A Guide to: Coppicing

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Coppicing is an ancient woodland management technique.You harvest wood from the tree by cutting trunk(s) close to ground level and then allow it to regrow without needing to replant. I’ve done it several times in woodland and in gardens and it’s a lot of fun, it yields useful product ie poles, allows light onto different parts of the woodland floor, and prolongs the life of the tree, albeit in a different form. Coppicing gives you more varied woodland structure and can allow smaller plants such as wildflowers that were previously shaded out to grow again, improving biodiversity and probably beauty. If you don’t need poles, or even if you do, the spare ‘prunings’ can be used to dead hedge and provide habitat.

Coppicing works on many broadleaf trees. It doesn’t usually work on conifers. It’s best carried out in Winter when the tree is dormant. To start a coppice, the young tree should have established strong growth. The tree is cut almost to the ground and multiple shoots regrow from the base as trees want to live! You can then select how many shoots you allow to regrow or not, depending on purpose. For reliable results, it’s suggested that trees should be less than 5 inches diameter before coppicing and can be much smaller/younger. How long you allow the tree to regrow before coppicing again, depends on the purpose or what product you require and also the species eg willow for weaving, chestnut for garden poles, hornbeam for charcoal.


  • Make sure your tools are sharp. Tools needed will depend on the size of the trunks to be cut & what you intend to use the ‘prunings’ for:
  • Pruning saw
  • Loppers
  • Bowsaw
  • Bill hook for young stems or brashing
  • Axe for sharpening stakes if needed
  • Secateurs
  • Gloves -optional. Not to be used on hand holding swinging tools ie bill hook & axe
  • Mallet for tapping in stakes to retain dead hedge
  • I also like to have a kelly kettle or hot water flask for tea break!


  • Clear away leaves and debris from around your coppice so you can see the base of each stem/trunk

  • Make sure no-one is in the way of where the cut stems will fall.

  • Clear any dead, diseased or damaged stems first.

  • Start with the easiest to reach stems.

  • Cut each stem close to its base about 5 cm above. The cut should be very slightly angled away from the centre of the coppice so that water will run off outwards. You may need to do more than one cut per stem if the base is awkward to reach.

  • If stems are thicker than your thumb, use a pruning saw or bow saw. Slimmer stems can be cut with loppers.

  • Work round the whole coppice till all of it has been cut nearly to its base.

Processing the harvested stems

  • Side shoots and leaves can be cleared to leave a clean stem using a bill hook, loppers or secateurs.

  • When using a bill hook, keep the trunk between your leg and the bill hook so you can’t swing it into your leg (ouch!)

  • Hold the bill hook with an ungloved hand to avoid it slipping as you swing.

  • If you don’t need them elsewhere, the stems can be piled into a dead hedge, held together with stakes. Otherwise, the prunings from the stems can be used, usually laid in the same directions, packed as closely as possible and held in place by rows of stakes.

  • Make stakes from short sections of harvested trunks by sharpening one end with an axe and cutting the top end straight across so it’s easy to tap in with a mallett.

  • When harvesting poles, you may want to saw off sections of stem that aren’t straight and this is a good way to use up these sections.

  • The dead hedge provides valuable habitat and dead wood for wildlife and uses up all the prunings on site.

  • A good time to have a tea break is after sawing and before processing. Otherwise, cut half the stems and process, have a tea break and then finish the job off. It’s possible you’ll need more than one tea-break.

It’s good to know what you’ll be doing with the sawn off stems before you start so that you can finish the job and step back to admire your work. However, when working on my own, I have sometimes left an interval of a week or so between sawing and processing.garden poles, hornbeam for charcoal.

Written by Ingrid Chen

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