When people think about buying a chainsaw, the first thing that pops into their minds is usually how dangerous these tools are. And they are right to think so.
Are chainsaws dangerous? Yes, chainsaws are considered to be the most dangerous power tools out there. You shouldn’t attempt using one without adequate training and protective equipment, or you risk injuring yourself or others.
There are a number of reasons to this, and learning about them can help you to prevent any accidents from happening in the first place.
Why are chainsaws so dangerous?
It isn’t hard to imagine why a sharp bladed chain spinning at high speeds can be dangerous. If it can cut through wood with ease, chances are it would do a number on your limbs too.
Despite all the safety precautions, an average of 36.000 chainsaw related injuries happen every year in the United States alone. This is a huge number, but most of these could have been avoided by proper technique and protective gear.
The most common causes for chainsaw related injuries are kickback, pushback, and pull-in. Let’s see what these are!
A kickback happens when the tip of the chainsaw’s blade contacts a hard surface or suddenly gets stuck in a piece of wood. This will redirect the force of the chain in the opposite direction – in other words, towards the user.
In practice this usually means that the chainsaw will suddenly “bounce off” the wood you are cutting. This happens so fast that most users don’t even have time to react. In the worst case scenario, the moving chain will hit you right in the face.
Check out this video to see how it looks like:
In this video the instructor holds the chainsaw horizontally, but it’s easy to see where the chain would go if he were to use it to cut in a vertical direction.
Fortunately, modern chainsaws have a kickback guard mechanism that stops the chain from rotating if a kickback happens. But even if the chain isn’t moving, the saw could hit you in the face or make you fall over so it’s still very dangerous.
Pushback and pull-in
Similarly to kickback, pushback and pull-in can also happen when the chainsaw’s blade hits a hard surface or suddenly gets stuck. In these cases however, the chainsaw either gets pulled towards the wood, or gets pushed back in the direction of the user.
This can result in the loss of balance, and in the worst case scenario the user can fall onto their chainsaw while the chain is still moving.
Other types of accidents
The causes I mentioned above are the most common, but there are some other types of accidents that are worth mentioning.
For example, the chain can fall off the guide bar if it isn’t tensioned properly, or gets loose during operation. This can result in the chain spinning out of control, hitting your legs or your arms. Fortunately, this rarely happens if you don’t buy low quality chains and tension them properly prior to usage.
Also, most newer chainsaws have a “chain catcher” on their bottom to prevent this from happening.
Then there are the more obvious accidents: The user cutting into his leg, slipping and falling onto his chainsaw, etc. Most of them happen because the user didn’t pay attention to their surroundings. For this reason, it’s very important that you are always well-rested and taking regular breaks while using a chainsaw.
Where can I learn how to use a chainsaw safely?
There are many companies offering chainsaw training – from general safety and maintenance to advanced cutting techniques. You should be able to find them if you look around on the internet. You may even find some government sponsored courses depending on where you live.
If this isn’t an option for you, I’d advise to ask a friend, relative or neighbor who is more experienced than you to show you the basics.
Can I learn how to use a chainsaw on my own?
I wouldn’t advise it, but it really depends on what you want to do with your saw.
If you only need it for cutting up some firewood or some basic limbing, you’ll probably do just fine. Make sure to read everything in your user manual, and watch some tutorial videos on YouTube – there are some fairly good ones out there, and although they aren’t as good as having someone teach you in person, it’s better than nothing.
But if you intend to do some heavy work like felling trees in the woods, you should definitely seek help from someone with more experience. There are so many things that can go wrong, and if something happens you may not be able to call help if you are out there all alone.
What safety equipment do I need?
As you can probably see by now, safety equipment is very important when working with chainsaws. These are the must-haves:
These are specially designed protective pants made to stop the chain from rotating if it ever cuts into the user’s leg.
These chaps are filled with various fibers, usually ballistic nylon or Kevlar. When they contact the chain they get stuck into it, clogging the engine in a split second. With chainsaw related leg injuries being so common, you should always wear one of these even for smaller tasks.
Chainsaws are very loud and this isn’t only annoying, but it can also cause permanent damage to your hearing ability. Because of this, wearing some form of hearing protection is a must.
Some people use ear plugs, but they don’t block sound as effectively as ear muffs. There are many good ones specifically designed for chainsaws and other loud power tools.
Wearing protective glasses is also very important. Not because of the chainsaw itself, but the various splinters and wood fragments in generates. These can cause serious injury if they get in your eyes, and can also distract you which can lead to other accidents.
Some people like to use sunglasses for this, but it isn’t a good idea. They don’t offer as much protection as a proper pair of safety glasses, and they can also hinder your vision.
Safety helmet with face protector
Many people like to skip these (myself included) when they are using their chainsaws at home, but you shouldn’t do so if you are planning to fell some trees in the woods.
This may not be obvious, but a lot of injuries happen because of the twigs and branches falling from trees that are about to be cut down. And if you are really unfortunate and a tree falls on you – having a good helmet can save your life.
These are a bit different than regular protective gloves. You’ll notice that their material is very thin between the fingers, so it won’t spread out your hand as much. This ensures that your grip is always firm on the chainsaw’s handle bar.
Wearing these gloves is especially important if you are working for long hours at a time – your hands can get sweaty, causing you to lose your grip on your saw. Apart from that, they will also protect your hand if the chain comes off the guide bar and starts spinning out of control.
Are electric chainsaws safer than gas powered chainsaws?
Generally speaking, yes. But this is mostly because on average they are not as powerful as their gas powered counterparts, so the occasional kickback is easier to control.
That being said, the kickback can still happen so an electric chainsaw isn’t any less dangerous than a gas chainsaw of equal power.
What’s a good chainsaw for beginners?
It really depends on your needs, but for home use I generally recommend a battery powered chainsaw, or one of the medium-sized gas chainsaws.
Whichever you choose I’d suggest buying one with a guide bar not longer than 16 inches – a chainsaw with a smaller guide bar is easier to control, and you can always upgrade to a bigger one later (most chainsaws take 3 sizes of guide bars).