Although I generally prefer to use an axe to fell a tree, you can also do it with a bushcraft knife. This will take some more time and limit the tree’s size, but it is a useful skill to have.
Table of Contents
Step 1 – Gather your Materials
There are only three critical pieces of equipment you will need to start felling trees with your knife. This depends on the size of the tree. If you are looking to fell a small tree, you likely don’t require any wedges.
- Bushcraft Knife – I prefer a non-serrated blade that won’t get filled with wood shavings and a longer length in the 6 to 12 in size.
- Hammer – This is to apply force to the backside of the knife and make the cuts into the trunk. You can also use a thicker branch or the back side of an axe head.
- Felling Wedge – Depending on the size of the tree, you may need a felling wedge to force the direction of fall. You can also carve a wedge shape out of fallen branches.
Step 2 – Determine the Direction of Fall
Pick the location where you want the tree to fall. This is especially important for larger trees. Choose a clear spot of obstacles, just as nearby trees or slopes that will make it difficult to log and remove.
The height of the tree is the critical factor in this decision. It can be challenging to estimate the tree’s height and lay it down horizontally, so make sure you give yourself some safety margin.
Step 3 – Remove any Lower Branches
If you are felling a large tree, then there are likely going to be branches down low that either impede your movement all around the tree or disrupt its fall. The last thing you want is the tree to start falling, and a thick branch hits the ground first and twists or rotates the position of the entire tree.
This also helps with your own movement when making wedge cuts at a 360-degree angle all around the tree. You can also use these branches as your hammer tool.
Step 4 – Make a Wedge Cut in the Trunk
Place your knife blade against the trunk and strike the back of the knife with your hammer or alternate tool. You will need to adjust the force applied based on the durability of the knife and the hardness of the wood. It may make sense to remove any bark.
Make the first wedge cut in the direction you want the tree to fall. This is also referred to as a notch cut. This should be positioned around 1 foot from the ground so that you don’t leave a large stump behind.
Start with a downwards cut at a 45-degree angle and go as deep into the trunk as your knife allows.
Secondly, make an upward cut at an angle that will meet at the deepest point of the first cut. This will remove a wooden chip from the trunk and will leave a wide wedge shape removed from the trunk.
Once the wedge cut has been completed, you should never walk in front of this cut. This is now the most dangerous position and should be considered off-limits for yourself and anyone in the area.
For a smaller tree, you can continue cutting wedges around the trunk until the tree is weak enough that you can push it over, but a larger tree will need a wedge to fell it safely.
Step 5 – Use a Wedge to Fell the Tree
Once you have made a large wedge cut in the trunk you can progress to the felling cut. This is the same as the wedge cut but is significantly thinner. I find it better to position this 2 inches higher than the notch to allow for a hinge movement through the trunk.
Then, you can force the wedge into the felling cut and hammer it into position. This will force the felling cut to open up and fall in the direction of the notch cut. As soon as the tree starts to fall, then back away quickly as the trunk can move backward.
Remember – once you have started felling a tree, always complete the job. Leaving a tree with a wedge cut in the trunk or worst with a felling cut, is extremely dangerous as it can fall very easily with a strong wind and could fall unexpectedly.
Once you have finished, you can chop the tree into firewood – make sure you season the wood properly to get the highest quality firewood.
Alternate Push Cut Technique
You can consider the push cut technique if you don’t have a durable knife or are worried about using a hammer to force the blade into the wood. This is simply where you use the sharpness of the blade and your own strength to push the knife into the wood. I have only done this successfully with smaller softwood trees, such as pine trees.
You will also generally only be able to cut shallower wedges into the tree’s trunk. So start small and build a wider and wider wedge with each cut.
When felling large trees I always prefer to use a felling axe or at least a saw, but it is certainly possible to do with a survival knife. Make sure you have a knife that is durable enough to survive being hammered into the wood and always be careful with your finger placement and tree felling position. Safety is paramount during bushcraft, so take your time.