height.  But $1400, unfortunately, was a little more than we wanted to commit to right now.

I know thinning back dead branches, and well – just thinning in general … to open things up, allows more light to reach plantings underneath and also promotes better air circulation, itself fighting disease.

So even though going all in wasn’t an option, I pulled out my extension ladders. I climbed some trees and I got jiggy with a little light tree pruning. It’s an Essential DIY Skill, and as I learned recently – an essential part of Fall Home Maintenance.

How to Cut a Tree Branch

* Tools & Rules

There are handful of basic tree maintenance tools I think no homeowner should do without.  My must-have list would include a chain saw, a pole trimmer, loppers and (one of my all time forever favs) a bow saw. (Fiskars brand specifically has been pretty good to me in recent years.)

tree maintenance tools

As a general rule of thumb, the diameter of the branch/limb, the position of it in relation to other limbs and the relationship of the branch to the ground will dictate which tool you will reach for.  But in all cases, your tools should be well maintained and sharp (something I know that I am not always the best at). I am kicking myself now for passing on the opportunity to review Dremel‘s Lawn and Garden Rotary Tool Kit (on Amazon), designed specifically for sharpening.

Because I was working this weekend higher in trees and on smaller limbs, I decided to go outside my normal arsenal of tools. I picked up a Diablo 9″ Pruning Reciprocating Saw Blade ($9 on Amazon). It first was spotted, in our household, and used by Mrs. Moxie during her most recent flip. I used it with my corded Craftsman SawZall and it worked perfectly.

diablo pruning blade
recip-pruning-blade-on-sawzallThe 3 Cut Operation

Beyond that, “the operation” is pretty simple, and yes you should think of it as an operation. I mean – you do not want to hurt parts of the tree that are otherwise completely healthy.

Cuts on branches larger than what can be made with the loppers and/or the pole trimmer are made in threes, typically with a saw. You can find many diagrams (like this one at Tree Sense) that help depict this.  (Note: For this article I am speaking about limbs say 3-4 inches in diameter or smaller.)

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* Cut One

About 1/3 the thickness of the branch, is made upwards into the branch.

how to cut a tree branch cut 1 upwards

* Cut Two (Which I’m Sorry, I didn’t have a Good Picture of)

Downwards and is made just further outside (along the branch) of the first cut you made. For this one, you are cutting all the way through the branch – effectively cutting it off.  Important! Of course you want to be careful of what is below: people, equipment and other limbs. (Adjust accordingly by making smaller first cuts further out on the branch. Then make your way back to the collar.)

* Cut Three

A “clean up cut” made just at the branch’s collar.

how to cut a tree branch cut 3

This then just left me with a little bit of clean up, below.

how to cut a tree branch finished


That’s it, hope it helps and now back to doing it. For more on Essential DIY Home Improvement Skills and/or more on Fall Home Maintenance, please see those categories there. Cheers. ~jb