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Chainsaw Safety Important During Storm Cleanup

Oklahomans are often faced with a massive cleanup job after severe weather rips through the state. The storms leave much destruction in their wakes, including houses, cars and trees. Property owners are then forced to bust out the chainsaws and begin carving away. However, proper preparation is necessary to ensure that the chainsaw doesn’t mistake an arm or leg for a fallen tree. Not just the preparation of the saw is important, but also personal preparation of the saw handler. “To prepare yourself, carefully study the operator’s manual so that you are thoroughly familiar with all aspects of safe operational procedures,” said retired Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension forestry specialist, Craig McKinley. “Before you operate a particular saw for the first time and periodically thereafter, you should carefully review the owner’s manual.” New saws come with a manual, but if lost, a copy can be obtained from the manufacturer. Manuals offer proper operating procedures as well as detailed information about recommended maintenance practices to keep the saw running smoothly and safely.


Once the operator has sharpened his knowledge of the saw, the chain itself needs to be sharpened. “When the chain is dull, you increase the effort needed to cut through a piece of wood,” McKinley said. “At the same time, you increase the possibility of injury to yourself and damage to the saw.” Sharpening instructions are typically outlined in the operating manual and is a relatively easy task. However, the recommended filing and depth guides are essential to assure the proper angle on the cutters and cutting depth for maximum cutting efficiency.


Whenever a chain is being sharpened, gloves should be worn or a rag placed over the chain to protect your hands from the sharpened cutters. A sharp chain is only effective if there is proper chain tension and lubrication. “Chain tension should be adjusted to ensure quick, smooth cutting action,” McKinley said. “Too loose a chain will derail, too tight a chain will bind.” A cold chain should be tightened to where the chain hangs about 1/32 of an inch away from the bar rails at the center of the bar span. Warm chains should be adjusted to about a one-eighth inch gap. While the saw is in use, be sure to pump the oiler frequently to prolong the life of the chain. Periodically stopping the engine and pumping the oiler while pulling the chain around by hand will provide a good, even oiling of the chain. However, the motor needs to be turned off and the spark plug wire disconnected for this process. Chainsaws with automatic chain oilers may need an extra squirt occasionally for proper lubrication. Many new saws do not have a manual oiler, so making sure the oiling port is functioning so that the oil is reaching the chain is recommended. The presence of smoke while the chain is operating is a good indication of lack of oil, and perhaps a dull chain.


With a properly prepared chainsaw, landowners need to switch gears back to themselves for safety precautions. “Safety is the name of the game when trying to clean up your property,” McKinley said. Helmets help protect saw operators from falling tree limbs, and ear plugs or ear muffs should be worn to reduce exposure to the 120 decibel noises produced. Exposure to that level of noise for a long time can cause not only operator fatigue but also permanent hearing loss. Eye protection, in the form of safety goggles or glasses, and a face screen will help prevent injury from small particles, such as wood chips. Tight but flexible clothing is good for chainsaw operators, but saw chaps are recommended. Wearing gloves and steel toe boots also should be considered.


With the proper safety gear, and a prepared saw, you are now ready to begin cutting.

The saw should be started in an open, level surface as close to the work area as possible. Holding the saw firmly against the ground with one hand on the front handle and the inside of one knee on the rear handle, pull the starter rope as briskly as you can to give the engine a rapid spin. “Don’t yank the cord out to the very end as this could damage the starter mechanism,” warns McKinley. “Also, hold the grip and let the starter cord rewind evenly instead of letting it snap back.”


When operating the saw, keeping your balance is a must. A chainsaw is not forgiving when its operator makes mistakes.  A solid grip with both hands, making sure fingers and thumbs completely encircle the handle will allow for greater control. “Cut with the lower side of the saw as much as possible,” McKinley said. “This is the safest and least tiring position.” Cuts should be made with the wood near the middle of the saw. With elbows and knees slightly flexed, the saw should be operated at the side of your body so that it will not swing into your body if it suddenly kicks back. Operators should take note of loose branches above their heads and be mindful of which way larger pieces of wood will fall. Trees blown down by storms also may be under tension, and can become even more dangerous as saw cuts are made and tension is released. Kickback results when the saw jumps toward the operator after hitting a solid object with the front of the saw. “Kickback is the most dangerous of all chainsaw hazards,” McKinley said. “The most common cause of kickback is that small, hidden limb that catches the upper quadrant of the bar nose.”


Once the cutting is complete, there are some recommended steps for proper storage of the saw, beginning with stopping the engine and draining the fuel tank in a safe area. Then, the engine should be restarted and run at idle to remove the remaining gas from the engine. The chain can then be removed and stored in a container of oil and the spark plug wire also should be disconnected to reduce the possibility of accidental starting. Following these procedures allows those with tree and limb damage to get their property back to normal in a safe manner.

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