How To Use a Chainsaw
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How to Safely Use a Chainsaw: A Beginners Guide

If you are like me, you like to get a job done on your own without the hassle of hiring a company, and waiting until they are available. This is a great way to save money, perfect your existing skills, and even learn something new. But there comes a time when you may have to stand back and assess the job before you to determine if it truly is something you can take on yourself.

This is especially true if the work entails cutting wood for construction purposes, firewood, storm cleanup, or any sort of property management, or lumber milling projects. For these types of jobs, you’re going to want to have a dependable chainsaw on hand, and although you don’t need any sort of license to operate one, you should have some basic knowledge and experience in place first in order to know how to use a chainsaw.

What You Need to Get Started

Michael Fenton via Unsplash

Before you can even begin to get started, you have to have chosen a saw from the many makes and models available for the job you have in mind. My motto always is: bigger is not always better, and you have to approach your choices with some knowledge of the differences between saws so you can make the best-informed decision for you. Spend some time researching the following needs.

I’ve written short guides covering each topic for you to peruse through to help give you a better idea of what your needs may be. Plus, the best knowledge comes from hands-on experience, and I highly recommend working with friends or family who are adapt chainsaw users or contacting a local extension office or junior college that may provide lessons surrounding chainsaw use.

Know Your Saws

Good working knowledge of the types of saws available to you, how they are powered, and what they are capable of is your first step towards chainsaw use. Never negate the power an electric saw may lend to your job, nor should you lean towards a large gas-powered saw simply because it is the biggest.

I’ve written our own guide here to provide you a working idea of what steps you should take in picking the right saw for the job: What Size Chainsaw Do I Need? To help get you started you should have a knowledge of various sizes, weights, and powers. Small saws are very capable of handling larger jobs with time and patience, and large saws will very often fatigue you much quicker when working through light workloads that require longer run times.

How To Maintain Your Saw

The next thing you need to know about is how to properly care for, and maintain your saw through the working season and when not in use. Chainsaws are a fairly simple design, and either run off the amperage produced from an electrical outlet, the power provided by a rechargeable battery, or a 2-cycle engine that mixes both engine oil and gas in a ratio to keep it running smoothly.

To keep your chainsaw in good working order you need to first know the basics of its care. I’ve written a guide here to better understand the different steps needed for problem-free use: Chainsaw Maintenance: Basic Care for Powerful Production. Electric saws need regular cleaning to keep working properly but also require a knowledge of chain tensioning and a filing of the bar and chain oil to avoid overheating or chain binding. Gas-powered saws need a bit more attention. Along with the above, they also need the correct gas to oil ratio to fuel the engine, as well as attention to proper 2-cycle engine cleaning and part replacement- all of which are fairly simple with a little practice.

How to Operate Your Saw Safely

Chainsaws are dangerous tools and have the capability to cause serious injury or even death. Luckily, most accidents involving chainsaws are due to poor operator judgment and a lack of safety precautions. This means you have control over your own safety when using such a powerful tool, and should pay close attention to this through the process of learning about your chainsaw use.

The guide, Simple Steps, Your Guide to Beginning Chainsaw Safety, can help provide you the general knowledge you need to get working in a safe, productive manner. Knowing your saw and its maintenance are the first step in safety, as is acknowledging your own limits and strength. Safety gear and basic working part checks are all a part of the experience, as is a heightened awareness of your surroundings to avoid accidents.

Using Your Saw

Once you have a good understanding of the above topics and have a saw on hand that you are comfortable using, you are ready to begin. Whether you are trimming hedges, cutting trees down, or pruning large limbs, the following awareness and handling apply to every situation.

How To Get Started

Resting Saw
Image credits:
Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

Before getting your saw up and running, you want to do a basic safety check to start. First off, be sure you are wearing the appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for the job. Also, make sure your chain is of an acceptable tension, the bar and chain oil reservoir is full, and you have the appropriate fuel or electrical source in order.

Also, ensure your chain is sharp, and you have checked the depth of the teeth using a depth gauge so you get true cutting power. If your chain is in poor shape, you may want to replace it to avoid creating problems while you cut, and keep you working efficiently.

More important than where you make your cut is the atmosphere you are cutting within. Be sure the people in the area know where you are working, and what sort of job you are working at so they can avoid you. Also know where the people who may be helping you are standing, and have a plan for communication as a chainsaw is loud and you may not be able to hear each other well.

How To Use The Saw

Man In Hard Hat Using Chainsaw
5617024 via Pixabay

Look up, down, and around your cutting site to avoid any hazards. Stumps, limbs, and branches that litter the ground can cause you to trip and should be moved if possible. Know what is above you if you are cutting in a forested area, as broken materials can fall due to vibrations and cause serious damage to anything below it.

Depending on the type of saw you have, there are various methods of getting it started. Choose the one that works best for you and can be done safely, ensuring that the chain brake is engaged to keep it from spinning until you provide power to it. If working in an area where people are present, or if working with people to complete a job, be sure to call out that you are starting the saw in order to allow them to be in the correct position- or to stay away.

As you begin, be sure you have a correct hold on the saw for balance and efficiency. Your left hand should be gripped around the handle with your thumb fully engaged as well. A favorite saying amongst chainsaw instructors is, “you aren’t driving a car”, inferring that we don’t often grip our hands fully around a steering wheel and that a chainsaw is a more dangerous tool and requires a stronger grip. Your right hand should be gripped in a similar manner around the handle located behind the engine. The handle includes the throttle and safety switch and controls the power to the chain.

How To Cut Correctly

Chainsaw Blade In Tree
Hans Braxmeier via Pixabay

Know where you want your cut to exit prior to starting the cut. This may sound the opposite of looking for where your cut will enter, but by keeping your eye on where you want the chain to exit you will be better able to provide a smooth, flat cut. You also want to have a good, strong balanced stance, and stand slightly to the side so the chain exits to your side to avoid cutting straight towards you.

Always cut with the flat of the saw, and do not lead with the tip or you run the risk of kickback– when the force of the spinning chain is forced back at you as the tip comes in contact with a hard surface. A chainsaw is considered such a great tool due to the power it lends to your job. If you feel you are working too hard, then you may not be getting the power you need, or your chain may be dull. The saw should feed itself through the material with very little pressure from you. Basically, you simply guide the saw, not create the cuts themselves. If you are getting fine sawdust as you cut, rather than wood chips, sharpen your chain to see if this is the problem.

How To Take Care Of The Saw After Work

Stihl Chainsaw in Use
Image credits:
Matej via Pexels

As mentioned above, a dull chain can create more work for you and should be addressed. This is just a small part of the overall maintenance but is a very important one. As you finish your job, or after so many hours, reassess your chain sharpness and be sure have the correct gas to motor oil mixture in use for a properly running engine. Cleaning your saw is also extremely important as sawdust can clog the bar and chain oil reservoir, and the dust and oil mix can slow down and interrupt the working of the chain, as well as impede the airflow through the engine.

When not in use, your saw should be stored in a secure, safe spot to avoid it falling or creating other unsafe situations. If not in a storage box, be sure to at least use a bar and chain cover. If you allow a gas engine to sit for more than a month or so at a time, you should drain it of the existing fuel to provide a cleaner mix before running again. This is also true of seasonal storage- simply drain it of the fluids (but keep bar and chain oil in to keep from drying out) and let sit until you are ready for the next job.


Hopefully, this has been a quick, helpful little tutorial that has provided you the general knowledge to help get the best saw for your job in your hands and provide you the basics of safety and maintenance required for chainsaw use. Using a chainsaw is not a difficult task, but it is a dangerous one that requires more than just taking a product out of a box and firing it up.

Remember, the majority of accidents involving chainsaws are the fault of the operator, making you the most important component of its use. If you have any further questions or comments, please let us know below. And, as always, please share!

*You might also like: How Does A Chainsaw Work?.