Chainsaw safety

As a nation of DIYers, many New Zealanders will have a chainsaw lurking somewhere in their sheds, and if they don’t have one, it’s highly likely their mate has one.

Know your capabilities

Match the size and type of your chainsaw to the job at hand. If you don’t feel you have the skills for the job, there’s no shame in getting a professional to do it for you. Only a professional should attempt to cut down trees.

Check your chainsaw

Before you start chainsawing check that:

  • all parts are lubricated
  • the chain is the right tension
  • the teeth or cutting edges are sharp
  • the depth gauge settings are correct
  • all safety devices are in place and working
  • there are no loose parts or bolts. If anything is missing or adjusted incorrectly, don’t use the chainsaw – get it repaired.

Gear up

It’s no exaggeration to say that wearing the right safety gear could save your life, so spend the few dollars it takes to buy safety gear and the few minutes it takes to use it. Chainsaw safety gear includes:

  • protective gloves
  • chaps
  • helmet
  • safety glasses
  • grade 4 or class 5 hearing protection
  • solid (preferably steel-capped) boots.

Check your work area

Look for anything that could trip you up, such as electrical cables, or people (especially children) who might get in the way. Also check nothing’s going to fall on you while you’re working, such as debris from higher up the tree.

Never drop-start a saw

Use the cold start or warm start positions only. If you drop-start a saw it could swing in an arc and cause a serious injury.

Watch for kickbacks

A kickback (when the guide bar is thrown back towards you in an uncontrolled arc) can happen at any time. Usually it happens when the upper part of the bar nose hits a solid object or light material, or when it’s pinched while cutting. It can also happen if your chain is loose or the depth gauge setting is too low. Most modern saws have a protective leather mitt attached to the front handle that can protect your hand and help prevent kickback. If your saw has one of these, make sure you use it correctly.

Never cut above shoulder height

If you cut above shoulder height there is more chance of losing your balance, you can’t see what you’re cutting, and the chainsaw is more prone to kickbacks.

Hold and use the saw correctly

Keep two hands on the saw and hold it close to your body, with the body of the saw close to what you’re cutting. Plant your feet firmly, and slightly apart, for balance. Never try to adjust your chain or machine while the engine is running.

Cut only one log at a time

Remember that chainsaws are designed to cut wood – nothing else.

Maintain your saw

Good maintenance will extend the chainsaw’s life and make it safer to use. When you finish chainsawing:

  • make sure the air filters, sprocket cover and chain brake mechanism are free from sawdust
  • clean the guide bar groove
  • oil the holes and check everything is in place (do this each time before you use a chainsaw as well).

The best tip of all is that if you aren’t confident using a chainsaw, ask a professional for help!

If you’d like more information on chainsaw safety, see A guide to Safety with Chainsaws (external link) from the Department of Labour’s website:

Last updated: 11 February 2014

Last reviewed: 22 January 2014