Chainsaw Safety Guide
Quick and simple tips to ensure safe and efficient use of a chainsaw
Whether you are a professional or an occasional user, you can never be too safe when it comes to operating any kind of power tool, particularly high performance tools like chainsaws as we start to prepare our properties ahead of the warmest months of the year. And while clearing your property to keep you and your family safe is crucial, it’s important to care for yourself and your chainsaw whilst you’re doing it. Check out our six quick and simple tips to ensure that your chainsaw performs its best and that you’re safe whilst you’re using it.
1. SAFETY (CHECKS) FIRST
There are three routine checks you should make each time you use your saw, starting with the chain. A sharp chain cuts faster and will require less effort from the user to get through wood, so keeping it sharp will make it easier to handle and will be better for your saw. There are a couple of ways to identify a dull chain. Firstly, if you’re having to apply pressure to get through the wood, then it’s likely not sharp enough. Smoke, very fine saw dust, and an uneven cut are also obvious signs to look out for.
Next, check that the chain is correctly tensioned. This will not only produce a faster and cleaner cut, it’s also better for the longevity of the bar, chain, and sprocket. Make sure the chain is tight enough to touch the bar all the way around without hanging off the underside, but not so tight that it restricts the movement of the chain along the bar. There are a number of models in the STIHL range that feature a quick chain tensioning system which makes this process a lot quicker and easier.
The last, but one of the most important checks, is the operation of the chain brake. Simply put, the main purpose of this feature is to stop the chain if it ever kicks back towards the user. If the chain brake is locked in the forward position, it is on, just like a hand brake in a car. If the chain brake is back and loose, it means it is off. Always start your chainsaw with the chain break forward (on), the chain brake should only be disengaged just before starting a cut.
2. CLEAR THE WAY
One of the most obvious but easiest mistakes to make when cutting wood is tripping over logs lying on the ground. Before cranking up the chainsaw, make a plan as to what and where you’re going to cut, and clear your area so there’s no risk of tripping. A sawhorse is excellent for cutting firewood to length, and will also avoid you running your bar into the ground resulting in a blunt chain.
When walking with a chainsaw in hand, make sure you carry it by the top wrap around handle with the bar pointing behind you. This means if you trip you can drop the saw with the sharp end away from you. Alternatively a chainsaw carry case will also protect you and the saw during transportation.
3. TECHNIQUE IS EVERYTHING
The way you stand and how you hold the chainsaw will not only make it safer to use, it will make it more comfortable to handle. Never stand directly behind the chainsaw, instead, stand slightly to one side so that you can read the STIHL on the guide bar. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on even ground.
Whether you’re cutting or moving between tasks, you should always have a firm grip on the chainsaw. Chainsaws should never be operated with one hand; both hands should be firmly gripped around both handles when in use.
4. START SAFELY
If you’re using a battery chainsaw, the starting process is impressively easy. Simply pop in the battery, engage the chain brake, grip both handles and press the button on the underside of the back handle and on the side with your thumb.
There are two ways to start a petrol chainsaw. The first option is to start your chainsaw on the ground by putting your right foot or the toes of your shoe on the bottom hand guard, underneath the throttle to secure it. Check that the chain brake is engaged (forward), adjust the starting controls, and pull the starter cord.
For experienced and frequent users, the rear handle of the saw can be placed between the user’s legs rather than on the ground before starting.
5. FULL SPEED AHEAD
When using your chainsaw, make sure the chain is at full speed before making contact with the wood. If it’s too slow, it may pull you slightly towards the wood and put you off balance. Be mindful also that the most dangerous part of your chainsaw is the tip of the bar. You may have heard the term ‘kickback’ – this occurs when the very tip of the bar comes into contact with the wood, causing it to shoot the bar back towards the user.
Once your chain is at full speed, the safest method is to make contact with the wood at the middle of your bar, closer to the engine rather than the tip. Let the chainsaw pull you very slightly towards the wood applying very slight pressure before allowing the chainsaw to finish the cut.
If you notice that you are having to push hard on the saw to complete the cut, your chain may be blunt. Stop the chainsaw and inspect your cutting attachment for issues. Remember, a chainsaw is not a handsaw, there is no need to manoeuvre the saw back and forth as all it will do is put you off balance!
6. WEAR THE CORRECT PPE
Before you do anything, it’s important to make sure you’re protected. Regardless of the task at hand, whether big or small, protective gear is an absolute must. To make sure you’ve got every base covered, start from the top of your body and work your way down.
If there’s a risk of objects falling in the area you’re working, make sure your head is protected. Your eyes and ears are just as important, so get yourself a helmet with earmuffs and a face shield attached. And while a face shield will keep your face protected, it’s important to protect your eyes from sawdust and smaller particles by wearing safety glasses at all times. If you’re working with a battery saw however, there’s no need to wear ear protection.
While gloves aren’t absolutely necessary, they do add an extra layer of protection and will absorb some of the vibration from your chainsaw. They will also keep you warm in winter, and protect you from splinters!
Cut resistant trousers or chaps are an absolute must when operating a chainsaw, even if you’re only starting up your chainsaw for a quick job. STIHL chaps are made from a rugged outer layer and feature a minimum of six layers of cut-retardant material, which are designed to clog the sprocket and stop the chain on a chainsaw upon contact.
And last, but certainly not least, safety boots will not only protect your feet in the event that your chainsaw makes contact with them, but they will also increase your stability while using the saw.