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Chainsaw Wedges. Tips from a Professional.

Chainsaw wedges are quite handy tools for felling and bucking wooden logs. They essentially protect the chainsaw bar while also making the cutting process easy and efficient. Eliminating the need for traditional axes. If you’re a professional arborist or a homeowner looking to obtain firewood, this article will help you utilize a chainsaw wedge in your cutting practice from the standpoint of an expert.

Chainsaw wedges.

Wedges are simple, inexpensive tools that aid in tree felling and log bucking when used with a chainsaw. Felling wedges help you tackle tricky, leaning trees and fell them towards the desired side. Bucking wedges helps free your guide bar from a pinching log. While buying wedges, always make sure you select varying sizes depending on the log diameters and select the material which provides the highest durability and best grip.

In this blog post, I will explain in detail the types of wedges and their functions. Including what size, you need and how to choose one. And I will answer an often-asked question: what a bucking wedge is.

What is Chainsaw Wedge Used for?

Chainsaw wedges serve various purposes. They facilitate the felling process of a tree wherein they control the direction the tree falls in once cut. They are also used to prevent the guide bar’s pinching while bucking. Moreover, they can also be used to free a guide bar pinched between the log ends.

Chainsaw wedges are of two main types depending on their use. Felling wedges are dedicated to tree ‘felling’. These wedges have wrinkles on both sides to enhance their grip on the wood. Bucking wedges are used while slicing a log to protect the guide bar from pinching. Unlike felling wedges, their angular surfaces are smooth for easy removal. Bucking wedges are also used to release pinched chainsaw bars.

Both wedge types facilitate the cutting of wooden logs. They are made of high-grade plastic and are quite inexpensive and easy to incorporate into use. Apart from the felling and bucking wedges, the third wedge type in use is the splitting wedge. As evident from the name, a splitting wedge is inserted into wood notches and struck with hammer blows to split the wood apart. These are usually made of hardened steel to withstand the hammer impulse. However, these wedge types aren’t normally used with chainsaws, as any metal contact could destroy the chainsaw’s cutting chain.

Hence, this blog post shall explore the two main wedge types which are related to chainsaw use, namely felling and bucking wedges.

What is the Purpose of a Felling Wedge?

A felling wedge helps the user fell a tree in the desired direction. The lift force provided by the wedge helps topple the tree by shifting its center of gravity and letting it fall under gravity.

Felling wedge, also known as winter wedge, is a simple yet useful tool used in forestry. One of the critical steps of tree felling is controlling the direction the tree falls. This is quite a difficult thing to consider, especially for trees that have a lean. If not controlled properly, it poses a risk of damaging life and property. Various tools are used for this purpose, which includes breaking bars, impact bars, rope, winches, etc.

In my view, using a felling wedge is the simplest and the easiest tool to fell a tree. It consists of a flat surface and a tapered surface to provide a lift force. It also has gripping features in the form of wrinkles that bite into the wood. The wedge is typically inserted in the back cut of the tree trunk. Afterward, it is struck with subsequent hammer blows until it topples in the direction opposite to the hammer blows. The tapered surface raises the tree’s trunk by about 2-3 inches.

By doing so, the line of action of the tree’s center of gravity moves out of its base. Resultantly, it enters into unstable equilibrium and topples over its base after it’s struck with hammer blows. These wedges are typically used with chainsaws while making a back cut. Hence, they are manufactured from softer materials, such as plastic or aluminum, in some cases.

Their lengths usually range from 5 inches and go up to 20 inches. For logs with large diameters, larger wedges are preferred as their length is sufficient to move the tree’s center of gravity out of its base and thereby tipping it over easily. For larger trees, you may need to insert more than one wedge to finish the job.

The taper on these wedges is generally slow because a steeper slope would result in more resistance to the hammer hit. These taper designs range from a single taper to a double and triple taper. For starters, a single taper has a slope on only one side. The double taper has gradual slopes on both sides. Finally, the triple taper begins as a single taper and gradually increases the taping angle midway along its length.

How do you Fell a Tree with a Wedge?

To fell a tree with a wedge, you make a notch initially in the direction you want the log to fall. Afterward, make a back cut and insert the wedge in it, which is struck with a hammer until the tree falls.

Felling a tree with a wedge may not be as easy as it seems. The difficulty levels with different trees. It gets trickier when a tree has some back lean and you wish to fell it in the opposite direction. I shall explain the correct technique based on multiple user experiences. Before cutting the trunk, it is better to remove as many branches as you can since this will improve the tree’s stability and also reduce its weight.

  • Make the V-notch: Start by making a V-shaped notch on the side opposite to the direction you would want the tree to fall. In most cases, the notch should cut through 30% of the trunk’s diameter.
  • Create the Back-Cut: Make a back cut exactly behind the notch’s edge by plunging your chainsaw’s guide bar. Make sure you leave a couple of inches between the notch and cut for the hinge.
  • Set the Wedge: Insert the wedge into the back cut. After it’s set properly in the cut, strike it with repeated blows of a hammer. If the hinge doesn’t seem to move after striking, remove the wedge and cut through some more wood. After reinserting the wedge, strike it again with a hammer until the trunk gets cut and falls in the desired direction.

Note: If you’re dealing with a tree that has around 5-10 degrees of back lean, a notch cutting through half of the log’s diameter would be ideal. Also, make sure the notch angle is 90 degrees in that case as it exerts more pressure on the hinge. If the back lean is around 15 degrees, then using a wedge alone may not be sufficient for the job. You may need to tie your tree’s top with a cable to avoid damage to your property. In this case, I would recommend inserting multiple wedges in your back cut to eliminate the side lean.

What Size Felling Wedges do I Need?

Ideally, your felling wedge’s length must be about 30-40% of the log’s diameter. This means that for an 18″ log, you should use a 7″ felling wedge. Common wedge materials are ABS plastics and aluminum.

Felling wedges come in almost all sizes ranging from 3-inches up to 12-inches. The ideal wedge size depends on the diameter of the leg being cut (the higher the dia. the larger the wedge size). Typically, these wedges are manufactured from softer materials such as ABS plastics and aluminum. The fact that they are exposed to a cutting chainsaw requires their build to be soft and expendable.

Felling wedges are quite inexpensive and hence I would recommend you to carry more than with various sizes in your backpack. I would suggest that for a given diameter log, the most appropriate wedge has a length that is about 30-40% of the log’s diameter. For small-diameter trees (around 6″ to 10″), you should carry 4″,4.5″ and 5″ wedges. For larger diameters, you should have 7 ½”, 10, and 12″ wedges in your kit.

How do I Choose a Felling Wedge?

While choosing a felling wedge, always ensure that you choose lightweight, gripping, and impact-resistant materials such as high-grade plastics. It is better to buy wedges of different sizes to suit various log diameters.   

Felling wedges can either be metallic or non-metallic. Metallic wedges are made up of aluminum and steel, whereas the non-metallic category comprises polymers such as plastics. The ideal wedge material must possess a superior grip so that it doesn’t slip from the groove when hammered. Also, it should be impact-resistant and durable enough to withstand repeated blows. Since it will be used in tandem with a chainsaw, it must not damage the chainsaw chain on making contact. Furthermore, it should have a bright color to aid visibility.

Based on these parameters, I would suggest going for wedges made of plastics (such as ABS plastics). Plastics provide a far better grip than metals on contact with wood. Also, they’re quite soft and would be easily cut by the chainsaw chain. Moreover, plastics, unlike metal, wouldn’t pop out of the back cut when struck with a hammer.

As for sizing, make sure you buy 3 or 4 wedges of varying sizes to suit your needs. If you need to cut only a certain tree type, it is better to keep 2 or 3 wedges of the same size as possible replacements. Also, while buying, make sure that the plastic is impact-resistant. Buying a wedge of orange or yellow color will be better for visibility.

What is a Bucking Wedge?

A bucking wedge prevents chainsaw pinching during the bucking process of a felled tree. They are also used to free up a pinched chainsaw during bucking.

Bucking wedges are also known as summer wedges. Unlike most felling wedges, they are tapered on both sides and have smooth surfaces for easy removal. These wedges are usually made of wood and plastic materials since they are used along with chainsaws and have a minimal compression requirement.

Bucking refers to slicing down a felled tree into smaller logs that can be used for multiple purposes, such as firewood, plywood, etc. Typically, a sharp chainsaw with a powerful engine can facilitate this process. For logs having large diameters, it’s not an easy task to perform. While it’s easy making the initial cut and going halfway through, cutting beyond that becomes tricky.

The top part of the log begins to compress as you cut your way to the bottom. This compressive force acts on the chainsaw guide bar due to which it becomes tough to do further cutting. In some cases, the chainsaw may even get stuck between the log ends. This could be damaging for the guide bar and the chain.

Hence, to prevent this, a bucking wedge is inserted at the top portion of the cut. This increases the gap between the log ends and frees up the guide bar from the log’s compressive force. As a regular practice, you can insert a bucking wedge once you’ve cut a few inches from the top. This would prevent pinching when you’ve reached the bottom. While cutting through the bottom portion of the log, avoid touching the ground as the dust can quickly dull the chain’s cutting teeth.