How to Cut a Large Log With a Small Chainsaw – Complete Guide

It may seem like an insurmountable task to effectively either fell a large tree or cut up logs into blocks of wood with a small chainsaw. It’s challenging – that’s for sure – but not impossible.

As is the case with many homeowners, there are unsightly trees standing on your property that are a rotting eyesore and need to be cut down. Perhaps there’s a massive old oak or hemlock in your backyard that needs to be put out to pasture. Like most working folks who like to tinker around their yards on the weekend, you probably don’t own a powerful gas-powered chainsaw.

What if you need to cut large logs and you only have a small battery – operated or electric chainsaw? Don’t fret, because this guide will explain how to go about doing this task effectively.

Factors to take into consideration

Before I go any further, I will state unequivocally that your saw’s engine power, guide bar length and the diameter of the log in question all need to be considered.

A chainsaw with a 10 – 14 – inch bar is capable of felling a large tree (preferably under 20 inches in diameter) or blocking up firewood. But if the diameter is higher than the guide bar length by a wide margin, a saw with a less powerful engine will be of little use to you.

Time is of the essence here. It will naturally take longer to cut a large log with a small chainsaw. What’s the key? Go slow. Make small cuts and keep chipping away at the log until you’ve successfully done the job. Yes, you must be patient. Another trick when using a small chainsaw to cut a large log is to buy a longer guide bar. Check the type of chainsaw you have to see what guide bars will fit it.

My experience with large trees

A number of years ago, I worked as a forester. Despite having access to powerful professional – grade chainsaws, I occasionally would come across a massive tree much larger in diameter than the spruce and pines I normally cut down.

On one very hot day, I had to cut down a white ash tree that had a 36-inch diameter. The bar on the Husqvarna chainsaw I was using was 20 inches. As you can probably imagine, I was concerned that it wouldn’t work. What I did first was cut a notch on one side then the other side, all the while careful not to meet the cuts.

Next, I cut one side within two inches of the back of the face cut and switched over to the other side and did the same. I kept cutting back and forth. It took a lot of effort, but the tree eventually fell.

Again, I applied the same principles you must follow when tackling a large log with your small chainsaw. Go slow and take your time. It’s the only way to get the job done right.

Techniques that are useful

If you want to know how to cut a large log with a small chainsaw, you’re not alone. Forestry professionals and hobbyists alike are often concerned about the limit of tree you can cut down. Another thing that can cause alarm is the matter of where the tip of the saw goes when the tree is considerably wider than the bar.

Again, it will depend heavily on the guide bar length of your chainsaw.

I will tell you right now that most chainsaws can safely cut down trees that have trunk diameters twice the bar length of the particular model of chainsaw being used.

How exactly does one go about doing this?

For chainsaw operators who are using a smaller bar, it’s best to employ a combination of plunge and fan cuts. This is what I referred to earlier. Take your time and slowly cut away at the trunk.

For very large trees, it is recommended to make a bore in the middle of the directional notch. Apply the chainsaw gently with a pulling chain to reduce the risk of kickback. Cut off the central parts of the stump by slowly swinging the guide bar.

Now continue with the dual bore and fell the tree using the safe corner method or turn around method. But before you start this venture, there are several procedures you must go through to ensure that the job is done safely and smoothly.

There are metal spikes called dogs at the base of the bar. These bite into the tree bark. Check them to see if they reduce the effective length of the bar. Once that is done, conduct a quick hazard analysis and plan your escape route just in case you’re forced to flee out of the way of a falling log.

This video explains the whole process pretty well:

What to do if your chainsaw gets stuck?

This can easily happen if the tree you intend to cut down is significantly bigger than your chainsaw’s guide bar. You cut too deep too soon and the wood closes up on your guide bar due to the immense pressure it receives from the sheer size of the tree. That said, sometimes it even gets stuck in logs that are already laying on the ground while you are trying to cut them into smaller pieces.

Trying to pull it out by force can damage the guide bar so I wouldn’t recommend it. You probably can’t get it out that way anyway.

Instead, I recommend using a felling wedge. A felling wedge is very similar to a splitting wedge, but instead of splitting wood it’s designed to force cuts previously made by a chainsaw or other tools open.

You place it in the opening and slowly push it in using a hammer or some other improvised tool. Most felling wedges even have barbs on them to better hold them in place under high pressure.

If you don’t already have these in your toolkit, you can buy some Spiked Felling Wedges from Amazon. I can personally recommend this set, the bright lime color makes them easy to find should you ever drop them by accident.

Can I use a splitting wedge for this?

If you don’t have any felling wedges at hand you can give it a try, but I wouldn’t recommend it. They don’t have spikes on them, so they can fall out easier under high pressure. Other than that, they are made out of metal which will damage your chainsaw if you accidentally cut them while pulling out. You should really only use them for this as a last resort.

Cutting firewood and cleaning up storm damage

I’m not sure exactly the trunk diameter of the trees you’re cutting or what tasks you need the chainsaw for. Many folks in North America and northern Europe have furnaces in their homes where they burn wood to heat their homes.

Perhaps you’ve just had several cord of wood delivered to your home. These logs are sitting out on the yard waiting to be cut up and piled neatly in your basement or barn. As with cutting logs, you use the same techniques for cutting up firewood or fallen trees.

When it comes to cutting logs that have fallen over from age or storm damage, it is good if you can carve up the trunk on the ground. This works most effectively when the trunk is on a firm ground such as your lawn. One safety tip: before you begin sawing, make sure that the trunk is unable to roll away. If necessary, use small pieces of wood to hold in in place.


Cutting a large log with a small chainsaw is never too hard provided you use the proper techniques. It may take longer, but you’ll still get it done. I hope the techniques outlined in this guide will be helpful to you.

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

Recent Posts