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How to Use a Chainsaw – The Ultimate Guide for Operating Safely and Effectively

A chainsaw is a great tool, but it takes knowledge and practice to use it confidently. Here’s a detailed guide on how to use a chainsaw safely and effectively.

A chainsaw is an impressive tool. Using it may be a bit scary, especially when you don’t know the proper technique. But, with sufficient knowledge and careful practice, it’s not so difficult to learn how to use a chainsaw safely.

We’ve done our best to make the clearest possible guide so you’ll have at least a very precise idea of how to use a chainsaw after reading it.
It’s always best to practice with an experimented chainsaw user. But if you’re learning and practicing alone, don’t rush, and please, be very cautious. A chainsaw is a dangerous tool!

We hope that you’ll find all the information you need to learn how to use a chainsaw in the safest possible way.

How to Use a Chainsaw – Before Cutting

How to Use a Chainsaw – Safety First

How to Use a Chainsaw – Cutting

Keep reading to find out how to use a chainsaw or click any section above.

How to Use a Chainsaw – Before Cutting

Get Familiar With Your Chainsaw

Long before you start thinking about cutting, you should take enough time to get to know your brand-new chainsaw. Read the instruction manual and learn how to use it before trying it out. That way, you’ll learn about its different parts, controls, and safety features.
By the way, that’s what we all should do each time we use a new power tool, especially those with a sharp blade spinning fast!
Always follow your owner’s manual safety recommendations.


Your saw must be properly maintained to operate safely. Your manual will list the maintenance items and when to do them. Here are the main tasks that you should perform regularly:

No Hazardous Energy

  • First off, for obvious safety reasons, make sure your gas-powered chainsaw is switched off before performing any maintenance task. 
  • Unplug your electric chainsaw from the power outlet or remove the battery if it’s a cordless model.

Bar and Blade

  • Inspect the bar and clean it.
  • Every time you use the saw and every hour or so of use, check the tension of the chain. Use the tension adjusting screw to tighten the chain when necessary.
    The chain tension adjustment is very important. Loose chains can damage the bar or even fly off it and cause serious injury. A new chain needs to be checked after 20 minutes of use as it will stretch.
  • Sharpen the chain regularly. For more details on sharpening, see our guide on how to sharpen a chainsaw.
  • When the chain is rusty, damaged, or when the teeth are too short, it should be replaced.

Air Filter

  • Check the air filter. Clean and replace it when necessary.


  • Check the operation of the throttle, the chain brake, and the chain catcher.

Fill Up the Tanks

  • First, be sure that the saw is not hot when fueling.
  • Gas: Put your chainsaw on a level surface and fill it with gas that’s premixed with two-cycle oil (check your owner’s manual for the proper mix for your chain saw).
    Bar and chain oil: Each time you use your chainsaw, make sure to fill or at least check the bar oil reservoir, or at least check the level. It is crucial for your saw to have enough lubricating oil while it’s being used. If it runs out of bar and chain oil, that will cause friction and heat and could cause serious damage to your saw.
  • Obviously, you only need to fill your electric chainsaw with bar and chain oil.

Starting Your Chainsaw

  • To start your gas-powered chainsaw, place it on flat ground.
  • Turn on the ignition switch.
  • Engage the chain brake by pushing the lever forward.
  • When the chainsaw engine is cold, you’ll need to close the choke by pulling it out to the ON position.
  • If your saw has a decompression valve, push it.
  • Press the primer bulb a few times.
  • Now, place your right foot on the rear handle, below the throttle, and hold the front handle with your left hand.
  • Pull the starter cord until the saw pops.
  • Push the choke back in.
  • Pull the starter cord again until the saw starts.
  • Squeeze the throttle quickly to disengage the high idle.
  • When you want to shut off the saw, simply turn off the ignition switch.
  • All you have to do to start your electric chainsaw is squeeze the throttle.

How to Use a Chainsaw – Safety First

Chainsaw Safety Features

All chainsaws come with some mandatory safety features. Check the safety recommendations in your owner’s manual.

Most chainsaws include an inertia-activated chain brake. This means that, if a kickback were to occur, the tip of the bar would be quickly forced upwards but the front guard’s inertia should activate the chain brake instantly to stop the chain.

Safety Equipment

A chainsaw is a dangerous tool that can cause serious injuries. So please, always wear the following protective clothing and equipment when using a chainsaw:

  • Hard hat or helmet.
  • Eye and hearing protection.
  • Protective pants or chaps.
  • Cut-resistant gloves.
  • (Anti-slip) Steel-toe boots.
  • Forestry jacket/shirt with proper upper body coverage

Chainsaw Handling Safety Tips

Here are a few tips on how to handle a chainsaw to minimize the risk of injury or strain.

  • Make sure there’s nobody around you when you’re about to cut with a chainsaw.
  • Don’t stand directly behind the chainsaw when cutting. A kickback from this position could be especially dangerous. Instead, stand to one side of the saw.
  • Keep a firm, well-balanced position when cutting with your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees, not your back.
  • Always wrap your left-hand thumb around the front handle and hold it firmly. That way, you’ll have more control over the saw in the event of kickback.
  • Keep the saw quite close to your body. The farther the saw, the harder it will be to resist a kickback.
  • The chain must never be rotating when you move to another spot. Always engage the chain brake and remove your right hand from the rear handle whenever you’re not cutting. Carry the saw with your left hand holding the front handle. 
  • Cut at waist level, never above shoulder height. Also, avoid cutting too close to the ground where the blade could dig in and kick back.
  • Most of the time, kickbacks occur when cutting with the upper portion of the bar tips. So avoid cutting with the top of the bar tips as much as possible.

How to Use a Chainsaw – Cutting

General Cutting Guidelines

  • To make a cut, hold the front handle with your left hand and grab the rear handle with your right hand.
  • Get in position.
  • Pull back the chain brake to disengage it.
  • Then squeeze the throttle.
  • Wait for the engine/electric motor to be at full throttle.
  • Make the cut.
  • You can either cut downward or upward. A downward cut is called a pulling chain and an upward cut is called a pushing chain. A pulling chain drives you into the wood while a pushing chain pushes you away from the wood. When making an upward cut, you can brace the rear handle of the saw or your right elbow against your thigh to gain more control over the saw.
  • If a kickback occurs – hopefully without any injury – the chain brake may automatically engage. If it does, just pull it back to unlock.

Tree Felling

Tree felling requires careful planning and skills. That’s a dangerous job that is often best left to trained professionals. That being said, you may still choose to cut off a tree of manageable size that gives clear signs of where it is going to fall. Here’s a very basic method for cutting down that kind of tree: 

  • Look out for obstacles in the surrounding area, such as vegetation, power lines, buildings, or fences. You don’t want the tree to hit anything when falling.
  • Examine the tree. Is there a dead section that could break off or any loose branches? Are there any vines that could interfere with the fall?
  • Plan out the tree’s fall: What’s the size, the shape of the tree? Is it leaning? In which direction?
  • You must have a plan of action. Determine your path of retreat and the position of the people helping you. These important details should be clearly communicated to them. 
  • Clear away the work zone from debris and suppress any tripping hazards.
  • You’ll first be doing a face cut on the side of the tree that faces the direction of the intended fall:
  • A face cut is a notch made on one face of a tree. Here, you want your face cut to be about 70° or wider and to a depth of between ¼ and ⅓ of the width of the tree. Such a cut is made to provide sufficient wood to hold the tree to the stump during the majority of the tree’s fall. It will also be guiding the tree’s fall in the intended direction.
  • To make the face cut:
  • Face the direction where you want the tree to fall. Turn around and face the tree.
  • Start with the top cut: Make a downward 60° – or more – cut around the base of the tree. Stop when you reach a depth of between ¼ and ⅓ of the width of the tree.
  • Then, make the undercut: Make a 10 to 20° angle headed toward the deepest point of the previous top cut. This cut will complete the notch – the face cut. 
  • Finally, you’re going to make a back cut:
  • Go to the opposite side of the tree and make a horizontal cut headed toward the tip of the notch.  
  • As soon as you see the tree starting to move, escape in the direction opposite the fall quickly but calmly while keeping your eyes on the tree.

Cutting Off Tree Branches – Limbing

Before you start cutting tree branches, take a moment to analyze the situation. Plan how you’ll cut each branch and try to notice any hazard. What about that under-pressure branch trapped under the tree? How will it react when you’ll cut it? 

In some cases, especially on slopes, a tree could very well start rolling right after an under pressure branch has been cut. So prepare for the worst-case scenario by clearing escape routes around you. It is recommended to always work with a partner so that you’re sure to get help in the event of an accident.

  • Cut while standing on the uphill side of the tree as much as possible.
  • Start by cutting branches closest to the base of the trunk, and progress toward the top of the tree. 
  • Under-pressure branches: Start with a downward cut through ⅓ of the branch width. Then put your chainsaw on the other side of the branch and finish cutting with an upward cut.
  • Be very careful when there is no space between a branch and the ground. Only cut ⅓ of the width of the branch downward. Keep the bar of your saw parallel to the ground to avoid touching it. Don’t worry, you’ll finish cutting the branch once the trunk – or section – can roll.

Cutting Off a Tree Trunk – Bucking

When all the under-pressure branches of the tree have been cut, the tree should be flat on the ground. Only now can you start cutting the trunk into sections and logs.

  • To cut the parts of the trunk that are not flat on the ground, pick a spot where the bar of your saw can fit under the trunk but won’t be too close to the ground.
    Again, start with a downward cut, ⅓ of the width, and finish with an upward cut.
    One or both sides of the trunk may drop. So get prepared!
  • Ideally, cut sections that are about 8 ft. long. They will easily roll.
  • Now, you can cut those sections into logs. The standard length for firewood is 16 in.
    Again you don’t want your chain to hit the ground while cutting through those sections that are flat on the ground.
    To avoid that, start with downward cuts through ⅔ to ¾ of the width.
    Then roll the section to the opposite side and complete the cuts.

Want to Read Other Cutting Guides?

Check out our article on how to use a circular saw and how to use a table saw.

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