I attended a chainsaw safety class a few years ago, after having spent nearly 20 years cutting and felling trees without any sort of formal instruction. Humbling to realize how much you don’t know. First time I used a chainsaw was in August of 1991 in the aftermath of Hurricane Bob, a storm that brought 100 mph winds to Cape Cod, where I lived at the time. In my ‘spare’ time outside of my 50 hour per week carpentry job, I managed to spend maybe 40 hours or more over a few weeks cutting and removing downed trees and limbs from the manicured yards of the well-to-do. I was running a pretty big Stihl that I had borrowed, no safety gear of any sort. That chain wasn’t sharpened ONCE the entire time–I probably ran it into Cape Cod’s sandy excuse for soil within the first 5 minutes; I wouldn’t have known what ‘sharp’ or ‘dull’ chain felt like anyway. I had never heard of kickback, and had no idea of how it occurred, or why. Didn’t have any knowledge of what causes a tree to ‘barberchair’—snapping suddenly and violently into the direction of lean—or how to avoid it. You get the picture. There was some luck involved, as I was regularly cutting above my head, climbing trees and cutting way up off the ground, cutting thick brush by wading in with my saw’s 20″ bar flailing every which way, and the like. The thing I remember most about that week was getting stung, as many colonies of yellowjacket wasps had lost their homes in the storm and were extremely short-tempered. Lucky indeed.
So chainsaw safety courses: I recommend them wholeheartedly, whether you’re an old hand, or just starting out. Learn how to sharpen your own chain (and please don’t call it a ‘blade’, it’s a chain, ok?…personal pet peeve) and to maintain your saw: a dull chain makes for dangerous cutting, as you’re trying to force the issue. I remember a time I brought a small saw (Husky 141: great little saw, especially with short bar) to a friend’s house to help cut up a few small ash trees. His jaw dropped when he saw the chips fly—a sharp chain will throw small wood chips, NOT dust—evidently he had yet to experience the ravenous wood-eating capability of a good saw with sharp chain.
So I called this post “look up part 2” because, of all the things I learned in the safety class, the one that has stuck with me most was the reminder to always assess potential hazards from above BEFORE STARTING TO CUT. This can include: dead branches, neighboring trees with intertwined branches that could snap while felling your target tree, or just wood lodged in the crotch of a tree that could fall on you in the earth-shaking felling process—collectively known in certain circles as ‘widowmakers’ (see photos below). Despite the very real dangers of working with a chainsaw, most fatalities in the woods happen not due to severed limbs, but to the blunt trauma of being clobbered in the head by hundreds of pounds of wet, dense wood swinging through the air at high speed. So be sure to give a good look around, before you start the saw. Then you won’t need to get lucky.