Summary: Using a chainsaw, including how to protect yourself and use an electric or petrol chainsaw safely.
Chainsaws are very dangerous tools, and you should never attempt to use one unless you have the correct safety equipment and have fully familiarised yourself with the instructions and safety guide. Here are a few pointers, but we advise you to attend a training course before you start.
You do need to be reasonably fit to use a chainsaw, as they are heavy, powerful machines. If you are looking at buying or hiring a chainsaw, think about the weight – it’s best to go to a showroom where you can try out a few models. You need to be able to lift the saw easily to be able to use it safely.
Both petrol and electric chainsaws are available. Electric chainsaws are good for smaller jobs as they are a lot lighter than petrol saws, as well as being quieter and much easier to start. However they are a lot less powerful than petrol saws, and you need to be very careful to ensure that the power lead is kept out of the way while you’re working.
You will find there is a range of engine sizes and bar lengths available in petrol saws. Think about the type of jobs you will be doing and the amount of power they will require. If you’re only going to use the saw occasionally to trim branches you don’t need a big, powerful saw. However, if you’re going to be cutting trees or chopping logs regularly then a good-quality, decent-sized saw will be required.
You must make sure you have suitable clothing and protective equipment. It’s definitely worth buying a chainsaw helmet, with face-mask and ear defenders. A lot of injuries are caused by sharp wood chips flying at high speed towards the face. You also need good gloves or gauntlets – these should be thick enough to protect your hands, but not so thick that you can’t move your fingers to use the controls.
Even if it’s a hot day, make sure you are wearing tough, hard-wearing clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. Specialist chainsaw protective clothing is available, but at the very least you should be wearing thick trousers, specialist chainsaw boots or steel toe-capped boots and a jacket that will protect your arms and torso.
If you are using the chainsaw to chop logs, make sure you have a clear working space and use a sawhorse to hold the timber in place – it’s very easy for the log to slip out from under the blade or cause a bad kick-back.
Never attempt to use a chainsaw while balanced up a tree or over-reaching from a ladder. If you are cutting branches from a tree, or even cutting a small tree down, ensure that there is plenty of space for the timber to fall. Make sure people are aware that you will be working with a chainsaw so that they don’t get in the way, and work with a buddy so that if there are any problems they can assist or fetch help.
Kickback is when the chain catches in some way, causing the saw to suddenly move up and back towards the operator. There are several ways in which kickback can be caused, and as you use the saw more you will learn to avoid and control it. The best way to avoid kickback is to avoid the upper tip of the bar touching anything.
Be aware of the pushing and pulling power of the chainsaw – when cutting with the bottom bar of the saw, the force can pull you in towards the timber. When using the top bar, you can be pushed away from the bar. Be aware of this and adjust your stance and grip accordingly.
Always keep the saw in a firm grip with both hands, and do not over-reach – don’t cut above shoulder-height or with your arms outstretched. Keep the saw close to your body, and keep your elbow locked. Grip the handle properly by putting your thumb around the back of it.
Make sure your chainsaw is well-maintained. Test the brake each time you use the saw, and apply the brake as you move from starting position to the site where you will be using the saw.
Make sure there are no power or telephone lines that could be affected by falling branches or trees.
Get a friend to work with you, to move debris out of the way and ensure the cutting area stays clear and safe.
Keep the chain sharp – a blunt chain is much more likely to cause kickback.
Always cut on full power to avoid the chain getting caught and causing kickback.
Avoid using the chainsaw from a ladder – you need both hands to operate the saw which doesn’t leave you with any hands to hold on to the ladder. If a ladder is required you should get a trained tree surgeon to do the job.
When cutting a branch from below, first make a cut into it from above, then cut from below to meet your first cut.
If you follow these basic guidelines, as well as the detailed instructions that came with your chainsaw, you should be successful in your work.
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards
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