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Chainsaw Safety Considerations for Farm Use

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Bradley Rankin

The author’s two chainsaws, the 16-inch above, the 18-inch below, pictured as found in the shed. Note the loose chain on the 16-inch. This will definitely need tightening before use.

The first chainsaw I purchased was for storm-related, light-duty work at my home. With no previous experience and without much forethought, I bought it during a lunch break, because I had read it was the right thing to do. This chainsaw was a gas-powered Stihl MS 170 with a 16-inch bar and a 30cc engine with 1.3 kW of power — a perfect choice for the job.

My second purchase for the farm was a Stihl MS 250 with an 18-inch bar and a 45cc engine with 2.2 kW of power — which is quite a jump.

In this post, I am going to discuss chainsaw safety and give you my observations from my use of a chainsaw. Finally, I will tell you one of my typical stories regarding an experience with my MS 250 on the farm.

Safety First, Second, and Last

Whenever I mention using a chainsaw on the farm, the listener almost without fail says “be careful.”  In my manual, safety issues started on Page 4 and didn’t end until Page 22.

Are chainsaws that dangerous? Well, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, 36,000 individuals are treated annually for chainsaw injuries. According to the Davis Garvin Insurance Agency, such injuries require an average of 115 stiches. And OSHA states that among 243 deaths in 2014, the four major causes from tree-trimming activities were trees and other items falling on them (see my story below!), workers falling out of trees, workers getting caught in equipment such as wood chippers, and electrocution from contact with power lines.

Most injuries are on of the left leg and arm (especially the former) from using only one arm with loss of control. Using chainsaw chaps and keeping both hands on the saw at all times will reduce injuries by at least 75%, according to U.S. Consumer Safety Commission.

So with that, I take safety seriously with chainsaws. Please read and follow their safety precautions. I use a safety helmet, eye and ear protection, chainsaw chaps (they do get hot), leather gloves, and steel-toed boots that cover my ankles. And don’t forget to ask about all the safety features of any chain saw you are considering buying.

I never use a chainsaw while alone on the farm.  The most important safety tool is, as usual, your attitude. I can’t think of any chainsaw situation you are likely to encounter that you can’t stop and think before you act. Any job can wait. Practice mindfulness by taking the time to ask: How is your footing? Where is what you are cutting likely to fall? Is this limb or trunk under pressure? Is this job too big for you? Is help available? In short, minimize risks and don’t get in a hurry.

Considerations when Purchasing a Chainsaw

For farm work, gas-powered chainsaws are your best option, in my opinion, because they deliver both mobility and more sustained power. Eighteen inches is plenty big enough for me as a 16-inch tree is the largest tree I have any business cutting.

You should always use a bar 2 inches greater than what you are cutting. With respect to chainsaw size, though, there some other things to consider: Some weight to the chainsaw makes it easier to cut large trees as the extra weight (in some situations) is helpful.

Look at the difference in power noted in my first paragraph. The 18-inch will cut wood faster, easier and, therefore, safer. But on light jobs, the 16-inch does fine, and I can last longer with it if it is appropriate for the job.

As for brands, I have not tried others, but my advice is to choose a brand and stick with it should you buy a second chainsaw. They all have their quirks and you will get used to them.

Chainsaws used for clearing brush in the field require added precautions.
Photo by Bradley Rankin

Lessons Learned From Using Chainsaws in the Field

After watching some online videos, I was off to the woods to manage a lot of wood on the ground of my heavily logged woodlands. Here are some things I learned:

  1. The gas chainsaw is not that easy to start and is dependent on the ambient temperature and how long it has been since you have used it. It is a game of using the different levels of choke progressing to no choke based on how the engine sounds on the previous pull. In the beginning, I would often flood the engine and would have to just sit and wait. But with experience, I did figure it out.
  2. Just like a knife, a chainsaw needs to be sharp to be both safe and efficient. My solution to the problem was (and I admit still is) to purchase three chains for each chainsaw. That way I have one sharp one to use, one sharp one in back up, and then one in the shop being sharpened.  But all of that is expensive and takes a lot of logistics.  My advice would be to learn how to sharpen it yourself.
  3. Spend time on learning about pressure and stress on what you are cutting and how to compensate for such factors. Otherwise, your chainsaw may kick back or get stuck and stop — which is not always easy to rectify.
  4. Always work with a clean field. Get rid of small branches, briars, and the like.

So I would say that after you follow the safety rules, know how to change and sharpen a chainsaw chain, and understand how to cut wood and where it will likely fall, you are well on your way. So let’s get to my story.

Learn from My Story of Chainsaw Mishap

I had the need to remove an old free-standing “treehouse” consisting of about a 5-by-5-by-6-foot box with a door and a shingled roof standing on four posts. I had my cell phone, and my wife was within 50 yards of me. I advised her of my plan, and I walked the short distance to get started.

I looked at the terrain and cut one of the supports with the chainsaw, obviously leaving the other three alone at that point. In the corner of my eye, I saw the structure falling on me while I had the running, unengaged chainsaw in my hands. I threw it to the side without difficulty and was able somehow to get out of the way.

It turns out those four posts were only in the ground 4 inches with no concrete (I wouldn’t have put my kids in it!) and that great roof made it super top heavy.  All I had to do if I had tried it was to tie a rope to it and pull it over with my ATV. I learned to think before I act the hard way and not to make too many assumptions.

Working with tools such as a chainsaw will improve your confidence and make work on your farm much easier. But always think before your act, look at your options, and always remember: safety first.

From the trails of Bobcat Ridge.

Bradley Rankin farms several of the 48 acres at Bobcat Ridge Habitat Farm in rural Kentucky, where he and his wife also manage a woodlot to attract wildlife. When he is not tending woodlands and pasture, Bradley enjoys raised-bed gardening, rock collecting, tree identification, and astronomy.

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Updated on Oct 5, 2021  |  Originally Published on Sep 22, 2021
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