I can’t lie; wielding a chainsaw makes me feel pretty darn tough. Granted, I realize that I’m holding a piece of machinery that is spinning a chain at 70 miles an hour with a bunch of tiny sharp teeth on it (as our chainsaw instructor reminded us of multiple times throughout our 3 day safety course). But something about taking a tree from vertical to horizontal is pretty incredible—and really gets the adrenaline pumping.
I found our instructor, Bill, to be quite fascinating. He has been using chainsaws for a very long time, telling us stories of being a kid and his dad handing him a chainsaw and basically letting him figure it out after only a few sentences of instruction. Bill pointed out that’s often the problem with people using chainsaws. You’re taught to use one as a child by your father, likely learning the method of his father who previously taught him. Likely, the instructions included how to use it and not necessarily how to use it safely. There are obviously risks involved in waving around a spinning bladed tool, and experience doesn’t always equal safe practices. Just spend three minutes with Bill and you’ll hear some seriously harrowing stories of people in his life, professionally and personally, who have been through horrific chainsaw injuries or even died due to using a chainsaw in an unsafe manner.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Granted, you’re never going to eliminate the dangers involved in using a chainsaw, but you can be smart about it and minimize the risk. Here’s one example of how you can minimize risks involved in using a chainsaw when you’re out in the woods:
Say I’m going out to fell a tree to cut up for firewood (or “bucking”, as I’ve learned it’s called). I spend time planning my spot for it to land, measuring my tree to decide how big of a notch and hinge to cut, and then after I cut it, it falls just slightly off my desired target. In the process, some pesky little sapling tree has gotten pinned underneath my newly cut tree.
Now, the “tough” side of me decides that it’s no big deal—I just cut down a huge tree for goodness sakes! I can handle this little sapling, no problem. I’ll just take my awesomely powerful chainsaw over there and cut it off so it’s out of my way and I can continue on; it’s a two-second job. What I may not have realized (and maybe you’re in this same boat, hence this post!) is that a tree that is bent over like that (called a “spring pole”), regardless of how small it seems, can pack a serious punch if you cut it in the wrong place.
Prior to our recent chainsaw safety course, I definitely would have underestimated something like this and the risk involved. All it took was for one story retold by our instructor, Bill, about a guy he knew that came across a spring pole and it literally “sprung” him over 50 feet away and basically knocked him out. Now I realize that toughness would mean absolutely squat if I’m very seriously injured or killed by something that was so trifle and preventable.
So I hope to help you be safer for those of you who do already (or may one day) find yourself out in the woods using a chainsaw. It’s so simple, and so worth the extra minute that it takes to plan out your safe method of dealing with that spring poled tree.
Here’s what we were taught:
1. Step back from the tree and view it side-on. Use your hands, fingers touching, to make a 90° degree angle, one hand level horizontally with the top of the spring pole, while your other hand is level vertically with the base of the tree trunk. Try to ignore things like the ground slope or the angle of other trees around it as best you can when determining these angles.
2. Bend your middle fingers down until they meet below the rest of your fingers and note where they touch on the tree trunk, that’s the 45° angle. You can either pinpoint that exact place with your eyes or simply take a knife and etch a line on the spring pole in that location.
3. Next, use the chainsaw to slowly and carefully shave about a 4” length off the underside of the spring pole trunk. Shave the spring pole just below and above your previously pinpointed spot. Take your time doing this step as you want to move slowly and shave off a little at a time. Continue shaving until you see the spring pole start to lose its tension.
4. Put the chain brake on and back away when it begins to move, just in case. If done correctly, the spring pole should veeeery slowly bend to 90°, taking the pressure off and making the scene safe to enter again.
It’s such a simple thing, but it could save you or a loved one so much heartache. Even if you don’t plan to use a chainsaw to fell trees but you are someone who enjoys going on a walk in the woods, keep this tip in mind for if you ever come across a situation like this. A spring pole can be way more dangerous than it appears and should be given a wide berth or dealt with in as safe a way as possible!
Happy chainsawing! ~Amber