What It Means to "Buck Up" Wood

And How to Do It Safely

Person with chainsaw bucking up a log.
This large log can be made more manageable by bucking it up into smaller pieces. Johner Images/Getty Images

"Buck up" can refer to cutting a felled tree and its branches up into shorter lengths. You may use a sawbuck at the end of the operation; at the beginning, simply prop up a long log to be cut on top of other logs. In either case, the idea is to elevate the wood if possible to reduce the chances of the chain of your chainsaw coming into contact with the ground (such contact dulls the teeth on the chain).

Three Examples of Bucking Up Trees

One time you would buck up wood is in preparing for log cabin construction. In this case, you would cut a tree down, then buck up portions of it into the lengths required for construction purposes.

An example that will have great relevance to those who heat with wood comes from preparing firewood for curing and eventual burning. You would buck up a tree's wood to a suitable size (16 inches is a common length, but some people prefer to burn longer lengths), split it, and stack it outside for drying in neat rows. The shortened lengths are about the right size when it comes time to bring the firewood inside and insert it into a wood stove for burning.

You may well find yourself bucking up some trees that you have just felled if you are clearing land in preparation for starting a new garden from scratch. The bucked-up wood could either be hauled away to a brush pile or used in the garden to build natural shrub shelters, etc.

Staying Safe While Bucking Up Trees: Avoiding Kickback

It is important to inform yourself of the relevant yard safety tips whenever you undertake an outdoor project of any kind, but perhaps never more so than when using chainsaws to fell trees or buck up portions of a tree that has already been felled. Improvements have been made in chainsaw safety, but chainsaws are still dangerous tools that require you to be on constant alert. Do not just think about what is likely to go wrong, anticipate what might possibly go wrong. This is one instance where paranoia is healthy.

"Kickback" refers to the sudden, accidental movement of the bar of the chainsaw back in the direction of the operator while cutting. It is what every operator of a chainsaw should fear most. Kickback results from the tip of the chainsaw being allowed to come into contact awkwardly with an object. The tip will bounce wildly off the object instead of cutting into it. For this reason, beginners should try to cut with the half of the chainsaw bar that is closest to the engine.

Another way to avoid kickback is to lock the elbow of your lead arm straight out (no bend) while you are cutting. If you are right-handed, your right arm will be your trailing arm, and you will use the index finger of your right hand to operate the tool's trigger; your lead arm is your left arm (your left hand holds the handle). With your lead arm locked, any kickback that occurs will push your lead arm up and back; the chainsaw bar will not be on a collision course with your body.

Dressing Properly for Bucking Up Trees

Dressing properly for the job is one significant step to take in chainsaw safety. Protective eyewear is essential. People have often had a wood chip fly out at them like a bullet when cutting into a tree with a chainsaw, right at one of their eyes. Its force is such that it will knock out a lens from the frame of your glasses. Imagine the eye damage it would cause to someone not wearing glasses! But goggles are even better than glasses, as they protect your eyes from debris approaching from the side.

In addition to goggles, chainsaw operators commonly wear steel-toed boots, hard hats, protective ear muffs (chainsaws are very loud), and heavy work gloves (the pros also wear chaps to protect their legs). Do not wear loose-fitting clothing, dangling jewelry, or anything else that could become caught in the chain of the saw. For the same reason, long hair should be piled up under a hat (or, for superior safety, a hard hat).

"Buck Up" More Often Has Another Meaning

The forestry/DIY definition of the term, "buck up" is so specialized that relatively few people know it. It has another definition that is more commonly used when people are not talking about cutting wood:

  • (As an intransitive verb:) to become encouraged, to cheer up
  • (As a transitive verb:) to raise the morale of