Illustrations by Joseph Smith
While chainsaws have evolved over several decades to become safer, there is no mechanical solution to the problem of fatigue. Since fatigue is a major contributor to chainsaw accidents, an operator should be aware of the following techniques that limit muscle strain.
First, keep the saw close to your body.
People new to using chainsaws will often try to hold the chainsaw as far away from their body as possible, mistakenly believing that this is a safer position. But holding anything away from your body is an inherently tiring proposition, hard on your back and muscles. Holding a chainsaw away from your body while using it will leave you fatigued in a matter of minutes rather than hours, drastically reducing your chances of getting any work done.
Holding a saw far from your body also leaves you ill-prepared to counter the constant reactive forces of an operating saw – pulling, pushing, and kickback. You’ll use much more energy to counter these forces if the saw is far from your body, and you’ll be in an inherently less safe position to do so.
The solution is to keep your elbows close to your torso, with your arms slightly bent at the elbow. This will keep the saw close to your body, minimizing muscle fatigue and back strain. Rest the body of the saw against your waist or thigh as you cut to increase stability and reduce fatigue.
When you are bending over while cutting, wedge your right elbow in between your thigh and stomach to better support the saw’s weight. When constructing an open-faced felling notch, lean your left shoulder against the tree, and keep your elbows in and forearms down. You’ll be constructing your notch in a nearly resting position. With practice, you will find there are many positions in which to comfortably use your body to support a portion of the weight of the saw.
The second fatigue-reducing technique is to use the wood to support the saw whenever possible.
When you’re cutting through a log from top to bottom, as you normally would, using the bottom of the bar to make the cut, let the wood support virtually all the weight of the saw. The saw does the work ¬while you simply supply the control and balance. You can also use the 6-point limbing technique (Tricks of the Trade, Winter 2000), which focuses on using the tree to support the weight of the saw. Newer saws have a smooth surface on the bottom and left side of the saw to allow for easy sliding along a log.
Here’s on more quick tip. If you’re using the saw to make horizontal rather than vertical cuts (for example, if you are cutting brush or making a bore cut), use your thumb rather than your index finger to operate the throttle. Using your thumb will keep your wrist straight and will also keep a strong and stable body position strong and stable for controlling the reactive forces of the saw.
Carl Demrow is a trail consultant and carpenter when he’s not busy tending his woodlot in Washington, Vermont.