Felling trees without tools

Moondog55

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I personally can think of only one method.
What happens if you really must have a large numer of timbers and have no axe and no means to make any cutting tools at all?
I do not know if the American Indian method will work in Australia but it is the only way I have ever read about to fell a tree with no tools.
First remove all vegetation and loose soil from around the base of the selected tree and decise which is the downhill side.
Secondly gather lots of dry firewood and light a small but hot fire on the downhill side of the tree, keep the fire small and burning until the selected tree falls down. I know of no other method and would like to know if anyone else has a better suggestion.

I would imagine this as a precursor to using small controlled fires to burn out the inside of the tree for making a large dugout canoe.
 

auscraft

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very interesting question
let me think and can i ask what size trees are we talking about. trunk diameter.

Also why if no way of cutting up tree why would you need it down. So some small tools must be available
 
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Corin

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As a kid we building shelters we used to shimmy up to the top of saplings, and swing from side to side until it bent toward the ground then a couple of mates would grab on and keep pulling down till it snapped near the base.... we even had a name for it... Tree parachuting... only worked on saplings to about 100mm diameter though.
 

Moondog55

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very interesting question
let me think and can i ask what size trees are we talking about. trunk diameter.

Also why if no way of cutting up tree why would you need it down. So some small tools must be available
Trees about 50m tall and 2m at the base, not to cut up but to use whole if need be, roof beams for a longhouse perhaps? wall posts, Shinto gates even.

So NO TOOLS because in the scenario I am thinking of there are simply no tools avaliable and no raw materials to make tools with except wood.

Imagine a single smallstone being the equivalent of a years hard labour
 

Aussie123

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Perhaps stretching the scenario a bit, I've felled some moderate sized dead trees with my bare hands !

If they are long time dead, the roots and base (below the ground) will rot. A few shoves can start them rocking and if you keep going they will eventually fall over. You need to be very careful that they don't snap half way and come down on your head, and be mindful of which direction they will fall in.

As for a living tree, I'd try and look for one growing on a : steep bank, hill side, or boggy ground
it may be possible to undercut it and topple it. I'd use a lever or digging stick to assist in the process, and as you say fire could be useful too.
 

Bartnmax

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I personally can think of only one method.
What happens if you really must have a large numer of timbers and have no axe and no means to make any cutting tools at all?
I do not know if the American Indian method will work in Australia but it is the only way I have ever read about to fell a tree with no tools.
First remove all vegetation and loose soil from around the base of the selected tree and decise which is the downhill side.
Secondly gather lots of dry firewood and light a small but hot fire on the downhill side of the tree, keep the fire small and burning until the selected tree falls down. I know of no other method and would like to know if anyone else has a better suggestion.

I would imagine this as a precursor to using small controlled fires to burn out the inside of the tree for making a large dugout canoe.
Well first of all we need to ascertain what size trees we're talking about here, in what numbers, and what use they are going to be put to.
When you say a 'large number of timbers' the problem with burning them out is one of simple logisitics.
It takes a fair time to gather the materials & carry out the burn out on each tree.
You are then faced with either doing it individually & slowly, or in multiples & with increased risk of fires getting out of control.
If we are talking trees that are large enough that they cannot be felled by any other method apart from burning out, & we're talking largish numbers, then we are talking a very laboriously slow method. I would think the time/effort would be far better spent fashioning a cutting impliment then trying to individually burn out large numbers of trees.
If we are only talking say one or two trees then my next question would be what are they going to be used for?
If it's only one or two large trees then again time/effort may be better spent felling smaller diameter trees & fashoning some form of lashing to make up the bulk required.
If it were for something like a canoe then yes, burning out could be justified because we're only talking about a single large tree, but if it's for shelter etc then smaller diameter stuff would be far easier to procure & also easier work once felled.
Either way I think my foirst recourse would be to look at the logistics involved in fashoning a cutting impliment rather then burning out larg trees.
Ya gotta remember that once that big tree (for canoe?) has been felled it still has to be worked & that'll most likely require a cutting impliment anyway.

Bill A.
 

Moondog55

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Why Bill? we do seem to be obsessed with sharp tools because we have them, there are places where tools such as you talk about simply do not exist or where the time to fashion one would take far longer than burning a tree down i think. So who can asnwer my question?
 

auscraft

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Well moondog
Here goes still have more questions than answers but
You would need to pick trees firstly to correct size diameter. for job at hand find these on steep hill sides.
then undermine the root system on the low side and either using ropes with some sought fulcrum system other tree as leverage pull them over. hopefully as they roll down hill they will take a few others with them.
How you will remove large branches and roots is another problem. Fire could i suppose but they will need close monitoring and properly put out as there is the danger that the internals of the tree could catch light during the process without your knowledge till too late.
 

J.K.M

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Have you seen the episode of the TV show Survivorman ( with Les Stroud ) where he fells a small tree by chewing through it ? From memory he explained that it was a method sometimes used by the Hewa people of Papua New Guinea, which is where he was filming in that particular episode.

Just thought I'd mention this very different approach; even though it's not something I will ever try it was the first thing that popped in to my head when I read the question for some reason.

I reckon you would break all your teeth after just one try on some of the trees in Aus ...
 

Templar

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Well... first of all if you wanted to fire cut the trees you have to make a clay collar to protect part of the tree you don't want to burn...

Most primitive cultures would use stone tools for such a task... it only takes 10 minutes to make and haft a stone celt axe... Even Aboriginal Peoples here in Australia used stone hand axes for jobs like this, they often carried them many miles to have them ready, however their cutting was done on much smaller trees, the limiting factor being that their technology wouldn't allow them to obtain the larger trunks... hence we see no large wooden structures here before European contact.

Secondly why would I want a tree 50m tall and 2m wide in the first place? Even with modern tools I wouldn't want one that big... and if I have no tools how am I going to process it down to a useable size. Most native/paleo structures made of wood had timbers no thicker than about 9-10 inches at most, made from single trunks, it wasn't until the advent of copper/ bronze/ iron tooling that larger timbers were used, before that they used smaller easy to manage thicknesses.

This just doesn't seem practical to me... but we will see what the results are...
 
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auscraft

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with time to think about the subject. With no cutting tools available to process trees for building other than as you mention a canoe and even then here in Aus you have alternatives to making that. I would say it would not be a practicle exercise Felling the tree is possible but not processing it. Templar is correct you would use materials more workable like saplings and branches. Even a log cabin which use full logs in construction need to checked/recessed into each other as well cut to length. To process timbers from a log for construction Cutting tools will be needed even if only and axe.
I don't believe fire cutting a Gum tree would work as one big problem with our euca. trees is they do tend to burn from the inside out because of the nice rich oils contained in them. If you have been close to a bush fire and hear the explosions/big bangs that is actually the oils in gums it is why our bushfires are so hard to control those exploding gasses can and do jump fire breaks
 

Bartnmax

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Why Bill? we do seem to be obsessed with sharp tools because we have them, there are places where tools such as you talk about simply do not exist or where the time to fashion one would take far longer than burning a tree down i think. So who can asnwer my question?
I agree that if it's a single tree then yes, burning out might be faster then scavenging around to find something to fashion a cutting impliment from, but in your oiriginal post you mentioned a 'large number of timbers', so I'm assuming you're talking at least several trees possibly more.
This leaves two options; do em one at a time, or do em simultaniously.
If doing largish trees one at a time it's gonna talke a hellova long time.
If you do em simultaniously then there is the issue of managing several fires at once.
It all depends on what size trees we're talking about here, how many of them we're talking about, and what use they are going to be put to.
If we're talking about smaller diameter trees then is burning out still the easiest method? It may be better to 'downsize' & work with something thsat can be broken out a lot faster, or mabe even work with deadfalls.
If we're talking purely something to say float down a river on to reach civilisation, then smaller size trees, or even reeds, etc lashed together to form a raft may be a better option then burning out one or more large trees IMO. If we're talking a canoe for extended use then we possibly only need a single tree, not a 'large number of timbers'. If we were talking a largish raft capable of carrying a very heavy load then my first line of thought would be to fashion a cutting tool as that amount of sizeable timber is also going to have to be worked once it is felled. That will most likely be much easier/faster with a cutting tool.
If we're talking many sizeable trees to make up say a log cabin then I would definitely put the time into procuring a cutting impliment if it's at all possible.
Burning out would be a last resort in that situation as it is just so time consuming, but I would not discount it altogether.

We can always find ourselves in terrain that is inhosptible & we may not be able to find the exact resources we would like, but pretty much every semi-permenant gathering/population of people anywhere in the world have found some way of fashioning cutting impliments. I dont know of any people that have never discovered the blade of some type or other. The two features that have distinguished mankind all over the world through the ages has been their ability to fashion cutting impliments & harness fire. So it's a matter of finding those people & you will in all probability find a method to fashon a cutting impliment.
If the time/effort could not be put into searching for those people then I would also question the validitiy of spending time/effort burning out a 'large number of timbers'.
That 'large number of timbers' infers at least semi-permenant habitation of some sort. If I were looking at the possibility of spending an extended length of time away from any civilisation then the two things I would definitly concentrate on procuring are fire & cutting impliments (given that other resources such as food/water are not considerations obviously - if they were I wouldn't be thinking of semi-permenant habitation in that location anyway).

I'm not against the idea of burning out, but we need to know the logistics involved first before discounting other possibilities.

Bill A.
 

Bartnmax

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Trees about 50m tall and 2m at the base, not to cut up but to use whole if need be, roof beams for a longhouse perhaps? wall posts, Shinto gates even.

So NO TOOLS because in the scenario I am thinking of there are simply no tools avaliable and no raw materials to make tools with except wood.

Imagine a single smallstone being the equivalent of a years hard labour
This is what I allude to; How do you intend working a 50 meter tall tree that is 2 metres at the base once it has been felled by burning out?
Roof beams? How to fashion a way of lifting/securimng them? Wall posts? How to lift them upright & set them securely in place? How to attach the rest of the wall?
Gates? These imply movement of a mechanism. How to achieve easy movement of a 50 meter x 2 meter log?
Burning out may be an easier way then cutting, of felling such a tree, but then cutting impliments are definitely going to be required afterwards to work the timber with. If there is absolutely no way of procuring any sort of cutting impliment at all then I would question the need to burn out such a large tree to start with when the ability to use it once it is felled, is almost totally absent. And this is but one single tree in the 'large number of timbers' you mentioned.
Many 50 metere x 2 meter trees???

Bill A.
 

Moondog55

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Well one of the reasons I asked the question was to get you all thinking.
The situation I asked you all to think about actually exists to our North although they usuall limit the trees cut down for canoe building to about 20meters.
I am talking about the Fly River delta; a sago palm/cannibal culture
Also in the Sepik disrict although there they have access to and use stone axes a ground edge takes weeks or more of work and does not last for long.
@ Auscraft the explosion is actually caused by internal water vapour pressure, most of the volatile oils are in the leaves ( that's why our fires top-out and crown so easily) and while they do burn from the isnside out it is because a senile eucalypt is usually rotten inside with a continous fire path from ground to top and we all know how easily punk can catch and burn.
In the Sepik the bigger the trees in the longhouse the bigger the prestige, so there is immense cultural pressure to use the biggest timber possible.
If you put yourself in the situation you can see why those cheap trade goods steel axes were worth so much to the contact tribes back in the late 1890s and in the Highlands in 1930
 

Bartnmax

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Have you seen the episode of the TV show Survivorman ( with Les Stroud ) where he fells a small tree by chewing through it ? From memory he explained that it was a method sometimes used by the Hewa people of Papua New Guinea, which is where he was filming in that particular episode.

Just thought I'd mention this very different approach; even though it's not something I will ever try it was the first thing that popped in to my head when I read the question for some reason.

I reckon you would break all your teeth after just one try on some of the trees in Aus ...
This would be that incredibly diffcult to find tribe called the 'Beavermen'? (are their women then called 'Beaverwomen?)
Bloody hell. Chewing through trees? Tough on the ol gums I'd think.
I 'spose those with falsies could always pull em out fiurst & use em to saw with ;-)
Dont tell me they mix mud with their aformentioned 'chewed through' trees to make their housing, by flattening it all with their butts?

Bill A.
 

Moondog55

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We would, but natives from Nuigini have incredibly strong teeth and jaws, I have seen them process sugar cane to the eating stage in about 30 seconds I could not get through the soft inner bark let alone the silica rich outer
 

Ranger

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If you wanted to build a canoe, why not just use the bark?
 

Aussie123

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If you wanted to build a canoe, why not just use the bark?
Hi Ranger,

You can just use the bark ! But it depends on the type of bark on the tree.

The classic is a Canadian bark canoe, but that needs quite "elaborate" supports and framework to make it work.
There are certainly paper bark and stringy bark canoes in various parts Australia and I think red gum too. There are probably other suitable trees.
I know that getting bark off a tree is definitely seasonal, so that's a limit to consider too

A wooden canoe will probably be more "sturdy" or solid than a bark one, whether that's good or not would depend on your requirements ?
 

Bloffy13

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I wouldn't bother felling a 50m x 2m tree. I would just spend far less resources wandering around to find one that nature had felled for me. Far easier and less labour intensive. Depending on nearby water resources, I would dig a channel from that nearby stream and concentrate the water around the base to waterlog the soil and windlass a rope from up high, slowly pulling the tree out of the ground.
Or water sluice it. Lol. Nice little flight of fantasy.
Maybe ring bark it, wait for it to die and dry before pulling it down. Assuming the canoe theory, there would be more than 1 person going to be using it, therefore many hands make light work.
What about "sawing" it using a rough rope drawn back and forth. That uses tools but not an axe or true cutting tool....
Cheers
Bloffy
 

Aussie123

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I wouldn't bother felling a 50m x 2m tree. I would just spend far less resources wandering around to find one that nature had felled for me. Far easier and less labour intensive. Depending on nearby water resources, I would dig a channel from that nearby stream and concentrate the water around the base to waterlog the soil and windlass a rope from up high, slowly pulling the tree out of the ground.
Or water sluice it. Lol. Nice little flight of fantasy.
Maybe ring bark it, wait for it to die and dry before pulling it down. Assuming the canoe theory, there would be more than 1 person going to be using it, therefore many hands make light work.
What about "sawing" it using a rough rope drawn back and forth. That uses tools but not an axe or true cutting tool....
Cheers
Bloffy
Nice thinking.
 
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