How to Safely Use a Chainsaw


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If you want to get something done around the house, there are few tools that will do the job like a chainsaw. However, failing to use your chainsaw in a safe manner could end in disaster.

The chainblades on most chainsaws travel at roughly 60 miles per hour. That means the blade teeth of a typical gas powered saw with a 16-20 inch arm circle around the instrument about 20 times each second. In less than a second, a catastrophic injury can occur.

In the United States, nearly 3 million new chainsaws are sold each year. Many injuries are caused by the operation of these newer chainsaws in combination with the millions of older chainsaws in circulation. For example, in U.S. alone each year there are over 36,000 injuries caused by unsafe use of chainsaw. The arms and hands account for over 42% of all chainsaw injuries, with the legs accounting for well over 38%. There is less than 10% involving injuries to the head and neck regions.

chain saw body part injuries

The numbers of the injuries are stated below legs and hands accounting for the highest number of injuries.

To ensure you don’t end up in any fail compilation videos on social media, I’ve compiled some tips on how to use a chainsaw safely.

  • Place the chainsaw on the ground with brake engaged to start it safely

The first tip is to start the chainsaw safely. You need to place the chainsaw on the ground and keep the brake engaged to start it safely. Holding the chainsaw in your hand and yanking the handle to turn it on may look cool in the movies but can be disastrous in real life!

  • Get a solid grip on the handles with firmly standing on ground

The second tip is to get a solid grip on the handles and make sure your feet are placed firmly on the ground. This will ensure you maintain control of the machine.

  • The Object being cut should have room to safely fall

Ensure the object you are going to cut with your chainsaw has ample room to fall after you cut it. Ideally your object should fall in a clear and open space to prevent any collateral damage.

  • Make room to make a clean cut

Before cutting, plan how you want to approach the object. Ensure you have enough room to make a clean cut.

  • Beware of the kickback

Your chainsaw is going to produce some kickback, so be prepared. If you are cutting in an area that is proving tough to get through, avoid cutting to minimize the kickback effect.

  • Always cut towards the side

Avoid cutting on a direct or overhead angle. This will ensure your safety in the case you accidently lose your grip on the tool.

  • To stop cutting, release the throttle first

When you want to stop cutting, release the throttle first and then carefully pull your chainsaw out and towards the side.

  • Never walk any distance with a chainsaw turned on

If you need to transport your chainsaw from one place to another, engage the chain brake for additional security.

  • Always use a chainsaw when you’re with someone.

It’s not advisable to use a chainsaw alone, as any accident can be fatal and having someone present can be the difference between life and death in some case.

  • Be sober as a judge before operating a chainsaw

Whenever you use a power tool such as a chainsaw, ensure that you are not under the influence of any substances that could limit your capacity to operate heavy machinery.

These safely tips are recommended by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Now that you have learned some of the most essential safety tips for operating chainsaws, you should be able to handle cutting off a branch or two in the yard.

However, chainsaws are a multifunctional and complex tool and there are a lot of intricacies to using them properly.

Next, I want you to take a look at what to do before you start your chainsaw.

What to do Before Starting the Chainsaw?

When it comes to a power tool like a chainsaw, being prepared is always beneficial. If you are operating a chainsaw, you can take certain steps to ensure your safety.

Before you do anything else, you should read your chainsaw’s instruction manual from top to bottom if you haven’t already. Chainsaws are not homogenous, and different manufacturers will have slight variations in the features and functions on their products.

After you’ve read the manufacturer’s instructions, you need to inspect all of the controls, handles, and any other small components on your chainsaw. I would recommend cross-checking them once with the instruction manual as well.

Think about what you want to use the chainsaw for. Chainsaws are powerful tools but they also have their limits, and it’s better for safety reasons to always operate the chainsaw within the capacity it was designed for. Make sure the size of the engine on your chainsaw is powerful enough for the task at hand.

If you’re using a gas-powered chainsaw, you need to be sensible when refueling. The chainsaw fuel is an obvious fire hazard and you should only refuel the chainsaw away from any open flames or fire sources.

To ensure your chainsaw’s fuel container is up to the mark, you need to check if it’s made out of metal or plastic, and that the capacity of the tank does not exceed 5 gallons. Furthermore the fuel tank should be approved by the Underwriters Laboratory, FM Approvals (FM), the Department of Transportation (DOT), or a similar local equivalent.

If you are using an electric chainsaw, you need to ensure that your product is tested and certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). Furthermore, with electric chainsaws the extension cords need to be sized according to the chainsaw manufacturer’s instructions.

If you suspect that a certain part of your chainsaw is not functioning as intended, it’s best to avoid using it until the issue is resolved.

What are the Personal Protective Equipment Requirements for Using a Chainsaw Safely?

Chainsaws are often used for construction or industrial purposes. This has led to the need for a comprehensive set of personal protective equipment (PPE) for chainsaws.

If you are using a power tool such as a chainsaw, you need to ensure you are wearing the appropriate PPE at all times. This can prevent or lessen the severity of injuries to workers using chainsaws.

In a construction site, the workers are usually provided with the required equipment for chainsaws. If you are planning to use yours at home, these items should be on your list as well.

  • Head protection, such as a hard hat
  • Hearing protection sufficient to reduce noise exposure to 90 decibels or less
  • Eye/Face Protection such as safety glasses.
  • Appropriate protective footwear per OSHA standards.
  • Leg protection such as work pants or chaps.
  • Work gloves.
  • Fall protection as necessary.

Use a Chainsaw Safely: 9 Steps

Step 1: Become acquainted with your working environment

Be conscious of your emergency exits, or areas where you can easily seek refuge if something goes wrong in the environment. 

For example, if you’re cutting down a tree using a chainsaw, you should have a plan to escape out of the way in case the tree falls in the wrong direction.

Step 2: Ensure you have all the appropriate protective equipment

Wear the protective equipment listed above it before operating your chainsaw.  Examine your saw to make sure that the chain is properly tensioned.

It’s too loose if you can pull the chain up from the guide bar and dislodge the chain links from the guide or the nose. To avoid accidents, you have to ensure that the tension in the chain is at the optimum level.

If you need help in tightening your chain, the first place you should look is the instruction manual. Most chainsaws come with a hybrid tool that is a combination of a screwdriver and a wrench.

You can use this tool to easily tighten the chain. An appropriately tightened chain should have some leeway but should still be attached to the guide.

Step 3: Before you begin, inspect the amount of fuel in the tank

 With a two-cycle engine, the gas and oil will almost certainly need to be mixed in the tank.

 Purchase two-stroke oil and add it to the tank. Depending on your chainsaw’s manufacturer, you will have a different optimal ratio.

As a general rule, you should remember that the ration should be 50:1, or 2.6 ounces of oil per gallon of gas. Chain oil should also be poured into the chain lube reservoir.

Step 4: Place your chainsaw straight on the floor with the blade facing downward

It has to be away from your body too. Move the chain brake forward until it clicks into place.

The chain brake is typically a dedicated lever placed between the blade of the chainsaw and its top handle. With the chain brake engaged, you can rest assured that the chain will not spin until you disengage the lock.

Step 5: Verify the starting process of the chainsaw

Turning your chainsaw on is a different process which depends on if your chainsaw is electric or gas-powered.  For a gas powered chainsaw, you need to push the throttle so that some gas flows into the carburetor, and then turn it on.

This will ensure the chainsaw turns out without any hitches.  With an electric chainsaw, you can easily switch it on with a simple press on a button, after releasing the safety lock.

Step 6: Pull the starter rope to turn your chainsaw on, if it is gas powered

Now you need to pull the starter rope to turn your chainsaw on. This is only a feature in gas-powered chainsaws so if you have an electric one you can skip this step. 

The key to starting the chainsaw safely is holding the tool firmly by the handles and using your weigh to secure it in place. Then you can use your right hand to pull on the starter rope while your left hand provides support.

If you can’t get it turned on your first try, don’t fret. It usually takes at least four or five pulls for a chainsaw to turn on.

Step 7: Engage the throttle to turn the chain

You may notice that the chain is not turning yet even after you turn on the chainsaw. This is because you need to engage the throttle to turn the chain. You should only engage the throttle just before making a cut.

It’s also important to remember the safety tips when cutting like placing and angling the cut and debris away from yourself.

Step 8: Hold the chainsaw firmly and don’t apply any pressure

When you are cutting with your chainsaw, it’s important to know to use the tool properly, so it can do all of the work for you. A chainsaw is powered by a machine, it’s not like an axe with you need to put in any physical effort.

Simply hold the chainsaw firmly when cutting and don’t apply any pressure.  If you are using an electric chainsaw, make sure the wiring is in a safe place so that it does not cause any problems.

Step 9: Keep a firm grip on the handle and ensure that throttle is fully engaged

Keep a firm, stable grip on the handle and ensure that throttle is fully engaged when you are cutting through an object. If you need to make more precise cuts, you need to disengage the throttle before moving your blade to a new position.

Here are some more things to know when operating a chainsaw. If you’re using a chainsaw that runs on fuel, you’ll need to make a decision regarding what to do about the remaining fuel in your container before you can put your tool away for storage. 

If you intend to use the chainsaw again soon, you can leave residual gas in the container for up to a month. However, you should ensure your fuel tank is emptied as the ethanol in the fuel may jam up or cause blockages in your chainsaw’s inner working, requiring you to dismantle and try to clean the carburetor before you can use it again.

To clean the tank, move the chainsaw to a location that is free of any fire hazards and has sufficient ventilation. You can then extract the leftover fuel out of your tank.  Residual fuel can usually be disposed of at a nearby auto repair shop.

You need to be careful when disposing of fuel, as being careless or throwing it away anywhere can cause huge problems.  After the gas has been emptied, restart the engine to use up any of the fuel that is still present within the chainsaw.

How to Maintain Your Chainsaw

1- Ensure There is Tension in Your Chain

Chainsaw troubles are typically triggered by a chain that has been dull or poorly tensioned. If your chainsaw seems to be struggling, try a different chain. In the meantime, use a chain saw file or a rotary grinder to sharpen the old chain.

Inspect the chain tension before every use of the chainsaw. If properly calibrated, the chain can fit perfectly against the bar, but should have some give to it. You also need to lubricate and wash the chain regularly to keep it sharp and clean.

Check that the oil tank is filled before each use. If you are working with wood, your chainsaw can become affected by the buildup of sawdust or wood chips, so watch out for those as well.

Review and adjust all small components of your chainsaw before each use. Because of the kickback effect produced during the chainsaw’s use, these pieces could become loose.

In order to avoid kickback during use, examine the chain brake system for tension and alignment. When the air filter gets plugged up, you need to either replace it with a new one or have it cleaned. 

Additionally, optimum efficiency is dependent on keeping the air intake and cooling fins away from any dirt or buildup of materials. To fuel the motor, use the proper oil and gas mixture. When loading the tank, please ensure the fuel filler cap fits properly and is not broken or worn off.

2- Sharpen the Chain of your Chainsaw

If the chainsaw you own is electric you may not need to polish it, since many electric chainsaws offer a self-sharpening functionality. If your chainsaw is a gas powered on, the chain must be properly sharpened.

If you don’t sharpen your chain properly, it can lead to the tool drawing wood into the chain. Additionally, an unsharpened chain can have an increased kickback effect or will cut unevenly or at an angle.

As a general rule, you should sharpen your chain after three to four uses of the entire fuel tank.

Final Thoughts

A chainsaw is a great tool to have in your arsenal, as it can serve various functions. The most important part of using a chainsaw if knowing how to use it safely.

If you follow the safety tips outlined in this article, you can easily use your chainsaw for whatever purposes you have in mind. Whether you want to cut down some overgrowth in your garden, or embark on a new DIY project in your garage, just remember these tips and you’ll be good to go!

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