February 17, 2011

Tools of the Garden Trade-part 3- Chainsaws

heavy duty / commercial grade chainsaw

If you are a homeowner, an avid gardener, or even a home-renter, at some point in your gardening life you have looked at a chainsaw at a store, and thought "I wonder how much work I could do with one of THOSE.....". I acquired my first chainsaw right after Hurricane Katrina roared through southern Florida in 2005, and had some rude awakenings about how to use a chainsaw, since I had no training with the tool. The first thing you find out is that  new chainsaws can cut wood at an astonishing rate. The second thing you find out is that they can cut anything else in their path with equally astonishing speed, including tables, sawhorses, cables, and any body parts or clothing in the chainsaw's path. These two discoveries can happen at the same time !

medium duty chainsaw

commercial grade chainsaw with a 24 inch bar
built for commercial tree cutting

Chainsaws are useful but powerful tools, and need your utmost respect. The tool has essentially one purpose: to cut wood. It should not be used to trim bushes, old lumber, patio decks, or the like. It MUST be used with both hands on the saw, you MUST use protective equipment like body and eye protection, and you MUST have a solid and well balanced footing when you use a chainsaw. The possibility for injury is very high when using a chainsaw, especially when the user gets bold.   Perhaps  he uses only one hand on the saw to cut a branch a little further up the tree than he can get to with both hands. Perhaps he is on a ladder, and needs that last little tip of a trunk cut off, way out there, so he leans way out over the side of a ladder. Accidents happen with the predictable speed of the laws of physics ( really fast), and the cost of fixing the injury to you and the property can be very high indeed.
homeowner grade chainsaw, 16 inch bar
built for occasional use

electric pole chainsaw- light duty

I am not trying to dissuade anyone from using a chainsaw, but I am certainly trying to lend some strong counsel to non-professionals who might select a saw that is not matched to their needs or skills. I blog about getting the right tool for the job and for your needs, and this blog is no different. Here are some of the criteria
for choosing  saw for your needs. As with all tools, choose one that fits your hands, your skills, the job needs, and your budget. This is one case where a heavier-duty saw has the power to cut through tough wood materials like oak or maple or some of the tropical hardwoods, as long as you can effectively control the saw. Some of the heavy duty saws are quite heavy, more so than a homeowner might like. A 14 or 16 inch bar is sufficient for most needs. Some of the European brands have controls in curious places, so pick up a few brands in the store to see how they feel to you. Poulan and Homelite are made mostly for the retail gardener / homeowner market, for occasional use. Echo, Stihl, Husqvarna and Jonsered are brands with both commercial and retail pedigrees, and make numerous models for various needs.

Electric chainsaws are the lightest weight and lightest duty chainsaws, and come in both a hand-held and pole saw version. They will cut through wood a few inches thick, but lack much muscle, so let the chain do the cutting, and simply keep control of the saw. These are strictly homeowner grade, and for light jobs. They would jam up on hard woods, or on resinous tree trunks. The larger gas-operated saws can require some muscle to keep them on track, but you can exert a lot of down force on the saw to expedite cutting. 

Let me address safety equipment, and recommend that you spend as much on the equipment as the saw. I have heard many people complain that the equipment is hot, and makes you look funny. I have the same response for those complaints: would you prefer to look funny for an hour, or look even worse without your hand forever ? Chainsaws operate at blinding speed, and the kickback from a saw hitting something hard is faster than a human can respond to. I would much rather look like a movie stunt man for an hour or two than risk an injury. It is incredibly common to see tree crews working without safety gear. Such people often have the scars and hearing problem to prove their foolishness.

As with the power tools of carpentry or construction , a chainsaw is a great tool when used safely and for the right reasons. Choose a saw with the size and power for your needs, get educated on how to use it well, and as the old saying goes " don't get stupid". The penalty for such bravado is expensive and long lasting. I suggest these saws for the calm, professional, educated gardener. I learned a lot in a hurry about how to use these saws effectively. We use them routinely as part of vegetation management at Pinecrest Gardens, but we always brief the cutters about where the trees will fall, potential hazards to watch out for, and to keep an eye on nearby people.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

light duty electric chainsaw


face shield / hard hat / hearing protector combination

purpose-built chainsaw gloves

chainsaw chaps

No comments:

Post a Comment