Q&A / 

Land Clearing

NH lot cleared

Land Clearing TIPS

DEAR TIM: Land clearing is now on my radar since I purchased some raw land to build a new home. The land has lots of large trees and just a few bushes.

I don't know where to start or how to do this. Is clearing land something I should consider doing myself?

What kind of land clearing equipment would I need? Are there regulations about land clearing that affect what I do? Mike G., Hewlett, NY

DEAR MIKE: I can think of lots of do-it-yourself projects, but I have to be honest; land clearing would be either at the bottom of the list or left off on purpose.

Big Toys

Clearing land is hard work, and typically involves lots of large heavy equipment not usually operated by weekend warriors. I'm not saying you can't do this, but I'm saying it's a very large-scale project, even if it's a smaller building lot.

The list of land clearing equipment starts with simple hand tools and can extend all the way up to enormous bulldozers used for clearing land.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local land-clearing contractors who have big machines!

Chain Saws

At the very least you'll need a powerful commercial grade chain saw or two and all the safety equipment that one uses with chain saws.

chain saw

This is a great brand-name saw. It's a powerful one that will cut large trees with no problems. Be SURE to buy chaps, a helmet with visor and safety glasses at the same time. CLICK HERE TO GET THIS GREAT SAW NOW.

If you've never operated a chain saw, then you must obtain training. Felling trees is extremely dangerous.

Even when a tree has fallen, it can have stored energy that can cause the tree to roll or move in such a way to cause the saw to bind or you to get crushed.

Keep Chain Sharp

Chain saws used all day in the field require sharpening. If you use a handy special tool, you can field dress a chain in about ten minutes.

Watch this video to see how easy it is to do.

Many Ways

There are all sorts of ways to do land clearing and if you ask five experts, you most likely will get five different answers. The method chosen often has lots to do with what happens to the trees and bushes that are being removed.

Cash Crop

You may live in an area like I do where trees are used to create electricity. I have a power plant just twelve miles from my house that burns wood chips instead of coal or natural gas. There are many local companies near me always looking to clear trees to sell to the power plant.

You may locate a contractor that will clear most of your small trees for free. If this happens, be prepared to deal with the slash, that's the name for left-over branches, that's left behind.

Rip Them Out

Some land-clearing experts love to push down the entire tree, and then move it over to a place on the land where it can be processed. Your lot, or that of someone else, may have trees suitable for lumber processing.

Don't automatically think all trees need to be ground up or cut for firewood. Some land-clearing contractors have giant machines that can grind up entire stumps. 

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local land-clearing contractors who have big machines!

Stumps

Other contractors like to cut down the tree leaving a stump that sticks out of the ground about three feet. The stump stub gives a bulldozer leverage to pop the stump out of the ground much like a wisdom tooth from a teenager's jaw.

Stump Removal Video

Watch this video to see how to use a DIY excavator machine to rip out stumps FAST!

Timber Sale

Before you do anything, you may want to see if you have any valuable timber on the land. You might be surprised to discover the trees you intend to remove might have value to someone.

Be sure to get multiple estimates from timber buyers. In some cases, they'll actually come in and do the tree removal for you as part of the deal. If you decide to do this, get referrals from other landowners who worked with the timber company.

Some timber companies respect landowners and the land, while others tend to think only of themselves leaving you with a giant mess as well as a raped and scarred piece of land.

Permits

You need to check with your local government as well as regional and state officials. There may be scads of regulations regarding land clearing including, but not limited to, timber permits, silt fencing, tree ordinances, burning, composting, burying organic material, etc.

Land clearing is considered by many to be a harmful process, so it can be highly regulated in many areas. Some places will allow you to burn the brush and limbs, while others might require you to grind and compost the trees and bushes.

Rent DIY Machines

You often can rent medium-sized equipment that can do a somewhat respectable job of clearing land. Recently, I rented a powerful skid-steer loader that was able to move stumps that weighed over two tons.

The same tool-rental company rented a tracked excavator backhoe. This machine allowed me to dig drainage trenches and remove stumps with ease.

lot clearing - Tim with excavator

This mid-sized tracked excavator does a superb job of removing stumps in a matter of minutes. PHOTO CREDIT: Brent Walter

Requires Skill

I've used this type of mechanical equipment for years, so I was very proficient with it. It can take hours or days for a beginner to learn how to extract the most efficiency from these powerful machines, so don't expect to get lots of work done the first few times using this land-clearing machinery.

Training

If you decide to rent equipment like this, have frank discussions with the tool rental company. Ask if they have a training facility where you can learn how to safely use the machines.

One At A Time

If you decide to cut down the trees using a chain saw, try to avoid cutting down multiple trees that fall down upon one another. You may end up with a rat's nest of limbs that make it hard to get at and remove the debris.

Help Needed

You should absolutely try to recruit helpers when you start this land-clearing project. You'll almost always have some hand work to do with smaller tools and it can become tedious if you try this alone.

It's also a great idea to have others there for safety reasons. If someone gets hurt, the others can give first aid or call for help.

Erosion Issues

Once the land is cleared, erosion becomes a serious threat. Consider seeding the ground with some sort of grass that will hold the topsoil. Annual rye grass is sometimes used if you are working in the fall.

Talk with a local extension agent or government soil district employee who knows how to preserve this valuable natural resource.

CLICK HERE to get FREE & FAST BIDS from local land-clearing contractors who have big machines!

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