Rope Work

Our latest job was taking out two Ash trees in a backyard. Here is a photo taken when we arrived at the job:

Job site overview

Pretty simple? Well, look around! See the iron fence along the back of the yard? See the swimming pool right next to the large tree? See the nice flagstone patio?  (there is an elevated portion you can’t see in the photo that would have made getting the lift in here very difficult) There are a lot of targets!

The small tree that Patrick is working on was easy. He cleared the gravel from around the base of the tree, cut off some of the lowest limbs, and then cut it down. It was in the trailer while Jerome and I were still getting out the rest of the gear to rig the larger tree!

The larger tree had been topped at one point in the past which basically ruins its structural integrity. Do you see the point about 2/3 of the way to the top of the tree where the larger branches suddenly split into a bunch of little branches? That is where these branches were indiscriminately cut off (topped) in the past. All the new growth are just suckers – they are weakly attached to material that is rotting! At some point in the future they will get heavy enough to start breaking off. The tree was also right next to the pool and was dropping debris, causing trouble with the filter system. Because of these factors the decision was made to take it out.

We would need to cut it down in pieces and lower the pieces with our ropes. I got some pictures of the process so you can see how we use the ropes to control things! The first piece of equipment is a Portawrap. We secure this to the base of the tree with a large sling and use it to put  friction on the rope so one person can hold a piece of wood in the air that weighs hundreds of pounds! In the photo below, we have 2 wraps and have tied off the rope (the loop around the post on the right) for the time being. More wraps gives more friction. Most of the pieces on this tree were pretty light so we only used one or two wraps for lowering. We only tie off the rope when we need to stop for a while to cut up a piece we have just lowered (before we get it all the way to the ground) or to move things out of the way.


The second piece of equipment is an arborist’s block (pulley) which we tie up into the top of the tree. The rope goes from the Portawrap up through this pulley and then to the piece of wood we want to lower. Here is a shot of the pulley and rope tied off to a branch. Actually we used an old topping-cut-stub to loop the sling over, usually we use a ”cow-hitch” or “timber-hitch” knot. We have this branch “tip-tied” so that the top will stay up and the bottom will go down when it is cut. When we “butt-tie” a branch, the top falls down and the bottom stays where it is (so the branch flips over). Most of the branches on this tree we tried to “tip-tie” but had a hard time getting them tied off high enough to make the piece fall right. Because of this, we also tied the bottom of the branch to the tree with another rope for extra control.

Arborist's Block

 Here is a picture of everything ready to make a cut:

More Equipment - the trash can is over a small palm tree and the buckets are over lights to protect them. We put the tarp over the pool to keep sawdust and twigs out.

Here is how the branch came to rest after I cut it with the pole saw.

Now we just need to lower it and cut it up. It often works well to cut pieces off the branch as it comes down (before laying it on the ground). This works especially well when there are a lot of “targets” in the yard.

Jerome and Patrick ready to lower the branch.

There is really little pull on the rope because of the Portawraps friction. One person can control things very well! The piece can be pulled away from the tree to a landing zone quite a ways away if you pull and lower in a coordinated way. Isn’t it a beautiful day?

This all works great while there is a place to put the arborists block, but how do we get down the last part of the trunk? It is fairly simple to move the pulley down the trunk a ways, run the rope through it and tie it off above the pulley. Then the trunk is cut off between the pulley and the tie-off point. The piece that is cut comes crashing down, but is caught by the rope and pulley before it hits the ground (or anything else!). That works fine until you get so low that the piece that is cut off will hit the ground before the rope comes tight. Where there is room, we just drop the last trunk section right onto the ground. Here we didn’t have that option although my men really wished we did! So, we got out the big step-ladder and started piecing out the trunk. We cut through the trunk from one side about half way through. Then cut from the other side about half way through, making sure that the two cuts overlapped across the diameter of the trunk but did not meet (one has to be higher than the other). Then the saw can be put away and the piece snapped off and carried down the ladder. It sounds easy, and is, except that the pieces weight a lot!

Almost the last piece!

We got the trunk cut off at close to ground level and then we were left with loading the logs, putting away the equipment and doing a LOT of cleanup – we made a pretty big mess but we know how to clean up after ourselves!