When you’re using a pole saw for the first time, there will be a lot of unknowns. How to adjust the pole saw to cut better at higher heights, how to ensure proper safety of your workspace, and how to make better cuts are all questions that will pop into your mind as soon as it is time to prune down the trees in your yard. In this step-by-step guide, we will go through some of the pole saw cutting techniques needed to ensure a successful trimming process.

The way every pole saw pruning should go is the following:

  • Preparing your workspace
  • Assessing the tree’s condition
  • Planning your cuts
  • Positioning yourself right
  • Gripping the pole saw correctly
  • Cutting the closest branches
  • Adjusting your pole saw
  • Cleaning your work area

If you’re interested in getting a pole saw, I highly recommend checking out my guide on some of the best cordless pole saws on the market for this year! There, we’ve discussed all the top models, their pros and cons, as well as the features you have to look for in a pole saw when buying one. With that aside, let’s now jump straight into the process of using a pole saw…

How to Use a Pole Saw

As I already mentioned, every cutting process should go through different steps that ensure proper care for the tree as well as proper safety precautions. The very first thing you have to do when you want to trim down a tree is to prepare your workspace. Let’s talk about that now.

Preparing your workspace

When preparing to cut any tree’s branches, you should start by preparing an area around it. If you have kids running around, make sure they don’t get near the area around the tree as falling branches can often bounce and fall a few feet away from the tree’s main diameter. Also, another important thing to do is to remove dead trees and leaves. These can get in your way when you’re trimming and can even make you fall. Some people prefer placing various covers below the tree that will catch everything that falls. That way, it will be much easier to clean things up after you’re done.

Assessing the tree’s condition

Apart from preparing your work area, you should also assess the tree’s condition and see which branches should be removed. A general rule of thumb is to start with the dead branches. These are often the easiest to remove but can also break just as easily, so make sure you’re prepared for that. Other branches that you should remove are ones that are growing abnormally big and are spreading in the wrong direction. Cutting these branches will ensure that the tree will relocate its resources to other smaller but better-suited limbs.

Planning your cuts

Even if you haven’t yet gotten to the part where you do the actual cuts, you can use the pole saw to make small incisions on the tree’s limbs just to make them down. You can also use ropes or other tools to mark down the limbs. If you see any smaller branches that can be pruned with shears, you can use a ladder to get to them and remove them before you start cutting with the bigger saw. The reason for that is because smaller branches often get in the way of your saw’s head and can make the process unnecessarily difficult.

When planning which branches to cut off, you also need to pay attention to their positioning. Some branches might require you to adjust the head of the saw a bit. Knowing all of that before you start cutting is going to save you quite a lot of time during the actual process because you will be able to group different branches depending on the saw head angle they require to be cut off.

Positioning yourself right

When using any type of chainsaw, be it a regular one or a pole saw, you have to make sure your positioning is right. Never stay directly below the pole saw or in the line of any falling branches for that matter. Keep your feet apart and slightly bent at the knees. That will give you the most stability possible.

Gripping the pole saw correctly

tree worker

There are a number of ways you can grip your pole saw. One of the best ways is with your stronger hand grabbing onto the pole itself. Most saws will have a handle a foot away from the battery pack. That will allow a good two-hand spread that will provide the most amount of control to the pole saw. To adjust your grip in the most comfortable way, keep the saw horizontal while doing it. Once you feel comfortable enough, lift the pole saw to a nearly vertical position and get it near the first branch you want to cut.

Cutting the closest branches

Before you make the actual cut, wait for the saw to reach its peak cutting speed. With electric pole saws that usually happens within a few seconds. Then, start by cutting the branches that are the closest to you. After you’re done with them, you can stop the saw and extend its pole. Some models will have to be disassembled and then assembled again with an extension rod put in place. Then, continue with the higher branches.

When you’re cutting higher in the tree, make your cut at the branch’s foundation, or in simpler terms – cut as lower on the branch as possible. Horizontal cuts at the branch collar are recommended (if possible) compared to vertical cuts. V-shaped cuts are also good for higher branches and they are a much better approach for thicker limbs of around 5-7 inches.

Horizontal cuts are also better if your goal is to have more water sprouts on the tree for the upcoming Spring season.

Don’t cut the branch in back-and-forth motions as if you’re using a normal saw. That will make things much harder and can get your chain stuck. Instead, make smaller cuts at both sides of the branch, around 5-6 inches away from its base. Also, it is important to take rests between bigger branches. Pole saws are hard to operate and you don’t have to overwork yourself as that can lead to mistakes and potential injuries.

If there is a stuck branch in the tree’s crown, you can use your saw’s limb hook if it has one.

Adjusting your pole saw

Some branches will require odd cutting angles. That is why most pole saws have adjustable heads. They can be rotated and adjusted at different angles. That will allow you to make horizontal cuts even in the weirdest positions.

Cleaning your work area

After you’re done pruning and trimming the tree, it is time to clean your work area. Start by removing all the branches that have fallen off and continue with sweeping all the leaves. Leaving the leaves on the grass below the tree can damage the grass so it is important to pile them up. Before you leave, inspect the tree one last time for any branch that might be better off removed. Also, check your work area one more time in case you’ve forgotten something like your pruning loppers or another tool.

If you want to learn how to trim, shape, and prune the hedges in your yard, click here!

Pole Saw Safety Tips

When dealing with saws of any kind, you should be concentrated on the task at hand and keep all the safety precautions. These include keeping a steady grip on the handle, a good balanced stance, bending your knees, wearing protective gear, not cutting risky trees, and more. Pole saws add a few more requirements to these rules. For instance:

  • Always avoid power lines – Whether you touch it with your pole saw or cut a branch that falls directly on a power line, this can potentially harm you. Avoid working around such areas at all costs.
  • Keep both of your feet on the ground – A common beginner’s mistake is to get overly confident and bring out the ladder. I can’t stress this enough – using a ladder with a pole saw isn’t the best idea and you will feel like performing a circus act when you start balancing both the ladder and the pole.
  • Keep your distance from the fall area – Whenever you’re cutting bigger branches that are located higher in the tree, keep your distance from the fall area. Even a small branch can potentially hurt you when falling from 15-20 feet.

If you’re also interested in getting a good pair of pruning loppers, check out this Buyer’s guide I did on the topic!

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to prune your trees?

Using your pole saw throughout the year might be tempting but there are periods in which the tree will benefit the most out of the pruning. The best time to prune is during the winter. While you won’t see where the leaves are growing, it will be easier to handle by the tree and will impact its health better. Prune the longest branches after the coldest part of the winter has passed for best results.

Pruning in the summer is also a decent idea. Wait for the leaves to start growing so that you can decide what to keep and what to remove. Remove the dry branches or any other branches that you want to slow down a bit so that the tree can redirect its resources.

What is the best tool for cutting branches?

If you’re dealing with tree limbs that are thicker than 4-5 inches, chainsaws are your best option. However, they have obvious limitations and cannot be used on branches that are high in the tree crown. Moreover, chainsaws are bulky, heavy, and not very easy to use by beginners. That is why, for smaller and higher limbs, pole saws remain your best (and safest) option.

How thick of a branch can a regular pole saw cut?

While this depends a lot on the tree type, most pole saws will easily deal with a 2-4 inch tree branch. There are models that can cut through limbs that are 6 inches thick. However, remember that the thicker the limb is the faster you will burn through your battery.

Can you cut hedges with your pole saw?

Although a bit risky, trimming and pruning some hedges with a pole saw isn’t the worst idea. Still, most pole saws will be quite long and awkward to use in a horizontal position so I don’t think it will be a very comfortable job to do.

If you want to plant your hedge but need some general tips and advice, visit my detailed article on the topic!

Final Words

Knowing how to prune and which are the most important pole saw cutting techniques is part of any beginner’s learning curve. Always remember to start from the tree bottom, keep a secure position, make the cuts in a slow and precise manner, and never forget all of the safety precautions when working with a saw. In addition to that, make sure you determine which branches to keep and which to remove before you actually start working. That will save you some time during the actual process and will give the tree a better chance at thriving.