How to Properly Use and Maintain a Chainsaw {Guest Post}

This past summer when my children and I are were in the midst of our Great Eco-Friendly Summer Road Trip, I received a message that a huge branch of our apple tree had fallen. My husband went out to buy our (his) first chainsaw. As you might imagine, he was thrilled, I was less so. These tips are great for women to feel empowered to take on the type of tasks that may otherwise seem daunting. Watch out, there may be some chainsaw wielding in my future!

 

Almost All The Truth - Chainsaw


Taken by Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Chainsaws are frighteningly powerful tools. They can be found on most farms and in homes where wood is cut for heating, or where landscaping requires one. Despite the benefits of using a chainsaw, the potential for accidents while using a chainsaw is high, and injuries sustained while operating a chainsaw are often severe.  Do not be afraid of the tool. Rather, learn to master them and use them with extreme caution.

While modern chainsaws incorporate many safety features not found on earlier models, it is up to the user to operate a chainsaw safely. Here are some suggestions for safely using a chainsaw, along with proper chainsaw maintenance tips.

Using a Chainsaw

Before you begin, it is important to purchase safety gear and actually wear it. Specially made chaps will often times stop a moving chain and save your thigh from a gruesome accident. A helmet with a face screen, coupled with ear protection, is a convenient and simple way to keep your head, eye and ear protection in one easy to access package. Wearing steel-toed, cut-resistant boots, sold at most chainsaw dealers, will also help you prevent any possible accidents.

Chainsaws are the perfect tool for cutting up fallen trees and large branches. Figuring out where to start and how to properly go about the job can prove to be a challenge, though. The most common chainsaw injuries occur to the thigh and left arm, but they can be virtually eliminated by taking a few simple precautions. First, always wrap the thumb of your left hand around the front handle while you’re cutting. This grip helps keep the saw under control in case the chainsaw kicks back.

Secondly, when you’re moving around the yard with your chainsaw running, always remove your right hand from the back handle and carry the saw at your left hand holding the front handle. This will ensure that if you trip and fall, there is no way the saw’s engine can accelerate and rotate the chain.

Cutting

The most common and natural way to cut is with the chain on the bottom of the bar. The chainsaw pulls slightly and is easy to control by maintaining a firm grip. However, cutting from the underside of a branch will require you to cut with the top of the bar. This can be slightly unnerving as the saw pushes toward you. But as long as you have braced yourself well, and have taken the necessary safety precautions, you will be able to safely use this technique.

There is one spot on the bar you should avoid using. Known as the kickback zone, this spot is located at the top half of the bar’s tip. If the kickback zone comes in contact with what you are attempting to cut (while the chain is moving), the saw will kick up toward you. Modern chainsaws are equipped with a chain brake which is designed to stop your saw’s chain if a kickback occurs. Going back to an earlier point, it is important to have your left hand placed firmly around the front grip to help prevent chainsaw kickback. However, your best line of defense begins with avoiding contact with the kickback zone.

Maintenance

Learning to properly maintain your chainsaw and keeping it in top working condition can become a matter of life and death. While modern saws are equipped to provide you with more safety than ever, you are still operating a machine with a sharp blade capable of cutting down trees. Your limbs will be no match for the chainsaw if used improperly. Maintaining your saw can save your life, as well as extend the life of your chainsaw.

Sharpening

The first thing you’ll want to do is to keep your chain sharp. A dull chain can contribute to accidents, not to mention wear you out. You can tell when your chain is sharp, as your saw should cut without requiring excessive downward pressure. When sharpened properly, your chainsaw will spit out chunks of wood. If your saw is spitting out sawdust, you will need to change your chain to a sharp one, or have your current chain sharpened.

While you can learn to sharpen your chainsaw yourself, it is recommended that you have a professional do it for you (typically costs $10). If you can afford it, it would be in your best interest to have a couple sharp chains with you at all times so you can change them out when you accidentally hit a rock or your chain dulls from normal use. To help keep your chain sharp, you should store your chainsaw with a scabbard to prevent your chain from getting dinged up when in storage.

Tension 

You will also want to make sure you are keeping the chain clean, tight, and well lubricated. As you use your chainsaw, make sure wood and sawdust are not building up in the chain. Check your chain before each use that it fits tightly against the bar, but that it is loose enough for you to move it with your gloved hand.

You cannot check your chain’s tension too often. Make sure that your chain never gets to the point where it sags off of the bar. A sagging chain can be very hazardous, as it increases the risk of the chain snapping when in use. Some designs have automatic chain tensioning systems, but learning how to adjust your chain’s tension is an absolute necessity to ensure your safety.

Lubrication

Your chainsaw won’t cut effectively if it isn’t properly lubricated. Some chainsaws have automatic lubrication systems, which will save you the hassle of doing it manually. Though, if your chainsaw does not have this feature, make sure you purchase bar and chain oil to properly lubricate your tool. Do not use motor oil. There’s a reason why you can buy oil specifically for your chain and bar. Just like you wouldn’t use cooking oil in your vehicle, make sure you are using the proper oil for the job.

For more tips on how to improve and protect the health of our children and those we care for, visit Almost All The Truth.

Rachael Jones is Staff Writer for DIYMother.


Comments

How to Properly Use and Maintain a Chainsaw {Guest Post} — 2 Comments

  1. I like this article. Good for you, trying to help women to feel like they can do it and creating a comfortable place for them to begin.
    I’d like to pitch in my two cents being a woman who has her own Stihl. These tips are very good indeed and are good sound advice, most especially the safety protocols. I would add the major safety issue of never even begin to cut if you are not standing comfortably on the ground and feeling balanced. Spreading feet to shoulder width will help you to feel comfortable and balanced. Do not attempt to use a chainsaw on a ladder. And don’t even attempt to use one if you feel your feet are placed unnaturally on uneven ground. Instead use pruning shears, hand saws, or the chainsaw itself to clear the area so that you have proper access to the thing you are cutting. no ifs and or buts, always give yourself the initial advantage of proper footing first. Never over reach with a chain saw. I personally would never cut with the blade pointing up to the sky as in the photo. You are already halfway toward an accident of monumental proportions there (kickbacks are not always even or moving in the direction that you suspect they might), although the hand placement in that photo is excellent. The left hand should be wrapped firmly around that top bar and be reasonably stiff as well the point is that if a kickback happens the automatic stop should hit the back of your left hand and put the brakes on the blade. The blade of the saw should be horizontal as you cut, mostly that puts more space between you and that oh so deadly blade and it is deadly, respect it as such!…and then take every precaution! If you or your significant other is going out to use the chain saw I highly recommend for safety’s sake that you go together. There are some good logical reasons behind this. First if an accident occurs the other person is there with a cell phone! Second chainsaws are heavy and powerful, its not a bad idea to both be working it. It gives each person time to take a break and stretch out that aching back. I don’t feel that a chainsaw should ever be left on for any length of time if its not in use even if it isn’t in gear. You certainly should not be walking any distance with one running. That’s kind of asking for an issue, a random trip over a tree root and you could possibly kick it into gear. So shut it off! Really you don’t want to be gumming up the environment burning extra fossil fuels anyway. For the ladies my own Stihl chain saw has this nifty little push button that relieves some of the pressure when you attempt your pull start. It is female friendly. It honestly makes the task of a pull start that for me is usually impossible, kind of almost reasonable, mind you I would much rather have a chainsaw that I could plug in to start and then unplug…I REALLY hate pull starts! A chain saw should also not be used to cut old boards, hitting a nail you may have missed because it is embedded in the wood, can send shrapnel flying (shrapnel in the form of the nail itself and also all the bits of the blade that could come off)! A chainsaw is really for cutting trees, a light chainsaw as pictured above is really suited to cutting away larger brush that needs to be removed, stuff large enough that pruning shears wont really work. Using a small chainsaw like the one pictured above on a large tree will likely result in the engine working too hard and it will kill your chainsaw, as well if the blade is not actually longer that the tree is wide then you have a much better chance of getting a dangerous kick back, so be aware of that. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used in such a way. Professional make plunge cuts all the time. My husband is comfortable to do such a thing, but I don’t feel my strength is up to task on that so guess what I DON’T DO PLUNGE CUTS. Also actually dropping a whole tree requires finesse and knowledge. Seriously….and don’t underestimate what I’m saying here… it really does require a very good eye and the finesse to be able to direct the tree where you would have it go. That sort of business is better left to a professional. If you choose to do it anyway at least go onto YouTube and look at the countless videos made by professionals who can step you through the process. It has a great lot to do with the weight of the crown of the tree and the natural pitch to the tree. Making a tree fall contrary to its natural inclination is even more difficult requiring well placed wedges and particular cuts. Never cut a tree near power lines, don’t drop a tree on your house, or the neighbors dog…they hate that sort of thing! I know that sounds like the extreme in obvious here but such things happen ….all the time! Again remember to use the proper tool for the job, and don’t muscle through it. Let the tool do the job, not your brute strength that can harm a small engine or bend the bar. your cut should be a nice straight swipe through the wood and it can be difficult keeping your bar perfectly straight, since a cut takes several minutes. It should be good even downward stroke with a little pressure, but sorry no, not the vertical cut you see in the picture. Don’t run your blade into the ground. You have no idea what may be lurking just under the soil! Maybe a rock maybe some old barbed wire! If your tree is laying on the ground make cuts most of the way through and roll it to expose and cut the uncut section. If its too big to roll…lol I have resorted to digging a small ditch with my hand under the log to give me room to make the cut. There is also a nifty log rolling device, basically a curved end on a long stick to give you the option of levering a log or tree.

    I live on a heavily wooded New England Road. One year we had a devastating ice storm. I mean devastating! Nearly 2/3 rds of the trees were simply snapped off. Trees were down on houses everywhere. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the neighborhood and we were cut off from town and power for over 10 days! When the wind stopped blowing it wasn’t the state or electrical workers that gained us access to town, it was every man in the area who stepped out of their homes with their chain saws in hand. For us we didn’t have one yet and The Home Depot was out of chainsaws. Next tip …get one and get familiar with operation BEFORE the disaster! We found an old friend who had moved from the area and he and my husband were able to cut the tree off our roof with a Sears chainsaw. We bought it from him at a very good used price as he wanted a larger one and we had a ton of clean up to do. It was a very small chainsaw that very frankly I could feel very comfortable with, but I burned it out on less then 5 trees stripping the gears. It was NOT the right tool for the job! We went to a local shop and purchased what I call a real chainsaw, a Stihl with interchangeable bars. I use the 18 inch bar most often, because that is what I feel comfortable with. This is not a place to try to keep up with the guys or push yourself beyond your comfort zone. When you do that with a chainsaw you are automatically pushing yourself into the danger zone. It is unnecessary! Very realistically here, my first time with the Stihl and already having decent experience with the 16 inch Sears version, I made 5 cuts into a tree that was approximately 12 inches in diameter and my lower back was SCREAMING. You may find one of those back braces helpful, the sort that employees at Home Depot wear often. A second person…priceless! My husband and I swap off and I hate to concede this but yes he can make more cuts than I can before he’s toast…lol. And too once your muscles are screaming like that you have officially left the safety zone…stop the saw go in the house, pat your cat have a cup of tea, a hot bath, some icy hot on the back (trade back rubs with your honey) whatever…I guarantee the tree will be there tomorrow. Bend at the knees a bit too, basically remember all those tidbits of smart info we’ve been told over our lifetimes and apply them. I assure you, you are lifting a heavy object and if you don’t feel that’s true at the beginning, you will by the end. Be smart! As women we tend to be a little smarter than guys anyway about such things…use that!…because that’s when your accident is going to happen when you’re exhausted and sore. Overconfidence and complete lack of confidence are also major contributing factors to an accident! If you are afraid of the chain saw heck carry it around the house for a while, open it up, look inside, carefully touch the blade…GET YOUR HANDS ON IT! FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH IT!

    I completely disagree about the sharpening. Sharpening is a very long way from rocket science. Oodles of vids on it at YouTube and buy the sharpening guide. There is a particular piece of equipment called a chain saw sharpening guide. Buy it (its not expensive) and learn how to do it. The guide will help you to get and keep the proper angle on the teeth of the blade. You can do it! Remember what the writer said …your chainsaw should be spitting chunks not dust! That is on the money! and if you see it throwing dust, stop your saw, you are overworking the engine needlessly which will destroy your saw. Also do yourself a favor, get a second chain. Once your back can take more abuse, its a nifty thing to have a second sharpened chain in your back pocket (well maybe not in your pocket but maybe carried out to the woods with you) and change it right there and continue your work. And most importantly…one of the big and funny mistakes I made…I put the chain on in the wrong direction and for a short time we couldn’t figure out why the chain saw wouldn’t cut (psst…it was a very embarrassing mistake…she says in a hushed tone) So before you take the old chain off, study it …see which way the little arc is going on each tooth and make sure you put the new one on the right way…or the guys are going to be laughing at you…and really there’s no reason why you can’t do this too. You have no idea how proudly I smile when I walk into the local Stihl shop and see all the guys dropping off their chain saws to be sharpened, knowing that I do that myself and it comes out very well indeed. Don’t be afraid of it…its NOT rocket science! And actually a more precise, less muscular touch puts a better edge on the teeth!
    Another EXTREMELY important thing, when you add gas add bar oil.. EVERY time. Most chainsaws will run out of gas first. Bar oil is extremely important! You want to make sure that you never run out of that. Most saws will spit a little oil off the end of the blade. …No…she groans you don’t put your hand there…the hands stay away from the scary part ;^D but if you put it near-ish another log you should see the oil start to darken the log a bit. Why is this important? I’m glad you asked! See because your other other EXTREMELY important task will be cleaning out your chainsaw properly to allow the free flow of the oil to the bar. Don’t wreck hubby’s saw by leaving out this crucial step! And we tend to do it the better way and the right way over men, sorry if that’s a bit sexist, but mostly because a woman left alone with a chainsaw and not being instructed to use a flat head screw driver for the task (that is likely to ding and scratch the plastic housing on the inside) is much more likely to go for the Q-tips…yes ladies Q-tips! I usually run the chainsaw until it stalls out from lack of gas. This will not harm your chainsaw. There will still be a little gas left in it, but your saw shouldn’t be leaking anyway, if it is you have a much bigger problem! So I lay a garbage bag on the kitchen table, newspaper, chainsaw. Unscrew the plastic housing and yes go at it with a Q-tip. You can wipe away the largest flat portions of the housing with paper towels. The inside of the housing will be plastic. There will be channels for the bar oil, with a little inspection you will be able to find them. Make sure they are free and clear of the oil soaked saw dust, so that the bar oil can flow freely to the blade. Remove the chain and clean the sprocket out very well. A small piece of wood can cause the chainsaw to bind and stop. Also clean the groove in the bar that the chain rides in as well as any holes in the bar (there are two in mine) that work toward lubricating the chain. Just clean it…clean the whole thing, get the oil soaked saw dust out of it and save all that and the Q-tips too as a fire starter for your chimnea or outdoor wood pit (don’t use it indoors!) but its there so you might as well find a use for it. I strongly recommend that when you purchase your brand new shiny piece of equipment that you open it up first thing so you can see where all the nooks and crannies are that you will need to clean out. It will be much easier to locate where the bar oil flows from before its all gunked up. And no ladies likely your husband doesn’t clean it often enough. I clean mine after every use that is at least a half day long. A single cut and it won’t need to be cleaned, but if you have been out for hours and using it frequently it needs to be cleaned. heck now that you know all this grab hubby’s chain saw and impress him. Clean it up for him. Men generally don’t bother to clean the chain saw until it has become bound up during use and then he grumbles about it needing to be cleaned.
    Most of all learn, ask questions, watch videos. I learned quite a lot from my local Stihl dealer, who was very encouraging toward me as a woman and I was grateful. He taught me what I needed to know and didn’t laugh me out of his shop when I had the chain on in the wrong direction (I did tell you all about how embarrassing that was!…lol). And when I went into his shop to buy the longer bar and chain and told him I had cut and split 7 cords of wood…he said “That a girl!” very proudly. YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN DO IT TOO!!! and I love the encouraging tone of the author of this article! very nicely done! (though I would replace the picture with one that shows the bar in a horizontal position and a good stiff and locked left wrist. Back of the hand to arm should be straight and locked, that is the safest position then the brake will work as its supposed to. I can clearly see that with a kick back that angle from back of hand to arm will likely increase dramatically in that split second and put the operator in danger.) Play with it while it is off. Make your significant other kick up the end of the bar and work out your best grip so that you are sure that the back of your hand hits that brake!

  2. Great comment and great article!! I recently started operating the chainsaws, although my father sell chainsaws. You rightly said that taking proper care of the chainsaw is equally important while operating them. As for me my father has given a battery chainsaw to start with and I can proudly say that gradually I am getting skilled with it.
    I took classes from my dad for 15 days before I started operating them all by myself. So I advice beginners to take someone’s experienced help before doing them all by yourself.

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