Coppice – how low to cut

When cut, most of our native trees will regrow a number of shoots from either the stump or the roots (Tabor, 1994). It is this amazing adaptation that we coppice workers take advantage of. Allowing us to move around a woodland, felling areas of trees, which regrow with great vigour, and can then be cut again years later. Coppice must be the ultimate sustainable woodland management technique! I describe the benefits of coppicing here. For this post though I would like to focus on a commonly asked question on Coppice – how low should I cut?

How low to go?

So how low to go? As a general rule of thumb – ‘the cut should be as low to the ground as possible’ (Oaks, 2012). The reasons for this:

  • It encourages good growth from dormant buds low down on the tree. These are more likely to grow straight and true. Ray Tabor in his book ‘Traditional Woodland Crafts’ quotes author (not musician) James Brown: ‘shoots….which proceed from that part of the stock which rises two inches above the ground… will partake more of the character of branches than of trees’.
  • A study by Harmer, 2003 found that higher stumps produced more shoots. However, these shoots were often less stable and some collapsed over time.
  • Low stools are less likely to cause you trip up on the plot. Trivial perhaps, but consider a twisted ankle may keep you off the plot and out of work.
Coppice - how low to cut
Fig: 1: A low cut maiden tree, axe felled

What have I found in practise as an axe user? I am converting my single aged woodland into coppice. So almost all my cutting happens on maiden (single stem trees). With the axe the cut is very low at the front, and higher at the back (see Fig.1). Effective use of the axe requires you to cut on an angle. The back may be 3 or 4 inches high, I have never noticed this to be detrimental to the regrowth. I can’t see how with the axe you can cut much lower than this on a maiden tree. Since for the majority of the history of coppice the axe has been the tool used I am confident that the method I use with axe is sound.

For more information on coppice – how low to cut, there is an excellent DVD by the Small Woods Association called Light is Life. The best way to get hold of it is to give them a call.


Brown, J, The Forester, Blackwood, 1882
Tabor, R, Traditional Woodland Crafts, Batsford, 1994
Oaks, R, Mills, E, Coppicing and Coppice Crafts, Crowood Press, 2010
Harmer, R. And Howe J., The Silviculture and Management of Coppice Woodlands (Forestry Commission, 2003)

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