How to use a chainsaw safely

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It is well known that all tools have the potential to cause harm, but chainsaws are capable of creating very great injury indeed.

Chainsaw blades have razor sharp teeth revolving at high speed and, being handheld, are usually only a few inches from the body.

And it's not just the blade itself: chips of wood can fly out at very high speed while falling branches can cause significant damage not to mention the impact of a falling tree.

Chainsaws are only one of the power tools you can hire from Clark & Kent, but it can be the most lethal when not used correctly.

It is vital that you know how to use a chainsaw properly to both reduce the risk of injury and to ensure you carry out the work efficiently and safely.

Basics of chainsaw safety

Chainsaw safety starts before you even pick up the power tool. It covers not only the clothes you wear but the nature of the operation, the immediate surroundings, the standard of equipment and other considerations.

Protective clothing

Suitable personal protective clothing is vital, and that includes sturdy footwear, long thick trousers, long sleeve shirt or top, thick gloves and a safety helmet with visor.

A helmet with a flip-up visor and ear muffs will prevent wood splinters flying into your head. You can buy trousers with special thigh pads that will protect the legs and boots with still capped toes to protect against falling logs while thick sleeved tops and gloves will ward off scratches, a common complaint of arborists.

It may seem over the top when all you are going to do is to saw up a few logs but, you only have to see how quickly a sharp chainsaw can cut through wood to appreciate the potential injury to the human body.

Environmental awareness

Before picking up a chainsaw take a good look around, particularly when felling trees or lopping branches.

Make sure you understand which way the tree is to fall, any hazards that could impede the operation such as overhead power lines, and a place of safety should the tree fall the wrong way.

When the tree has been felled, start cutting away branches from the bottom of the trunk and work towards the top. Take extra care when sawing branches that lie under the trunk. Even experts can get it wrong with a tree trunk dropping further than expected as load-bearing branches give way or also rolling over awkwardly.

Power tool maintenance

Ensure everything is in working order before powering up your chainsaw. Make sure petrol driven saws have a full tank and plenty of oil.

It's also a good idea to check on the control mechanisms, the handle, saw tension and tooth sharpness before you start.

Handling the chainsaw

There are two methods used for starting a chainsaw. But whichever you use, double check that the brake is engaged, the choke closed and any start switch set to 'on'.

Starting the chainsaw

The safest is to place the chainsaw on the ground, put the toe of your boot in the handle, grip the handlebar and pull the starter cord. Give it a couple of pulls with the choke closed then open the choke and pull again. It should start up fine.

The alternative is to place the handle between your knees, the base pressed against your knee and a firm grip on the handlebar.This method is less safe that placing the chainsaw on the ground. Always make sure you have a firm footing and that the body is well balanced before pulling the cord.

Using the chainsaw

Common sense rules apply when using the chainsaw, but it is incredible the chances some people will take when the chainsaw is powered up.

The first rule is always to maintain proper footing and balance when handling a chainsaw. It can be easy to overreach and lose your composure.

Your body should never be contorted or twisted around when using a power saw. It is fare safer and indeed more efficient to set the saw to idle, change position, and carry on where you left off.

Sound positioning is vital in case the saw 'kicks back' which can happen if the top quarter of the blade gets pinched or hits a hard object.

The power of the saw 'kicks back' and the blade springs back towards the operator at high speed. A firm two-handed grip, balanced body and feet allow the operator to react quickly and safely.

Many modern chainsaws are fitted with a chain brake aimed at stopping the saw if kickback occurs.

It is always safer to apply pressure to the bottom of the chainsaw blade. It makes the saw much more comfortable to control and has a more natural feel.

Sometimes you need to cut with the topside of the blade. If you do this, avoid cutting with the top quadrant of the blade tip or kickback will almost certainly occur.

It's also a good idea to wrap your thumb firmly around the front handle to get a good grip. The most common chainsaw injuries are to the thigh and arm, and the most common reason is the saw slipping out of control because of a loose grip.

And it is a good idea to check chain tension every hour or so and make adjustments when necessary. New chains will stretch with use, and loose chains can fly off the bar with dangerous results.

Chain tension is adjusted by ensuring the chain fits snug against the bar usually through an adjusting screw. The pressure is right when there is no slack between the chain and the bar groove yet the chain can be moved freely with a gloved hand.

Quick tips on chainsaw use

  • Carry a chainsaw by the from handle only, so there is no chance of accidentally revving up the blade.
  • Don't approach a chainsaw operator from behind. The noise of sawing will mean they can't hear you coming.
  • Never use a chainsaw alone. Someone will be needed to minister assistance or get help in case of an accident.
  • Keep the teeth sharp. A blunt chain is unsafe, difficult to work with and increases fatigue.
  • Make sure the saw is at full throttle when you cut into trunks.

the government's Health & Safety Executive has some clear and useful advice on chainsaw safety on its website here.

HSE investigations reveal that many serious injuries occur through chainsaw operators taking shortcuts and not following proper practice. Their web page has case studies of what happens when operators do not follow good practice, usually to save time.

The HSE produces a free PDF leaflet on Chainsaws at Work which outlines contains everything employers and workers need to know about working safely with a chainsaw.

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