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Let the Chips Fly

Chain saw safety is no accident.

| November/December 2007

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    Proper body placement, eye protection, leather gloves and chaps offer adequate protection while bucking.
    Carolyn Lang
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    Appropriate safety gear includes a helmet with face shield, chaps and gloves, in addition to a saw equipped with the latest safety features.
    Mike Lang
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    The green link indicates a low kickback chain.
    Mike Lang

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Woodcutting season is here again and that means folks will dust off their chain saws and head out to manage their timber tracts, reclaim overgrown acres or just replenish their woodpiles. The annual ritual is as gratifying as the season is compelling, but for some weekend woodsmen, the reward is an unexpected trip to the hospital. As handy as they are, chain saws are directly responsible for thousands of injuries and a number of fatalities each year. All it takes to avoid becoming a saw statistic yourself is a little forethought, some safety equipment and a bit of training.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. consumers own more than 17 million gasoline powered chain saws. These numbers will surely increase as more people move to the country, reach for renewable alternatives to fossil fuels to heat their homes and seek to clear those overgrown tracts to create the perfect building site. The vast majority of these chain saws are obtained from big box stores where the likelihood of receiving a lesson in chain saw safety is slim. All that good information is packed into the machine’s manual, but most first-time sawyers hit the woods without looking at the manual long enough to figure out how much oil to mix in the gasoline, much less how to saw safely.

Dress the part

Just as a hockey player never hits the ice without protective pads, never operate your chain saw without appropriate safety apparel. The gear you wear is the first line of defense if things go awry while the chain saw is in operation. Starting from the top, a hard hat with face shield, hearing protection, safety glasses, a long-sleeved shirt, leather gloves, safety chaps and leather boots are all recommended to ensure a safe day in the woods. No one will accuse you of being stylish but that’s a small price to pay for keeping things together – literally.

Some seasoned sawyers suggest that a hard hat with a face shield may not be mandatory when cutting wood below waist level; however, when felling or limbing trees, it is important because limbs can spring wildly in any direction after cuts are made. The face shield provides a defense for your eyes and some protection from a kickback event that tosses the saw blade toward your face.

Hearing protection is also often overlooked, especially when an operator intends to saw for only a short time. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders rates the noise of a chain saw at 110 decibels, and at this decibel level, permanent hearing loss can occur with regular exposure periods of more than one minute. Proper protection can be in the form of earplugs designed to limit sound or approved safety muffs (both available at your local chain saw dealer).

Choose close-fitting clothing while working with a saw to avoid accidental entanglement with its chain or the tree that’s providing the chips. Leather gloves will protect hands from hot saw components as well as abrasions from tree limbs. A good pair of steel-toed leather boots will provide some protection from a slip of the saw’s cutting bar as well as the crushing power of the wood you are cutting.

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