Beau October 16th, 2008
The wood cutting theme has continued over the past few days, and between cutting grass and fixing machinery, my bones are feeling the effects. Good to get the exercise but it’s more of a psychological relief to clean up a couple of downed trees and get the wood ready for winter. The young boy has been a big help too, but on weekdays we have breakfast together and then I get him off to school before heading outside. The dogs are company of sorts, but not much help! There’s so much more that would be nice to do, but you make progress where you can and come to some type of balance with nature’s energy and all the other stuff on the list inside and outside the house.
I was putting on my safety chaps the other day and I got to thinking (yes, it happens sometimes). I realized that if I’m going to write about cutting firewood and using a chainsaw (see part I here), then I should probably talk about a few safety issues.
While mulling this over and bucking that log pulled out from the pond, I managed to pinch the saw. Meaning that the chainsaw was stuck in the cut I was making (that’s why it’s sticking out from the log in the picture above). Those cuts do not go all the way through the log. They’re about 80% through, then the log is turned, and the final cuts are made to free the sections. Part of the log is under compression because of the slope of the land.
When cutting, you have to watch carefully for movement, be patient and not try to do everything at once. Sometimes you have to pull the saw out a little faster when you sense or notice changes. But sometimes the wood pinches the saw very quickly. If the saw gets hung or stuck, the best thing to do is nothing! Shut it off, step back and look at the situation. Better a broken saw than a broken something else.
In this case, I used a log peavey and rolled the log enough to free the saw blade. If I had been a little smarter, I would have used the peavey earlier, and shortened the log to prevent such compression and pinching. But everyone does it their own way.
So I’m not going to talk about how to use a chainsaw, since there’s many sites that talk about using one safely. OSHA has some excellent information about logging operations, and this site shows how to fell a tree using a chainsaw. And if you read this site, you may never want to try using a chain saw at all:
“If you place your hands on a chain saw, you must keep in mind that it is like grabbing a hand grenade without a pin in it. It is very likely to go off in your face. From the moment that you take it out of storage to the time that it goes back to the same place, you can be hurt by either it, or by whatever you will be cutting.”
“The chain saw is the most dangerous hand tool that can be purchased on the open market. It requires no license and no training to own or operate it. “Most chain saw accidents are preventable. The only answer to reducing these accidents is proper training and knowledge with a lot of time using a saw – which is experience. You can gain experience the hard way and have the scars to prove it or you can do a little preventative reading.” – Carl Smith, fifth generation logger and chain saw expert.
What I do want to mention involves the basic safety gear. I strongly believe in the “accidents are preventable” mantra, and reading whatever I can to learn. A chainsaw is one of those things that takes practice and as cited most folks learn by experience.
The way I see it, using a chainsaw could be a little like driving a motorcycle naked… It gathers your full attention (and everyone elses), you better not make a mistake, and you feel every bump along the way. And no, I haven’t learned that by experience.
I have learned that when using a chainsaw, you need to stay focused and very deliberate or a moment’s inattention can really hurt something. So what do I do before I start the motor? I always check to make sure I’m properly dressed, no loose clothing and that I’m phyically prepared for the work. Most importantly, the chainsaw must be in good working condition, with a sharp and correctly fitted chain. Here’s my safety gear list:
- Gloves: Non-slip and cut resistant preferred. Gloves are important to help grip and avoid the wear and tear, splinters and pinching that happens frequently when cutting wood. They shouldn’t be too thick because you still need to “feel” the chainsaw properly when using it.
- Steel-toed Boots: Essential. I can’t tell you how many times a large chunk of wood has fallen or rolled on my foot. Those steel toes are worth every penny, especially if the chainsaw blade hits your toe.
- Safety Chaps or Bibs: Also essential. These fit like leather chaps but are there in case the chainsaw blade slips and cuts toward your leg. If the chainsaw blade hits the chaps, the material is designed to stop the blade, or at least slow it down greatly. It tangles up the chain blade with some type of fiber, but meanwhile the blade doesn’t cut through into your leg. I’ve never cut into my chaps before, but sometimes the chainsaw seems close- and I’m glad to be wearing them.
- Safety glasses: Also essential. When you use a chainsaw the wood chips and dust fly everywhere. Never know if something’s going to hit your eye, so it’s another thing that I’m glad to wear.
- Hearing protection: Chainsaws are loud! Foam earplugs help a lot, but should also be worn with some good “mouse ears” to cover your ears.
- Hard hat/Integrated face mask: Depending upon the type of use for your chainsaw, a hard hat and facemask may be necessary. Branches swing and fall from many directions, and a hard hat can save your life.
- Log Peavey or Cant Hook: This tool is like a big hook on a wooden pole. It is very helpful to move and roll over logs and cut sections. I think it’s a safety item as well because it allows you to safely roll a larger log, and to brace it for cutting or on slopes.
- Pre-mixed fuel and chain lubricant: Chainsaw gas tanks are small, and require frequent filling- which helps keep the saw light when using it. But plan to have extra fuel on hand so you won’t need to take shortcuts or try to hurry. Don’t fill the tank when they’re hot! Needing to refill the tank actually gives you time to catch your breath and take a 15 minute break. And when you fill the gas tank, you can also top off the chain lubricant which is essential for smooth operation. Check the chain tension at the same time. Sometimes they work very loose and you don’t even realize it.
One other big point: Take your time and be aware of your surroundings. As you go along cutting or delimbing a tree, and work towards “bucking” the larger parts into sections, it’s very easy to have a huge mess of branches and cut logs laying around. What’s the biggest safety hazard now? That’s right… your work area.
You may think everything is going just fine, but then you step on a little round branch and your foot goes out from under you. Don’t want that to happen. So when you take breaks to fill the gas tank on the saw, use that time to clean up the work area around the place you’ll be cutting. It’s peace of mind and a good habit to get into. Otherwise, read and heed the safety intructions for using the chainsaw!
Those are the core essentials for safety… Did I miss anything else? Oh… all the cut wood needs to be moved somewhere else right? You’ll be doing a lot of lifting and a tractor or truck bed helps a lot. Lift with the legs and not the back ’cause “The job ain’t over ’till it’s over.” Eventually you’ll have a nice pile of wood ready to split.
Then it’s time for the axe, maul and wedges, or a good hydraulic splitter. If firewood is an important part of your home heating in winter, then investing in a hydraulic splitter could be helpful. After using one this year I’ve found it works about four times faster than I can with a maul. Not only that, it splits the really difficult joints much more easily than possible by hand. This angle joint was split in half, and then into four good-sized pieces of firewood.
But the splitter is no picnic either; you still have to lift and position a lot of wood. You’ll get a good workout either way, but the hydraulic splitter makes it a much faster process.
For now there’s a few other trees that need cut down and cut up. This hickory tree blew over in another windstorm, and it blocks a small area of grass I like to keep cut (actually it’s on the way to the boy’s secret spot, so I need to do something about it!). I haven’t decided quite how to “buck” it yet, and the fact that it sits higher makes it a little more dangerous. Any ideas?
And just so you don’t think I go around cutting up all the trees here’s a couple of other pictures. This little oak tree is a Mossy Cup or Overcup Oak. The young boy and I found the acorns under an enormous, very old tree in the county and brought them here to plant on our property two or three years ago. Two of them sprouted and this little tree is doing well! Who knows, maybe when the boy grows up he’ll see a beautiful oak tree, or someone else will be sitting under this tree a hundred years from now.
And at the end of the day it helps to look at the landscape and appreciate the beauty of the living trees around us. I hope these continue to stand strong and tall for generations to come.