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Ohio State University Extension


Chain Saws

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Chain saws are used frequently to clean up deadfall, fell trees and cut wood. They have powerful engines and sharp cutting edges that make quick work of heavy trunks, branches and brush. If used improperly or without proper attention, they can cause serious injury to human flesh and limbs. To avoid injury, follow safe practices.

Safe use of a chain saw.

Safe Operation

Chain saw safety relies on the operator being aware of the proper use and inherent dangers associated with sawing tasks. The manufacturer provided operator’s manual should always be read and followed before using a chain saw. Although many units appear similar, there may be safety and operation features unique to each brand or manufacturer. If the operator’s manual cannot be found, a replacement can be obtained by contacting the equipment manufacturer or a local dealer.

Follow these general precautions when fueling and starting a chain saw:
• Refuel the engine only when it is cool.
• Do not smoke when working with the saw.
• Start by placing one foot on the bracket to the rear of the chain saw.
• Grip the top handle of the saw firmly with one hand; use the other hand to pull the starter cable.
Follow these general precautions when operating a chain saw:
• Operate the saw only on stable ground or footing, to avoid potential slips and falls.
• Do not operate the saw overhead.
• Do not cut using the tip of the saw. Contact with the bar end can cause the saw to kick back unexpectedly and strike the operator.
• Do not disable safety features such as antikickback bars and bar-tip shields.
• Avoid chain contact with the ground or with other hard objects such as rocks, metal fencing or nails.
• Do not operate the saw when fatigued or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Inspection and Maintenance

Keep the chain saw in good repair and use the maintenance schedule provided in the operator’s manual. The manual is the best source of information regarding saw maintenance.

Correct chain tension will increase the life of the chain and will provide the best cutting action. If too loose, the chain will derail from the saw; if the chain is too tight, it will bind. Proper lubrication prolongs the life of the saw, making the saw safer to use. The chain should be sharpened when necessary to avoid the need to force the saw through the wood.

Sharpen the chain if:
• The chain tends to “walk” sideways while cutting.
• The cut debris shows fine powder instead of chips.
• It is necessary to press hard to cut.
• Cutting produces the smell of burned wood.
Before storing the saw for extended periods, drain the fuel tank in a safe area and run the engine on idle until it stops.

Personal Protective Equipment

Always use personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating a chain saw. Follow these PPE recommendations when operating a chain saw:
• Wear a full-face shield and safety goggles with side shields to protect the face and eyes from flying twigs, wood chips and sawdust.
• Wear ear protection to preserve hearing and protect the ears from the high level of noise produced by the saw.
• Wear a hard hat to protect the head from falling limbs and branches. A properly fitted hard hat is cool, comfortable and provides protection from injury.
• Wear leather gloves to protect the hands from cuts, splinters and abrasions.
• Wear nylon mesh chaps and/or knee pads to protect the legs. The specially designed fabric frays on contact to stop the chain.
• Wear safety boots or shoes with high tops to protect the ankles and feet in case the moving saw blade gets too close to the feet. Steel-toed boots help protect the toes and feet from falling limbs or logs.
• Do not wear loose or ragged clothing. Dangling or frayed edges can get caught in the saw.


• Jepsen, Dee, M. Wonacott, P. Ling, and T. Bean. Chainsaw Safety, AEX-192.2.06. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Extension, 2006.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering


Originally posted Nov 20, 2015.