Chainsaw Safety Guide: Maintain your Chain(saw)

Chainsaws are a perfect tool for chopping up large branches and felled trees. They are one of the best and most versatile tools available, but the problem is they cut both wood and human flesh equally as efficiently and without discrimination between the two.

So where do you start and how do you get the job done safely?

As professional and qualified tree surgeons, we walk through the process of cutting a large tree with a chainsaw, demonstrating how to use this powerful tool in a safe manner.

We’ll explain techniques to remove branches and cut the tree trunk and more. Of course, safety is paramount when using a chainsaw. Finally, check out our “10 Chainsaw Safety Tips” for precautions we’ve taken to heart. Always read and follow the safety instructions in your chainsaw’s manual.

Chainsaw Use

Cut using the top or bottom of the bar and chain, avoiding the “kickback zone” — this can cause the saw to kick back towards you.

The most common and natural-feeling way to cut is with the chain at the bottom of the bar. Chainsaws pull a bit, but are easy to control by maintaining a firm grip. However, cutting branches from their underside requires you to cut with the top of the bar. This can be little unsettling initially as the saw pushes toward you. But it is safe if you are well braced and follow all other safety precautions.

But there is one area on the bar that you should definitely take care to avoid. This area, named the ‘kickback zone’, is located at the top half of tip of the bar. If something contacts the kickback zone while the chain is in motion, chainsaws will kick up and back towards you. This is the reason most modern chainsaws are fitted with a chain brake, which is designed to stop the chain.

The risk of most common chainsaw injuries to the thigh and left arm can be virtually eradicated in only a few simple measures.

(1) Always wrap your thumb on your left hand round the front handle when cutting. The encircling grip helps maintain control of the saw if a kickback occurs.

(2) When moving with the saw in motion, even if only just shifting to the next branch, carry the saw at your side with your left hand holding the front handle — if you stumble or fall, it’s not possible for the saw’s engine to turn the chain.

Safety Gear

Buy safety gear and wear it.

  • Ear protection
  • Helmet with face screen / safety glasses
  • Steel-toed cut-resistant boots
  • Logging chaps
  • Gloves (leather)
  • Bar and chain oil

Additional precautions:

(1) Special chaps can stop a moving chain and save your thigh.

(2) Wear long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself from inevitable scrapes and scratches.

Get a Feel for Your Equipment

Check your chain tension, re-check it regularly, and adjust it if necessary.

New chains have to be checked after heir first 20 minutes of use because they stretch. A loose chain is dangerous as it can easily fly off the bar. Loose chains also damage the drivers BAR on the chain and makes it difficult to fit back into the groove of the bar.

You can make adjustments by loosening nuts which hold the bar. Lift the bar while simultaneously tightening the adjusting screw until the chain is tight up with the bar. The tension of your chainsaw is right when you are unable to lift the chain drivers from the bar groove, but at the same time you are still able to drag the chain easily around the bar.

Next, fill the chainsaw’s fuel reserve with petrol premixed with a two-cycle oil (check your chainsaw’s instruction manual for the precise mixture for your specific model). Then pour chain oil into the saw’s oil reserve. Before firing up the saw, move at least 5 metres from the filling site to somewhere free of any ignitable substances.

To fire up the saw’s engine, first activate the chain brake, and turn on the ignition switch. Pull out the choke (if you have a cold engine) and lock on the fast idle.

Place the saw on the ground, put your right foot onto the back handle and tightly hold the front handle with your left arm. Pull up the starter handle to start the engine. Push the choke in and take the saw off of the fast idle mode, and pull the chain brake back toward the front handle to release the chain brake to start cutting.

It’s advisable to test out your saw to get a feel for how it responds to the throttle. You should only start cutting when in a well-balanced position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Stand to the side of the chainsaw — not directly behind it.

You will experience different forces during operation of the saw and cutting. When cutting with the bottom part of the bar, chainsaws pull you inwards. When cutting with the top of the bar (i.e. undercutting), the machine tends to push you away. Counteract the forces of undercutting by bracing the back handle of the saw, or your arm against your thigh, for more saw control and to reduce fatigue.

Make a Plan Before You Start

Plan how you will reach and cut each branch; Think about what will happen when you do!

Before you fire up your chainsaw, take a step back and make a strategy for the task at hand. Check the fall path is clear. It’s not always so obvious what will happen when cutting branches under pressure, and in some cases removing them can cause tree to fall. We can’t always predict whether a tree will roll.

Visualise the worst-case situation and be prepared for it. Take time to clear at least one escape path behind you and to the side for a quick retreat. Work with a partner so there is someone to call for help if you become injured or trapped.

Remove branches closest to the base of the tree trunk first, working towards the top. Where possible, stand uphill from the tree.

Cut from the trunk’s left side. This provides the safest and most effective use of the chainsaw as you can sit the side or bottom of the chainsaw onto the trunk and chop off the branches using a pivot-type movement.

Cutting the Trunk of the Tree.

Keep your chainsaw bar parallel to avoid hitting the ground.

Cutting branches from beneath the felled tree will let it settle to the ground. The trunk should rest completely on the ground or be suspended. When the tree is suspended, free the trunk from the stump and push it down to the ground. Cutting directly into a trunk which is not properly supported at both ends will cause the weight of the trunk to pinch the bar and stop the chain.

Chainsaws can also become pinched when cutting through a supporting branch of the trunk. If pinching occurs, cut the saw’s engine. Try use a strong branch to lever the saw free from the trunk.

When the trunk has had all of its branches cut and the trunk is lying safely on the ground, chop it up into manageable bits. We recommend about 40–50 cm in length if the timber is to be used as firewood.

Start cutting the trunk in an area which has a small gap beneath it so your saw doesn’t hit the ground. Try to keep the chainsaw bar parallel with the ground getting near the end of the cut, and finish with the bottom of the saw flat on the ground.

10 Chainsaw Safety Tips

Precautions we take close to heart!

  1. Chaps are important — the most common chainsaw injuries are to the thigh when the operator carried a moving chainsaw. Carry saws by the front handle only so you won’t accidentally accelerate the saw and cut your thigh if you trip.
  2. Never approach the operator out of their vision — the noise of chainsaws may cause the operator to be unaware of people approaching to announce lunch.
  3. Don’t cut without a spotter or partner — you’ll need someone help if an accident happens.
  4. Avoid cutting with the bar’s kickback zone — and avoid getting into kickback situations.
  5. Don’t cut above shoulder height with a chainsaw.
  6. Cut from the uphill side of trees — they’ll roll away instead of on top of you.
  7. Use the chain brake — the brake should be locked or on the ‘ON’ setting when the saw isn’t in use.
  8. Start cuts with the saw’s engine at full throttle — prior to making contact with the wood.
  9. Avoid touching the ground with the chain — even light touches will significantly blunt the saw’s teeth.
  10. Maintain you chain and keep it sharp. Chainsaws with dull chains are not safe and overwork both you and your saw.

Information provided by Epic Tree Care, a team of qualified, experienced and skilled Arborists.

For more information and free onsite quotes, call 01224 460377 or visit

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