Follow these guidelines to avoid chainsaw accidents and get the most from this powerful wood cutting tool.
A chainsaw has sharp teeth set on a chain that moves rapidly around the edge of a blade. Used properly, it’s a safe, effective tool for cutting trees, logs and other wood. But a momentary slip-up can cause a lifelong injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 35,000 people are injured in chainsaw accidents every year.
Follow these chainsaw safety tips to protect life and limb (yours) when using a chainsaw.
Use the right chainsaw safety gear
Chainsaw safety equipment can mean the difference between a hospital visit and a close call. Gear up with the proper PPE.
In addition to PPE, wear close-fitting clothing since loose material can get caught in the chainsaw or snag on branches.
- Chainsaw safety helmet. Made from hard plastic, these helmets help protect your head from falling debris. Many come with a face shield and built-in hearing protection.
- Eye protection. Use a face shield to block flying woodchips and branches. At a minimum, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from sawdust and other debris.
- Ear protection. Chainsaws are incredibly loud and can cause hearing loss after only a few minutes of use. Use ear plugs or ear muffs to protect your hearing.
- Chainsaw safety chaps or pants. Woodworking chaps wrap around the lower legs to protect against errant cuts. If the chainsaw happens to swing toward your legs while cutting, the chaps jam the chainsaw fly wheel and prevent its teeth from ripping into your flesh. At a minimum, wear pants made of tough, cut-resistant material to protect your legs from flying debris.
- Chainsaw safety boots. Invest in a quality pair of safety boots. Available with a toe box made from steel or composite, they protect your feet from getting crushed by heavy limbs and help prevent cuts and lacerations. Boots with good traction also help you maintain your footing on uneven or muddy terrain.
- Gloves. Cutting up wood is hard, sweaty work. A good pair of work gloves will help you maintain a firm grip on the tool and also protect against cuts and scrapes from flying debris.
Chainsaw safety tips: Before you start
Whether you’re using a light-duty chainsaw for small trees and branches or a heavy-duty model for larger trees, read the manual first. Every chainsaw model is different. Be sure to understand the safety features and follow all warnings.
Inspect the chainsaw before you start it. It should be free of debris such as caked sawdust, and the handles should be clean and dry. The teeth on the chain should be sharp and the chain tension should be adjusted according to manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure the blade is lubricated. Check the controls, fill the oil tank and confirm that bolts and handles are functioning properly.
Before you begin cutting, check the wood and the surrounding area for nails, screws, spikes, rocks or anything the saw blade could encounter. These objects can become projectiles, damage the saw’s teeth and cause kickback.
Dry weather is the best weather for using a chainsaw. DIYers often wonder, can I use a chainsaw in the rain? The short answer is: It depends. If you have a gas chainsaw, running it in wet conditions will not damage it. Just make sure to dry it off with a rag. An electric chainsaw should not be used in wet conditions because there’s an increased risk of electric shock. If water gets inside the machine, it will damage the electric motor.
Smart chainsaw techniques
Move away from the fueling area before starting the engine. Start the chainsaw on the ground or on another firm surface. When using the chainsaw, stand on stable ground and maintain good balance. Keep both hands on the handles.
Cut at waist level or below, and cut with the throttle at full speed. Maintain steady but not heavy pressure. Let the saw to do the work.
When moving around the worksite, shut off the chainsaw or engage the chain brake. Carry the chainsaw so the bar is pointing behind you. Let the chainsaw come to a complete stop before you reach for the chain.
Common mistakes to avoid
Don’t get a chainsaw education the hard way. These are the mistakes that often cause injury:
Drop starting. Never drop start a chainsaw. Drop starting is when you hold the saw in one hand and pull the starter cord with the other. You’ll have minimal control as the chain lurches into action.
Cutting with the blade tip. Chainsaw kickback is caused when the very end of the blade contacts the wood and flies back at the chainsaw operator. Continually reposition yourself and the chainsaw so the long edge of the blade does the cutting.
Overreaching with the chainsaw. Never extend the chainsaw with one arm or lean out on one foot. If you lose your balance, you could lose control of the saw, especially if there’s kickback. Never use a chainsaw above shoulder height.
Fueling a hot running saw. To avoid accidental ignition, shut off the engine and allow it to cool before refueling. Wipe off any spilled fuel before restarting the saw.
Chainsaw cleaning and maintenance
After your work is done, let the chainsaw cool down, then wipe away dirt or sawdust with a rag or paint brush. A can of compressed air is handy for cleaning hard-to-reach areas.
Regular maintenance will help keep your chainsaw running properly and safely. The timing of maintenance tasks will be depend on how often you use the machine. These tasks include cleaning or replacing the air filter, rotating the bar, tightening all screws and nuts and sharpening the chain.