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Topping a Maple Tree

March 29, 2013

Last summer, I decided it was time to trim the row of lilacs I had along one side of my back yard.  It had gotten so high that I had to do something.  I started by removing the tallest stems and cutting off the tallest branches, using a small bow saw.  I did much of the cutting while standing on a step ladder.  Once the lilacs were cut down to a reasonable size, I noticed one maple stem that had grown up amongst the lilacs.  It was taller than the lilacs, about 20 cm in diameter at the base, but much slimmer further up.  I thought I might as well do that one too.  There was no point in calling a tree service for such a small tree.

I started at the bottom, cutting off the side branches.  Soon I was doing it from my step ladder.  When that was too short, I got out my extension ladder and kept on going.  All I did was to lean the top of the ladder against the maple stem and cut over my head with the little bow saw.  Pretty soon I had extended the ladder further than I’d ever had it before.  The ladder was pretty wobbly, but I was careful.  I stopped when I had cut the side branches as high as I dared to reach.  Now it was time to cut off the top.

It was also time to be a little more careful.  The top had to fall  in a gap between the lilac row and the overhead power line.  There was lots of room, but I didn’t want it to get out of control.  The tree was flimsy at that height.  It wouldn’t fall over, but it did move around a lot when I climbed the ladder.  When the top fell, it might hit the ladder and knock it off, with me still on the ladder.  Just the rebound from the falling tree top might send the ladder flying.  I decided I’d better lash the top of the ladder to the tree, so that it would stay in place, regardless of what happened.  Now I was ready.

I started by cutting out a wedge-shaped piece in the direction I wanted it to fall.  This was exactly what I learned in boy scouts a long time ago.  I was working over my head and at one side of the ladder.  I deepened this notch until I thought it was about right, and then started cutting on the opposite side, a bit higher up the tree.  It was slow going.  Most of the time, I was holding on to the tree with one hand and sawing with the other.  Sawdust was getting into my eyes and into my hair.  Every once in a while, I gave the top a push to see if it was going to split.  Several times I grew so tired that I climbed down and took a break.

Finally, after another session of cutting, it started to split when I gave it a push.  It toppled over slowly, without disturbing the ladder or me at all.  I had plenty of time to watch it as it fell.  It came down exactly where I wanted it, landing on the side of the lilac hedge and tumbling onto the lawn.  I had a big grin on my face when I climbed down the ladder that time.  The rest was easy.  I could do all the rest of the cutting safely on the ground.  I had succeeded, and done it almost perfectly.  I also learned a few things.  That little maple tree was taller than I had thought.  Cutting it with a pruning saw was more difficult than I had thought.  Next time, I may do it differently.

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One Comment
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