Chainsaw Safety

— Written By and last updated by Kerri Rayburn
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Last week’s tropical storm felled many trees in the county, which created many long hours of chainsaw use to clear roadways and dangerous hanging trees across power lines and even homes. Dangerous situations existed that should have been avoided, so before the next tropical-storm, windstorm or snowstorm arrives, it is a good idea to review chainsaw safety to protect yourself and others.

Chainsaw safety should be the top priority if anyone that operates and owns a chainsaw! A chainsaw is the most dangerous piece of equipment most people ever handle. Chainsaws are involved in some 30,000 accidents each year and injuries are usually severe. All available safety equipment should be used, the saw properly maintained and sharpened, and safe operating procedures strictly followed. All reputable dealers should gladly discuss safe and proper chainsaw use.

De-limbing and bucking (removing tree limbs with the chainsaw) is one of the most dangerous operations for a chainsaw user because the limbs are small and close together, the working area is confined and the operator is working with the saw close to his or her legs. To make de-limbing a safe operation, keep in mind the following suggestions:

– Start at the butt or bottom end of the tree where there is more room to maneuver and work your way up to the top of the tree. This will increase your working space while de-limbing.

– Keep both feet to one side of the tree as you work — preferably the uphill side in hilly terrain. Don’t straddle the tree and don’t over-extend your reach as you move up the tree. Keep the chainsaw in line with the side of your body as you cut.

– In firewood operations, trim the smaller limbs off and clear the path of brush. Then work from the top of the limb towards the juncture with the trunk. Limbs may be “lowered to reach” by making partial cuts. This also helps the operator keep the saw chain out of dirt and rocks.

To avoid pinching the saw when bucking, make two cuts. Where the tree is supported at both ends, make the first cut at the top (pressure side) about a quarter of the way through the trunk (Figure 4). Then make the second cut from below (tension side) directly in line with the first cut. When the tree is supported only on one side, reverse the procedure. Make the first cut from below (pressure side) about a quarter of the way into the tree. The second and final cut should be made from the top (tension side), directly above the first cut.

Felling Trees requires practice before an emergency arrives. The first thing to do before felling a tree is to try to predict where the tree will fall. Note the direction in which the tree leans, the presence of any obstacles (other trees, fences, power lines, etc.), the amount and direction of wind (Don’t fell trees on a windy day!) and the presence of dead limbs that might drop on your head when the tree is being felled. Make sure there are no other people near the tree who could get hurt. Have two safety routes clear of debris for you to escape if tree kicks back or falls towards you.

Start the first cut about 6 inches above the ground line. If the tree is large, make a V cut (also called the felling notch) about a third of the way into the tree on the side that the tree will most likely fall (Figure 3). After the first cut is made, start your felling cut directly behind the notch on the opposite side of the tree. Leave a hinge between the two cuts to slow the tree’s fall and give you time to get out of the way. This is the most critical time because the tree may not fall in the direction you picked out. If this happens, be sure you are safe – broken chainsaws can be repaired.

Please remember to never cut above your waist, never operate chainsaw by yourself, don’t cut with the tip of the chainsaw and wear safety hard hat, chaps, gloves, steel-toe boots and safety glasses. For more information on Chainsaw Safety please contact Robert J. Hawk Jackson or Swan County Extension at 586-4009 or 488-3848 respectively. Article material submitted from NC State and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.