How to Use a Chainsaw Safely

Don't fire up this potentially dangerous tool without donning protective wear, becoming familiar with your saw, and learning the basic safety rules.

| October/November 1993

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    Whether you're felling your first tree or your 200th, take time to think about safety.
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    Stay safe when using a chainsaw.
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    You should be fully protected with workboots, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, eye protection and hard hat.

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You don't have to spend much time in a woodlot to learn that a chain saw is one dangerous tool — far more dangerous than the much maligned gun. Because the dangers inherent in operating a chain saw can't be foreseen, the most important safety precaution is to stay alert, concentrate, and always expect the unexpected. Quit working when you feel tired, extremely hot or cold, hungry, or frustrated, no matter how badly you need the firewood or the income from its sale. Fatigue and frustration reduce your alertness and increase the chance that kickback or a bouncing tree will catch you by surprise.

Safe Clothing

Start thinking about safety from the moment you get dressed in the morning. Select clothing that's warm but not bulky or baggy. A guide bar as short as 16 inches has about 25 razor-sharp teeth revolving at approximately 50 feet per second—teeth that are eager to grab a sleeve, shirttail, or pant leg and chew through to bare skin. Avoid this source of injury by avoiding loose clothing.

Wear a pair of especially sturdy pants. Some woodcutters wear jeans. I prefer Carhartt bib overalls, made of exceptionally heavy fabric that's doubled along the thighs and knees. Although they cost about $32 a pair, they last twice as long as any other pants I've worn in the woods. Even if you don't snag your pants on a saw tooth, working in the woods still wears pants out pretty fast. A pair of chaps, at $60, both saves wear and tear on your clothing and protects your legs against a close encounter with a whirling saw chain.

In cold weather, keep your upper body warm with several layers of clothing so you can take something off as the day warms, and put it back on toward evening when the weather cools. You'll fatigue less quickly if you maintain a comfortable body temperature.

During hunting season, top your outfit with an orange safety vest and cap. As little sense as it makes, some people who take a gun into the woods aren't hunters but shooters—they shoot at anything that moves. Furthermore, deer aren't frightened by the sound of a chain saw. Rather, curiosity attracts them to the noise. Deer, in turn, attract shooters.

Another source of peril in the woods is slippery footing. I am simply aghast when I see fellows go dancing out to cut a little firewood wearing sneakers. The only sensible footwear is a pair of steel-toed laceup boots. At $75 they're expensive, but so is a crushed or cut foot. I'll never forget the day I went into the woods wearing a brand new pair of boots, started up my saw, tripped, and slashed the tip of the bar across my right boot. If the boot hadn't had steel toes, today I'd be minus all the toes on one foot. If you live in north country, fit your boots with removable logger's cleats to minimize slipping on snow or frozen ground.

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