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Safe Chainsaw Operation and Maintenance

The summer season brings opportunities for landowners to clean up trees and brush from storms, clear natural vegetation growth in undesirable areas and prepare winter firewood supplies. Once primarily used by professional loggers, chainsaws are now widely used by landowners looking to reduce the effort required for cutting wood and clearing land. While a chainsaw provides a huge reduction in effort, it also can cause serious injuries, and even death, if the operator is untrained or ignores common safety procedures.

Personal protective equipment

Before even thinking about using a chainsaw, it is imperative that the operator has proper personal Chainsaw cutting into a downed tree. protective equipment (PPE) to help prevent or lessen the severity of injuries. PPE should be used every time a chainsaw is picked up. If employees use a chainsaw in their work, the employer is required to provide PPE and ensure proper use of it. When the PPE is no longer serviceable, the employer is required to replace the equipment.

Chainsaw operators must use the following PPE:

  • Head protection, such as a hard hat or helmet system
  • Hearing protection, such as ear plugs, ear muffs or other sound reduction tools
  • Eye/face protection, such as safety glasses or a mesh face screen
  • Cut-resistant leg protection, such as Kevlar ®-filled chaps
  • Protective footwear and work gloves


Inspecting and maintaining the chainsaw before and after use is another safe working practice.  Maintenance checks include checking for dirty, damaged, loose or broken parts (e.g., the bar, guards, shields and chain brake). If any of these items are damaged or not working properly, they must be fixed before use. 

The chain makes the cutting action and should always be maintained, sharpened and set at the proper tension. Sharp chains are more effective, safer and overall easier to use. There are many chain-sharpening tutorials online, or you can drop it off for the professionals at the local saw shop.   


An operator must ensure that the work area is safe, with no other people in the immediate area. Spectators and other workers must be more than twice as far as the height of the tree being felled. For example, if the red oak you will be cutting is 70 feet tall, then everyone must be at least 140 feet away. Additionally, any obstacles that could be in the way during or after cutting should be removed or cleared. Make sure to look at the overhead conditions to ensure there are no hanging branches or trees that could fall into the work area. And most important, make sure to look for overhead powerlines that might be in the way.

Felling, bucking and limbing trees with a chainsaw can be more efficient and safer than using many manual tools; however, the sharp-cutting chain spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute can cause bodily harm in a fraction of a second. When chainsaw injuries occur, they typically are not just small scratches, so take your time, avoid reckless actions and work with a trained, experienced saw operator. When operating a chainsaw, make sure you’re alert and well-rested. Safe use and proper chainsaw maintenance are both pertinent to safely and successfully completing the task.

Author: Ben Spong, WVU Extension Specialist – Forest Operations
Last Reviewed: July 2022