How to Drill Into a Tree Without Hurting It

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Drilling into your tree may seem like it will damage the tree. Most trees have a process known as compartmentalization that will help it to heal after you drill into it for a treehouse or another project. By choosing the right tree and limiting how many holes are added into the tree, you can drill all you want without damage.

How to Drill Into a Tree Without Hurting It

There are many reasons why you may want to consider drilling holes into your tree. Most of these are going to be done to help improve the tree with a project or even putting a treehouse up there for your kids to enjoy. Many people wonder if adding these holes into the tree with a drill would be safe for the tree.

They do not want to get a tree house started and then find out that the tree is harmed and will not survive.


The good news is that you can drill into a tree without hurting it, provided the following:

  • pick the right tree
  • add a limited number of holes in the tree
  • do not add herbicides or anything else to the tree

Follow those basic guidelines and you will be able to drill into the tree without damaging it. Here are the steps you want to follow:

1. Pick the Right Tree

There are several types of trees that will do better when it comes to drilling into it. You want to go with a tree that is nice and strong, and one that is able to build up around the nail or screw without being affected at all.

There are certain trees that may not do as well when you try to do this. Some of the best trees to consider for this include:

  • Douglas Fir Trees: Although a softwood tree, this is a good option. This Fir is strong and can handle a few holes in them.
  • Maple Trees: This is a good option because Maple’s usually have robust taproots that can help anchor any structure you are trying to put in place. They can handle strong winds and other weather. These trees produce wood that is also great for woodworking and scroll saw projects.
  • Pawpaw Trees: This is a soft hardwood, which means it is durable like other hardwood options while still being soft enough to drill into.
  • Oak Trees: This is a strong tree that can handle whatever you are choosing to drill into the tree. They are found all over North America so you can find the one that will work for you.

Choosing the right tree can make all the difference in how well you can drill into a tree without hurting it.

It is best to avoid woods that are too soft because these tend to have the most vulnerability to being hurt in the process. Check to see what type of tree is around for you to use before drilling to see if it can handle the stress of adding holes into it.

2. Pick the Right Location

Drilling into the right location in the tree is important. You need to pick the right plans when it is time to do the drilling to get the right height and the right depth for your needs. There are a few things to consider when picking a location like:

  • The nail will stay put: Even if the tree will continue to grow, the nail is going to stay in the same place. The tree will just grow around the nail.
  • The depth will change: The nail will not stay at the same depth relative to the bark. There will be new growth that will happen under the bark so the diameter is likely to increase and engulf the nail. This is why it can be dangerous if someone wants to cut it down later.

Since the depth can change in the tree and the nail that you drill in may get lost over many years, it is a good idea to have a backup plan to add more nails later. This is particularly important if you are doing a tree house or something else that needs to be kept up for a long time.

3. Pick the Right Types of Screws

When you are drilling into the tree, it is important to pick the right kinds of screws.

  • Stainless Steel: Stainless steel screws are durable and will last a long time without needing to worry about purchasing something expensive or something that will rust on you.
  • Galvanized nails: Galvanized nails have an added level of protection that can help to keep the trees safe and looking nice.

It is best to go with any type of nail or screw that is durable and will not rust. If the nail does rust, it could end up causing some harm to the tree and is not a good option to go with.

4. Don’t Add Too Many Holes

While one or two nails will not cause too many problems within a tree, you do need to be careful about how many holes you are adding.

You should not drill as many holes as possible into the tree or it will stress the tree out and it may die. A few holes here ad there for a project is not going to harm the tree though, thanks to a process known as compartmentalization.

With compartmentalization, the tree is basically able to heal itself. When you drill in a screw or a nail, the tree will start to heal around the area where the screw is located. This is done to help the tree to heal and can protect it from a potential infection.

Pocket hole screws

As long as there are limited number of screws in place and you choose a tree that is strong and stable, it will be able to compartmentalize and the tree will stay healthy.

However, if you go drill happy and put a lot of holes into the tree, then you can run into some problems. These holes make it hard for the tree to heal. Think of how well your body would heal if there are just one or two scrapes, rather than a broken bone or a whole bunch of scrapes and bruises around the body.

You may be able to heal over time, but it will take a long time. The same is true of a tree. And if you drill too many into a sick or unhealthy tree, the results can be even worse as the tree will not be able to heal.

5. Do Not Add Anything to the Holes

You may worry about hurting the tree when you drill into it because you have heard that others killed their trees in this way.

Outside of adding an overabundance of holes to the tree, the way that trees get killed during drilling is when something is added into the holes, such as a herbicide. This is a deliberate process and includes:

  • Cutting around the tree: Cuts or holes are added all around the tree, making it around the circumference.
  • A chemical is used: There are a few herbicides that can be used for this. The most common is Dicamba.

Some trees are even able to protect themselves from the chemical when this happens. For example, if the cuts are done in the spring, the heavy sap from the tree is able to prevent it from absorbing the herbicide and can keep the tree safe.

If you are just adding a few holes into the tree to put up a treehouse or another project, then this is not going to be a concern.

Can You Hammer a Nail Into a Tree?

While we have been discussing drilling into a tree without hurting it, you may wonder whether you can hammer a nail into the tree as well.

This is possible just like using a drill, but it make take a little more work on your side to get it done since you will need to use force and a hammer rather than a drill.

You’ll want a good hammer with substantial weight to it. You need quite a bit of force to drive nails through tough bark and hardwood.

Since trees are very durable, you will be able to hammer this nail into the tree and as long as you do not add herbicide or some other chemical into the tree, you will be fine here.


No matter what the reason is you have for drilling holes into a tree, it is generally seen as safe. Make sure that you do not add too many holes into the tree and be careful about getting any herbicide or other things into the hole, and the tree can usually handle it.

The right tree will make a difference as well, with hardwood trees being better matches than softwood trees when you want the tree to stay healthy when you are done.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.