Dodged a bullet logging last week

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Nick Mystic

Minister of Fire
Feb 12, 2013
Western North Carolina
I'll be 69 next month and have heated with wood that I've harvested for the past 35 years or so. A couple weeks ago when I was working up a large oak tree on my property I had something happen that could have resulted in a very serious injury, but luck was on my side and I learned a valuable lesson. Here is what happened: The oak tree I was working up had blown over in a storm, so it was up off the ground with the root ball supporting one end of the tree and the large top limbs supporting the top of the tree at the other end. As I was cutting off the larger limbs I encountered one that was about four or five inches at the trunk and extended out from the tree a good 20' or more. This particular limb ended up being wedged behind a smaller sourwood tree about 8' from the trunk and I could tell there was tension on the limb since I couldn't move it when I tested it.

I was going to cut the limb off at the trunk, but the tension on it made me leery of getting my chain bar pinched if the pressure on the limb was forcing the limb upwards instead of letting gravity pull it downward. Instead of risking getting my saw stuck I decided to first make a cut just beyond where the limb was pinned behind the sourwood tree since I knew that part of the limb would fall to the ground in the normal fashion when I cut it off. Once that added weight was gone I thought there would be less chance of pinching my saw when I made the final cut down at the tree trunk.

Here is where I did my bullet dodging. The limb was about parallel with the ground about five feet up in the air. I was making my cut about three or four inches beyond where the limb was pinned behind the sourwood tree. As luck would have it I was positioned to the side of the sourwood tree toward the end of the tree limb which extended another 10' or 15' out in the air. The limb was about three inches in diameter where I was making my cut. I cut straight down on the limb and as soon as the saw passed through the limb the 8' of limb still attached to the tree sprang free of the sourwood tree and shot out like a released catapult with tremendous force and traveled about 4 or 5 feet before rebounding for several more swings back and forth. Had I been standing with even six inches of my body to the left of the sourwood tree where the limb was pinned I would have been nailed and there is no telling how seriously I would have been injured, or even killed.

It all happened so quickly that it took me a few minutes to reconstruct what must have happened. I was certainly correct in my assessment that there was tension on limb being pinned behind the sourwood tree. What I didn't consider is that the limb could possibly be released from it's pinned position by me cutting off the section that was several inches beyond where it was pinned. Since the remainder of the limb that was attached to the main tree trunk was still going to be pinned in place I didn't consider any risk of it springing free as it did. What must have happened is the sourwood tree it was pinned behind had a slight angle to it leaning in the direction of the end of the limb. The weight of the section of limb that I cut off must have been pulling downward enough on the limb that once it was cut free the loss of its weight allowed the part of the limb pinned behind the sourwood tree to slide upwards enough to come free from the sourwood tree since the tree was angled away from where the limb was attached to the tree. That upward movement was just enough to let the limb move those 3 or 4 inches so that that part of the branch that had been pinned behind the sourwood tree was now released and the limb could spring back to its normal position in space, which was several feet in front of the sourwood tree.

I'm a fairly cautious logger and try to think things through before I take action. I had never before encountered this exact situation I guess and I thought I had reasoned things out safely. The only risk I was thinking about was the risk of getting my chain bar pinched and my saw stuck in the tree limb. It never crossed my mind that the limb could come free from behind the sourwood tree when I was cutting it off beyond where it was pinned. Lesson learned.


Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
South Puget Sound, WA
Glad you are ok. One always has to expect the unexpected. Stay safe brother.


Feb 21, 2020
North East, Pa
Thank you for sharing your experience, I am glad you are safe and able to share it.


Minister of Fire
Dec 16, 2015
New Hampshire
Thanks for sharing, it's always good to hear stories like this as I will try to file this away mentally to use if I ever encounter a similar situation. Nice description too.
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Minister of Fire
Sep 22, 2012
Thanks for the reminder about safety, it's good for all of us. I am in the process of clearing about 2-1/2 acres filled with Honey Locust. I cut a relatively small one, about 6" in diameter and when I did a branch about 3" in diameter cracked me right in the head. I always scan the canopy, but missed this one obviously. Fortunately, I was wearing my cutting helmet, but it shoved the sweat band down over my eyes, other than that I was fine. Friend gives me crap about wearing one, and wears no eye or ear protection when he cuts :/ . That's the third time that helmet has saved my noodle. I'm sure my friend will have hearing aids by the time he's 50 and one glass eye.

Nick Mystic

Minister of Fire
Feb 12, 2013
Western North Carolina
Thanks for the feedback BIGChrisNH. That's the reason I made the post, so others might recall reading about my incident if they ever encounter something similar. All of my years logging and this was the first time I ever encountered such a situation. Had I read about a similar account I would have known to stand clear of the area where the limb could shoot out instead of just getting lucky and standing in the clear by chance alone. I knew the limb was under tension and I could even predict where the limb would move to at a high rate of speed if the tension was suddenly released. Where I made my mistake was thinking that the limb would not be set free by my cutting it beyond the point where it was pinned. As far as I thought it through the limb would remain pinned in place since it was still going to be up against the tree it was wedged up against. I never anticipated that it could find a way to get free of the tree holding it in place by my cutting part of it away beyond its point of contact with the restraining tree.
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Woody Stover

Minister of Fire
Dec 25, 2010
Southern IN
Yikes! _g Glad you were able to "live and learn."
I've gotten lucky more than once. Time to quit relying on luck or I might find out when exactly when it is that my luck is due to run out. :oops: Time to start wearing the helmet, too. I try to have a spotter there when I'm cutting one where I think limbs might fall, but you can't be too safe..gotta pull out all the stops when it comes to safety.


Minister of Fire
Feb 16, 2014
When cutting, nothing is routine. While not even the closest thing to a pro cutter or even a good ameture, I've learned a thing or two from watching our forestry guys at work clear fallen tree's or limbs during storms, the most valuable tool they have besides there brains is a stick saw, I had to buy a new weed whacker last year so I bought the stihl multi one, with the stick saw and extended rods, its been a savor when trying to clear something that has pressure on it.
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Minister of Fire
Oct 7, 2008
Lackawaxen PA
I know how we get focused on the forces that create the pinch. We tend to not fully understand how the weight change might change everything. I'm careful and believe I see all the issues. But I had a similar weight change that caused the complete tree to rotate. It's been a while, but I recall sitting for a a 1/2 an hour trying to figure out why I didn't know this was going to happen. Hopefully we use what we learned.