Cutting wood is inherently hazardous work. Even if you’re using state-of-the-art techniques and practices, stuff still happens, as the saying goes.
A quick word on chainsaw injuries and why you don’t ever want one: chainsaws cut wood in a ragged, not a surgical, fashion, removing a quarter-inch kerf in the process. They won’t treat your leg any differently than wood. Chainsaws also introduce foreign matter, wood chips and bar oil at a minimum, into a wound, greatly increasing the risk of infection. Finally, they cut very quickly, increasing risk of bone- and limb-threatening injuries.
That’s why it is so important to wear personal protective equipment, known in the business as “PPE.” Personal protective equipment does not eliminate the risk of injury, but it can reduce the degree of injury should an accident happen. Here is a quick breakdown on the latest in PPE.
Chaps: Stepping into a running saw with your left thigh is a mistake made at all levels of the experience spectrum. Chainsaw chaps contain numerous layers of fabric that can jam a saw in less than half of a chain’s rotation. Purchase chaps that are UL classified and meet either ASTM or OSHA standards and that will cover you from your belt to the top of your boots. Look for chaps with a durable cordura outer cover that is resistant to oil and snagging on brush. Discard ripped chaps.
Boots: Good footing in the woods is essential, so a Vibram or other aggressive sole is a must. Boots ideally should also protect you from a saw, so leave the sneakers and lightweight hiking boots at home. Leather boots are good, steel-toe boots are better, and boots with layers of Kevlar or other saw-resistant material in the front are best.
Gloves: It is always a good idea to wear a pair of heavy, leather work gloves when doing any chainsaw work. Ideally, the gloves should also afford you some protection from contact with the chain. You can buy gloves (or mitts for cold weather operation) that have kevlar or another material in the left-hand glove to protect your front hand from the chain.
Hardhat: This is an essential item to wear during any felling activity. Buy a good one, and don’t cram things (an extra bandana, for instance) up inside it – that void between the suspension and the outer shell protects you when something hits your helmet. A six-point suspension will offer you more impact protection than a four-point suspension. A ratchet suspension is easiest to adjust and may stay on your head better when you are looking up or down. Inspect the suspension regularly and make certain its components are in good shape and that it is attached to the shell in all the proper places. Replace it if you find cracks or defects, or after any serious hit to the head. Manufacturers recommend replacement after five years.
Eye protection: Always use either your helmet’s face shield and/or safety glasses. Eye protection is cheap insurance for a very important, complex, and sensitive part of your anatomy.
Ear plugs/muffs: These not only protect your hearing but also help to prevent fatigue. A chainsaw operating at full throttle creates about 110 dB of noise for the operator; anything over 85 dB can cause hearing loss. Foam plugs work well in warm weather, full coverage muffs work well in the cold. Look for products rated to reduce noise by 25 dB or more.
Inspect your PPE regularly for defects and damage, and replace it as necessary. Finally, keep a small first aid kit with a wound dressing handy (preferably on your belt), drink plenty of fluids, and knock off for the day if you are starting to feel fatigued. Wear the PPE you paid good money for – it won’t help you if it’s hanging in the shed while you are running your saw.
Carl Demrow is a trail consultant and carpenter when he’s not busy tending his woodlot in Washington, Vermont.