The chainsaws you buy in the UK are subject to strict safety standards and come with features to reduce the risk of injury. Our expert guide on chainsaw safety runs through the equipment you'll need to get your hands on.
Before tidying up the garden with a Which? Best Buy chainsaw, it's important that you're familiar with handling the chainsaw and what to wear while you're cutting.
Below, we've got more on protective chainsaw clothing, built-in chainsaw safety features and advice on chainsaw training courses.
Video: how to use a chainsaw safely
What is chainsaw kickback?
Chainsaw 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.
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.
What do you wear when using a chainsaw?
When using a chainsaw you should wear a safety helmet, ear defenders, chainsaw trousers, chainsaw gloves and safety boots. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
- Anti-kickback or low-kickback chains 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.
- 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 is designed to block the chain if it slips off the guide bar, preventing it spinning off and hitting your legs. You'll find it on the base of the machine, below the guide bar.
- Chainsaw throttle trigger and throttle lock-off. These two switches have to be engaged for the chain to spin. This is to prevent the chainsaw starting unintentionally.
- On/off switch. 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.
- Vibration dampeners or anti-vibration mounts. To reduce pain and discomfort caused by chainsaw engine and cutting vibrations from the engine and cutting.
Chainsaw safety checks
Here are four things you should check before starting up your chainsaw.
1. The chain
When the chainsaw chain needs replacing, follow this check list:
- Check the user manually carefully. Installing the chain incorrectly could damage the chainsaw and put you at risk when you turn it back on.
- Contact the manufacturer. The manufacturer will help you buy the replacement part. Alternatively, you can buy and fit a generic chainsaw chain.
- Choose wisely. Make sure you buy a chain with the correct pitch, gauge and number of drive chains. Fitting the wrong chain can be dangerous.
If in doubt, get a professional to supply and fit it for you.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Chainsaw training courses
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.