In the right hands, a chainsaw can make short work of almost any cutting job, shredding through logs of timber in mere seconds like they were made of paper. Their sheer strength is simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying, so it’s quite understandable if you as a beginner are somewhat apprehensive about using one. After all, don’t you need proper training to be able to operate a chainsaw safely?
Well, not really. Granted, a trainer may teach you some very useful things that no article on the internet could ever teach. But, we’re also fairly certain that with the right knowledge and proper precautions, anyone could learn to operate a chainsaw safely and expertly. As long as you’ve got the basics down, you really won’t have a problem at all.
Besides, not having access to an instructor seriously limits the number of people who can use a chainsaw, and being deprived use of such an amazing tool is a sever injustice in our books.
That’s where we come in. Our beginner’s guide on how to use a chainsaw will help you get started on your chainsaw journey. Just read through the entire article and apply everything you learn, and you’ll be just fine.
- Choosing the right chainsaw
- Kickback – The most common problem you’ll run into, and how to avoid it
Choosing the right chainsaw
Before we begin, the first thing you need to do is to choose the right chainsaw according to your needs. If you’ve already bought your chainsaw and just looked this article up to figure out how to use it, then it’s probably too late for you. But those of you who still haven’t bought their chainsaw, listen up.
There are a lot of things to keep in mind when buying a chainsaw, all of which we’ve covered in depth in our chainsaw buyer’s guides. However, the most important things to remember, especially for beginners, is to buy a chainsaw that’s lightweight and just powerful enough to use for you.
For example, if you’re a simple homeowner who just does some casual garden maintenance with his chainsaw, then something like a 10 to 18-inch chainsaw would suit you best. A larger chainsaw would be more powerful yes, but also quite unnecessary and frankly more dangerous too.
And consider getting an electric chainsaw over a gas chainsaw too if you can. Thanks to the absence of a fuel tank, electric chainsaws are far lighter, safer and easier to use than their gas counterparts. And since they’re available in a variety of sizes in the 6 to 18-inch category, they make perfect candidates for a good beginner chainsaw.
Now, before anything else, SAFETY FIRST!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned professional or an absolute beginner using a chainsaw for the first time, you absolutely CANNOT use a chainsaw without first wearing the proper safety equipment. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you’re going to be, things can and will go south without even a second of warning when you’re using a chainsaw.
There are many kinds of protection gear you can wear when operating a chainsaw. And while the more you protect yourself the better, here’s a list of the absolute essentials you must wear before starting:
- Chainsaw chaps and other protective clothing
- Eye protection (goggles or visors)
- Chainsaw gloves
- Ear protection (muffs)
Needless to say, every piece of protective clothing is vital to protecting yourself, and compromising on even one may result in serious injury in the event of an accident. And while chainsaws are being manufactured to be more and more safe as the years pass, accidents always happen so you can never be too careful.
Check your environment
Before prepping your chainsaw, take the time to first clear out your work environment. For starters, make sure the area is clear of any obstacles you might trip over while working. If you’re working in your garden or backyard, you’ll probably have to move around a couple of flowerpots or lawn chairs before you can get started.
You’ll also have to inspect the tree or log you’re cutting. Note if there’s anything that could fall on your head while you’re working and do all you can to remove these objects. However, there might still be a few things that you miss in your inspection, so make sure to wear a helmet when you’re working.
Also, you’ll need to inform everyone in the house that you’re going to be using your chainsaw, and that they should steer clear of you to avoid any danger. Take special care of this if you have children in your house, since they’re most likely to get in your way while you’re working and put both them and you in danger.
Little kids may sometimes request to watch you work, since they might be fascinated by an impressive looking chainsaw. While we don’t advise you to accept their request, because the danger is very real, we’ll leave the decision up to you as parents; if you feel like your kids are responsible enough, you can let them watch you in action from a safe distance.
Inspect your chainsaw
With the work environment scanned for any potential threats, it’s time to inspect your chainsaw to confirm if it’s ready for use. Here’s a quick short list of everything you need to go through when checking your chainsaw.
- Check if your chainsaw is well-lubricated: Proper lubrication helps your chainsaw run smoothly and avoids any lasting damage due to overheating. Your chainsaw should have a built-in oiling system (manual or automatic), so just make sure it’s working properly and every part is properly lubricated.
- Check the sharpness of the chainsaw teeth: Dull chainsaw chains result in slower, irregular cuts, so working with them is a definite no-go. You can sharpen the teeth yourself by following some guides online, but we recommend you get the chain sharpened by a professional if you’re a beginner, since the process is rather involved and tricky.
- Check the chain tension: The chainsaw around your chainsaw should be properly tensioned around the bar. If it’s too tight, it might break during use, and if it’s too loose and it might fly off the bar when you start the chainsaw. Perform the snap test to check your chain tension: When you pull the chain off the bar, you should only be able to pull one or two links off the bar, and on letting go the chain should “snap!” back on to the bar.
- Check if there are any loose parts or bolts: If you see anything out of order, it’s best to just not use the chainsaw altogether. It might just a simple issue of tightening a screw here or there, but as beginner, you’re much better off not risking it.
Kickback – The most common problem you’ll run into, and how to avoid it
One last thing before you’re ready to start using your chainsaw: you need to learn about Kickback.
Kickback occurs when the tip of your chainsaw gets wedged on the piece of wood you’re cutting, or when the chainsaw hits a solid object, like a nail stuck in a piece of wood. This causes the saw to be momentarily snagged by the wood or the object, causing the chainsaw to suddenly lurch upward and towards the user. And this is obviously a huge problem.
Thankfully, we’ve dealt with kickback long enough to come up with pretty effective countermeasures against it. The biggest of which is the chain brake, a lever on your chainsaw that’s right in front of your handle. When your chainsaw lurches forward, the sudden jerk pushes your hand so that it activates the chain brake. The chain brake then disengages the chain, separating it from the motor to stop it from spinning and cause much injury if you come into contact with it.
You can also avoid kickback altogether by being careful of you use your chainsaw. Never use the tip of your chainsaw to make a cut, and thoroughly inspect the piece of wood you’re cutting to make sure it has no objects like nails stuck inside it. Do this, and you’ll almost never have to deal with kickback.
Starting the saw
With the environment and chainsaw inspected and the proper protective gear adorned, it’s finally time to start your chainsaw. Follow these steps to start your gas chainsaw:
- Place your chainsaw on the ground (there’s a way to start your chainsaw in between your legs, but we won’t recommend this for beginners)
- Make sure the chain brake is active
- Activate the choke
- Hold the chainsaw down with your one foot on the back handle and front handle held firmly with your non-dominant hand.
- Pull the starter cable with your dominant hand until the engine fires
- Deactivate the choke and pull starter cable until the chainsaw starts
- Deactivate the chain brake
To start your electric chainsaw, do the following steps:
- Activate the chain brake
- Plug your chainsaw in (or make sure the battery is charged and attached properly)
- Switch the chainsaw on
- Deactivate the chain brake
(As you can see, starting an electric chainsaw is much, much easier than a gas chainsaw, which is one of the reasons we recommend beginners to buy electric saws)
Holding the chainsaw properly
With the saw running, it’s important to always hold it properly. Hold it firmly with both hands on the handles provided, keeping it close to your body. It’s not advisable to change your position or grip while the chainsaw is running, so always make sure to turn it off and set it down before you do so.
The right way to cut with a chainsaw
Here a couple of tips to keep in mind when cutting with a chainsaw:
- Always keep the saw steady when making a cut. Moving around too much in between a cut is very dangerous.
- Always cut down at a straight angle. Refrain from making any horizontal or diagonal cuts.
- Refrain from cutting anything above your shoulders. Chainsaws are heavy tools, and using them overhead can be quite unsafe.
- Never cut anything other than wood with your chainsaw.
- Don’t continue using the chainsaw if you feel tired at any point. Turn it off and take a short rest before continuing.
- Remain alert throughout the cutting process.
Turning your chainsaw off
This is really just a no-brainer. Just engage the chain brake and switch the ignition switch off (on both electric and gas chainsaws). Simple, right?
Keeping your chainsaw in tip-top shape
Besides knowing the proper way to use a chainsaw, it’s also important to know how to keep your chainsaw in great shape when using it. Here are a couple of simple things you can do to maintain your chainsaw:
- Check the air filter and chain brake for dust, and clean them if you find any. Dusty components can hinder the cutting process.
- Make sure the guide bar is clean.
- Properly lubricate your chainsaw, either manually or by using the built-in oiling system.
- Keep your chainsaw chain sharp by sharpening it after every couple of uses.
- Always use high-quality oil for lubrication.