Work Safely in Your Woods

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How do I use a chainsaw?

Nothing will slow your enjoyment of your woods more than an injury, and the worst ones are self-inflicted.  Many of these can be prevented by following some tried and true techniques, and utilizing the proper safety equipment.  This is especially true when operating a chainsaw, but is also true for protecting your property from wildfires, and protecting yourself from the plants and insects that can cause you harm.

Safe chainsaw use

Chainsaws are powerful tools designed to cut through the hardest wood.  So it is safe to say that they can easily cut through any unprotected part of your body.  Tens of thousands of people are injured using a chainsaw every year, and most of those people don’t work in the logging profession.  In fact, most of the injured are landowners like yourself who may operate a chainsaw once a week or once a year.  To keep from becoming one of these statistics, follow these simple guidelines:

Learn to cut like a pro by taking a chainsaw use and safety class (visit the Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance to learn more about chainsaw safety training programs)
Have all the appropriate safety gear, including a helmet with a face shield, hearing protection, chainsaw chaps or pants, work gloves and boots
Keep your chain sharp and your air filter clean for optimal operating conditions and thereby less effort needed on your part
Use the buddy system while working in the woods or be connected to someone either through phone or radio.  Let someone know when you expect to be finished.
Check for hazards around the tree you are felling like hanging dead branches or nearby dead trees that could be knocked down
Plan your tree felling before you start cutting, including the escape routes you will be using when the tree starts falling

    Image courtesy of OSHA

A diagram of escape routes for tree felling.  Escape routes are the avenues the cutter retreats along once the tree starts falling.

Learn more about safety gear for chainsaw use in Protective Clothing for Chainsaw Operators 
Learn more about safe and efficient chainsaw operation in Safe Tree Harvesting 

Learn In Less Than 5 video: Felling and Limbing Trees Safely & Efficiently

Keep your chainsaw at peak operating conditions
Like any other tool you utilize, the chainsaw requires some training and maintenance for your work to be safe and efficient.  By keeping your chainsaw at peak operating conditions, you will enjoy less wear and tear on your body and utilize less energy in the work you do.  Beyond using the right fuel oil mixture, always adding bar and chain oil, and keeping your air filter clean, the most important thing you can do is maintain your chain. 

The chain or blade is a series of cutting tools linked together.  The cutting surfaces can dull quickly if the blade hits metal or stone, or if the wood is especially tough like elm or maple.  The chain can also become stretched or loose after a period of heavy use.  It is for this reason that you need to keep an eye on the chain at all times while operating.  If the chain is throwing dust instead of chips when cutting, then it is time to sharpen it.  If at any time it looks like the chain tension needs adjustment, it is a good idea to stop the saw and retighten the chain. 

Get in the habit of sharpening your chain on a regular basis depending on your usage.  Some folks run a file over the chain every time they stop to refill with gas and oil.  This may seem excessive, but that little bit of time spent sharpening means a lot easier work when cutting.  Always follow the maintenance instructions in your owner’s manual.

Processing trees safely
Getting trees on the ground safely is the first step in converting them into what you desire whether it is logs, firewood or brush piles.  Delimbing and bucking (or cutting the stem into logs) is the next step, and each has its own inherent dangers. 

Often when trees are felled, branches are bent and trapped under the main part of the tree.  These can spring outwards when cut, so you need to release the tension in the trapped branches carefully.  Also felled trees can be partially supported by branches which may cause the tree to roll when those supports are cut.  It is best to get the tree flat on the ground before attempting to cut it into logs.  A peavey or cant hook are great tools for rolling a tree.

When bucking the tree into logs, always cut on the uphill side of the tree in case it starts to roll when the cut is complete.  It is a good idea to use a plastic wedge to hold open the cut and keep your saw from pinching.  These can be bought at most hardware stores that carry chainsaw equipment.

Learn more about processing trees for firewood in Harvesting Firewood From Your Woods 

Protecting your home from wildfires

Wildfires are a natural part of Wisconsin’s landscape, and every year hundreds of wildfires are reported ranging from tens of acres to thousands of acres.  Humans are the number one cause of wildfires, and there are some simple steps to ensure that your home is protected from wildfire damage, including:

  • Keep your driveway as wide and straight as possible to ensure emergency vehicles can get to your home
  • Keep your lawn lean, clean, and green so that it does not become fuel for wildfires
  • Remove any trees within thirty feet of your house
  • Store firewood, gasoline and other fuels at least thirty feet from your house

Learn what you can do to protect your property from wildfires in Firewise Landscaping – A Guide to Protecting Your Home From Wildfires 

Plants and insects to watch out for

There are a number of noxious plants to be aware of in our forests, and the best way to avoid their toxins is to learn to recognize them and where they are found.  The same goes for harmful insects.  Spending a little bit of time learning their characteristics and keeping an eye out, will go a long ways towards making your time in your woods a lot more enjoyable.

Learn more about plants, insects and wildlife to watch out for in Outdoor Hazards in Wisconsin: A Guide to Noxious Insects, Plants and Wildlife 

Related Blog Posts

Splitting firewood with power
Using a chainsaw safely and efficiently
Splitting firewood safely and effectively

Related Publications

Safety section of our publications
Fire and Firewise section of our publications

Related Websites

Timber harvesting safety manual

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