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Operating a Chain Saw Safely

| Chaizong Lor

Operating a Chain Saw Safely

Chain saws, although very useful, are among the most hazardous power tools used. The unguarded blade, difficult terrain upon which one must often work, and stresses applied to the materials to be cut create high potential hazards. The use of proper operating procedures, personal protective equipment, safeguards on saws and proper work planning and execution can greatly reduce these potential hazards. Below are some guidelines for chain saw use.

Operation and Maintenance

Although chain saws are designed to be operated without safety guards, the employer or user must ensure that chain saws are operated and maintained in such a way that persons are not exposed to hazardous conditions. To use chain saws safely, regular maintenance checks should be done on safety equipment such as hand guards and anti-kick-back devices. Also regularly check the sharpness of blades.

Prepare yourself

Prepare yourself for operating a chain saw. Read the operator’s manual and obtain training from someone who is experienced with chain saws. It is very important to become familiar with the recommended safe operational procedures before attempting to work with a chain saw. Although you could learn how to use a chain saw from experience alone, that may come at a very high price — mishap and injury — and probably isn’t worth it.

Be sure that you are in top physical and mental condition when operating dangerous machinery. Medications, alcohol, and similar influencing factors can cause you to be a hazard to yourself and others when working with a chain saw. Your chances of injury are much lower when you are alert, well-rested, well trained and know what you are doing.

Personal Protective Equipment

Every employer must provide personal protective clothing and maintain it in a good and clean condition. This protective clothing should be designed specifically for the use of chain saws. The following protective clothing is recommended for the corresponding body parts:

Feet: Work boots with high tops and safety steel toes to protect your feet and ankle roll over injuries.

Legs: Chain saw chaps to protect your legs from saw kickback. These chaps are made of ballistic nylon fibers that, when cut, clog the chain saw and stop it from cutting.

Hands: Light weight gloves, preferably leather.

Head: Safety glasses or goggles, hearing protectors, and hard hats.

Prepare the saw

Preventive maintenance always pays off with chain saws. Properly sharpened teeth will cut quickly, smoothly, and more safely. Be sure to wear gloves or cover the chain with a heavy rag when sharpening the saw teeth. The newly sharpened teeth will easily inflict injury. File or grind according to instructions for best performance.

A clean air filter, good spark plug, and effective muffler will ensure a better running engine, making your work easier and safer. Follow the manufacturer’s advice in the operator’s manual when adjusting the engine or chain.

Proper chain tension helps ensure long chain life and safer cutting. A chain that is too loose tends to derail and whip about dangerously; a chain that is too tight will bind and wear prematurely. All chains stretch with use and need frequent checking and readjustment.

Good lubrication helps to prolong chain life and maintain tension adjustment. Check the oil often and refill according to instructions. Be sure to use the correct bar oil.

Starting and operating techniques

Before starting the engine, set the saw on firm ground in an open area free of any obstacles or combustible materials, such as a fuel can or leaves. Make sure the chain brake is engaged (check the owner’s manual for how to engage the brake). If the chain brake is not engaged, when the engine starts the engine speed may be fast enough for the clutch to engage the sprocket and turn the chain. If the bar touches any object, it may cause the saw to kick back toward you.

Maintain good balance and secure footing

Grip the front handlebar of the saw firmly with your left hand and press down. For saws with a C-shaped rear handle, put the toe of your right foot into the rear handle and press down. With your right hand, pull out the starter grip until you feel a definite resistance and then give it a brisk, strong pull.

During operation, always hold the chain saw firmly with both hands

Wrap your fingers and thumbs around the handles. Grip the front handle with your left hand and the rear handle with your right hand, even if you are left-handed. With your hands in this position, you can best oppose and absorb the push, pull and kickback forces of the saw without losing control.

  • Keep your hands on the handles and maintain secure footing while operating the chain saw.
  • Maintain a clear retreat path.
  • Do not cut directly overhead.
  • Shut off or release the throttle prior to retreating.
  • Shut off or engage the chain break whenever the saw is being carried.
  • Be prepared for kickback.

Always keep proper footing and balance

Take special care in slippery conditions, such as wet ground or snow, and in difficult, overgrown terrain. Watch for hidden obstacles such as tree stumps, roots, rocks, holes, and ditches to avoid stumbling. Be extremely cautious when working on slopes or uneven ground. Never use the chain saw with one hand. Using one hand makes it more difficult for you to control reactive force and to prevent the bar and chain from skating or bouncing along the limb or log.

After Operation

  • Clean and store the chain saw in a secure area.
  • Ensure the chain saw is cool before putting it into storage.
  • Address any safety and maintenance issues.

Kickback Prevention

  • Maintain a firm, two-handed grip on the saw.
  • Grasp the forward handle with your left hand, palm down.
  • Wrap your fingers around the handlebar and keep it between your index finger and thumb.
  • Firmly grasp the rear handle with the right hand.
  • Never stand directly behind a cut. Stand on one side of the cut.
  • Saw only with the bottom part of the chain using the part close to the bumper. Never use the tip or nose of the chain to cut.
  • Avoid cutting above mid-chest.

Safety Features

Chain saws usually have safety features that are designed and installed for the following reasons:

Anti-kick-back devices: to prevent the saw from kicking back when the nose of the saw touches the tree or a branch.

Anti-vibration system: to minimize vibration damage to operators and reduce fatigue.

Chain brakes: to stop the chains when kickbacks occur; Chain catchers: catch a broken chain or chain that comes off the bar.

Hand guards: to protect the hands in case of careless contact or a chain brake.


Operating a chain saw is inherently hazardous. Proper maintenance, personal protective equipment, and correct technique are critical components of safe chain saw operation. Potential injuries can be minimized by using proper personal protective equipment and following safe operating procedures.