September 5, 2008

Modern chainsaws are lethal.

It's very simple - you either take chainsaw safety seriously or you are an accident waiting to happen. Yet it's surprising how many people who own, and happily use a chainsaw, don't seem to understand this. Don't be one of them.

The situation seems to be different (ie worse) in New Zealand as trees grow so fast, and after about ten years, what came home in small plastic bags from the nursery need to leave on large trailers. Very soon in their lives, trees need to be pruned and reshaped, and this requires some serious cutting with a chainsaw – or so you think.

So the first basic question is - do you really need a chainsaw to take care of your tree needs, or is there an easier and safer way? Far too many people buy a big saw because it's part of the macho image.

A 14 inch chainsaw will do all the work you need on a small farm and you only need anything bigger if you have something like large macrocarpas to fell and for this it would be wise to get professional help.

You can't compromise on safety gear, but people do all the time. Check how many people you know with a saw who have a complete set of safety gear. They all seem to argue that it's too expensive and that they are such careful operators that they don't need it. How is it then that the professionals need it? They must not be careful operators. Try telling them that!

It never seems to occur to these idiots what the personal cost is of an eye, your front teeth or a limb; or 6 weeks to 6 months of work on lowered pay. And then what they cannot see is the cost their stupid accident will be to the taxpayer through hospital space that could be used by someone in greater need.

The chain of modern high-revving chainsaw travels are over 100kph and will cut through a human limb in about half a second and the chain leaves a nice wide groove full of fresh mince! The biggest danger is from kickbacks caused by inexperience when the tip of the saw blade is used. Always cut with the part of the blade right next to the engine and never the tip.

A combined helmet, visor and ear protection, along with safety trousers or chaps, safety boots and gloves are the basic equipment and no substitutes will do. It's also a good practice for anyone working on a farm, especially with dangerous gear like chainsaws to wear a bright coloured jacket or overalls, so they are easy to see.

Here's a checklist to study before you start your saw:
  • Which was is the tree leaning?
  • Are there heavier branches on one side so it will fall that way?
  • Is there a clear path for the tree to fall and not get hung up on other trees?
  • Are there any power lines in the way?
  • Are there any fences that will be damaged by its fall?
  • Which way is the wind or breeze blowing?
  • Be aware that after you start cutting, there will be some nosey –parkers arrive from nowhere and you may not see or hear them.
Chainsaws are an expensive bit of gear to buy and to maintain, and poor maintenance can be costly. Modern chainsaws run at very high revs so note these points below:
  • Don't use old fuel. If you haven't used the fuel you mixed up last time, and it's a few weeks ago, put it in the car to use it up. Don't put it through the saw. Mix up some fresh fuel.
  • If you've had fuel in the saw and you have not used it for a while, empty it out and refill with a fresh mix.
  • Shake the fuel container before you refuel the saw.
  • Get the ratio of oil to petrol right according to the manufacturer's recommendations. See the table.
  • Use good quality oil to mix with the petrol.
  • Use good quality chain bar oil – and never old car engine oil.
  • Keep a spare spark plug – the correct one for the saw.
  • Don't clean the spark plug with sandpaper as the fine grit particles can get back into the cylinder and do damage.
  • When you remove the spark plug, blow any dust away from around it before you take it out. Dust down the cylinder hole can do damage.
  • The air filter is the lungs of the engine – clean it regularly.
  • Keep the vents on the saw casing free from dust – use an old tooth brush.
  • Keep the chain at the correct tightness – check the instruction book.
  • Keep the chain teeth sharp. A blunt saw is a dangerous saw as you push it to make it cut.
  • Sharpening the chain correctly is vitally important to make sure it cuts evenly and does not go off line or grab. Study the handbook but if you have problems, take it in to your local dealer who will show you the correct method or will do it for you.
  • Always try to work with a buddy, especially when felling trees
  • Have some basic first aid training and check your farm first aid cabinet.
  • Carry a mobile phone with you when you go.

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