Work Safely With a Chainsaw - Critical Things to Know and Practice

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Things to Know Before Cranking a Chain saw!

How to Fell a Tree with Tyson Schultz. Steve Nix/About

You may want to remove some trees to give a favorite tree room to grow, or cut some firewood or fence posts, or remove an unhealthy or dangerous tree. A chain saw is the tool used most often to cut down trees and often used without any training.

Cutting down a tree is one of the most difficult and dangerous activities you can do in your woods (see Carl Smith Interview ). From the moment you take a chain saw out of storage to the time you put it back, you can be hurt by it or by what you are cutting. To work safely in your woods you need knowledge, skill, and safe working habits.

To become skilled enough to safely drop a tree in a desired direction requires hands-on chainsaw training. Here are tips on becoming more familiar with a saw and keeping safe:

• Become familiar with a chainsaw and its parts.
• Take a hands-on course or get personal instruction from your dealer.
• Absolutely nothing will help more than watching and working with an experienced tree feller.
• Start out first with small trees, less than 8" in diameter, and fell several. Practice cutting off branches and bucking the trunk.

There are temptations to use a saw alone. Please don't!  In the event of an accident or emergency, you must have someone who can help or bring help. Hire a professional for jobs that exceed your abilities.

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw

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You Need to Find the Right Saw that Fits your Needs!

Major Chain Saw Safety Features. USFS

Your local chain saw dealer should be able to advise you on the chain saw that will meet your needs. You may even consider an electic saw if your "forest" is next to a power source and small limbs and saplings are your only concern. Before you select a chain saw — as a minimum — consider horsepower, bar length, chain type, and safety features (which are explained more fully on my Chain Saw FAQ):

• Horsepower: Use a saw with a power head rated at 3.8 cubic inches or less.

• Bar length: Use the shortest bar possible to accomplish your tasks, to reduce the hazards involved. You should be able to perform all your tasks with a bar length between 16 and 18 inches. Stick with the length you are used to.

• Chain types: Learn how to choose the right chains for your saw and how to sharpen and maintain them. This knowledge will improve your productivity and help you avoid wear and tear on your body and the saw.

• Safety features: Become familiar with your chain brake, throttle safety latch and the guard links on the chain (see illustration).

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw

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You Need the Basic Personal Protective Gear!

Wear Safety Equipment. USFS

You must protect your head, hearing, eyes, face, hands, legs, and feet. Many chain saw users have regretted not doing so and suffer with lifelong injuries.

• Protect your head and eyes: a specialized hardhat outfitted with earmuffs and a screen type full-face shield (in one piece of equipment) is the best protection for your head, hearing, eyes, and face. Not only does it protect you from saw injuries and hearing loss, but also from getting particles in your eyes.

• Protect your hands: You need to wear gloves or mittens when operating a chain saw. You may want to consider additional protection by wearing gloves or mittens constructed with chain saw protection for the left hand if you’re right handed or for the right hand if you’re left handed.

• Protect your legs: Leg injuries account for nearly 40 percent of all chain saw injuries and is absolutely necessary. Chaps, leggings, or protective pants are the available options. Chaps should be the wrap-around style and a length that will protect the ankle. Pants provide greater comfort and avoid the problem of twigs catching behind the chaps. If possible, purchase chaps and pants made with washable ballistic nylon fibers. This fabric is easier to keep clean and will stall a rotating chain.

• Protect your feet: Chain saw protective boots or at least an above-the-ankle leather work boot is a must to protect your feet.

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw

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Be Prepared Before You Start Using a Chainsaw!

Plan You Escape Route. USDA - Forest Service

First, assemble other necessary tools and supplies: wedges, ax, large hatchet or maul, properly mixed fuel, bar oil, bar wrench, chain file with protective handle, minor maintenance tools, and a first aid kit. It makes for a bad day when you pinch a saw, run out of fuel or need to tighten or sharpen a chain.

Carry the chain saw to the cutting site by holding it at your side with the bar pointing back. This will prevent you from falling on the bar if you trip.

Always look carefully at what is around you and what may be endangered by a falling tree. Size up the tree from several directions to determine its lean, any excess branches on one side, broken or lodged material in the tree, and ice or snow in the branches. Look for tall dead tree trunks, leaning trees, and trees hung up in other trees within a distance equal to two tree lengths from the tree you are cutting, because they may fall at the same time as the tree you are cutting. Based on these observations you should be able to estimate the most likely direction the tree will fall.

Develop a clear picture of what you intend to do, estimate the most likely direction the tree will fall and be able to plan two escape routes. Be sure the escape routes are free from obstructions.

Never move directly opposite the direction of tree fall as the tree trunk can jump back. Never turn your back completely on the tree as you retreat and wait at least 30 seconds after the tree hits the ground to return.

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw

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Learn How to Safely Start your Chain Saw!

Two Starting Techniques. USFS

Follow these safety procedures:

 Always engage the chain brake at these times-

• When you start the saw.
• When you take one hand off the saw to do some-thing.
• When you take more than two steps with the saw running.

Start the saw safely by using one of the following two techniques-

• Place your left hand on the front handle. Hold the back of the saw tightly between your legs. Pull the start cord (after engaging the choke, if necessary) using a fast but short stroke.

• Place the saw on the ground. Place the toe of your boot through the back handle to hold the saw down. Hold the front handle with your left hand. Pull the start cord using a fast but short stroke.

Both starting methods are safe, but the leg lock method (a) is so fast and easy that it allows you to turn the saw off and restart it even when you walk a short distance (see illustrations).

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw

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Learn How to Safely Use Your Chain Saw!

Prevent Kickback. USFS

Be aware of the reactive forces of a saw. When you cut with the bottom of the bar, the chain can pull you into the work. When cutting with the top of the bar, it can push you away from the work. Your body stance and grip are determined by which part of the bar you are using.

You can experience a kickback almost every time you use a chain saw. Most are easy to control. But a severe kickback can cause one of the worst accidents you can have working with a chain saw. Kickback happens when the chain saw is suddenly thrown violently back towards the operator. It can happen while removing limbs from a tree that is on the ground or while cutting the trunk (bucking).

Kickback occurs when the chain is suddenly forced to stop. The most common way this happens is when the upper tip of the bar touches a tree, log, or branch. Another way the chain can be stopped suddenly is when a log or a limb pinches the top of the bar and chain while cutting from below with the top of the bar. Here are ways kickback can be prevented:

• Keep upper tip of bar in solid wood.
• If cutting a log from below, do it in two stages: first cut from above, then make another cut from below to meet the first.
• Hold the chainsaw with both hands.
• Grip the handle by putting your thumb around it.
• Keep your elbow locked.
• Never cutting above shoulder height.
• Keep the saw close to your body.
• Using a saw with chain brake.
• Starting every cut under full throttle.
• Keep the chain sharp.

From U.S. Forest Service's: Backyard Woods - Work Safely With a Chainsaw