Safety is the thing
When Ben Fraughton was 14 he and a friend were cutting logs for friends uncle with a chainsaw. Ben was standing behind his friend, and the young man cutting the wood swung back with the saw and grazed Ben's leg.
"He barely touched me," said Ben, now in his mid-50s. "But I will never forget feeling of that hot blade cutting through my skin and then looking down to see all that blood gushing out."
The glancing blow required some stitches and today only a slight scar remains on the upper part of his leg. Still he has never been the same.
"More than the physical pain, it scared me. Another couple of inches and I would have probably lost my leg," he said as he held his own chain saw in his hand. "I am so careful when I use this now."
Drive through almost any neighborhood in Carbon County this time of year and the whine of chain saws fills the air as fall charges on and winter's cold fingers prepare to grip the area. The cutting of wood is almost a rite of autumn for those who either heat their home with wood or use it sporadically throughout the cold season in their fireplaces. Fall is also the time when many homeowners decide to rid themselves of unwanted trees and growth.
Regardless of the reason, using a chain saw not only takes practice to master, but it is also one of the meanest pieces of equipment most homeowners will ever use. The tool's history is dotted with various safety developments over the years, but its main job of cutting wood (and in some cases stone or cement) makes it intrinsically dangerous to the human body.
Interestingly, the first chain saw was not invented to cut wood to keep buildings warm or to fell trees for agricultural purposes, but instead to cut bones. One of the fathers of orthopedics, Bernard Heine, is credited with inventing a machine that used a circular chain with small cutting teeth on it to cut through skeletal parts of the human body. That invention, developed in 1830, was human-powered by a crank. Soon, thoughts of adapting it to cut other things began to originate. In the 1860's, inventions sprang up that were similar, but on a much larger scale, to cut trees. It wasn't until the internal combustion engine was perfected that chain saws began to replace the long two-man saw of pre-gasoline days. The early powered chain saws of the 1920's were very heavy. They took at least two men to carry and operate. Later, some were mounted on equipment so they could be more easily-handled.
The first chain saws were designed for commercial use. After World War II, for the average person, the development of alloys such as aluminum and two-cycle engines began to change the prospect of using chain saws. The development of safety equipment such as guards and non-kick back machines related to the machine in the 1960s and 70s began to make the machines more appealing. Most importantly, developments in manufacturing, maintenance and distribution made them cost affordable for most homeowners.
A chain saw can be the best power tool purchased, but it can also be the one that can injure permanently and even kill. Sometimes injuries and deaths result from direct contact with the saw, but even more common are cases of accident resulting in trees and branches falling on people, saws catching fire and burning someone, electrocution from cutting trees down too close to power lines and other mishaps in which the power of gravity can maim or kill.
The best advice experts give to purchasers of chain saws is to follow the owner's manual safety directions. Most manuals not only give safety tips on the actual operation of the saw itself, but how to use it in various kinds of circumstances. However, people who buy the machines seldom read pages of instructions. Here are some basic steps that will keep an operator safe and hopefully injury-free.
Wears gloves (preferably leather) and eye protection (not a pair of sunglasses, but safety glasses). Most manuals also instruct people to wear protective clothing such as chaps to protect skin on the legs from accidental contact with the blade. Wear the proper shoes; no open toes or backs. It is best to wear heavy work shoes with steel toes.
Make sure the machine fits the work. Using a 12- inch electric chain saw to cut down a 30- inch trunk is not only inefficient, but could also be dangerous. Most home saws do not exceed 18 inches. Larger saws are usually used by professionals because of the weight and danger involved in using them.
Fuel the machine without spilling gas all over the place and make sure there is enough bar oil in the reservoir to lubricate the chain. For electric models, make sure the extension cord being used is of the proper gauge. Don't overextend the distance between the saw and the power source.
For both electric and gas powered machines, keep the chain tension correct. For most people it is a pain in the neck to keep adjusting the chain after every few minutes of use, but then that is a lot less pain than having the chain come off the bar and whip backwards cutting the operator's body in any number of places.
The operator should be aware of his surroundings. Watch for other people and objects. Always keep both hands on the saw when it is running. To start the saw, put it on the ground; don't start it while holding it with one hand and pulling the start cord with the other.
When felling trees, be sure that the cut is proper to bring the tree down where one wants it to fall. Most manuals give instructions on how to do this, but seldom can it be done properly by cutting directly through the tree with just one cut. Look at the tree and see which way it is leaning and which side has the most weight on it. Plan an obstruction- free retreat route from the tree being cut in case something goes wrong. The felling of trees, even with the best plan, can be unpredictable.
Never, ever, run with a chain saw, whether it is operating or not.
Tall trees of over 30 feet in height that are located in populated areas should only be taken down by professionals. Climbing a tree to make cuts without the proper safety gear, which most people don't routinely own, is dangerous and can be deadly.
When cutting logs on the ground, stay uphill of them if they are on uneven ground. With tree trunks that have been felled, cutting limbs off once the trunk is lying on the ground can release pent-up energy with branches breaking loose once they are cut. Branches being removed can also cause the trunk to roll. Always have a good stance when using a chain saw. Keep both hands on the saw when it is being used.
Use a saw buck for trucks and branches when cutting them up into smaller parts. A saw buck is an X-shaped rack used to hold the log still while it is being cut. Many people use one of their feet with a log placed across a couple of other logs to make such cuts, but that kind of stance is dangerous because the operator can lose his or her balance and fall with a running chain saw.
Sources for this article include the Homelite chain saw safety manual, chainsawcarvinghistory.com and North Dakota State University extension service.