Chainsaw safety is the single most important thing you need to learn about before ever starting your chainsaw. Even though manufacturers are continually trying to make their chainsaws as safe as possible with new features, at the the end of the day it’s your responsibility to educate yourself and follow proper operating procedures when tackling any project. You must always wear your safety gear when working with a chainsaw and also, something that many people overlook is to inspect their chainsaw to ensure that the safety gear is fully operational.
Chainsaw safety is essential
Far too many people purchase a chainsaw without understanding the risks involved when operating it. This isn’t just another tool that you purchase, unbox and start using without any prior experience. There are things you can do to prevent injuries but it requires some effort and learning to develop an intuitive understanding of chainsaw safety. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Carl Smith, a fifth generation logger, on the dangers of chainsaw:
If you place your hands on a chain saw, you must keep in mind that it is like grabbing a hand grenade without a pin in it. It is very likely to go off in your face. From the moment that you take it out of storage to the time that it goes back to the same place, you can be hurt by either it, or by whatever you will be cutting.
The chain saw is the most dangerous hand tool that can be purchased on the open market. It requires no license and no training to own or operate it. An overall average of 40,000 injuries and deaths occur annually in the US. This figure is just the “reported” accidents given by hospitals willing or able to furnish the information. That figure does not include out-patient visits to the doctor.
You can read the full interview with Carl Smith and his views on chainsaw safety: Chainsaw Safety: Advice from an Expert
The fact is everyone thinks that an injury won’t happen to them. It’s the type of thing that happens to somebody else. You may think that you’re intelligent and therefore you don’t need to waste your time learning about how to use a chainsaw. How hard could it be? You may think to yourself. Well, have some humility and put your ignorance and ego aside. Chainsaw safety should be at the top of your list every time you begin working.
Here’s a great video on chainsaw safety made by Husqvarna:
And here’s another Husqvarna video providing an overview of chainsaw safety features, including details about kickback:
General Chainsaw Safety
- Read every word of your owner’s manual and learn it thoroughly. Every chainsaw is different so become acquainted with your particular model.
- Understand your limits. Sometimes it’s better to call a professional if your project is beyond your abilities and comfort level. It’s okay, don’t let your ego get in the way of your safety.
- Always wear your protective gear, this includes:
- Hearing Protection
- Hard hat
- If you’re a beginner start simple with your projects. Cutting logs for firewood or branches is a great place to start but don’t start with felling a large tree – start with a small tree. Practice, practice, practice. Start small.
- Do not cut alone. Always have someone nearby – but not close to you – just in case something goes wrong.
- Always have a good first aid kit nearby.
- Never cut wood being held by somebody else.
- When starting your chainsaw make sure the chain brake is engaged.
- Always hold your running chainsaw with two hands. Never use one hand. If you need to use your hand for something make sure you turn off your chainsaw first.
- Do not climb a tree with your chainsaw. Climbing trees is for experienced or professional operators. Look into buying a pole saw if you need to cut branches that require climbing.
- Don’t rush. Relax. If you’re unsure what to do next, turn off your chainsaw and come up with a plan first.
- Inspect your chainsaw before starting to ensure that all the safety features are working and the chain is tight on the guide bar.
- Never cut with the nose or tip of your chainsaw. This will cause kickback and can lead to a serious injury.
- Never use a chainsaw to cut above your head.
- Before you refuel, allow the chainsaw to cool down.
- When moving from tree to tree either turn off your chainsaw or engage the chain brake.
- Don’t use a chainsaw on a ladder.
- Use a scabbard to transport your chainsaw.
- Keep your chainsaw out of reach of children.
Felling a tree is the most dangerous project you can tackle, so safety should be the first thing on your mind before embarking on such a task. Most injuries occurs when attempting to fell a tree so exercise caution by following proper safety procedures and proper planning before starting.
- Ensure you’re wearing proper safety gear.
- Clear any obstructions, brushes or debris before cutting.
- Check the tree and surrounding environment to ensure it’s safe for cutting. Things to look out for: tree defects, entanglement with another tree, dead top or branches, wind speed and direction, and make sure the area that the tree will fall is safe for landing.
- Plan an escape route when felling trees. Sometimes things don’t go as planned so make sure you have a clear path to escape if things go awry.
- Make sure nobody else is nearby, and if so, make sure they are in a safe spot.
- Don’t ever cut a standing tree all the way through in one continuous cut. Ensure a reasonable hinge of wood where the two cuts meet. This provides you with more control of falling direction.
- Use a wedge if you need to in order to help the direction of the fall.
- Remain at the side of the tree being felled. Once the tree starts falling, shut off your chainsaw engine or engage the brake and proceed to your escape route. Don’t turn your back on a falling tree.
- If a tree gets lodged never stand under it as it may fall unexpectedly. Make sure you mark the area as dangerous so others won’t walk near it. Call a professional to lodge the tree safely by the aid of a heavy equipment.
- Do not fell a tree if it’s unusually windy.
- Only fell a tree into a clear area as to prevent lodging.
Limbing (or branch cutting)
- Ensure you’re wearing proper safety gear.
- Make sure you have proper balance.
- Start cutting branches from the bottom of the tree trunk and work your way to the top.
- Never limb with the tip or nose of the chainsaw.
- Never stand on the tree. Cut from the ground.
- If on a slope, stand on the uphill side.
- Never bend over the saw as it will put you in vulnerable position for injury if kickback should occur.
- Leave the limbs on the bottom of the tree as it will raise and support the trunk during bucking.
- Use two cuts when cutting large limbs.
- If you’re cutting for firewood but limbs to length while they are still attached to the tree.
- Use caution if you’re cutting branches with tension on them. Make shallow cuts first to release the majority of tension, and then cut all the way through.
Bucking (or log cutting)
- Ensure you’re wearing proper safety gear.
- Prop up the tree so you’re chainsaw won’t hit the ground when cutting.
- Make sure you are properly balanced and your footing is secure.
- Keep your feet and legs away from the saw. Leg injuries are common when bucking. Don’t be a statistic.
- Don’t cut if the tree is in a dangerous position.
- Don’t stand on the tree while cutting.
- Don’t use the tip or nose of the chainsaw when cutting as kickback may occur.
- Keep your chainsaw away from the ground, rocks or other debris.
Bucking if the tree is flat on the ground
- Your first cut should be straight down to the halfway point.
- Remove your guide bar from the tree trunk, turn off your chainsaw and place a wedge into the top of the cut to prevent the chain from binding.
- Start your chainsaw and while idling, slide your guide bar into the cut. Remember, the wedge is at the top. Now, continue to cut downward and stop before you hit the ground. At this point the log should break, otherwise give it a good kick.
- If the trunk is relatively small then make a top cut no further than two-thirds through the trunk, the turn or roll the trunk over and cut down the remainder of the way.
Learning chainsaw safety can save your life
Chainsaw safety should always be at the top of your mind whenever you fire up your chainsaw. You should always wear the appropriate safety gear, which includes: hard hat, leg chaps, gloves, eye protection, hearing protection and safety boots. But beyond that, you should continually be learning and practicing proper chainsaw safety operating procedures. If you’re not comfortable learning on your own then I recommend you take a class in your area and learn with an instructor. Another great resource is this book: Homeowner’s Complete Guide to the Chainsaw. I did a full review of it recently if you want to learn more.