A Programmer’s Guide To Chainsaw Safety And Maintenance

A Programmer’s Guide To Chainsaw Safety And Maintenance

Let me ask you a question: What do programmers do when they’ve really had it with the deskjob bullshit? Obviously we sign up to help the friend who just bought a project house and has a jungle garden to cut down, a house to renovate.

At least that’s what I assume programmers usually do, based on a sample size of one – which as we all know is the often-used float representation for 100%. Extrapolation is a powerful tool!

All jokes aside though I was not always a programmer – and even while I am I still have a second heart inside my chest that beats for actual, real work and clearing my mind with the raw physical force of two-stroke engines and garden work that looks more like a massacre.

It was a great weekend with lots of fun, laughter and hard work – but it also got me the idea of writing a post on my personal experience with chainsaws considering that it’s not usually a tool of the programmer’s trade.

Chainsaws ain’t no joke and proper education is needed

Obviously this has to be said: Don’t take advice just from a guy on the internet. I learned to use chainsaws the right way: Through spending a couple summers on a farm. This post does not replace a safety course, nor does it attempt to – but I want to add my own experiences from years of using this unexpected skill for helping people.

A chainsaw is pretty much exactly like a cat – when you look at it you want to two-stroke it but if it gets the chance it will happily eat you.

Try to always cut bottom-up

You will often see people do this upsweep motion that seems a lot more dangerous on first glance – but often times it’s the safer way to cut. If you cut top-down your worst case is kickback – and the worst case of kickback is a spinning blade of sharp teeth in your face. Even if the blade stop kicks in fast enough you still have sharpened teeth bouncing into your face where they don’t belong.

When you cut bottom-up however you will find that it’s much easier to evade standing in harm’s way – in fact that happens almost automatically for right-handed. You just need to keep your leg out of the way that the chainsaw could take and you have a minimized risk of the actual chainsaw killing you.

I have seen cases of this happening – both times the guys were really lucky that we were all given proper safety equipment and the blades stopped in time and their hard hat brims took the majority of the impact.

With that out of the way there are only two things that can still kill you: A large branch splitting as you saw it and hitting you or you falling out of the tree. Also stupidity.

Chainsaw sharpening is actually a safety measure more than a maintenance one

Aforementioned kickback happens when the blade or teeth catch onto something they can’t cut through – which in the case of a nail can’t always be avoided but in the case of dull teeth it actually can.

The other maintenance issue that can cause this is improper chain tension, both of which can be kept in check by sharpening the saw and checking tension before you start working. We used to do this pretty regularly at the farm, at least once in the morning and usually resharpening during break time. Depending on your use you might need to do them even more often, but it’s definitely worth it.

Trees fall in unexpectedly expected ways

The problem with trees is that they are never quite straight, and especially if you are actually in that tree it can become a matter of finding the right position to keep yourself away from harm. Also branches have a tendency to split really fast, really violently as soon as you saw through the first third or half – and they, too can kick up with part of the split and that can hit and hurt you badly.

And even if you survive the split itself you can still have a really bad day with the branches catching on each other, falling in ways that you did not expect.

It can help a great deal to fast the branch with ropes

It does take a bit more time to set this up than just cutting straight through, but especially when working in confined spaces you can have it much easier to direct the fall of branches and trunk parts if they are attached to a rope that is also fastened to a lower part of the trunk.

Just expect it to swing and make sure you understand how it swings before you stand there taking the jump three meters down to save your life from the swinging trunk headed in your direction.

This is especially useful when working on trees that are angled away from you a bit, that way you know that they will fall away from you first and you can judge much better where they will land.

That safety lever is there for a reason, but it’s insurance more than safety

I doubt anyone in their right mind will remove the safety lever these days, but that was definitely a thing in the generations before mine and in fact the farmer’s father would usually use his old „trusty“ chainsaw that had no safety bar.

But even if you use it that is only going to do so much good. I equal it to motorcycle insurance: If your bike gets stolen you may or may not get your money back from them, but the bike is still stolen.

Or in chainsaw terms: The safety lever may or may not stop the blade from spinning in time to avoid outright killing you, but you still get a kick in the face and grevious wounds from the sharp teeth.

Also you might be holding the saw in a way that gets your hand away from the guard (sideways cutting!) and render it totally useless in the case of an accidental slip.

If you have to cut above your waist use a recip saw instead

This past weekend I was really happy that I brought my own saw, a battery-powered recip saw.

I love this cutie and will always protect it.

This will take a lot of the workload that a chainsaw can handle, with the right blade you can even attempt to cut down mid-sized trees. However that is not where it really shines, the chainsaw makes much faster work of anything large.

No, where the recip saw really plays out its strengths is in either demolition like the image above or once you climb up into a tree and can’t get up any higher for a reasonably safe cutting experience. Unlike a chainsaw the recip saws can use used with one hand while you hold onto another branch, they don’t come with the kickback problem and you can actually use them above your head in relative safety. This way you can do things like wrapping your legs around the trunk and cutting off the smaller branches so that your other hand can catch them and properly direct their fall.

None of those things would be possible with a chainsaw, from the very moment that you’d try to use one one-handed. Just don’t, don’t even try.

And lastly: be most afraid of fear

I notice the same with any kind of „spinning wheel of death“ – most notably angle grinders. I hated the thought of 11k rpm cutting disks so much that I could never use them correctly.

In the same way a recip or chainsaw are really scary (and certainly nothing to take lighthearted!) but if you are the person who has one in their hand you can absolutely not affort to feel fear. It will only hurt you, potentially others and it does „nobody no good“. Just like riding a motorcycle, be aware that the moment you pull the trigger or twist the throttle you essentially enter the void between life and death and chances are you’ll make it out this time. Maybe not though.

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