A beginner’s guide to buying a chainsaw

chainsaw safety

Chainsaws are an essential backyard tool, but it pays to do your research before you buy and learn how to maintain them.

Words Nadene Hall
A chainsaw is such a versatile, all-year-round tool. From cutting up firewood to pruning or felling trees, to shaping fence posts, it would be one of the most often-used of the power tools you can buy for your farm. Chainsaws come in a variety of sizes, depending on what you want to use them for.

30-40cc, 12-14in bar length, for light duties and cutting small branches, lightweight

40-60cc, 16-24 inch bar length, for firewood duties, pruning/trimming of trees, fencing, getting up to around 5kg in weight, additional safety features

60-120cc, long bar length, mostly used by experienced farmers and professional foresters

To find the chainsaw that is best for you, don’t base your choice on engine size. Think instead of the maximum diameter of the wood you will be cutting. If used properly, a chainsaw can safely cut logs of a diameter double the length of the bar. For most small farm owners, a mid-size chainsaw will be best but check the weight – some are heavy so make sure you try several.

Chainsaws need lubrication to work properly, as oil must lubricate the bar as the chain rides over it. Some machines come with automatic lubrication systems, so you don’t waste oil while the machine is idling. Check the machine you intend to buy to see what sort of system it uses.

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Chainsaws are often abused – maintaining a machine properly is essential for its long-term survival. Chains must be properly tensioned for longevity and your safety, so get your dealer to show you how to adjust the tension. Most saws have two nuts that must be removed or loosened to do this properly while newer models have tension screws on the bar itself so it’s much easier to adjust.

Chain brakes are another important safety device, stopping the machine if it “kicks back” while in use. This is where a chainsaw flies back up towards your head when in use if the upper part of the nose of the cutting bar hits a solid object. Many machines now have an inertia chain brake, meaning the machine will stop from the force of the saw being thrown backwards. Some have manual chain brakes that must be activated by hand.

Other safety features include chain guards, hand guards and safety interlock features to stop accidental operation of the throttle – all are designed to keep you safe using a machine with the potential to be dangerous.

Old chainsaw models used to be hard to start. Now most models come with purge-pump carburetors. You pump a small amount of your petrol/oil mix into the carburetor before you start the machine, meaning it will start on the first or second pull. This saves you time and wear on the engine.

A chainsaw is designed to cut wood, and wood only. If you are cutting up wood make sure there is no wire wound around it, especially when fencing.

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1. Wear and use the correct personal safety equipment. You will need boots with steel-capped toes, safety trousers or chaps, a safety helmet, earmuffs, eye goggles or visor. Don’t wear anything loose-fitting.
2. Inspect your chainsaw before using, every time. Check the bar is lubricated, the tension on the chain is correct, that the chain-brake is working and that the teeth are sharp.
3. Start your chainsaw on the ground, with nothing obstructing the guide bar and chain. Place your right foot on the rear handle, steady with your left hand and pull the cord with your right.
4. Plan your cutting job. Make sure there are no power lines around, that no children or animals can disturb you, that the wind is blowing in the right direction if you are felling a tree and that someone is supervising you – never use a chainsaw when you are alone.
5. Always keep a firm grip on your chainsaw with both hands – this reduces your chance of losing control from the machine kicking back.
6. Never cut branches above shoulder height, don’t over-reach when using the chainsaw and never go up into a tree to trim something unless you have been professionally trained to do so. When cutting small branches and saplings, be very cautious – slim, springy wood can catch in the cutting chain and be whipped towards you or throw you off balance.
7. If you plan to cut down a tree on a heavy lean, be incredibly cautious. A leaning tree develops enormous tension on the side away from the lean – probably the side you think would be best to cut. Trees, especially willow, can split as you start to cut, and you may find the tree will suddenly flick up and knock you off balance. There are special techniques used in cutting down trees – go on a course and learn what they are if you haven’t used a chainsaw before.
8. Make sure your chainsaw has come to a full-stop before placing it on the ground.
9. A loose chain will not only affect the cutting ability of your saw, it is also more likely to cause kickback, the chain to jump off and wear of the bar and sprockets on your machine. A chain should be tensioned so that it is touching the bar the whole way round, is a snug fit but can still be easily pulled forwards from the saw body towards the end of the bar. This must be checked regularly.
10. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on sharpening and maintenance. If you aren’t sure about something, go back to your dealer for advice.

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NZ Lifestyle Block This article first appeared in NZ Lifestyle Block Magazine.
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