LSU AgCenter Engineer Offers Tips on Chain Saw Safety

Richard L. Parish  |  8/21/2006 7:44:22 PM

News You Can Use For December 2003

Chain saws are popular tools for both homeowners and professionals since they have so many uses. "But, they’re potentially dangerous and must be used carefully to avoid serious injury, says Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.

"Although chain saws are handy for trimming trees, cutting firewood and cleaning up after storms, you need protection from both the saw and the tree as well as limbs you’re cutting," Parish says. He recommends well-fitted clothing without any loose pieces that could become caught in the chain.

Parish says to consider wearing protective chaps, leggings or pants when using a chain saw. They provide protection if the saw chain should come in contact with your legs. If they become damaged, they should be replaced and not reused.

"A hard hat is important," he says. "When you start cutting a tree or limb, loose or dead limbs may fall. And improperly using the saw could cause the bar and chain to contact your head."

Parish strongly recommends safety goggles or a full-face shield. "Never operate a chain saw without them," he says.

Ear protection is also important. "When you combine the engine noise with the chain noise, a modern chain saw can exceed 90 decibels, a level that requires hearing protection," the engineer says.

He also says gloves will help protect your hands and provide some cushioning from vibration.

"Finally, you should wear substantial shoes – preferably steel-toed work boots," Parish says.

Kickback is a phenomenon that occurs when the saw chain grabs the wood or is pinched. This causes the bar and chain to kick back toward the operator.

Parish says low-kickback chains are required on all small homeowner saws – those less than 3.8 cubic inches. Larger saws used by professionals may or may not have low-kickback chains, but they’re available and recommended.

"You also can minimize kickback by not letting the chain at the tip of your bar contact anything," Parish says. Kickback can cause the bar and chain to abruptly pivot back toward the operator.

"Always stand to the side," Parish says. "Never have any part of your body directly behind or above the bar and chain."

Gasoline engines on chain saws are two-stroke and require oil mixed with the gasoline. Parish cautions against fueling a hot engine. "Allow it to cool first," he says. "Be careful not to spill fuel on the engine or saw."

Refuel the saw at least 10 to 20 feet away from where you’re working. Be sure to clean the filler cap and the top of the fuel container on the saw before refueling to avoid fuel contamination. You should add bar and chain oil every time you fill the fuel tank.

Avoid cutting higher than your head, Parish warns. "And don’t climb a tree or ladder with a chain saw," he adds. "Leave that to a professional."

Parish says to avoid pinching the saw chain or being injured, plan your cuts based on how the tree or limb will tend to fall naturally.

"On anything other than very small trees less than about 3 inches in diameter, you should make a preliminary cut or notch on the side where you want the tree to fall," Parish says. "Then make the felling cut from the back side a couple of inches above the first cut or notch."

The engineer says it’s often good insurance to fasten a rope or cable to the tree and pull it in the direction you want it to fall, because it’s difficult for an amateur to predict the direction the tree will fall.

"If you do use a rope or cable, be very sure it’s at least 50 percent longer than the height of the tree," Parish says.

When cutting limbs, be aware of any load on the limbs and cut carefully. Limbs can spring when they’re cut.

If you’re cutting limbs from downed trees, stand on the side of the trunk opposite the limb you’re cutting.

Parish warns it’s dangerous to cut standing dead trees – branches may be loosened by the saw vibration and fall on you.

"Chain saws are useful tools for a homeowner – especially in the Coastal South where we have lots of trees and lots of storms," Parish says. "But they’re dangerous if improperly used. Wear proper personal protective equipment, and treat the saw with utmost care and respect."

Additional yard and garden information is available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site: old.lsuagcenter.com.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://old.lsuagcenter.com/

On the Internet: www.louisianalawnandgarden.org.

Source: Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or dparish@agcenter.lsu.edu

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