Photos by Rob Brown; Illustration by Len Churchill
Chainsaws use a chain with sharp steel cutters fastened to it, circling a steel bar to cut wood. Chainsaws have a reputation for being very quick cutting but usually not very neat. Traditionally chainsaws are powered exclusively by two-stroke gas engines, but these days they’re also available as battery-powered tools. Chainsaws come in different motor power ratings and different bar lengths. The bar length determines the maximum thickness of wood that can be cut through in one go. Chainsaws can be handy for trimming trees, cutting firewood, and even demolition work or cutting a large beam to rough length in the shop. Chainsaws can also be used for carving, but if you want to give carving a try, it’s a good idea to look for a saw with variable speed.
The great outdoors is not as smooth as your shop floor. Be sure to keep both feet on good secure ground, and avoid leaning or reaching awkwardly when using a chainsaw. Avoid the temptation to use a chainsaw on a ladder
Chainsaws can kick back if the bar gets pinched suddenly, and using two hands will help you keep the saw under control. Chainsaws are also designed exclusively for right-hand use; your right hand should always be on the trigger, with the left on the handlebar.
Just like your other tools, a chainsaw needs to be kept sharp. If you find your saw is not cutting well, it’s probably time to sharpen or replace the chain. Keep your chain tension snug (but not too tight) to transmit maximum power from the motor to the chain, prolong chain life, and keep the chain from jumping off the bar.
Chainsaw chaps or pants, gloves, hearing and eye protection, as well as safety boots, are worth the investment. There are lots of great products on the market to help increase your personal safety when using a chainsaw.
Don’t underestimate the weight of a tree. An 8′ oak branch 8″ around weights over 200lb. Have a plan to control falling branches. Don’t overestimate your ability. If you are unfamiliar with felling trees, get training or hire a pro and keep your chainsaw for pruning jobs.