How to Safely Use a Chainsaw

A chainsaw cutting through a tree branch

A chainsaw can be a very effective and necessary tool to have around, especially if you live around forested areas or cut your own firewood. While there are a multitude of reasons to have one as a homeowner, these tools shouldn't be taken lightly: they are powerful machines that can do a great deal of damage in a nano second. Keep everyone safe, including your property, by learning how to safely use a chainsaw.

Read the Owner's Manual

Not all chainsaws are made the same, even if they look similar or if you have lots of experience. Always read the owner's manual before starting the tool so that you can become familiar with the components and safety instructions. Even if you have used a similar chainsaw before, it is recommended that you take the time to get to know the proper procedures for each particular model, or have the owner of the tool show you the right way to use it if they already understand how it works.

Starting It Up

A chainsaw cutting a log

Before you begin, make sure you are wearing the proper protective clothing. Even experienced handlers should wear a hard hat, a good pair of gloves, as well as ear and eye protection.

Most chainsaws should be laid firmly on flat ground with the blade end pointed away from your body. Place your left hand on the handle and right foot on the appropriate spot to steady the chainsaw so you can properly pull the starter cord with your right hand. These points should be clearly illustrated in the owner's manual. Find any safety brake and release it. Prime the saw if it is gas-powered or make sure any electrical power cord is laid out safely. Pull the cord upward and close to your body to reduce potential shoulder injury. Know how to shut the saw off before trying to start it and how to release a chain brake.

Different Ways of Cutting with a Chainsaw

Once the saw has been safely engaged, take your foot off the handle and switch to your right hand before revving the engine. Both hands should remain on the saw at all times with your left on the front handle and your right hand on the back handle. This will ensure that you are in control of the tool and can maneuver it with confidence.

If you are a beginner, always start any cuts at waist level, or at the very least, keeping your center of gravity stable (no overhead cuts or ones where you don't have solid footing). Use the middle area of the blade to cut rather than the tip or back end. This will prevent kickback. While most chainsaws have a chain brake that stops the blade when kickback occurs, it's always best to prevent this from happening, as even a disengaged blade can do damage to you or others around you. Prevent the saw from hitting the ground or from other obstructions other than the piece you are sawing to maintain control.

Upward vs. Downward Cuts

If you have not used a chainsaw before, start by practicing downward cuts from a solid position. This will allow you to get comfortable with how the machine works and how powerful it is in a safe way. Pay attention to how much clearance there is between the saw and the ground when making downward cuts to prevent kickback. Do not rush the motion, rather, let the blade do the work while you guide it into position all the way through whatever you are cutting, never stopping halfway through unless for emergency reasons. Stopping in the middle of a cut could lock the saw in place making it dangerous to stop, remove, or re-engage without dangerous kickback or damage to the saw.

Wood cutting artist using a chainsaw to cut a sculture

An upward motion works similarly to a downward cut because the rotation of the blade does most of the work for you, as long as you put a small amount of pressure into it. This type of cutting should only be done by experienced chainsaw users since the saw is moving towards the users face instead of away from the body. You should master straight downward cuts before trying any upward, sideways, or angular cuts.

Safe Cutting Environment

The area around you is just as important to keep safe as the immediate cutting area is. Know who and what is around you, including individuals, passersby, cars, homes, and other property. If you need to keep a particular zone clear, set up yellow safety tape to mark the area appropriately. This is especially important if you are cutting down a tree, for example, or if there will be any airborne debris. Bystanders should be at least 15 feet away. If there are people who are going to be assisting or watching you closely, they will also need to wear the proper protective clothing and safety gear, even if they are not using the saw. Make sure to remove any tripping hazards and obstructions that could hinder your ability to focus. Keep pets and animals clear from the site as well.

Regular Chainsaw Maintenance

As with any tool, proper maintenance will ensure it works safely and stays in good condition. The owners manual will give the essential instructions for proper care but it is up to you to follow these guidelines and put them into practice. Store your chainsaw in a protected area at all times, keeping it out of reach from children and reducing potential theft. It's best to keep it in a clean, dry storage area where it won't get bumped or moved around. Any kind of dent in the saw will reduce its ability to cut straight safely. Treat the tool with respect for long-lasting results.

Most of us know that a chainsaw is not a toy and should always be used with the utmost care. Following the manual will ensure the proper use but most accidents happen because people are rushing or don't take the time to follow the procedures. Don't regret skipping out on safetylearn how to safely use a chainsaw each and every time you pick one up.