Lots of people love chainsaws: homeowners who buck firewood and build fences; ranchers who cut trees and clear their properties, wood artists who carve bears and benches from logs. You know who doesn’t like chainsaws? Emergency room surgeons who see way too many chainsaw injuries. Unlike a slip with a wood chisel, or even an accidental slice on a table saw, chainsaw injuries typically range from bad to horrific (the average number of stitches from a chainsaw injury? One hundred and ten.). Whether it’s powered by a gas engine or an electric motor, a chainsaw has dozens of fully exposed teeth spinning aggressively around its bar, and all it takes is a moment of inattention to end up with a Frankenstein scar or two.
But you can work safely with a chainsaw; all it takes is strict attention to basic safety practices and a well maintained saw. The majority of accidents occur because these rules of preparation and safety are ignored.
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As we’re focusing on using cordless chainsaws, let’s begin by going through a sort of “pre-flight” check list of things you should do every time before every cutting session. You’ll work safer and get better performance from your cordless chainsaw (as well as extend its life) by following these procedures:
1. Remove the chainsaw’s battery and engage the chain brake, if your saw has one.
2. Look over the entire saw to see if it is in good condition, with no damage to the body and handles.
3. Remove the guard and examine the bar to make sure it’s undamaged and relatively clean. Look at the teeth to see that they’re clean and sharp; re-sharpen them if necessary.
4. Check the chain’s tension by lifting it carefully (wearing leather work gloves is mandatory here).
If you can lift the chain completely clear of the bar, it’s too loose and will need to be tightened.
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for adjustment.
5. Make sure that the saw’s lubricating oil reservoir is topped up with special bar and chain oil. If the saw doesn’t feature automatic oiling, pump the oil button a few times to make sure oil is being fed to the bar and chain.
6. Check your battery’s built-in fuel gauge, if it has one, and recharge the battery if necessary (or have an extra charged pack on hand).
7. Before carrying the saw to the work area, slide the bar guard back in place, replace the battery pack and re-lock the chain brake, if your saw has one.
Chain Saw Safety
Now that your saw is ready to go, let’s look at a few essential safety practices you must always follow when using it:
1. Make sure your log, plank or other workpiece is securely set and placed so that you can cut through without the saw’s bar and chain hitting dirt, debris or (when working indoors) the floor. If you clamp the piece down, locate clamps so that the chainsaw won’t contact them, even if the bar accidentally slips. The work should be oriented so that the piece you’re cutting off will fall away and clear the saw’s bar, not bind against it. Also check the ground under the piece, so it won’t roll into you after it falls down. (If you’re working on uneven ground, stand on the uphill side of the workpiece.
2. Inspect the workpiece to make sure that it doesn’t contain any nails, spikes, bits of barbed wire, or other metal objects. If you’re pruning trees, make sure the branches you’re cutting aren’t under tension and may spring back and hit you or bind on the chainsaw’s bar.
3. Never cut a workpiece thicker than the length of your chainsaw’s bar minus 2 inches.
4. Put on your personal safety gear, including goggles or a face mask, and hand, hearing and head protection.
Do not wear any loose-fitting clothing. (Note that protective chainsaw chaps are not recommended for use with electric chainsaws. They operate by rapidly stopping the chain by clogging it up with loose fibers contained inside the chap’s shell fabric. Electric chainsaws have too much low-speed torque for this to be effective.)
5. Hold the saw with both hands firmly on the handles—never ever use one hand to support or hold the workpiece! Never attempt a cut with the saw higher than your waist.
6. Before starting up the saw, take the proper stance, with both feet standing on solid ground and legs spread apart and well clear of the path of cut.
7. Trigger on the saw clear of the work, then slowly bring the lower part of the bar close to the body of the saw into contact. Use the chainsaw’s bucking spikes (plastic on most cordless saws) to lever the bar into the cut. Advance the cut only as fast as the saw is able to run without slowing down significantly. It can help to change the angle of the bar slightly as you cut, to create and saw away different facets into the wood. When you reach the end of the cut, allow the cut part to fall away, then switch the saw off.
8. NEVER EVER cut with the tip or top edge of the bar. This will cause the saw to kick back with great force and is one of the major causes of chainsaw accidents.
9. Keep the saw topped up with bar and chain lubricant. If your saw doesn’t have an automatic lubrication feature, don’t forget to press the oiling button after every couple of cuts.
10. Even if you do not need an assistant for the task at hand, someone should be with you at all times in case of an accident. Always have a first-aid kit on hand, in case of small cuts. Keep the telephone number and address of your nearest emergency room. If you do get cut, cover the wound with a clean bandage or cloth, apply adequate pressure to stop the flow of blood, and get to a hospital immediately.
Sandor Nagyszalanczy is a furniture designer/craftsman, writer/photographer and contributing editor to Woodworker’s Journal. His books are available at Amazon.com