In February, I got the awesome chance to go hang out with my friends at their parent's +150 acre farm. Always eager to learn a new skill, Cole strapped his chainsaw to the back of his four-wheeler. I hopped on the other one, and off we went to find a nice, dead, non-intimidating tree for me to learn on.
I had never used a chainsaw before, and I quite enjoyed the experience. I also asked a lot of "dumb" questions, for which you can now learn from the safety of your computer. From a first time user, here is what I learned.
10 Things I Learned About Trees and Chainsaws
#1 Chainsaws are just like any other tool.
By that I mean, if used incorrectly it can kill you. If used correctly it can help you easily accomplish the task at hand. I understand chainsaws are a bit intimidating, but they should be treated with respect and the proper safety techniques.
Your home oven gets to +400 degrees and could deal serious burns and yet millions of people cook with them everyday. Learn to be safe, and be confident in your usage of them.
I learned on this saw: Husqvarna with 16" bar
#2 Wear your Personal Protection Devices.
Safety, Safety, Safety. Use ear protection (like these), when chainsawing for a long time. Use safety googles/glasses (like these) to protect your eyes from tiny shards and sawdust. Wear boots to protect your toes. They make Kevlar pants/chaps (like the ones I am modeling), that will protect your from a chainsaw rip. The Kevlar fibers apparently get all tangled up in the saw, protecting you, and I presume damaging the chain. The pair I am wearing were definitely made for a much taller person, but none the less I was safe.
For me, I wear my seat belt in the car and my helmet on a horse. Protection just makes sense, don't leave home without it!
#3 Chainsaws like to Run at Full Power
The chainsaw is designed to run at full power. This is not a car that you control the speed. The chainsaw should be stopped or revving at full power to cut up logs or take down the trees.
I felt like I wanted to ease into it, by not pulling the trigger all the way. But this is not efficient for the chainsaw and it will struggle in the wood. This isn't the time for fear, pull the trigger tight and run that engine full speed.
#4 "Drop starting" a chainsaw is not recommended but possible, easy and quick
The proper method for starting a chainsaw is to place it on the ground with your foot through the handle. The left hand is on the front handle and with the chain break on, you pull the cord with your right hand. From there you can pick up the chainsaw, remove the chain-break, squeeze the deadman switch, then pull the trigger to start the chain spinning.
However, my friend also demonstrated (I didn't try) the method of drop starting. With the chain break set (for safety), hold the front handle with your left hand. Hold the start cord with your right hand. In a smooth motion, throw the chainsaw/drop the chainsaw away with the left hand and pull the cord with your right.
Please hold the chainsaw, don't literally throw it away. This smooth motion uses the weight of the chainsaw to make the pull-cord easier. It also makes it start much faster, and you don't have to bend over to the ground.
Not recommended for beginners, but a cool trick to quickly and easily start a chainsaw. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. (I just felt like I should add that warning.)
#5 Chainsaw breaks
Every chainsaw (at least modern ones), should have a chainsaw break. This serves the same purpose at the emergency hand break in your car: emergency break + parking break. This is a clamp that grips the chain and prevents (or stops) it from spinning. This is in the front of the engine, and if the chainsaw where to kickback toward your face, the break should kick-in and stop the chain spinning.
The break also acts like the parking break in your car. While starting the engine, set the parking break which will prevent the chain from starting as well. The chain shouldn't start when the engine starts, as the trigger starts the chain. However the chain-break is an extra safety precaution. Set the break then start the engine.
#6 Cut with the Blade Closest to the Engine
This, to me, was not at all intuitive. Cut the log with the part of the blade that is closest to the engine. Instead of cutting with the top of the saw, use the back and middle of the blade. This is where you have the most control.
With a dull chainsaw if you catch the tip, it could kickback towards you. With a sharp blade this is less likely to happen.
If you use the blade closest to the engine there will be less kickback and you will have greater control over where the blade is going. You can also use the pointy metal spikes set on the engine to help you. These "dogs" or spikes, can be used as a pivot. You can set the spikes into the log and pivot the blade on them through the wood which can stabilize your cut.
#7 Cut Notch on Falling Side
I won't cover everything you need to fell a tree from this article alone. I don't know all that. But I will report what I learned, and the perhaps dumb questions I asked.
For starting to fell a tree, once you have decided which way the tree is likely to fall. On the falling side of the tree cut a notch no more than 1/3 of the way through the tree.
The bottom of the notch should be flat and the diagonal cut can be tall as your want. In general this is somewhat a matter of preference but taller, shallow-angle cuts are safer when the tree is falling. The notch is labeled in red in the picture below.
The tree *should* fall in this direction but not yet. What you are creating is the inside of the hinge for the tree to fall while still attached. The tree will close this hinge when it falls, and may still be attached to the stump at the end.
This is a safety precaution, the hinge wood, in theory, prevents the tree from kicking back up when completely free from the trunk. This also better controls the direction of the fall.
The first most likely direction for a tree to fall is the notch side. The second most likely direction is 180 degree backwards from the notch.
#8 Cut Slice on Back Side 1" above the Base of Notch
In order to actually cut the tree, go to back side of the tree. This would be the not falling direction. Starting a horizontal cut approximately 1-2 inches above the base of your notch cut. This cut is labeled in yellow on the above picture.
As you cut, look up at the tree! I fully understand you have a chainsaw running at full speed right next to your hands and your knees and your favorite body parts, but look up at the tree! A spotter can definitely help with this step.
You will not see the base of the tree falling as quick as you will see the top of the tree is falling. When it does start to fall, grab the chainsaw, set the break, and back-away quickly. Then enjoy the sight of your tree falling exactly where you want it.
#9 Live Trees Fall Easier than Dead Ones
For my first tree-felling we pick a standing dead tree with the top removed. For me, this straight pole was a bit less intimidating than a tall full branch-filled tree. However live trees are a bit more flexible and take less of a back cut. My dead tree required I cut almost all the way through leaving very little hinge wood left. A live tree of the same diameter would have fallen much before this one.
Live trees are also full of water, and therefore heavier than this dead tree. The extra weight will also help the tree fall with more hinge wood (a good thing). Dead trees can also have missing cores which could make their fall unpredictable, which can make them a bit more dangerous to fell. Leave awkward dead, core missing, trees to the professionals please.
#10 It's fun and probably addicting
Lastly it was fun! I enjoyed getting out into the woods with friends, and learning to use a chainsaw safety. I can also see how creating firewood in this fashion could be addicting. There is a rush when the tree falls where you want, and the tree is safety on the ground.
Sure it may get old if you are doing it for a living, but I found it great fun! Like anything else, learning was fun, doing it with the purpose of self-reliance in a heating source is rewarding, however killing a tree for a job to make someone else rich is probably soul-crushing.
Do I feel confident to start taking down trees on my own? No.
Do I feel confident I could safety operate a chainsaw on the ground to cut up a log? Yes.
Do I feel a little bit more empowered? Heck yeah.
Have you ever used a chainsaw? What was your first experience like? Old pros: what advice would you give to a first-timer? Let us know in the comments below.