Staying Safe with Chainsaws

Written by Andrew Morrison

two men cutting a straw baleChainsaws are an active part of straw bale construction. There are some other options for cutting bales, of course, but a quality electric or gas powered chainsaw is still my favorite. It’s really important that safety be considered when working with any tool and a chainsaw is no different. There are times when a small section of bale needs to be cut off and the temptation to have someone hold the bale while you cut is great. Without that person holding the bale, it’s unstable and tends to shift as the cut is performed. This makes for a messy cut and a dangerous situation for the saw operator.

You can see in the picture what I recommend. By using a piece of wood long enough to get the bale holder away from the saw and the “kick area” of the saw, he is able to provide adequate support for the bale and allow the chainsaw operator to work without added risk. The “kick area,” by the way, is the apace which the saw would cover if it bound up and kicked back. Kick back happens so fast that there is no way a person could move out of the path, especially if they are not the ones in control of the saw as they would have no indication that the saw was about to kick until it was too late.

Again, the simple use of a piece of wood makes this situation safe. Notice also that both men are wearing safety glasses. No, it’s not sawing hard wood, but yes, stuff can still hurt your eyes.

Here are some basic safety guidelines to keep in mind when working with chainsaws. This is only a partial list, so take whatever precautions you need to stay safe.

1. Work on a stable table. I like to use another bale or even better, two bales run perpendicular to the bale I’m cutting.

2. Keep your body out of the kick area.

3. Wear safety glasses and hearing protection.

4. Work in a well ventilated and light area. You need to see what you;re doing and breathing gas fumes all day won’t make your day any better!

5. Clearly mark your cut in advance and follow the line.

6. Watch for bale twine!

7. Be sure your helper is safe (see above).

8. Clean the sprocket and guard area often to keep it clear of straw. Jammed straw can throw a chain or catch fire.

9. Keep the saw well maintained. Oil and properly adjust the chain.

10. Always unplug electric saws and turn off gas saws before performing any maintenance or adjustments.

If you’re interested in really learning how to build with bales and you want to have perhaps one of the best weeks of your life in the process, then come to one of our workshops. We always have a good time and you will gain the confidence to build your own house too.

CLICK HERE to see what workshop locations and dates we have available this year!

7 Responses

  1. I like your list of safety guidelines. There is a lot of stuff in there that it easy to overlook.

    However, when I look at the photo, I think: “Where are the operator’s pants, chaps, ear muffs, and helmet?”. I’ve worked in the woods and around mills for years and I wouldn’t be comfortable if I was either one of the people in that photo.

  2. Hi Kate. You make a good point in regards to safety clothing (helmet, chaps, etc); however, keep in mind that the chainsaw is moving through straw, not wood. There is no density like that of wood that will kick the saw back and no chance for the straw to pinch (causing kick back) the way that wood does when a kerf pinches. Straw is very soft and the chainsaw moves through it much more easily. I would suggest ear plugs (they may have been wearing the insert style as we had some on site) and glasses, but I’m comfortable with the rest. Also, in terms of ear protection, the time with the saw running is very short as compared with working in the woods where a saw might run for hours at a time.

  3. Most of the accidents that I know of that have happened around chainsaws were not related to the actual cutting. In the time when the saw is still hot and spinning, even slowly, people have gotten some nasty cuts. That’s why I’m big on having any soft tissue covered–preferably with more than one layer.

  4. Yes, that’s a good point. I sometimes see people put a saw down while the chain is still turning or even swing it behind them to clean out a cut with their free hand while the chain is turning. This can be very dangerous indeed to them OR people around them.

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