Top Five...
By Tim Ard, Forest Applications Training, Inc.

In training workshops over the years there are many of the same issues and thought processes that come up in questions and statements as I go through the presentations. I decided to write about the top five, not in a ranked order, but to let others, including to remind myself, of some of the common conceptions and misconceptions about chainsaw operations.

I was told years ago that experience is the best teacher! I was also reminded that there are two types of experiences- good ones and bad ones. So with these top five listed, maybe you don't have to go through experiencing some of the bad ones...

Holding wood or hinge as we call it, is the wood fiber that is left attaching the stump to the falling stem when cutting a tree. A hinge can be used in felling, but also in bucking (cutting up a fallen tree) or in limb removal situations. A hinge gives us reaction time and control in many sawing scenarios. So often saw operators think the hinge should not be left and they should stay with the tree until all fiber is cut and the tree or limb reaches the ground. This thought and action puts the operator in jeopardy, as many of the incidents, fatalities and injuries happen when saw operators stay with the tree, cut the hinge off and stand beside it too long as it falls. In addition to the thought- the hinge can't work if the notch is not cut properly or has a bypassed notch corner.

Escape Routes
Escape routes, or planned retreat paths are thought to be the act of cleaning around the tree so you can get away. The get away part is correct, but too many saw operators forget to plan their steps before beginning the felling or working cuts. You should have a clear plan in your head of what you are going to do; if the tree goes right and if the tree were to go wrong. It's not a process of cleaning brush only, it is the position you plan to be in as soon as the tree or limb starts to move. Struck by injuries and fatalities are often because saw operators or onlookers are not away from the stump of the tree when objects are falling. Plan your retreat path thoroughly, clean it - the path and around the tree and most of all use it.

Few saw operators know how to use the felling sights on the chainsaw. A line ninety degrees (perpendicular) to the guide bar. This sight can be used to place the tree, given your side lean calculation and the strength of the hinge, where you want it. You must stand behind the sight line, much as you would with a rifle site, to aim the tree. Aim the tree toward the target/lay area before you start the face notch cut. Really, you do this aiming of the sight during the cutting of the face notch. If you don't, you will most likely be sending the tree or limb in the wrong direction. The sighting however, doesn't take away the importance of planning the forward to back lean either. Remember, the sighting and hinge techniques work on the ground but they also work just as well in the tree or from a bucket work position.

The Saw
I very seldom find saw chain that is ready to cut when the group provides a saw for me. In looking over the whole group, if they do not have a new chain on the saw they bring to class, their chain is usually slightly damaged or just plain dull. I hear something to the effect that someone else used the saw yesterday.... Well, whatever, the important thing is that you get it into a state of sharp before you begin your work with it. Dull saw chain means more work - pushing and often pulling on a saw to get the task accomplished. You fatigue, your productivity is reduced and most of all safety sometimes compromised. Make sure to check your saw chain before heading to work.

Second in this section - the run of the saw is not understood. You should know how to check your saw to make sure it will work with you to complete your task. If the saw runs away, won't idle without the chain turning and constantly dies every time you move it or depress the throttle- it's time to get your saw adjusted or repaired.

I know sometimes the group is using my saw or they may bring a spare saw or one that someone else uses most of the time; they just are unfamiliar with it's switches and operations. However, I wonder if that is the usual case on the work site too. I see too many times that a saw operator doesn't know how to approach starting and running the saw they have. They put the switches or choke in the wrong position and cause their saw not to start and complain about the equipment because of it. Air or drop starts also complicate the situation and compromise safety.

Personal Protective Equipment
I never use it! We don't have it! I've never been hurt and I've been cutting for 15 years! These are all common statements I hear in class. From supervisors or organizations a common one is added - the rules don't apply to us. They are for other.....?

Important facts are - I find most saw operators don't know the rules and they really do not understand why we need these important safety items to reduce the chances of injury should an unplanned event occur (accident).


I am in no way complaining about these above areas of concern. Going over and over with saw operators every day about these very things and more is how I make a living. I am simply reassuring you and myself, as to why training is so, so important. Not just on the front side but also repeating and repeating the issues that plague a chain saw operation. Training and retraining have to happen.

Storms, hurricanes, and common tree maintenance happen! Every day, somewhere, someone finds a chainsaw to be the tool of choice to handle a task - cutting some type of wood material.

If you or your crew is going to use equipment, it is so important to train with it. Just think what would happen if our police or military didn't train with their firearm tools. If the fire department didn't constantly go over the operation of and check the readiness of their equipment. Is a chain saw operator less professional or skilled?

Read your equipment operators manual and know what the tool is designed to do and what safety issues or PPE items are recommended for use with its operation.

Good sawing!

The author is president of Forest Applications Training, Inc. and has a been working with chain saw training and applications for over 30 years. For more information on Tim Ard and his training programs visit .
(c) 2010 Forest Applications Training, Inc.