Archive for the 'trees' Category

DIY Savings: Tree Removal

The cost of tree removal seems to be a popular question so I’ll do that next. My experience is that the cost can vary a lot depending on your area and on the way the tree needs to be cut down. If the tree can be cut down in one piece it will cost a lot less than if it needs to be taken down in pieces to avoid hitting anything. We have had to cut down three large trees so far (I’m not going to include the smaller dead trees we cut down since they were easily a DIY project and not something we’d consider hiring out).


First there was a tall hickory that was only 10 feet from the house and the shed. It was actually touching the power line that runs from the house over to the shed! I had wanted to cut it down ever since we moved in but it was a very nice tree and hickories are known to be very strong so we let it go. Then when we were determining the best location to put our geothermal loops we realized that the best location ran right where the hickory was. So we decided to cut it down. We made sure and do it before we built the fence in the backyard because the tree was so tall it spanned the whole side yard and would have hit the fence. To help make sure the tree fell where we wanted it to Papa Flannel brought over his bobcat.

You can see the future fence area that is exposed dirt in this picture:

When the geothermal loops were put in we had the backhoe driver remove the stump so there was no need for it to be ground out.


Last fall we cut down the other two trees. The big black walnut in the backyard was leaning toward the house and sandwiched between the new fence and an oak we wanted to save. We had to cut it down in lots of little pieces which meant getting our hands on a bucket lift. Fortunately, we had a family friend who is a farmer and let us rent one for only $100.

The other tree was a very rotten cherry tree that was leaning over our new fence. We couldn’t get the bucket lift near the tree like we had planned because of the uneven ground. So we tried using a pulley system and the bobcat to help direct which way it fell. That didn’t end well.

Luckily, it didn’t hit any of the posts and we were able to repair the fence with just some treated 2×4’s and new pickets. You can read more about how we cut down those two trees here.


Difficulty Level
Moderate – It doesn’t take many tools to do but it’s important to be careful. Everyone who was in the bucket lift was wearing safety harnesses for example. Both of our dads have a lot of experience cutting down trees so that was a big help too.


The quote we got for hiring someone to cut down the trees, dispose of the debris, and grind out the stumps:
Hickory = $800
Cherry = $800
Black Walnut = $1,500 (it costs more because it couldn’t be cut down in one piece)
$3,100 Total

Our costs:
Borrow a cherry picker from a friend = $100
Material to repair the fence = $125
$225 Total

DIY Savings = $2,875

We still have the stumps for the cherry and black walnut trees though. The cherry tree was in the woods so it’s no big deal and the black walnut stump is part of a flower bed I’d like to make so I was thinking of putting a big pot with annuals on top of it.


Our New Snow Clearing Toy

Two weekends ago was our first big storm with 1-2” of freezing rain followed by 10” of snow. Along with that we had 35 mph winds which resulted in blizzard warnings and weatherman encouraging people to stay inside all weekend. On the bright side it did leave a pretty coating on the trees and shrubs.

It may have been a crummy weekend but Flannel Man was excited to try out his new toy, an ATV with a plow. For the past two years he’s used our riding lawn mower with a small fixed plow. He got the plow for free from a co-worker who had it lying around in his barn. It was full of rust but Flannel Man sandblasted it, painted it, and modified it to fit the lawn mower. It worked OK but we were often stuck inside after a big storm because it didn’t have enough power to push the heavy snow. Luckily, we have a very nice neighbor who has two sheds full of snow clearing toys of his own and he would come clear off our driveway if he was home. Our neighbor is a truck driver though so he is often gone for a week at a time so he wasn’t always around in the winter.

We even inherited a small snow blower from Flannel Man’s grandmother last year but it could barely handle the heavy snow so you had to move very slow. It took forever to clear off both of our driveways. It didn’t help that we have three locations where our driveways meet the street (our main driveway is a semi-circle) and the town plows make a big pile of snow as they pass by. So this year Flannel Man began looking for a used ATV he could use to plow the snow. He found it very difficult in our area to find one that would work. Every time he thought he found “the one” the seller had just sold it or they wanted too much for it and wouldn’t negotiate. When November came it really hit home that he better buy one fast or get ready to shovel (we had given Papa Flannel the snow blower since his broke)! On his drive to work he saw an ATV plow for sale out on someone’s front yard and bought it for only $100. So now we had a plow but nothing to attach it to.

Then one Saturday I woke up to “Do you want to go on an eight hour road trip to Indiana?” Apparently he was searching through Craigslist in nearby cities to see if they had a better selection of ATVs and found someone in Indiana that was posting on the Chicago board. So we hoped in the truck and headed off taking the dog with us. It ended up being well worth the trip because he got a bigger, nicer ATV than he’d planned for a great price. There were a few minor fixes he had to make (the electric start switch was broken for one) but with the help of some friends he got it up and working. Finally, he installed plates to hold a winch and the plow and he was ready to go.

This new snow removal rig is slick! It takes fraction of the time to clear both of the driveways and has so much more power he can really pile up the snow. Plus it helps that it’s actually fun to drive. I’m pretty sure I saw a smile under that face mask. Now I just need to learn how to drive a manual ATV…maybe I’ll wait until spring.

From Logs to Lumber

So you might have been wondering what we did with the trees we cut down last fall.

The medium sized branches Papa Flannel cut up and used for fire wood in their wood burning boiler. The small unusable pieces we hauled out to the pond in the winter and tried to burn but the pieces were still too green. Burning FAIL.

Instead we added them to our brush pile behind the fence which is now the home to lots of critters. Which helps offset the homes we probably destroyed clearing out that brush for the fenced in yard so it all works out in the end. But trust me it was not fun hauling that big brush pile all over the place in the deep snow.

The big pieces we intended to use so they have been sitting on the driveway to our shed for the past year. We painted the ends to help keep them from rotting.

I refused to let them sit out there for another winter and finally started calling around for someone with a bandsaw. We could have taken them somewhere to be cut on a big table saw but using a bandsaw on site is ideal. Bandsaws have a thinner blade so there is less waste, are said to cut a straighter line, and you don’t have transport the heavy logs. The only downside is that bandsawing costs more but I found a local guy who does it on the side for a very reasonable price. Tow behind bandsaws like his cost roughly $10,000 so it’s understandable that is costs more. Plus he only charged us for the time the machine was running not the set up and take down time.

The bandsawer brought his father and Papa Flannel came out to help us move the heavy logs.

This part the cherry tree was pretty curved but it produced a surprising number of nice boards.

Check out the nifty hydraulic arm the bandsaw has! No wonder these things cost so much.

Now onto the largest piece of the black walnut. Look at the size of that thing!

For being such an old tree it was disappointing to see how little black there was. The oldest parts of the tree have the least amount of white whereas the younger branches are mostly white. The black center is desirable and the darker the color the better.

When we got the center Flannel Man had two 3″ slabs cut so he can make gun stocks out of them. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited he was about this.

This shot was taken while they were cutting that last log. The fine dust shows how little waste there is with each cut. Considering how many boards we got out those nine logs that is a small dust pile!

As they try to get down to a wider part of the tree there are a few cuts with natural edges. They can be used as is (as they dry the bark will fall off) or you can have the ends cut to make them more useable. We just decided to have them cut while we had a bandsaw there to do it.

Look at all the lumber we got out of those logs! It’s hard to tell but that’s a four foot tall pile.

We ran out of 1″x2″ spacers so the bigger slabs are on the trailer for now.

And here’s the bark ends that won’t go to waste. Our co-workers were happy to take them for fire wood.

Now we just need to figure out how to dry it all! Sitting in our un-heated shed it would take close to 5 years to dry so we’re looking to dry them in a kiln. They would take 6 months to dry in a standard kiln and about a year to dry in a solar kiln. Solar kilns are preferred because the wood dries slower which causes less warping and splitting.

Like I said before Flannel Man plans to carves some gun stocks out of the 3″ black walnut pieces. I want to make some nightstands out of the cherry to match our cherry bed so I had some 2″ slabs cut for the legs. I also want to make a bench for our entry out of some of the black walnut pieces that have both black and white coloring. That tree was between 50-60 years old. It was there long before our house was built and had a huge presence in our back yard so I want it to have a presence in our house since we had to cut it down. I’m not sure what we’ll do with the rest of the lumber but we have at least a year to figure it out.

The whole process was really exciting to see board after board come out of those logs. It took 1 1/2 hours to cut everything so it only cost us $85. Considering all the nice lumber we got out of it I’d say that’s a good deal!

Getting Into Gardening

The other thing I’ve been busy with all spring is getting into gardening. I joined our local garden club, have been reading books and websites about what can grow in our area, and visit local nurseries to see what they recommend. So far it’s been really fun! I have a lot of work ahead of me though because we have a lot of flower beds.

The original owners of the house were a retired couple who were avid gardeners. According to our 80 year old neighbor they regularly hosted garden tours and many people passing by would stop to admire their beautiful gardens. Then the second owners of the house were well…hippies. They let everything go “natural.” In some cases that allowed wonderful native plants to spread but it also let the nasty invasive plants spread even more. The flower beds along the house disappeared into a jungle of weeds and over a dozen of volunteer trees were allowed to grow within a few feet of the house. But that is more because they were very, very lazy.

Our plan is to find a balance in between the beautiful but high maintenance gardens of the first owners and the wild overgrown “gardens” (if you want to call them that) of the second owners. Luckily, some reminders of the first owner’s gardens remain. There are a number of raised flower beds made with cedar planks that have withstood the test of time along with a lot of great plants that have filled out nicely and managed to survive 10 years of neglect from the second owners (now those are my kind of plants!). Here are some examples:


Lilac Bush, possibly ‘Charles Joy’ – This was the plant we had moved last year. Originally, it was along our driveway but the pine trees eventually choked out the majority of it’s sunlight so it grow out over the driveway. Now it’s in a nice open space with lots of sun.

(New spot)

Forsythia – Though their blooms only last a short time seeing their punch of color in early spring really melts the winter blues away.


Crab Apple Tree

Willow Tree – We’ll never know for sure but we were told the original owners planted this. It seems too big to be only 35 years old but who knows willows do grow fast.

Big Blue Conifers – Blue, evergreen, and low maintenance what more could you want?

Feather Topped Grass

Rock Garden Peony – My garden club loved this mature plant.

Surprise Lilies


Traditional Peonies


Balloon Flowers

Black Eyed Susans



Ostrich Ferns

Contained Lily of the Valley – “Contained” is the key word there. I love these fragrant blooms but they spread like crazy. So thank you original owners for containing them with the driveway!

Grape Hyacinths


Lots & Lots of Daffodils – Between the forsythia and the daffodils I think the original owner’s favorite color was yellow.


As you can see we have a lot of flower beds! What you can’t see is that most of the flower beds are actually weeds. Oh well it’s a start.

Did anyone else inherit great plants when they bought their house?


5 Chainsaws, 4 Guys, a Bobcat, & a Bucket Lift

While most people were out shopping on Black Friday we were cutting down trees. While we were clearing brush for our new fenced in dog yard (which I have yet to post about whoops!) it came to our attention that a large black walnut tree in our backyard was structurally unsound. Structurally unsound…can you tell I’m an engineer? Anyway, at some point the tree had cracked across the trunk and was leaning on the small oak tree next to it. The crack had been there for a long time because it was grown over but we were worried that it would still fall if it was loaded with snow and ice. If it fell it would definitely hit our house destroying the new roof and gutters along with our big living room windows. At first I was really upset that we’d lose this beautiful +50 year old tree but then I looked on the bright side that my yard would no longer be littered with large black walnuts every fall.

It’s location made it very difficult to cut down. It was 6 feet from the new fence we put up, putting weight on the small oak next to it, and leaning toward our house. There wasn’t any way to drop it in one piece unless we cut down the oak too and even that was tricky since it would probably hit some of the other trees in our yard and would fall on our septic pipe and my beloved forsythia bush. Plus I really wanted to have at least one tree there. I looked into getting another decent sized tree and it was $950 for a 10 year old tree. Considering the small oak is somewhere between 20-30 years old I really wanted to keep it and not deal with two stumps in my yard. So we decided to try to cut it down just the black walnut tree and being the DIYers that we are we didn’t want to hire someone.

We quickly recruited both of our fathers to help and since there isn’t much time before snow begins to fall we picked the day after Thanksgiving to cut it down. Though we probably could have just used tall ladders to cut the tree down piece by piece I really wanted everyone to be safe so I went on the hunt for a bucket lift. Enter in my father who thinks a long time family friend might still own one. A few calls later and bingo! Our family friend owns a farm only a few minutes from our property and though he had a trailer heavy duty enough to carry the bucket lift he didn’t have a truck big enough to pull both. He was able to coordinate one of his farm helpers who has a big enough truck to work the day after Thanksgiving so we could transport everything. On top of that he also had a pole chainsaw (or whatever they are called). And the best part he only wanted $100 and one future favor (Flannel Man is a machinist)!

Flannel Man also identified a cherry tree he wanted to cut down. It was a decent sized tree but only had two tiny branches. Plus it was very curvy and leaning way over the fence so when it fell it would be right on the fence.

Our backyard 10am Friday morning:

The bucket was only supposed to be extended on a level surface so we had to put it on the patio. Problem was the lift was only two wheel drive and couldn’t make it up even the slightest incline. So we had to get the bobcat out to pull it up onto the patio. I couldn’t help but cringe when the lift was on top of my peony bushes (under those leaves) spinning it’s wheels!

But we eventually got it up on the patio. It was soooo close to the house!

Sophie was jealous supervising.

Flannel Man and my Dad were up in the bucket. One would cut while the other one caught/directed the piece’s fall.

On a few of the bigger branches we used the bobcat to help direct their fall.

I was going for an artsy sawdust sunburst here:

After a few hours they were down to the trunk.


Afterward I went up into the lift with my Dad for some pictures of our newly finished fence. I haven’t blogged about it yet because I wanted to wait until it was completely finished. We started clearing the area in July and we put up the last picket in November. It was very long process. Keep this in mind as you scroll down…

We cut the trunk into 8′ long sections and plan to have it cut into lumber along with some of the other trees we cut down. Papa Flannel & Brother Flannel took everything else to burn in their wood furnace. So we’re using as much of it as we can!

On to the cherry tree…

I went inside to put a load of laundry when suddenly I heard the tree fall along with a loud crash. I ran outside only to find this:

Another casualty, the ladder was leaning up against the fence and was pinned under the tree.

Everyone stood around in shock for a few minutes. Originally we were going to use the bucket lift on this tree too but seeing how it got stuck on the slightest incline there was no way it would make it up and down the step slope to get to this tree. So Papa Flannel pulled the tree with the bobcat in our front yard and my Dad notched and cut down the tree. Everyone did everything right but the tree didn’t fall where expected.

As we had expected the tree was dying. Parts of the trunk we were able to kick in half. It was hollow in major sections and was littered with woodpecker holes.

Papa Flannel dragging out the pieces with his bobcat. Notice the slippery gray lubricant from the geothermal drilling.

After spending almost every weekend for 5 months working on clearing and building the fenced in yard we couldn’t just leave it broken for long. So Saturday Flannel Man collected all the materials needed to repair the fence and on Sunday my Dad came to help Flannel Man repair the fence. They worked all day but finished the repair.

So what do you think? Have you ever had to remove a tree close to your house for preventative maintenance?



This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
DIY Savings