If you’ve felled a tree or come across deadfall, the next step is cleaning up the trunk. You’ll want to remove any unwanted branches and chop the trunk into manageable logs. If you’d like to learn how to limb a tree and then buck the trunk then keep reading. We’re about to give you the rundown on how it’s done effectively and safely.

What is tree limbing?

Limbing is the process of removing branches from a tree, whether standing or felled. A growing tree only has its lower branches removed to allow the sun through or to provide easier clearance for people and vehicles. It is also an effective fire prevention method, deterring flames from climbing up to the canopy. Trees on the ground usually have all their branches limbed before being hewed or bucked.

Fast fact: Limbing is also known as delimbing or snedding.

How to limb a fallen tree with an axe

Safety is the most important consideration when limbing a trunk. The larger the tree, the higher the risk. Keep in mind that some limbs could be propping the tree off the ground or providing support. Limbing may cause the trunk to move position, rolling unpredictably or slamming to the ground. Leave any supporting limbs for last.

  1. Before starting, carefully look over the tree, making a mental note of which branches are providing support. Have a clear plan for getting out of the way if it shifts.  
  2. Position your body in such a way as to reduce the chance of injury. The trunk should be in between yourself and the branch. This will require some zigzagging from one side of the tree to the other. The trunk provides protection if the axe deflects unpredictably.   
  3. Start limbing the tree from the trunk’s bottom and work up from there. Check which way the limb is growing and chop in that direction. Smaller branches will be removed easily. Larger ones usually require a perpendicular notch followed up with chopping from an angle. Any protrusions should be cleaned up.

What axe should I use for limbing?

You’re best to use a light, easy to maneuver axe like a hatchet or boy’s axe for limbing trees. Heavier felling axes are cumbersome and are more likely to cause an injury.

What is tree bucking?

Bucking a tree is the process of cutting a large trunk into smaller logs. These pieces are easier to transport and are suitable for chopping into firewood. Bucking a large tree requires a lot of work if you’re using an axe and results in greater wastage. It’s best to use a saw or chainsaw for efficiency in most situations. But if you travel a long distance on foot axes are a useful tool.

How to buck a tree with an axe

For safer chopping, position your feet well apart and make sure you’re stable. You’re chopping down, so if the axe cuts through the log or deflects, it’s less likely to connect with your leg or foot.   

  • For smaller trees, stand on the ground, uphill from your target.
  • For larger trees, it’s easiest to stand on the trunk.
  1. Start chopping a v-notch into the trunk at a 35-45° angle, aiming to remove big chunks of wood each chop. The notch should be at least twice as wide as the trunk’s diameter. Otherwise, wood chips easily get stuck in the cut and the two sides of the notch will bind.
  2. The bigger the tree, the harder the job. To reduce the chance of injury, remember to take breaks when you’re tired. It’s also important to maintain a sharp axe so that the blade cuts into the wood, rather than glancing off.
  3. As the notch grows and comes close to cutting through, take extra care. You don’t want the axe to swing through the notch, damaging the blade on the ground or hitting your foot. It’s just as important to work out where the log will roll once you make the final blow. Will it spring or roll awkwardly? Don’t get caught out.  

Did you know? A double-bladed axe is useful for bucking. You can use a thicker bit for limbing and a sharper edge for bucking.     

Tree bucking makes large trunks easier to manage.

Commonly asked questions

Limb vs branch – what’s the difference?

A limb is a large stem or bough that bears foliage while a branch is a smaller division from the stem or another branch. A branch takes at least four years to develop.   

What is under and over bucking?

Cutting a trunk from the top in a downward direction is overbucking while underbucking is from the bottom up.

What is a buck sawyer?

A specialist tree bucker is known as a bucker, bucksawyer, or bucklogger. They will buck logs in the most efficient way to get the best value out of a tree.

What is a bolt?

Bolts are log pieces that have been chopped into specific short lengths. A billet is a wood round that is usually smaller than a bolt.

Related reading: Would you like to learn how to swing an axe to get maximum power? Check out our guide which explains how brute strength isn’t the key to a powerful chopping action. Otherwise, find out how to chop down a tree with an axe.

A selection of limbing and bucking images in a vertical collage

Summing up

Limbing and bucking is risky work that can easily result in injury or worse for the inexperienced. Always treat felled trees with respect as they’re unpredictable. Limbing is essential if you want to process a tree into lumber or firewood. Using a suitable axe like a hatchet makes light work and allows for more accurate removal of branches.

When it comes time to buck the trunk, you may be better off using a chainsaw. It’s much quicker and less wood gets wasted.

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