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Chainsaw safety

By Adelaide Gray

Chainsaws can be dangerous, but they now have a number of features that make them much safer and easier to use. Find out how to use a chainsaw safely in our guide.

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Chainsaw safety

The chainsaws you buy in the UK are subject to strict safety standards and come with features to reduce the risk of injury. For example, the chain brake, which is positioned in front of the right hand, is designed to stop the chain dead if it’s automatically activated, to protect against kickback.

Kickback

Kickback is where the guide bar gets thrown upwards and backwards towards the user at high speed and is the most common cause of serious chainsaw accidents. It can happen if the log you’re cutting shifts and ‘pinches’ the tip of the guide bar, or if the tip of the guide bar and chain accidentally comes into contact with another branch, log or hard object.

Kickback can happen to even the most experienced chainsaw operators, which is why it’s essential to wear the proper safety kit.

 

Protective clothing

In the EU, all items of clothing containing chainsaw protective fabric carry a special chainsaw logo and will give the class of protection the clothing gives you. The class tells you the maximum chain speed the fabric is designed to stop. 

Safety helmet

These look like construction hard hats and are designed to protect the user’s head from the force of impact from the bar and chain if kickback occurs, provided the chain brake has been activated and the chainsaw chain isn’t spinning. They won’t stop the path of the guide bar or the chain from cutting if it’s in motion.

Most safety helmets have built-in ear defenders, and often transparent plastic or fine-mesh visors to protect the eyes from flying woodchips and dust. Prices start at about £15 online.

Ear defenders

Chainsaws are incredibly noisy and prolonged use can cause hearing damage. Whether you’re using a petrol, corded electric or cordless battery machine, always wear ear defenders. Most safety helmets will have built-in ear defenders, but you can also buy them separately for about £10.

Chainsaw trousers

Chainsaw trousers are made from layers of specialist fabric designed to slow the chain down by snagging it. They won’t block the path of a spinning chain completely, but, by slowing its progress, the resulting injury will be less severe. Prices of chainsaw trousers vary considerably, with a top-of-the-range branded pair costing in the region of £200. You should be able to get a decent pair for about £100 online, though.

Chainsaw gloves

These gloves have a left-hand that's heavily padded with similar fabric to that used in chainsaw trousers, the right hand is generally less padded as it's further from the blade. They're designed to protect hands, while still being flexible enough to work comfortably, and cost between £10 and £35 to buy.

Safety boots

Buy a pair of chainsaw safety boots that have a steel toe cap and a good grip to prevent accidental slipping when you’re using a chainsaw. Prices vary, starting at about £50.

Chainsaw safety features

Chainsaw chain

The chainsaw chain is made from linked sections of metal – it looks a bit like a bicycle chain – and holds the cutting teeth. Most of the chainsaws you’ll find will have anti-kickback or low-kickback chains, which reduce the chances of the chain getting stuck in the wood you're cutting, causing the machine to hurtle back towards the head and shoulder of the person using it.

When the chainsaw chain needs replacing, follow this check list.

  • Check the user manual carefully.
  • Contact the manufacturer to buy the replacement part.
  • Alternatively, you can buy and fit a generic chainsaw chain.
  • Make sure you buy a chain with the correct pitch, gauge and number of drive chains as fitting the wrong chain can be dangerous.
  • If in doubt, get a professional to supply and fit it for you.

Chainsaw cutting teeth

If your chainsaw is not cutting easily and you have to push, or if it's cutting a crooked line, your chainsaw teeth could be blunt. 

A blunt chainsaw can be dangerous – inspect and sharpen teeth regularly or get a professional to do the job for you.

Chainsaw guide bar

This is the long, oblong-shaped solid metal bar the chainsaw chain runs around at high speed. These range in length depending on the size of wood you need to cut. The longer the guide bar, the thicker the diameter of log the chainsaw can cope with, but the more difficult it becomes to manoeuvre.

Chainsaw chain brake

Also known as the front handguard, the chain brake is designed to minimise the risk of injury from kickback; if the blade is thrown upwards and backwards towards the user, their left hand will touch the chain-brake lever, which activates this brake.

Chainsaw chain catcher

If a chainsaw has a chain catcher, you'll find it on the base of the machine, below the guide bar. It's designed to block the chain if it slips off the guide bar, preventing it spinning off and hitting your legs.

Chainsaw throttle trigger and throttle lock-off

Petrol chainsaws have at least two switches that have to be engaged for the chain to spin. This is to prevent the chainsaw starting unintentionally. Both are located on the rear handle: the throttle lock is usually operated by the palm of the hand gripping the handle and the throttle trigger is pressed with the index ‘trigger’ finger.

Petrol models will also have an additional on/off switch to increase protection from accidental starting. Depending on the design and spec of the chainsaw, you may also find a primer, choke and/or starter rope that play a part in firing up the machine.

Chainsaw trigger switch and lock-off button

You'll find the trigger switch and lock-off button on corded electric chainsaws. They work in exactly the same way as the throttle trigger and throttle lock-off switches on petrol machines (above).

Chainsaw chain tensioning device

During use, a chainsaw chain loses some of its tension and will need tightening. The tension of the chain should be checked every time you use the chainsaw; if the chain’s too slack it could come off during use. The chain tensioning device will either be a thumbwheel lever you can grip and turn or a screw that you tighten with a screwdriver.

Petrol chainsaw's vibration minimisers

Power from the engine and tension from cutting causes vibrations that can be transferred to arms and shoulders, which can become painful after a while. Some petrol chainsaws come with anti-vibration features to reduce this. These are called vibration dampeners or anti-vibration mounts.

Chainsaw training

If you want to use a chainsaw safely then the best way to learn about safe use and maintenance is with a short course. LANTRA, the National Training Organisation for the Land Based Industries, offers a number of short courses that will train you to use the chainsaw safely, how to make some basic cuts and how to maintain the chainsaw. 

These courses generally are run over two days and cost around £250. Shorter day courses on chainsaw safety are also available that cost around £100. 

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