Chainsaw checklist: What to check before hitting the jobsite

Updated Sep 6, 2022

arborist using chainsaw to cut through tree trunkFor arborists performing tree pruning, utility line clearance and vegetation management, chainsaws are a necessary tool to get the job done. Yet, proper chainsaw maintenance and repair is equally as necessary to prevent accidents and ensure reliable performance.

Roughly 36,000 people are treated for chainsaw-related injuries each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of whom are experienced tree professionals. As a tree care business owner, the burden of providing your workers with proper, in-depth training around necessary chainsaw safety, maintenance and repairs rests on you.

The following guide touches on some of the most important tips and industry guidelines for maintaining, servicing and repairing chainsaws in tree care settings.

Safety first: Proactive maintenanceguest-post-attribution-box

Before performing any chainsaw repairs or maintenance, understanding the manufacturer's instructions should be the first step for every tree care professional. Each brand will have its own controls, internal design and service schedule pertaining to components that must be regularly maintained, including:

  • The engine: Keeps the chain rotating at a desired pace, either through gas or electricity.
  • The chain: Spins around the guide bar and is outfitted with teeth to improve cutting performance and reduce kickback.
  • The chain brake: Automatically prevents the chain from rotating in the event of a kickback, reducing the risk of injury.
  • The lubrication system: Helps ensure the chain moves around the guide bar without unnecessary friction, heat or stuttering.
  • The air filter: Keeps the engine from overheating during heavy workloads or periods of prolonged use.

Prior to any work being performed, tree care professionals should conduct a thorough inspection of these core components for any signs of wear, damage or obstruction, as recommended by OSHA. Maintaining a proactive approach of chainsaw inspections will help identify possible issues and will not only help extend the lifespan of the saw, but also help prevent accidents before they occur.

OSHA recommends taking the following precautions before getting started:

  • Check all controls, bolts and handles for possible safety issues
  • Verify the chain tension is adjusted according to the manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Ensure the fuel and lubrication system is filled to recommended levels
  • Sharpen the teeth on the chainsaw’s chain prior to use
  • Put on personal protective equipment (PPE), such as safety glasses, work gloves, hard hats, etc.

Tree care professionals should always have a fellow arborist on-site to help monitor performance, whether working at ground level or elevated heights. Additionally, having a second set of eyes available during your tree pruning job helps to minimize the risk of serious chainsaw-related injuries or accidents. As a strict rule of thumb, chainsaws should never be operated above shoulder level and certainly should not have adjustments to the chain made while running.

Chainsaw repair and upkeep best practicesarborist helmet with face shield and earmuffs sitting on top of chainsaw

In some cases, on-the spot maintenance may be necessary before starting or while operating your chainsaw. While inconvenient, some mechanical issues can be resolved rather easily, however many may require replacement parts and a safe environment to perform proper chainsaw repairs. One of the more common maintenance concerns arborists will encounter is a dull chain. A dull chain is particularly dangerous, as it can increase the risk of kickbacks and have a negative impact on the saw’s overall performance. Occasional gas leaks, faulty spark plugs, warped guide bars and clogged air filters are other common issues to look for in regular maintenance checks. If a chainsaw is running rough or having difficulty starting up, an arborist should try to diagnose the root causes before switching out parts or making repairs.

How to sharpen a chainsaw

Keeping your chainsaw sharp and in working order is not as difficult as it may seem. As noted by Popular Mechanics, there are several different methods of sharpening a chainsaw tree professionals can make use of, such as: filing by hand, using a power sharpener, etc. Bench-top sharpeners may be the most convenient solution, yet arborists who encounter issues in the field will most likely not have that equipment readily available.

In such circumstances, keeping a round file of the proper diameter on hand is a quick solution to sharpening the chainsaw’s cutting edges while in the field.

The steps to properly sharpen the chainsaw are as follows:

  • Step 1: Set a sharpening guide on top of the saw chain and rest the file against the cutting edge.
  • Step 2: Adjust the file to match the cutting tooth’s angle. Keep in mind, these cutting edges are designed with alternating angles.
  • Step 3: Using a slow and steady stroke, push the file forward along the cutting tooth. Repeat this motion five additional times while matching the tooth’s angle.
  • Step 4: Move onto the next cutting tooth and repeat steps 1 – 3, making sure the curved edges are clean and shiny.

Chainsaw sharpening and repair, like any other skill, takes time and effort to fully master. However, regular maintenance and inspection of your chainsaw and its core components will help you develop an eye for preventing issues before they arise.

Overall, keeping a sharp chainsaw will help to minimize your potential risk of having a serious injury or fatal accident. When in doubt, be sure to consult the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations to remain safe during your chainsaw repairs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Doherty is a dynamic and versatile insurance program leader with the rare combination of specialty insurance and technology expertise. Tom leads NIP Group’s specialty programs division and has driven the development and growth of many differentiated insurance programs (including the TreePro, LandPro and GrowPro programs) to address the unmet needs of customers and brokers. Tom earned his degree in history and economics at Monmouth University.

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