Tips for Using a Chainsaw

chainsaw working on wood


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For cutting down trees and pruning large branches, a chainsaw is incomparable. If you have ever cut trees by hand, you will be surprised at a chainsaw's ease and speed. Small trees can be felled and branches removed in minutes. Plus, as long as you adhere to your chainsaw's safety precautions, there is no reason why using a chainsaw should be anything but safe and pleasant, even if you have never used one before.

Typical Projects With a Chainsaw

Chainsaws are intended only for cutting wood, in projects such as:

Never use a chainsaw for cutting any non-wood material, including plastic, masonry, or metal. Dimensional lumber is best cut with saws intended for this purpose, such as hand saws, miter saws, circular saws, and reciprocating saws. Do not use a chainsaw to split logs. Instead, use a log splitter.

Where to Use Your Chainsaw

Limit the operation of your chainsaw to outdoor areas. Gasoline-powered devices, including chainsaws, should never be used in enclosed areas due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Electric-powered chainsaws do not emit carbon monoxide.

Chainsaw Safety Tips

Chainsaws can be operated efficiently and safely. Be sure to carefully read your chainsaw's operator's manual, as all chainsaws are different. The operator's manual is your complete guide to the safe operation of your chainsaw. Highlights include:

Tension the Chain Properly

Before turning on, plugging in, or otherwise activating the chainsaw, make sure that the chain is properly tensioned on the guidebar. A loose chain may whip free or draw materials into it. A tight chain may not move at all.

Prevent Kickback

Chainsaw kickback happens when the upper quadrant of the nose of the chainsaw guidebar touches an object when the chain is moving. Another cause of kickback is when the wood or any other object closes in and pinches the moving chain. Chainsaws with smaller guidebars have a reduced (but not eliminated) chance of kickback.

Never cut a tree or branch with a diameter wider than the length of the chainsaw's guidebar. A guidebar is the solid metal section that protrudes from the front of the chainsaw and over which the chain slides. Avoid touching the front end of the saw to any surface during operation.

One common cause of a pinched chain is during bucking, which two opposite ends of the material close in and stop or limit the chain. Avoid this by making sure that one end of the material is designed to drop away, creating an open V-shape in the cutting zone.

Limit Proximity to Saw Chain

Chainsaws not only can cut you, but you might become entangled in their rapidly moving chains. Clothing, hair, jewelry, gloves, and anything loose might get caught between the chain and the guidebar, drawing you toward the saw or the saw toward you.

Protect Hearing and Eyes

With chainsaws, hearing and eye protection are both required. An average gasoline-powered chainsaw produces a noise of about 120 dBs—just under the sound of a military jet lifting off. Debris blowback, too, is the norm with chainsaw operations, making eye protection mandatory.

Avoid Touching the Chain, Even When Stationary

Chainsaws' chains are very sharp. Even when the chain is not moving, it can severely lacerate the skin. Be sure to keep the cover on the saw when not in use.

How to Use a Chainsaw

  1. Prepare the Saw

    Inspect the chainsaw and make sure that it is topped with oil (even electric chainsaws require oil). Tension the chain: there should be no slack on the underside of the chain. If the chain is dull, replace it. If the saw is gasoline-powered, make sure that it is full of fuel. If it is electrical, have the fuel cell fully charged or have an extension cord nearby.

  2. Position the Work Material

    Always have the work material position before powering up the chainsaw. If felling a tree, determine the cut point. If bucking, position the wood so that the cut end will drop free of the main section.

  3. Unlock the Saw

    Most chainsaws have some type of locking device for safety. Disengage this lock-out device.

  4. Power the Saw

    With hearing and eye protection in place, turn on the saw. Let the saw run for a few seconds while observing the chain tension. Sometimes, a chain that appeared to be properly tensioned with stationary may loosen when moving.

  5. Make the Cut

    Rest the bottom of the guidebar on top of the work material. Due to the motion of the chain, the saw will begin to tug away from you. You should gently pull back on the saw to counteract this motion. As much as possible, rely on the weight of the chainsaw itself, rather than manual force, to press the saw into the wood.