Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Trees, Shrubs, & Vines

Getting Smart About Chain Saws (page 3 of 5)

by William Bryant Logan

Starting the Engine

Start several saws while in the dealer's presence to help you learn how to do so correctly and to compare the ease with which different models fire up. Also, start the actual saw you have bought before taking it home so the dealer can make any necessary adjustments.

There are two safe ways to start a saw: on the ground, and holding the saw firmly between your thighs or legs. Ground starting is simpler and safer. Make sure that the area is clear and that the chain is not in contact with the ground or any stray rocks or debris. Then, engage the chain brake. (This is important, since starting a saw will always make the chain rotate until you throttle it down to idle.) Next, switch on the saw and, if the saw is cold, pull out the choke, then gently pull any slack out of the starter cord. Holding down on the front handle of the saw with one hand, pull the starter cord sharply until it is fully extended, then release. Once the saw has started, push in the choke and press the throttle once or twice to rev the saw and then let it fall to idle. While the saw is warm and idling, the chain should not rotate on the bar. If it does, have the dealer adjust it.

Reality Check

With the saw running, you hold in your hand a tool as useful, exhilarating, and dangerous as a running sports car or a loaded gun. A chain turning at full throttle passes each tooth through the wood at least 10 times in a second. There are at least 60 teeth on the average chain. Were they to pass through your leg or foot at that rate, the results would not be pretty.

When holding a running saw, keep the chain brake engaged until you are ready to cut. Always make cuts at full throttle, reducing the chances of the saw binding or kicking back. Never allow any part of the turning chain to strike the ground.

To avoid kickback, follow the paramount rule: Do not touch the upper quadrant of the nose of the bar to wood or any other obstacle. If a tooth passing this fulcrum point suddenly encounters an obstacle, it can effectively stop the chain, passing all the motion of the chain into the body of the saw, which recoils violently upward toward the operator. For this reason and because your hand may not be able to activate the chain break, it is a good idea to position your body so that, in the event of a kickback, the saw can pass relatively harmlessly to the side of your body, not straight up at your head and neck.

Dress properly, protecting your head, face, and ears. Consider buying an arborist's helmet, which combines a hard hat, face screen, and earmuffs. A pair of safety glasses and ear protection are also essential.

Wear close-fitting clothing and remove any dangly jewelry. Wear sturdy steel-toed boots. Protect hands, legs, and feet, which are the most likely targets of an errant saw blade. You can also buy special loggers' chaps and gloves made of densely woven nylon fibers.

"How will I ever remember all that?" you ask yourself. You will, just as you learned to drive a car. Meanwhile, think of how lucky you are. Buying your first saw and learning to use it is a little like starting a great book. You only get to do it once.

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