Essential Chain Saw Safety Tips
A powered chainsaw is a potent tool for a number of jobs, ranging from heavy duty landscaping to timber harvesting to more whimsical tasks such as intense wood carving and ice sculpture.
Whatever type of chainsaw you're using, you have likely selected it for a very specific purpose, and while it may have other uses you'll experiment with in time, you likely already have at least a vague idea of how to use it.
Whether you need firewood cut, underbrush cleared away or heavy duty artwork achieved in no time, a chainsaw is usually the best tool for a wide range of jobs.
That said, even the lightest chainsaw absolutely does present a serious danger to the user and those around them, no matter what they use the chainsaw itself for.
Though chainsaws are incredibly useful tools, there is a good reason so many Hollywood movie serial killers stereotypically use these devices in horror films. It's because they really are quite dangerous, even to trained and thoroughly experienced operators who grow complacent, even if only momentarily.
Losing sight of the saw's capacity to injure and maim, sometimes to the point of a fatality, is something that must be avoided at all costs, and while most operators can use a chainsaw for years without a single accident, the accidents that do happen are quite gruesome and usually extremely painful and sometimes permanently disabling for those involved.
Still, as noted above, one should not be afraid of their tools as it is absolutely possible to go years on end without a single accident as long as one is careful and never loses sight of the power and threat presented by the tool they're using.
In this way, powered saws are not unlike large vehicles, where drivers can go their entire careers without a single tragedy as long as they keep in mind their training and later their years of experience.
With proper foresight and caution, a chainsaw is a powerful tool that presents little danger to life or limb that makes even difficult jobs happen faster than they would with any other tool. With that in mind, there are a number of chainsaw safety tips that operators are well advised to remember when using their powered saws.
1. Practice First
No amount of suggestions could ever hope to replace absolute experience, particularly since each type of chainsaw has its own quirks and habits that no generalized list of safety tips could hope to properly cover.
It is a very good idea to practice with your new chainsaw before taking it on any serious work. It is advisable to begin with cutting down small trees, as well as crosscutting them once they're down.
Pruning smaller, less dense trees is also advisable. If you have large pieces of scrap wood or easy access to large chunks of ice, this too can be good practice. The point of this practice is to familiarize yourself with the saw and what it is like when it is running at full capacity.
2. Use Both Hands
This can not be stated enough. Even if a saw is light enough to use with one hand, two hands is a much better way to control a chainsaw.
These devices are powered after all and when things go bad, a user using both hands is more likely to keep the saw under control than a user who tried to use a powered saw with only one hand.
While inactive saws can certainly be moved and carried with one hand, if the saw is on and being used, two hands is the best and ideally only way such a powerful tool should be used by an operator with good sense.
3. Plan Ahead of Time
The danger of the saw aside, felling trees can lead to accidents even if nothing goes wrong with the saw itself. This is particularly true in populated areas where one mistake with a tree coming down can inadvertently lead to thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Checking with the land's owner to know which trees you are allowed to cut is also a good idea, as well as knowing the stump heights required of the land's owner. In a similar vein, before even starting a chainsaw for the first time, it is always a smart idea to read the saw's owner's manual thoroughly.
While it makes for a dry read, most powered saws are specialized devices that come with ups and downs unique to that particular model of saw and knowing what these ups and downs are can be important.
It can also be important to prepare the area you're going to be sawing in. Clearing away all debris, small tree limbs, dirt and rocks from the chainsaw's path if at all possible should be done before the chainsaw is turned on. Examining what you're cutting for metal objects such as nails or spikes is a good idea, particularly if you have not yet examined the material.
4. Know the Chain Brake
Many, though not all, of these saws have hand guard that can also trigger a chain brake. Chain brakes are a specialized safety feature that immediately stop the chain of the saw from running the second the brake mechanism is triggered.
Learning how to shut the saw off on instinct without looking for a switch can be an important thing to do in an emergency, which makes practicing shutting off the saw before putting it into use just as important as learning how to practice handling the saw before putting it into use.
5. Protective Clothing
Beyond the saw itself, the side effects of a saw can absolutely be as devastating as a mishap with the saw itself. A hard hat is recommended for most heavy uses of a chainsaw so as to protect the head from falling debris, particularly when one is cutting something they can not properly see.
Goggles are essential for protecting the eyes from the wooden splinters and chips that go flying whenever a saw is placed into any kind of wood. Hearing protectors are also a good idea as these devices are loud and can damage the delicate bones of the ear with long term use, leading to hearing disorders over a period of time.
Hard toed shoes and leather gloves are also a good thing to have on when the debris from the saw starts flying every which way, and timber chaps can also provide a first line of defense against the limbs that might get in the way of the saw.
Conversely, slippery shoes and baggy clothing are not recommended at all, as falling down while wielding a chainsaw is an easy way to sustain serious injury, as is getting clothing caught in the saw itself.
In a similar vein, it helps to frequently check your footing if you are working with a saw in a rugged area such as a forest where it is easy to fall from natural hazards.
6. Refueling Precautions (Gasoline Powered Saws Only)
Refueling a gasoline powered chainsaw, generally the most powerful of their kind, is another matter that needs to be addressed. Much like refueling a gasoline powered lawn mower, a few basic precautions are in order.
First, know how to refill the saw before guessing as to what will get the job done; read the manual to know exactly how to refuel the saw. That said, a few precautions apply to all gasoline powered chainsaws, no matter how they're designed.
Stop the engine before even opening the gas tank. Smoking around a flammable liquid like gasoline is just plain stupid, as is attempting to refuel a saw while it is in the middle of being used.
Be very careful not to spill gasoline on a hot engine that has not had time to cool down, as this too can lead to the ignition of gasoline. To prevent gasoline from spilling where it is not supposed to be, it is advisable to use a filtering funnel or a flexible hose built into the gas can to fill the saw's fuel tank.
Never start the saw where you refueled as leftover gasoline fumes can in fact ignite and start a fire; at least ten feet away is a good range. During dry weather, taking extra precautions to prevent a fire and being prepared if one does start can be the difference between a completed job and a brush fire that may become a larger problem if left unchecked.
7. Carry the Saw Right
Unless a chainsaw is actively in use as a cutting implement, it should be turned off at all times, particularly if working in conditions that are hazardous and could lead to a fall while carrying the saw.
These conditions include a slippery ground surface (say after a good rain), heavy brush or working on a steep slope. Carrying the saw with the guide bar point to your rear is generally a good idea, unless you are moving downhill, in which case the guide bar should be pointed towards the front.
8. Never Saw With the Tip
Cutting anything by beginning with the tip of a chainsaw never leads to anything good. Many chainsaws have tip guards to prevent such accidents and should be left in place at all times unless repairing the saw.
For saws without tip guards, it requires extra mindfulness of the part of the operator to make sure they do not cut with the tip of the saw. Using the tip of the saw on a heavy material tends to lead to saw kickback, where the saw simply spins out of control, often leaving the user's hands.
This can often lead to injury, and while most modern chainsaws are equipped with protective devices to minimize this kickback, the operator must exercise some caution as well, as no amount of safety features can replace a trained user.
If you're sawing a tree, look upwards into the branches for “widow makers”. These are a type of debris that get caught in the foliage of trees that, when the tree is cut, will fall down as the tree collapses and injure anyone beneath them. A similar rule applies to other forms of debris around the tree.
Also examine the area being cut for branches that are under tension, as these branches can easily spring out when being cut releases their energy, which can damage saws or operators with equal ease.
10. Maintain the Saw
The chain of a saw should always be sharp to ensure that the process of cutting happens with as little complications as possible.
Blunt chains cause just as much tissue damage as sharp chains and with blunt chains, mishaps are more likely to happen as the operator's efforts to cut material with a blunt saw lead to accidents.
Additionally, saws should be properly lubricated as well, and the lubrication reservoir should be kept as full as circumstances allow.
11. Watch the Cord (Electric Saws Only)
When using an electric chainsaw, it is definitely a good idea to use a three wire, outdoor extension cord, the kind typically used for power tools. Be very careful not to trip on the power cord as this can, predictably, lead to problems.
Disconnecting the cord while going from one job to the next is advisable to minimize the chance of injury. And, while it should go without saying, avoiding wet areas when using an electrically powered saw is a good idea and cutting brush after a heavy a rainstorm is inadvisable.
A chainsaw is a powerful, useful device that many people can make great use of in everyday life. However, the same is also true of automobiles and prescription medications and people constantly take precautions with those.
Chainsaws should be treated with respect and the user should be mindful of what they are doing at all times while using them.