The Ultimate Chainsaw Guide

5 March 2020

You don’t need a licence to operate a chainsaw. So save yourself time and money in the garden by trying your own! It’s not only useful in domestic garden clearance or cutting logs for firewood, but it is also a great tool in emergency situations like clearing fallen branches after a storm.

Whether you’re chopping logs or felling a tree, these are the essentials for staying safe! If you have never used a chainsaw, obviously, it might be a little frightening at first. However, if you consider these few safety features, you won’t have any problems!

What protective equipment do I need when working with a chainsaw?

There are a few different protective clothing items which will be essential for you. These are listed below:

1. Trousers With Cut Protection Inserts

If you are working with a chainsaw you must wear trousers with cut protection inserts. They usually come in two standard types:

Type A chainsaw trousers which protect only the front of the legs

Type C gives protection all around the legs. They are most commonly worn by arborists to provide full protection when climbing and using chainsaws in awkward positions. 

You can also get chainsaw chaps. They are quicker to get on and off and cooler temerature because of the open-back design. They can be worn over conventional clothes.

2. Boots

Chainsaw boots protect feet not only from accidental slips and cuts but also from flying debris and wood chips. Chainsaw boots have thick tough soles with good grips which makes them perfect for walking through woods or forests and protecting feet from stones, twigs and other sharp objects. There are a number of options available on the market so it is important that you choose something that will fit your need and the nature of your work. You can choose from Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 protection.

Class 1 Boots

Class 1 is the lowest allowable protection. These boots have a steel cap covering the toes, so the running blade doesn’t cut through the shoe. They are designed to withstand a chain speed 20m/s speed, this is why it is important to check the technical specification for your chainsaw. If the speed of your chainsaw blade is 20m/s or lower than these boots are suitable and provide adequate protection for your feet.

Class 2 Boots

Class 2 chainsaw boots also have steel caps over the toes but they provide a higher level of protection than regular boots and Class 1. These boots can withstand chainsaw blade running at 24m/s. Many professionals go for a safer option even when using a slower saw.

Class 3 Boots

If your chainsaw exceeds 24m/s you should get Class 3 protection. These boots can withstand a 28m/s saw and provide superior protection. They also provide excellent grip and tough soles so they are perfect for all kind of wood cutting work.

2. Face and Ear Protection

Whether you need ear protection depends on your chainsaw. However, you want to protect your eyes as well, the best option is getting a helmet with ear defenders as well as a visor. We recommend the 3M G500 Forestry Headgear Visor & Optime I Ear Muff as a visor with earmuffs.

3M G500 Forestry Headgear Visor & Optime I Ear Muff

Use this along with safety glasses, such as the Classic Line Safety Glasses. This will offer you significant extra protection when you are working with a chainsaw.

It is always recommended, before starting work, to check the operating instructions to see what protective clothing you need when using your model of chainsaw.

How does a chainsaw work?

A chainsaw is a portable saw that cuts through the wood using teeth running in a circular motion around a guide bar. The teeth are actually a metal chain that has notches or grooves at certain intervals to cut through the hardest type of wood with ease. How quickly you can cut through the material depends on the chain speed. Corded and battery types offer around 9 m/s, whereas petrol models are often 20 m/s or more.

What are common features on a chainsaw?

All chainsaws, whether petrol or electric share some common features

  • Guidebar – If using your chainsaw only for logs, then a 30 cm long guide bar should be enough. However, if you need a longer bar, remember you need also a more powerful engine to keep the chain turning fast enough.
  • Chain – For the safest option use a chain that reduces the risk of kickback. Make sure you use the correct size and type, or your chain won’t work properly.
  • Chain catcher – It stops the chain from hitting you if it loosens and comes off the guide bar.
  • Chain brake – A safety essential. It will stop you from accidentally turning on your chainsaw and automatically triggers if the chainsaw jumps back towards you.
  • Oil tank – Holds the oil that keeps the chain lubricated. It comes handy if your chainsaw has a transparent tank to quickly check if you need to top up.
  •  Double trigger –  Stops accidental starts. Some of chainsaws also have a second chain break in the trigger to slow the chain down after you remove your finger.

The starting mechanism might be complicated and physically difficult in petrol chainsaws so look for easy-start models. Also, consider a saw with tool-less adjustment to make tightening the chain easier.

What chainsaw should I buy?

There are quite a few things to consider before buying a chainsaw. Ask yourself the question-  what you need it for? Do you have some small jobs in your garden each season? Or do you have a big backyard with many trees to prune? Where will you be mostly using your chainsaw? How far from the power source you will be working? Have you got any experience? How much power do you need? Do you have a wood-burning stove and all you need is to cut firewood? 

The answer to these questions should help guide you to selecting the right model.

What types of chainsaw are on the market?

Petrol Chainsaws

Petrol chainsaws offer greater power than electric models. They use a two-stroke engine which means higher performance, so they are the best for bigger jobs, regular use and more experienced users.

Their big advantage is that they are portable so you can work far away from a power source. However, they are heavy, noisy and you definitely won’t be using them on Sunday afternoon! They also require regular maintenance. They are quite expensive, especially the more powerful models, plus there is also the cost of petrol, two-stroke mix and engine oil.

A petrol chainsaw’s power is measured by their engine size. The larger the engine, the more power is being sent to the cutting mechanism.

Battery Chainsaws

Battery chainsaws, like petrol models, are ideal for use away from a power source.  They are lighter than petrol models, making moving around easier. They are less powerful than petrol chainsaws, however, they match the power with corded ones. Cordless chainsaws generally are suited for smaller jobs, that’s why they need less maintenance. They are much quieter than petrol chainsaws so they can be used in a residential area. If you need your chainsaw once or twice a year this is a good match for you. The Dewalt Dcm575X1-Gb 54V Flexvolt Chainsaw1 X Battery is a good option for this type of work.

Cordless or Corded Chainsaws?

A cordless chainsaw’s power is measured by Volts. The more power the battery can deliver, the better the tool’s performance. Most models come with a removable 36V lithium-ion battery.

If decide to get a corded chainsaw, it is important to keep in mind their limits. First of all, you will need a high-quality extension cord in order to power your chainsaw. It is recommended to use the longest around 30 meters as longer extensions require thicker wire. You not only risk the stability of the power supply but also your safety. Another factor to keep in mind is the size of the bar. Electric chainsaws are limited to around 45 cm. So it is important before buying one to check what are you going to use it for. 

But if you are only using your chainsaw for light pruning and clearing etc, you don’t need to use your chainsaw far from a source of power, or you won’t be felling any trees, then the electric corded chainsaw is an excellent option. They are cheaper than petrol ones and much lighter. Additionally, they need much less maintenance which may be also an important factor to consider. 

Which chainsaw is the best for homeowners?

As you noticed so far, there are many factors to consider when choosing a chainsaw. Just some of them are listed below:

  • Type of job 
  • Size of trees, logs, etc.
  • How long in use
  • Source of power
  • Protective clothing
  • Level of experience 

If you are still not sure what to choose, why don’t you drop a visit to your local chainsaw store and have a chat with professionals? You can also check their products and for sure they will answer all your questions and share knowledge with you. 

What chainsaws do professionals use?

Tree surgeons own many chainsaws for many different jobs, that’s for sure. It is important to have a piece of comfortable machinery to work for many hours in many different environments. It has to be safe and it has to be efficient, well balanced and ergonomic. 

Arborists more often use the top-handle chainsaw while on the tree as it gives more freedom of movement. A top-handle chainsaw is usually compact, lightweight and incredibly balanced. However, as this kind of chainsaw can only be used off the ground you have to have specific certification to use this chainsaw. Besides, safety equipment is crucial: 

  • A safety helmet
  • Eye protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Appropriate gloves 
  • Leg protection
  • Protective boots
  • Non-snag outer clothing, 
  • High-visibility clothing is recommended

How to care for and maintain your chainsaw?

Hopefully now you have your chainsaw, or have a bit more of an idea knowing what you need! Whether is it petrol, electric or battery operated you will be able to look after it and extend its life.

Here are the most important things to know: 

  • Check the oil level often
  • Keep the chain sharp
  • Clean debris from the saw after each use
  • Check the chain tension 

Apart from the power source, the chainsaw chain and bar needs oil. Oil helps to lubricate them. The chain and the bar are constantly in contact, that’s why without lubricant the speed of chain over the bar can cause some friction. In the end, you can just damage your chainsaw. 

Keeping your chain sharp will not only make cutting much more efficient, but it will also also prevent kickbacks. This means it will increase safety!

How to sharpen your chainsaw?

What You Need

These are the tools you need to keep your chain sharp. Remember that the round file and gauges are different for different chain types: 

  • Round file
  • Flat file
  • File gauge
  • Stump vice

Chainsaw sharpening kits are also available for chain sizes up to 4.8mm.

Another useful tool to have when sharpening in the field is a stump vice. Hammer this into a stump or log and secure the guide bar like a normal vice. 

Steps to Sharpening a Chainsaw:

  • Put the chainsaw in a vice, secured so that the saw does not move as you are working
  • Turn the brake off
  • Find the worst tooth in the chain and start there
  • Sharpen the cutting teeth first
  • Position the file depth gauge on the chain so that the arrows point towards the chainsaw bar nose
  • File at a right angle to the chainsaw rollers
  • File every other cutting tooth using a smooth and even pushing stroke
  • Finish filing the other cutting teeth using the same motion as before

This might be a bit complicated, however, it is very important to have a sharp chain to work efficiently and smoothly. However, if this is too much for you or you don’t have the time, you should be able to find someone local who can do it professionally.

Are there any chainsaw courses?

If you think that it might be useful for you to take a chainsaw course, there are many opportunities to do so. You can sign up for basic maintenance and cross-cutting two days course that gives you solid grounding for non-professional work. Look for Lantra Awards, a leading awarding body for land-based industries. They develop quality training courses and nationally recognised qualifications that are delivered through a national network.

Finally, if you have some spare time you can always volunteer in a community woodland. It is a great opportunity to gain experience and have fun at the same time! 

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