The proper way to use a chainsaw begins with understanding the parts of the chainsaw, adhering to appropriate safety measures, and finally, becoming familiar with proper handling and usage.
Type of Tool
A chainsaw is a portable power tool that cuts wood using a fast-moving chain that rotates around a guide bar.
Types of Cuts
There are four main types of cuts you’ll make with a chainsaw, and each have their own cautions and considerations.
- Trimming. Cutting back limbs or cutting branches off of a limb.
- Limbing. Removing limbs from a tree.
- Felling. The act of cutting down a tree.
- Bucking. Cutting up the tree into usable lengths or pieces.
Choosing the Right Chainsaw
Be sure to choose a chainsaw that will be comfortable for you to handle, but is appropriately suited for the job. If the chainsaw required for the task is more than you’re comfortable handling, that’s a sure sign it’s time to call in the pros.
Otherwise, consider that the guide bar needs to be at least 2 inches longer than the diameter of the tree, log, or limb you’re cutting. (You can still cut larger trees if you cut from both sides, but it’s much more practical to cut in one pass.)
The guide bar is the part that the chainsaw chain spins around. It is measured from the tip of the bar to where it enters the body of the chainsaw.
- Casual homeowners doing light-duty yard maintenance (like trimming small branches or cutting firewood) will generally do fine with around 14”.
- If you’re planning to tackle more medium-duty work like felling small trees, look for something in the 16”-20” range. The longer the bar, the more difficult to control. Novices should stick to less than 20”.
- If you plan to engage in more heavy-duty cutting, you’ll want to look into 22” or more. (Not recommended for novices.)
Remember. Getting the biggest saw you can afford isn’t a good idea if you will mainly need your chainsaw for lighter-duty cuts. The larger the chainsaw, the more difficult to precisely maneuver, so be sure to choose the size of your chainsaw not only based on your own physical strength, but also based on the type of jobs you primarily need it for.
Before You Begin: Safety Checks
A chainsaw is the most dangerous power tool available without a license. Handle it accordingly, beginning with what you wear for the job. Ear-protection, eye-protection, sturdy boots, protective gloves, long sleeves, pants, and chainsaw chaps are the most basic essentials. Be sure to avoid any loose fitting items, as these could get caught in the chain with disastrous consequences. We also strongly recommend a hard hat, especially when felling a tree. Some of this protection may seem like overkill if you’re doing light-duty limbing, but better to be protected than to treat the job too casually and end up paying for it dearly.
Kickback can lead to catastrophic injury, and so deserves its own section of caution here. The top half of the end of the blade or bar is known as the “kickback zone.” If the tip of the chainsaw blade comes into contact with just about anything, the change in cutting momentum in the chainsaw will force the bar up and toward you, the operator, with unbelievable power and speed. To guard against kickback, you must be aware of the chainsaw tip at all times. Maintaining proper body position (balanced footing; firm, two-handed grip) while operating the chainsaw, and a sharp, well-tensioned chain, will help defend against kickbacks as well.
Because of the inherent danger in using this equipment, many parts of the chainsaw have to do with safety. Begin by familiarizing yourself with these features in your particular chainsaw’s owner’s manual. These are common parts you’ll find:
- Stop Control. This allows you to quickly stop the entire engine in one motion. (Check your owner’s manual for where the stop control is located on your specific chainsaw.)
- Throttle Lock. This prevents accidental acceleration. First, you will squeeze the throttle control inside the rear handle; then you will push down the throttle lock on top of the rear handle to lock it in.
- Right-Hand Guard. This shields your hand from the chain in case it breaks or comes loose, and is located on the bottom of the upper handle.
- Chain Catcher. Located on the bottom of the chainsaw, this part prevents the chain from flying off the bar if it breaks or comes loose.
- Chain Brake. The chain brake stops the chain from rotating around the bar. The brake is located on the top handle and can be engaged by pushing the handle forward.
Survey the Area
Before you even fuel up your chainsaw, be sure you have enough room to work safely. When felling a tree, even a smaller tree, check for overhead power lines, nearby cars or structures, and most importantly, pets or people. Also ensure there is sufficient escape room for you, the operator.
How to Properly Use a Chainsaw
Quick Equipment Check
Ensure your chain is sharp and properly tensioned. Always re-tension the chain on a new chainsaw after the first couple of hours of work, and again after an extended period of non-use. If your chainsaw is gas-powered, fill the gas tank with the proper fuel, and fill the bar oil reservoir to ensure there is enough lubrication in the engine and circulating around the bar and chain. This step must be done on the ground (not on the ungrounded tailgate of a truck), and be sure the chainsaw is not hot when fueling.
Starting a Gas-Powered Chainsaw
There are two methods for how to safely start a gas chainsaw. The first is best for newer users, and the second is best if flat, even footing is not available.
- Method 1. Place the chainsaw on the ground. Place your right foot through the rear handle to steady the saw. Use your left hand to securely hold the handlebar. Use your right hand to engage the chain brake by pushing the handle forward (so the chain doesn’t start moving until you’re ready to start cutting). Ensure that the choke is closed and the switch is on. Press the primer button a few times if your chainsaw has that. Then pull straight up on the starter.
- Method 2. Ensure that the choke is closed and the switch is on. Press the primer button a few times if your chainsaw has that. Place the rear handle between your legs, near your knees. With your arm straight out, grab the handlebar with your left hand. Engage the chain brake with your right hand by pushing the handle forward (so the chain doesn’t start moving until you’re ready to start cutting). Then, with your left knee supported, and the handle behind your right knee, pull straight up on the starter with your right hand.
If the engine fires, but doesn’t start, push the choke in halfway and try again. It may take a few pulls and some determination, but once your chainsaw roars to life, tap the throttle trigger to set the chainsaw motor to an idle. Do not release the chain brake until you are read to begin cutting.
Starting an Electric Chainsaw
Starting an electric chainsaw involves fewer steps than a gas chainsaw, but requires the same amount of caution.
- Connect the power cord and locate the safety lock button required to make the switch trigger operational (this prevents accidental starting).
- Place the chainsaw on the ground.
- Engage the chain brake by pushing the handle forward (so the chain doesn’t start moving until you’re ready to start cutting).
- Engage the safety switch and simultaneously pull the trigger switch to start the motor.
- Keep the trigger switch engaged to continue operation of the chainsaw.
- Release the chain brake when you’re ready to cut.
- Release the trigger to stop the electric motor.
Handling the Chainsaw: The First Cut
If you are a novice, it’s a good idea to begin on a practice limb or piece of wood that’s in a convenient area. This will allow you to get a feel for the chainsaw and how it cuts. Here’s a guide to practice:
- Establish stability and balance with good, solid footing (no over-reaching or leaning).
- Keep your left hand wrapped firmly around the front handle (with your thumb also wrapped around the handle, not resting on top with your other fingers).
- Bring your chainsaw blade in line with the cut you are going to make.
- Disengage the chain brake.
- Squeeze the throttle fully open.
- Lay the blade against the wood. (Do not force the blade as if you were using a knife or hand saw. The chainsaw will draw into the cut with only moderate pressure, or even just the weight of the blade.)
- Continue running full throttle through the entire cut, and ease off the throttle as you are about to exit the cut on the other side.
- Do not let the bar tip or the chain touch the ground. This can cause kickback or dull the chain.
Handling the Chainsaw: Common Scenarios
When you’re ready to move on from your practice cuts, regardless of the situation, remember to maintain good handling practices for safety and stability. It’s also important to pay attention to the wood you’re cutting. Recognize that limbs may be under a great deal of tension. Keep your eyes on your chainsaw blade, but also take moments to observe how the fibers of the wood react to your cuts. It’s quite easy to accidentally release a limb with unexpected reactive force.
When using your chainsaw, especially when the wood is under tension, it’s possible for the bar to get pinched. You want to avoid this, as the chainsaw can get stuck or kick back. The best way to avoid pinching is to stop and evaluate the situation before cutting. Can you anticipate how the wood will react to a cut based on the tension it’s under? If you begin a cut and that area begins compressing (narrowing under pressure) your blade will be pinched. Stop and cut from the other side if possible. (If your blade has already become pinched, turn off the chainsaw, drive a wedge into the cut with a hammer, and pull out the chainsaw as the wood releases the bar.)
- Never operate a chainsaw on a ladder.
- Never cut limbs or branches higher than your shoulder. (Consider a pole saw for these.)
- Never operate a chainsaw while intoxicated.
- When you’ve finished, safely drain the fuel from the tank of a gas chainsaw..
- Let the engine of your gas chainsaw run to burn off any remaining fuel in the tank.
- For both gas and electric, allow the chainsaw to cool before storing it.
- Always keep the chainsaw bar and chain covered when not in use.
Having the right tools makes all the difference in getting a job done, and done well. Be sure to check out the Senix selection of powerful and affordable chainsaws.
Accomplish everything you need, proudly, safely, and effectively.