Chainsaw safety gear, albeit costly, is a necessary addition to any operator’s collection of farm tools and equipment. Unfortunately, farmers tend to be prone to disregarding safety devices, safety equipment and user warnings. As such, the running joke; “OSHA is a small town in Wisconsin” can be heard on farms and homesteads across America.
Chainsaw Safety Gear
Chainsaws are intrinsically dangerous, yet useful power tools that every homesteader and farmer should own. Along with that dangerous but useful tool, you most absolutely should have some standard chainsaw safety gear.
When dealing with trees, you can expect to have limbs or branches whip or fall when cut. A hard hat and face shield will protect your head and face from the flailing mess around you.
In addition to falling branches, even top-rated chainsaws are loud enough to damage your hearing, especially over an extended period of time. Many manufacturers offer a combination hard hat, face shield and hearing protection device to cover all the bases. I own one and find it to be comfortable, cheap insurance. It’s also really useful for bush hogging, especially in overgrown fields.
Chainsaws are adept at cutting all sorts of things, including bone and meat. Many butchers use chainsaws to cut up large animals like swine and beef cattle, and rest assured they are effective. If you get yourself into a situation that ends with your chainsaw hitting your leg, you will either be grateful for having chaps, or regretting your choice to go without.
Chainsaw chaps look similar to riding chaps, but these chaps are meant to stop a chainsaw. They are not cut resistant per se, but instead do an impressive job of jamming your saw to a halt. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to test the effectiveness of chainsaw chaps, and I can attest that they work. This is a piece of chainsaw safety gear you should never go without.
Remember; the object is to cut limbs, just not yours.
In addition to the dedicated chainsaw safety gear, wear a pair of heavy chainsaw gloves. In addition, even if you have a face shield, safety glasses are a wise choice for obvious reasons. Additionally, wear good hard-toe work boots. You wouldn’t want to cut a toe off would you?
Before You Pull
Let’s make sure the saw is up to the task. Before we even start the saw, we should fuel it up and top off our chain oil reservoir. Fueling a hot chainsaw is hazardous, so do it before you start.
Is the chain sharp? Dull saw chains tend to kick back, wander as they cut and make the operator work harder. We all know people do dumb things when they’re tired, so avoid undue fatigue and keep a sharp chain.
I suggest using a sharp, low-kick chain from a reputable manufacturer. I also suggest owning three or more chains for your saw so you have one on the saw, one sharp spare and one out for sharpening. This way, you’ll have no excuse for operating with a dull chain. This is almost as important as your chainsaw safety gear.
Is the chain properly tensioned? Check your user manual for proper tensioning procedures, since over tightened chains and loose chains alike can damage your saw or jump off the bar, striking you with life-threatening consequences.
Does your chain break work? Most, if not all modern chainsaws have chain breaks to halt the chain in the event of a kickback. In the event of a kickback, the guard between the front handle and the bar contacts your arm and engages a breaking system to stop the chain. To test it, push it toward the bar and expect a snap or click. To disengage it, pull it back toward the handle bar. You can test this without starting the saw, which you should do, but once you start the saw it’s wise to check it again.
If you see anything broken or worn on your saw, be sure to have it checked by a reputable shop before operating. Having a chainsaw break while working is dangerous, so proper inspection and maintenance is paramount.
Once you don your safety gear and give your saw the once-over, you’re ready to start it.
I may be guilty of such things, but do not “drop-start” a chainsaw. Bad things can happen. Always start a chainsaw on the ground or while it’s sitting on a solid surface. Many modern saws have cylinder head pressure relief buttons; push it to release the pressure in the engine so it’s easier to turn over.
Start the saw at least 10 feet away from flammables such as a fuel can. Spark arresting mufflers are standard fare on chainsaws, but there is always a chance of spark.
Be prepared for the bar to start spinning immediately when starting a saw. Keep the bar in a safe direction and be mindful of it.
Many chainsaws need to be started in a specific manner. Check your user manual for saw-specific procedures, however it is common to start your saw in wide-open-throttle. When doing this, be prepared for the chain to move and the engine to torque the saw around.
Once your saw is running, let it warm up. Chainsaws typically don’t run well until they are warmed up, so give them a minute to get up to operating temperature. If it will idle, let it. There is no need to warm up your saw in wide-open-throttle condition.
When cutting, keep the elbow of the arm that is holding the top bar of the saw straight. In the event of a kickback, keeping your arm straight helps control the saw. If you fail to keep your elbow straight, you run the risk of having the saw kick straight back, which usually means you’re in it’s path.
Pay attention to your footing. Standing on uneven or slippery ground can end badly, so can operating a saw when you’re in an unbalanced or unstable position.
Watch what you’re working on. Is the limb you’re cutting under tension? Where will it go when you cut it? Will that log roll when you free it from that limb? Will your saw be pinched as you cut the log? Constantly be on the lookout for what the tree is doing and be prepared, because anything could happen.
Never cut with the tip of the saw. Your saw could kick, pull away or push back if you try. Avoid a trip to the hospital and be sure to cut with the main section of the bar.
Don’t cut brush with a saw. I’m guilty of this, but it’s unwise to slice and dice little twiggy growth with a saw since you’re likely to get it snagged. If you do get it snagged, your saw will probably go for a ride, or bind up, which would be preferable given the options.
Do you have help, someone to watch you, or at least someone who knows you are out there working with a saw? If something goes wrong, you may be incapacitated, so having a second person there is wise. At an absolute minimum, I will make sure my phone is in my pocket and charged in case I need to make an emergency call.
Did you manage to get someone to lend a hand? Great! Don’t run two saws at the same time. Having a second saw in action means double the chances of accidents, since operators get tunnel vision and can forget the other person is there. The chances of someone felling a tree onto someone who isn’t paying attention is a real risk. Additionally, if you are both cutting the same felled tree, one cut can make the tree move unexpectedly as the other operator is working.
Ladders and trees do not mix, period. If you need a ladder; call a professional tree climber, someone with a bucket truck, or use a rope saw. If you fall from the tree you’re cutting, all the chainsaw safety gear in the world won’t likely help you.
If you plan on cutting lots of trees, or clearing an area on your property, consider these extra helpers.
Pulp Hooks are large steel hooks with handles. Use them to move firewood length log sections quicker, but be careful, it’s easy to hook yourself in the process. Again, that’s a painful lesson I’ve learned myself.
Peaveys are a grapple and lever used to turn logs. Many include feet that let you hold a log up off the ground for easy cutting. When cutting up logs for firewood, this tool helps you avoid kickback or hitting the ground with your chain.
Wedges are great when things don’t go your way. If you start cutting and realize you need to adjust the direction of fall, use wedges to redirect the trunk. Plastic ones are great for saving your chain when you hit them by accident, but steel wedges work wonders.
Throw bags are bell shaped bean bags with an attachment point for light rope. Use something like a light duty rope or para-cord to send a line up near the top of a tree. Once you have the para-cord where you want it, use it to draw up a stronger rope to pull the tree in the direction you want.
Rope saws are lengths of chainsaw chain with rope on either end. Use them in conjunction with your throw bag to get it over the limb you need to cut. Once in position, pull back and forth until the limb is cut. This is a good tool for a simple trim.
Pulleys are used in conjunction with felling ropes. If you’ve attached your rope to a truck or tractor, you want the tree to fall without hitting the equipment in question. Use a pulley to fell a tree in a direction other than directly on top of you.
Tree saver straps are exactly what they sound like; a strap that saves trees. It’s common to attach pulleys to other trees when using felling ropes, and many times damage can be caused to the bark of the helpful tree. Using wide straps helps prevent damage to the bark of that tree. If you expect to use felling ropes with pulleys, it’s the most responsible way to use them.
A spare chainsaw is a great idea, especially if you’re new to using chainsaws. Many times a saw can get pinched in a tree, and the only way to solve the problem includes using another saw, either to cut a relief cut, fell the tree in another direction or cut another limb to change how the downed tree sits.
Don’t let you mind get sidetracked thinking about how to store firewood, or what’s for dinner. Always keep aware of what’s going on around you. Is the terrain sloped? Is the weather changing? Has the wind picked up? Are those leaves wet and slippery? How will this tree branch react to being cut? Where’s my helper? How’s my saw doing? These are all questions you should be asking yourself as you work.
In the military, they refer to this as “situational awareness” and use simple tactics such as “identify, shoot, scan” to break the tunnel vision. We can do the same by cutting, standing and then observing our surroundings. You can’t avoid a situation you can’t see, so be sure to keep your wits about you.
Chainsaws are a fantastic tool. Living in a wooded area, you never know what the next storm is going to topple, so I’m always prepared for the unexpected. Likewise, you should be prepared with the right tools and the right chainsaw safety gear. Never skimp on buying chaps or a logger’s hard hat, because you’re only setting yourself up for disaster without them. Chainsaw accidents happen to the highly experienced and the newcomers alike, so be prepared.
I’ve watched someone nearly halve their own knee cap. I’ve landed a chainsaw on my leg at wide open throttle. I’ve watched a pair of $100 Kevlar chaps do their job. I’ve attended the funeral of a professional logger, and my community lost a beloved high school teacher to a tree-cutting accident. Never think you’re immune to accidents.
Be effective, stay alive, get the job done right and don’t set yourself up for disaster. Buy good gear, use it religiously and please; use chainsaws responsibly.
Did I miss some good safety tips? Share yours with everyone below, it just might save a life.