Cutting edge

Tips for safe and efficient use of chainsaws for firewood cutters

Firewood season is upon us. While you're out enjoying the crisp, fall days in order to heat your home, remember to take the proper safety precautions and follow maintenance procedures. It could save your life and wallet.

"Safety starts with a good helmet with a face guard that doesn't fog up," says Paul Seus, who sells chainsaws and power equipment at Hubbard's Ace Hardware in Medford. He recommends helmets with good ear protection, as well.

According to the 1999 U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission report on chainsaw injuries, more than 28,500 people were hurt in one year. The University of Florida Extension Service estimates that as many as 40,000 people are injured annually. Some of these are head injuries, and many are caused by falling branches.

Seus also recommends a good pair of chaps for leg protection.

"If you're not paying attention, the saw can brush your leg," Seus warns. "They've got fibers in chaps that will stall the blade. They're designed to do that."

An average chainsaw runs at 14,000 revolutions per minute, meaning that about 932 teeth cut through a single point in one second. According to the 1999 report, more chainsaw accidents occur to the legs than any other part of the body, so it's worth investing $75 for a good pair of Kevlar chaps.

A pair of gloves and thick, leather work boots complete your suit of armor. If you're thinking about buying a new saw, there's one safety feature well worth the investment.

"You want a safety brake," says Seus. "Husqvarna saws now have inertia-activated brakes. Most manufacturers are going that way."

Conventional safety brakes require you to press the brake lever — most likely with your wrist — to immediately stop the spinning chain. With the inertia-activated brakes, sudden actions engage the brake.

It's the small things that matter when it comes to maintaining your saw.

"Make sure your chain is properly tensioned," says Aaron Krikava, co-owner of Black Oak Forest Restoration, based in Ruch.

"If the chain is overly tensioned, your bar heats up," says Krikava. "With undertensioning, you can throw the chain."

Keeping your blade sharp will make wood cutting easier as well as ease the burden on the motor. While most weekend cutters are better off having a saw shop sharpen the chain, if you're a DIY sharpener, remember that good technique goes beyond "sharp to the touch."

"You need to file down the rakers in addition to the teeth," says Krikava. "They both must be sharpened."

Like automobile engines, chainsaws have fuel filters, air filters and spark plugs. All should be inspected regularly, the air filter most frequently.

A few simple, operational precautions can prevent serious injuries.

"Don't cut things near your feet because the saw can slip easily," Krikava cautions. "And don't raise the saw over your head because you can lose control, trip or fall. Most importantly, stop if you're fatigued. Know your boundaries."

If you're having trouble starting your saw, it may be your gas. Although the increase in ethanol use in gasoline formulation may be a step away from fossil-fuel use, it has impacts on chainsaws.

"Gas with ethanol will go bad in 30 days," says Seus. "You can prevent that with nonethanol gas — if you can find it — or by using new gas."

If you have trouble starting your saw after several months idle, try spraying the product STA-BIL on your carburetor, says Seus.

"Seventy-five percent of our repair business is due to problems with old gas," says Seus.

For more information on chainsaw safety, see these websites: OSHA: www.osha.gov/Publications/3269-10N-05-english-06-27-2007.html; University of Illinois: www.aces.uiuc.edu/vista/html_pubs/saw/saw.html


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