What’s a barberchair? And why are they so dangerous?

OK so first off let’s define what “barberchair” means when it’s used in the arborist world, and then we’ll look into the origin of the term. Barberchair is when a tree trunk splits vertically while it is being cut down. The forward momentum of the falling tree is too much for the internal fiber strength of the trunk and it “shears” from bottom to top. At some height, the top of the tree will separate from the lower and all that weight will be rolling off and coming down, sometimes from as high as 30-40 feet. A Barberchairing tree is one of the most dangerous thing an arborist can deal with and for less experienced people it is even more dangerous.


Why do arborists call a split tree a Barberchair?

You see all kinds of answers for this question. I’ve even seen people write that the name comes from the chair-looking appearance of the lower half of the split tree. More than likely it refers to the old chairs that barbers would use, especially for straight razor shaves. With these kinds of chairs a barber could push the top of the chair down so that the customers head would swing down while his feet swung up. This made it easy to shave a customers neck. The motion of a barberchairing tree is similar because the bottom of the trunk flies up while the top of the tree comes down and over.


What Makes These Trees So Dangerous?

1) The bottom of the barber chairing trunk will kick back.

This is the tree felling equivalent of walking behind a horse or a mule. When the tree trunk starts to shear and rip vertically from bottom to top, the weighty trunk wood directly above your saw cut actually flies back while it’s on it’s way up. If you’re standing behind it, it can take your head off.


2) A heavy trunk falling “flat” from a height

When the trunk “halves” do separate, the point of separation may be WAY off the ground. Instead of a gradual tipping over on a hinge lever, the violent snapping of tree high off the ground leaves you with a huge weighty trunk that’s falling “flat” out of the sky. Where will it land? You have to make your best guess fast and run.


3) Homeowners aren’t expecting it.

Most homeowners have cut down a tree here and there and buzzed up logs and branches for firewood that were already on the ground.  It doesn’t occur to most people that the trunk will split vertically. Also, it happens fast. Sometimes the inexperienced saw operator will not make the back cut fast enough. He sees motion at the top of tree toward the fall point and backs away. Under strain, the trunk rips instead of falling cleanly.


How Can a Barberchair Situation Be Avoided?

1) Call a Professional

Ok so you probably saw that coming and expected I would leave it for ht last item in the list. I’m just putting it here at the top of the list because if you have doubts about felling that particular tree, don’t ignore your gut feeling. Inexperience is the real killer here and no job is worth your life.

2) Cut the back cut exactly level with the bottom of the face cut. This is like what we talked about above with the face cut. The bottom of the face cut should be flat and the back cut should be lined up with it on the other side. Many people make the mistake of making the back cut above the face cut. This creates what looks like a “step” and the wood will tend to shear along a vertical line where the furthest point of the face cut meet the furthest point of the back cut.

3) Don’t cut trees with a severe lean.

I know it sound crazy because a leaning tree looks like a no-brainer. You might think it can simply be cut from the back and it will fall easily under its own weight. That’s the problem. The weight of the tree is putting intense strain on the fibers of the wood in one direction and leaners are at high risk for barberchair.

4) Avoid cutting species prone to barber chair.

Alders, ash, white pines, tulip poplars. In general species that are easy to split with an axe are likely to barberchair. Tall trunks with a lot of weight at the top and a pretty “straight” grain to the wood are likely to give you the old barberchair treatment.


Dangerous barberchair trees should be cut by a professional arborist.

If you have a tree on your property that could meet the description of a barberchair, please do not attempt to cut it yourself. Instead, we would be happy to provide you with a free tree assessment and quote to safely cut the tree. Give us a call or fill out a quote request form today!

Our experienced tree service company is based out of Glen Arm, MD, we service eastern Baltimore County and western Harford County and would be happy to answer any questions you have.


Photo credit: UK Daily Mail. Full Story: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3684788/Time-split-Heart-stopping-moment-logger-runs-life-massive-tree-starts-falling-apart-VERTICALLY.html