The chain saw is an indispensable tool when it comes to reducing wood of any size to manageable proportions. Invented in the early 20th century, the modern powered chain saw has evolved from a noisy, scary two-person Behemoth of the Forest used in logging, to a noisy, scary motorized sculpting tool in the hands of a chain saw artist.
It goes without saying, if you only read one user’s manual for a tool in your life, it should be your chain saw manual. As such, I won’t repeat all that important information here. From your manual you will learn to recognize the various parts of your chain saw, like the bar, chain, anti-kickback device, on-off-choke switch, handles, chain adjustment screw, carburetor adjustments, gas tank, oil tank, and throttle. You will also glean the correct fuel/oil mix proportions for your saw, and what safety equipment accompanies its use.
What I’ll cover in this article includes some basic practical and useful how-to tips that will help you become more comfortable with your saw, and move you closer to confidence and competency in its use.
Chain saws are one of the most dangerous tools out there. I have heard numerous horror stories about accidents involving terrible wounds and even death resulting from their improper, unsafe and, sometimes, correct usage. As they say, “accidents happen.” You can minimize your risk of becoming a statistic by becoming conscientious and experienced in using your chain saw, while constantly being aware of its hazards and danger to yourself and others.
Your saw should always be fueled and full of bar oil before starting any task. Practicing this routine minimizes the chance you will be in the middle of a hazardous operation, like falling a tree, when your saw runs out of gas. Running out of oil before you run out of gas is impossible to predict, so modern saws have oil and fuel tanks which are proportionally sized to feed fuel and oil at proportional rates. In other words, when properly adjusted as from the factory, a saw should run low on fuel and oil at about the same time. Running out of fuel unexpectedly is bad enough; running out of oil while the saw is still working hard can ruin the chain and the bar, a costly mistake.
A clean air filter element is no less important to the operation of your chain saw than your car, motorcycle or lawn mower. Thankfully, the filter on your chain saw is likely washable, so you don’t have to shell out money for a new, disposable one when it gets clogged. Find the bolt releasing the filter cover, remove the filter and clean it according to the manual recommendation. Solvent and/or air pressure will probably do the job. Needless to say, a chain saw creates a lot of “dust” that can clog a filter relatively quickly during heavy use.
The chain saw is designed to be handled safely; it has two hand grips, one for each hand, and a flat spot on the trigger handle to place your foot when starting it with the recoil rope starter. Holding the saw out in front of you when starting it is risky; yanking the rope while holding the saw with one hand can cause you to lose control just as the saw chain starts spinning. By pinning the saw to the ground with your foot, you stabilize the machine as it roars to life.
The area around you should be clear of obstructions, trip hazards and, especially, other people. I emphasize should because this is not always practicable, such as when you are cutting firewood logs in brush or woods. Take some time to clear a working area to allow you to move around; especially, plan an escape route where you can run away if things go south suddenly (leave the saw behind.) Tell others in the area to avoid walking up behind you or near the saw while you are working. You won’t be able to see or hear them when the saw is running and you are concentrating on the job at hand.
Whenever possible, hold the saw to one side or the other when cutting, rather than directly in line with your body. This reduces the chance of injury should the saw snag, kick back or throw a chain which are all risks of routine use.
A sharp saw chain is worth its weight in gold, which at today’s prices is about $10,000.00. Sharp teeth cut like a hot knife through butter, throwing out large chips of wood with minimal pressure on the bar. Let gravity work for you. Stop and take a break when the chain gets dull, as it will, and run the correct file at the correct angle across each tooth to freshen up the chain. Keep the bar oiled and greased. A grease gun is a small investment to keep the bar’s end sprocket friction-free and running smooth. Properly maintained, a chain and bar can last a very long time; poorly maintained equipment requires replacement at expense. Sharpening a saw chain is not rocket science. Pay attention to the angle, size and shape of the teeth; a little practice goes a long way.
I mentioned hearing many horror stories about chain saw accidents. I purchased a saw once from a dealer who sported a horrific scar on his palm; he told me he had attempted to stop the chain when the motor was idling too fast by putting his hand on the moving chain. I once was “demonstrating” a friend’s new lightweight chain saw with a 12” bar, one-handed. Before I could blink, the razor-sharp chain had dropped through the stick of firewood and into my boot tip. I was not injured, except for my pride. Another fellow I worked with in the woods was using a saw to cut through the 2 X 4 top plate in a stud wall above head level; the board moved as he cut it, binding the saw and kicking the moving chain into his face. Plastic surgery fixed him right up. And you’ve probably heard the urban myth about the elderly man who decapitated himself…
Chain saws are one of the most specialized and productive tools ever invented. At the same time, they are extremely dangerous in the best circumstances. Keep your saw well maintained, fueled and oiled, use safety gear and safe work practices, and you’re bound to keep your head in the game.