Level Stumps on Steep Ground


Nov 2, 2010
Snoqualmie, WA
Hey Guys. Don't expect to get to much of a response with this one, but I'm really curious...

We've been getting to fall some really tall Doug Fir stubs lately on some "steeper than a cow's face" ground, and, as you might expect, everyone's cuts (both face and back) tend to slope downhill with the ground.

This tends to be o.k. as long as the back cut stays consistent with the face, but, of course it also makes the spar swing uphill, thus damaging the keeper trees. :O

I saw some images on the House of one of Burnham's contract fallers cutting a Doug, (with all the wolfy bark shaved off) and the marvelous thing--at least to me--was how beautifully level, despite the steep ground, his whole operation was.

My question for you guys is what methods do you use to get level stumps. Is it all just gut feel? I've heard of guys looking at the sawcase to see if it's level. I've heard of guys cutting in bar-deep and then stepping back for objectivity, to look at the saw in the tree. Nothing works for me. What do you guys do? Don't tell me I need more experience: I already know that! Darn it, I want some tricks!!
I think a good part of the 'gut feel/experience ' aspect in it is consistency in how you hold a saw. Firstly, full or 3/4 wrap handlebars. Also, a well balanced saw helps too. For me the main thing is feeling the level of the saw in the weight on the handlebars and the pistol grip. In other words, if the saw is off level, it requires a different holding force in each hand to hold it that way, as opposed to the feeling of level which with practice becomes ingrained in muscle memory. It's more difficult standing in awkward positions, and if it's a critical cut on a big tree by all means step back a bit a look at it.
For me cutting on a slope is all feel. I think it just takes practice and more practice I tell everybody, "every cut you make is practice and make them as perfect as possible". I have never been on a mountain side, but have cut on hills that are crazy steep to the point where I am tied in.
I've always loved the mountains, but they don't make tree work easy.

Click for bigger photos.
I don't know how, Jed. To me level is level, whether you're standing in the kitchen or on the side of a 120% slope. I don't understand not being able to see that the bar is level.

Maybe don't think about or look so hard at the ground, ignore that and just concentrate on the saw and the tree.

I always liked Bermy's method that she advises to her students..."imagine you are balancing a ball bearing on the bar".
practice practice practice. ain't no other way really. muscle memory will come into play as well, but later. after you practice practice practice
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  • #13
Yup. Did a little better today. A LITTLE mind you. My trouble is now mostly just on the back cut when the case is "upside down". So: my left hand is on the 3/4 wrap part of the handle-bar and my right is on the pistol. What happens is: for the life of me I can't get what Jerry calls the "roll" right. Funny thing is: you'd think I'd be able to since it's the same darned error EVERY SINGLE TIME!

O.k. Here's the situation: on fairly steep ground I start my (horizontal) undercut--pretty good tilt, (level-ish) pretty good roll (levelish). Then the diagonal--always Humboldt since I'm the worst wanna-be logger you ever met--and, once in a blue-moon, it comes out half-way matched on my far corner. Now for my death-knell--the darned back cut. I start out with the bar (on my near corner) at a perfect elevation--about a quarter inch above the face cut (Humboldt, mind you!) Then I adjust the tilt--pretty darned well once and a while--and then adjust the roll to what I think is perfect. Start back cut, and cut up to near corner--perfect! (or so I think) Sweep the darned cut till my sight almost matches my lay and go around to the far corner to see how I did. Use disgusting language under my breath, and then ask God to forgive me all in the same breath. The darned thing is too low AGAIN!! So my roll was all wrong to begin with--pointed downward apparently.

Burnham! I know what you'll say!!!!!!! "Then roll the cut up higher next time." I do, I swear. I even get it pretty good once in a while, but I'll be darned if three or four days don't go by, and I find myself doing the exact same thing all over again. I Hate this trade! I love this trade. I hate this trade. I love this trade. Etc.

I really appreciated what Gord had to say about muscle-memory. I think I have muscle amnesia. Incredible shots though Gord. One of em' is our new screen-saver.
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  • #15
Yeah but they've got this stupid rule about not drinking on the clock.
Jed, you may not be making any mistake in starting level. It could be improper technique in powering the saw through the back cut.

It's very easy to push the bar off line as the kerf progresses if you are applying uneven pressure to the handles. Look at that aspect of how you are moving through the back cut, make sure you are gripping in a balanced manner and not above center of effort. If your grip and point of pressure on the powerhead is high, relative to the bar and kerf, you will push the bar into a lowering line through the back cut.

With only a quarter inch of stump shot, it only takes a smidge of over-topped push to drive the bar under the far corner.
Getting the humbolt diagonal cut to line up can be tricky at first. you gotta angle your bar more than you think you do, the "roll" axis as you said. The key to good face cuts is to stop cutting when the guns on each cut line up. use your sights. Then you can pop it out with an axe and wedges and do some muttering and cussing.

Use your whole body to help you level the saw, don't just rely on your one arm on the wrap handle to level the whole saw. Your trigger hand and knee will help as well.

Keep practicing. I still am.

And to add what to Burnham just said, try not to dog in until your bar is more than halfway into the cut - be it your face cut or back cut.
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  • #20
Burnham: Thanks so much. Really.

You might have nailed it, actually. I always tend to leave my left hand on the 3/4 wrap part as the cut progresses. I dare say you're right--I'm probably forcing it down somehow. I'll put my left hand on the top of the handle-bar and try to power through evenly next time. I bet that's it. I actually do tend to pride myself on being a good filer, so I KNOW my chains ain't curvin'. Guess the ol' muscles are!
Another way to put it might be simpler than what I posted before...just make sure you are not lifting the rear handle any as you push the bar through the back cut.

And I completely disagree with forestryworks on the use of dogs...I set them first and pivot on them quite alot.
I use them a lot as well. I mainly said that for inbredjed so as to focus leveling the bar, then worry about dogging in, taking it a step at a time kind of thing.

But, Jed, if you think dogging in and leveling before you sweep will help, then by all means!
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  • #25
Forestryworks: No, I don't dog before initiating the cut. I cut in by feel, normally until I'm about bar deep an then start the dog-sweep deal. Appreciate the advice though. Sounds like you know what you're up to.