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Written By Kris Brown.

Posted on May 3rd, 2023.

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This blog documents a novice chainsaw operator’s progress towards tree felling competency. A chainsaw safety training program called Game of Logging provided the building blocks.

This blog documents a novice chainsaw operator’s progress towards tree felling competency. A chainsaw safety training program called Game of Logging provided the building blocks.

I took my first Game of Logging (GOL) chainsaw safety training in 2018. It was a Level 1 course. At the time, I had almost no operating experience. I used my boss’s saw and personal protective equipment (PPE). My only goal that day was to not hurt myself or anyone else! I was nervous to say the least. In an earlier blog, Elizabeth Marks shared similar feelings about going into her first training, a women’s Game of Logging course.

For those that have never taken a course and have these kinds of fears, all you need to do is show up with a willingness to learn and instructor Bill Lindloff will take care of the rest. I made it through my first training not only unscathed, but I also came away with a little confidence and some knowledge about safe chainsaw operation and maintenance. I also felled my first tree that day, a 12”-diameter sugar maple. All participants practiced executing their cut plans on an upright log before felling a tree for real.  

I didn’t put that knowledge to use until 2022, when I started cutting firewood in my small woodlot, this time with my own saw and PPE. I felled a few small-diameter trees that were already leaning where I wanted them to fall. They also had a low probability of getting hung up. I really enjoyed cutting firewood and I knew I wanted to keep at it.

However, it didn’t take long before I ran out of relatively easy-to-cut firewood trees. I began eyeing up some larger ash trees that would likely succumb to the emerald ash borer. Some were back-leaning. Some had wider crowns that could damage other trees on their way down. Some were right next to the house. I knew I would need more training to tackle these trees safely, so I signed up for another GOL Level 1 training.

Bill started the day with an introduction about GOL, how it changed the way he operates in the woods, and how he came to be an instructor. We covered PPE (e.g., chaps, helmet and face shield, hearing protection, and footwear), chain sharpening, basic saw maintenance, and reactive forces on different parts of the saw bar. For example, when cutting with the top of the bar, the saw pushes you back. Cutting with the bottom side pulls you in. At the tip of the bar, the top half causes the saw to kick back towards your upper body (not good), while the bottom half of the bar tip can be used safely, for example in a bore or plunge cut.


One big takeaway for me was the importance of maintaining a sharp chain and how to make sure you have the right tools for the job. A dull chain creates sawdust. A sharp chain creates wood chips, which is what you want. Cutting with a damaged chain (e.g., a bent tooth or missing raker) can stall out a chainsaw motor. I didn’t realize that saw performance was so directly tied to the chain’s condition.

Bill showed us how to use a flat file to file the rakers.


Then he used a round file with a roller guide to sharpen the teeth. The rollers ensure that the round file runs through the proper position in the tooth.


I have a Stihl MS 180C saw with a 16” bar and 3/8” P (for pico) chain. I used the information printed on the saw bar to find a filing tool that works for my chain.


After lunch, we headed to the woods to fell some trees. Bill did the first one, a hefty, back-leaning white pine. He demonstrated the HELP method, which helps you create a felling plan for each tree you are planning to cut down. HELP stands for Hazards, Escape path, tree Lean, and Plan your cut. Elizabeth Marks explains the process in more detail in her blog (see paragraph 5).

6 Measuring hinge length



Bill delimbed the tree and cut several logs from the butt end of the log. He stood the logs on end and all 10 participants practiced cutting a felling notch, followed by a bore cut.

8 Practice felling notch and bore cut


The felling notch faces where you want the tree to fall, including compensation for the tree’s side lean, if necessary. We learned how the notch and bore cut establish hinge length and thickness, respectively. The hinge is what controls the tree from falling until you want it to.

Here, we started to solidify the calculations for hinge length (80% of the tree’s diameter at breast height (DBH)) and hinge thickness (10% or less of the tree’s DBH). Generally, hardwoods can have thinner hinges than softwoods because their wood is stronger.

Later, each participant felled their own tree under Bill’s supervision. Most of the trees were dead ash. Bill helped us develop and execute our safety and cutting plans. He also scored our performance. At least a dozen trees were felled on the day, each one with a unique set of circumstances (e.g., tree diameter, lean, hazards, etc.). These repetitions helped me begin to put key concepts together.

10 Evaluating another cut stump

10 Evaluating another cut stump



So, how did I do? Let’s just say I have a lot to work on. I need to go slow enough to evaluate the direction my felling notch is pointed. This is important because the tree falls where you aim it, as we learned time and again during the course. My bore cuts tended to be too close to the hinge and at times they weren’t level. That said, we still got my tree to fall fairly close to the intended target.

Am I ready to take down those more difficult ash trees in my backyard? Nope, not yet. Fortunately, there are more levels to Game of Logging that focus on difficult felling situations and I plan to take them. That said, I did practice what I learned on several backyard trees, including a dead cherry. I executed my cut plan and the tree fell pretty much where I wanted it to.

11 Dead cherry tree


I hope this blog inspires you to take one or more trainings. I did mine for $25 through NYCAMH. Here are some other ways you can find information about Game of Logging events in the Northeast:

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