8 Rules For Chainsaw Safety When Tree Cutting

nick@treestuff.com BigCommerce Aug 19th 2022

8 Rules for Chainsaw Safety When Tree Cutting

When it’s time to remove one or more trees, the venerable chainsaw is the tool of choice for both homeowners and professionals. Although this popular power tool has been refined for decades and is safe when used properly, there are real hazards when operating a chainsaw—especially if you’re not up to speed with best practices. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn a few rules that will maximize not only your practices for safe chainsaw operation, but also your confidence in using the tool.

When it’s time to remove one or more trees, the venerable chainsaw is the tool of choice for both homeowners and professionals. Although this popular power tool has been refined for decades and is safe when used properly, there are real hazards when operating a chainsaw—especially if you’re not up to speed with best practices. Fortunately, it’s easy to learn a few rules that will maximize not only your practices for safe chainsaw operation, but also your confidence in using the tool.

Let’s take a look at eight rules to follow:

1. Suit up with the right safety gear

Before you even touch the saw on a work day, you will don your safety gear, or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Here’s the safety equipment you’ll need for chainsaw operation:

Leg protection: Chainsaw pants or chaps are mandatory. Both are effective if made specifically for this task, and they should display the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. They are made from heavy, durable fabric with an inner liner of tough, fibrous material that is intended to bind the cutting chain and make the saw stall, preventing injury. Multi-purpose pants or chaps are inadequate for the task. One advantage of saw pants over chaps is never forgetting to put them on before starting your work. If you rely on chaps, it’s possible to be so focused on your work that you simply forget that you’ve neglected to don your chaps. That could lead to a bad day with a serious injury.

Also, whatever leg protection you choose, remember to wash them per manufacturer instructions! Sure, they’re workwear and will just get dirty again, but as with all your equipment, if you take care of it, it will take care of you. Proper washing, followed by air drying, lets you give them a proper inspection periodically so you’re certain that they’re up to the task. Normal wear and tear, such as minor cuts, can be stitched up, but if the inner protective material is damaged, they must be replaced.

Helmet or hard hat: A helmet or hard hat that meets the ANSI Z89 standard, which applies to PPE in arboriculture, is required. You’ll have a choice of several options, including the suspension system that grips your skull, integrated hearing protection, and a visor. A hard hat with neither integrated visor nor ear muffs is an acceptable option, as long as it meets the ANSI Z89 standard.

Hearing protection: Ear muffs can be integrated into the helmet, which many people prefer, as they’re less likely to go missing or be borrowed. Ear plugs are a viable option, as well, with the best-performing plugs being fitted to each user. In addition to hearing protection, several options are available that incorporate Bluetooth communication technology, including microphones, that enable voice communication among members of the team at any time.

Eye Protection: Safety glasses that are rated for impact protection carry the ANSI Z87 label and are required. This standard addresses only impact protection, not sawdust or chemical splash protection, for example, and applies to both simple safety glasses and your prescription eyeglasses. You may also choose a helmet with a face shield for greater protection, but you’ll still need to wear dedicated eye protection.

Footwear: The minimum standard is sturdy lace-up work boots, but you will get better protection with rated chainsaw boots of leather or synthetic material that are designed for arboriculture use.

Hand Protection: Gloves are a must on the job site. They not only protect your hands from scrapes and cuts, but also help to maintain your grip on the chainsaw. You can use leather gloves or synthetic gloves or combination gloves designed for arboriculture.

2. Make sure all safety features on your chainsaw are installed and functioning properly

Get familiar with all the features of your chain saw. Start with the owner’s manual and learn about safety tips and these features: chain brake, chain catch pin (sometimes also called a chain catcher), hand guard, throttle interlock, spark arrestor, and anti-vibration system.

Check the chain tension before each use, or as directed by the owner’s manual. The chain tensioner is easily adjustable and maintains the chain at a tension so the chain can slide easily but not sag away from the chainsaw bar.

3. Check your felling clearance

No matter what task you’re tackling, you must ensure that you have room to work safely with the chainsaw.

When felling a tree, that means room for your body and room for the limbs you’re cutting and ultimately the entire trunk. You must have a feasible plan for dropping the limbs and trunk sections to ensure both safety for yourself and others and avoiding property damage.

Electrical conductors and power lines are a serious hazard that must be avoided. It is essential to respect the minimum approach distance and prevent contact between trees and high-voltage electrical wires. If you are unfamiliar with safety around power lines, stop and get help from a qualified line clearance arborist.

Be sure to also maintain at least 10 feet of separation from others on the jobsite when running a chainsaw.

4. Establish stable footing and three points of contact when starting the saw

Starting work begins with starting the saw. For large saws, you’ll usually want to use what’s called a “ground start.” The saw is sitting on the ground, and you have your left hand on the wrap handle and your foot on the rear handle. You’re always maintaining three points of contact with the saw.

Set the choke to the full or starting position, press the purge button a couple of times, engage the throttle lock, and pull the slack from the starter rope. Then pull the starter rope fully and listen for the telltale “pop” from the engine.

When you hear that “pop,” you can set the choke back to half and pull the starter fully. When the engine starts, squeeze the throttle trigger to take it off high idle, release the chain brake, increase the throttle to ensure it’s running properly and the chain is spinning properly, engage the chain brake, and set the saw down and turn it off. If you’re ready to work, no need to shut it down.

For smaller saws, starting from a standing position with the saw leg-locked, is appropriate. The fundamentals are the same with the choke, purge valve, and throttle catch.

Take a “boxer’s stance” with the left leg slightly forward, turn the saw about 45° to the right side, grip the wrap handle with the left hand, wedge the saw body between your legs just above the knees, creating a sort of “leg lock” on the saw while maintaining three points of contact, and pull the starter. Then follow the same steps as with a ground start.

The old-school method of starting a saw while standing, especially large and heavy saws, is called the “drop start.” Don’t do it. It’s way too easy to lose your grip on a running saw, and that’s incredibly dangerous.

5. Grip the chainsaw with two hands

You’ll want to maintain full control of the saw at all times, so grip the front handle, or wrap handle, with your left hand. Your right hand is always on the rear handle and controls the throttle. It’s essential that you keep two hands on the handles at all times.

6. Engage the chain brake

We mentioned the chain brake when starting, but you should also develop the habit of engaging the chain brake when you turn the saw off, and when you need to take more than two steps with the saw running.

7. Always cut in the proper body position

No matter if you’re standing on solid ground or working aloft in a tree, you must get your body into proper—i.e. safe and stable—body position first. Do not cut above shoulder height. Stand with your feet in a firm staggered boxer stance. Bend your knees when working in low positions. Keep the saw powerhead and your right hand, within a few inches of your body most of the time to minimize the leverage of the saw’s weight.

You want to transfer as much of the saw’s weight to your torso as possible, as your arms and shoulders will become fatigued much sooner if you continually reach out for cutting.

Essentially, your power zone is from the middle of your thighs to the middle of your chest, where you have the best control of the saw and the most power from your body.

8. Use the proper type of chainsaw cut and cutting technique for the job

Any tool is only as safe and effective as the person using it. Using a chainsaw properly requires you to be aware of what you’re trying to do and how to do it safely. Most cutting involves a simple cross-cut—cutting perpendicularly through the wood fibers—as in cutting a limb from a tree.

Most chainsaw chains are crosscut chains, but you can make rip cuts as well, which are cuts with the grain of the wood. It’s more efficient to change to a ripping chain if you’re using the chainsaw for wood milling operations.

A rip cut cuts with the grain of the wood and would be used for a task such as halving or quartering logs.

An advanced technique, often used in felling larger trees—a bore cut—involves making a small face cut, then a bore cut all the way through part of the trunk of the tree, then using wedges to get the tree to fall in the direction you want.

Bore cuts can be made either horizontally or vertically.

Again, this is an advanced technique and we recommend you complete training before attempting it.

How to Avoid Chainsaw Kickback & Rocking the Saw

It’s important to use extra caution when cutting with the tip of the guide bar. The upper portion of the tip is called the kickback zone. Because of the way the chain is designed, you can experience dangerous kickback when trying to cut with the tip. At the tip, the chain can catch in the wood, which then transfers the force from the engine into the guide bar, moving the tip of the saw back towards the user. Modern chainsaws are designed to reduce kickback, but it’s still wise to cut with the main body of the guide bar.

Avoid contacting dirt and rocks with the chain (rocking the saw) when cutting, and just use smooth and steady pressure while you control the direction of the saw. You are running the saw, but it’s doing the work. Don’t force it. If you’re struggling, you probably need to sharpen the blade, and make sure you’re maintaining an athletic stance with proper balance and minimal reaching.

Chainsaw Qualification Course

If you’d like to earn your chainsaw qualification from a professional, here’s your chance. This half-day course covers all you need to know about using your chainsaw. Certified arborists can also earn 4 CEUs.

​​Topics covered include:

  • Terminology
  • Mounting the bar and chain
  • Fueling, oiling, and function testing
  • Maintaining and cleaning your saw
  • Safety standards and PPE
  • Cutting fundamentals and avoiding kickback
  • Chain sharpening
  • Limbing and cutting brush
  • Bucking and moving logs
  • Proper felling techniques
  • Dealing with basic storm damage

Sign up here to take the next step in your chainsaw education!