Since you're reading this article you are probably thinking about purchasing a chainsaw, or you've already chosen the model that fits your needs for tending a garden and DIY jobs.
This article offers a mini chainsaw course: a summary of the guidelines on how to start the chainsaw, how to use it and how to make cuts. Of course we'll also be focusing on safety, a key factor to keep in mind when using a chainsaw.
How a chainsaw works
As you know, there are three basic components of a chainsaw: motor unit, cutting tool (bar and chain), handle system. By means of a gear wheel (pinion), the motor transmits drive to the chain – the actual cutting element of the machine – that runs in the channel on the guide bar.
Unlike the body of the machine, which is fixed, the guide bar and chain are removable and must be installed. The installation procedure is similar on all chainsaws, but to provide an example this article will refer to the procedure for the Efco MT 3500 S and MT 4110 compact chainsaws.
How to fit the chainsaw guide bar and chain
Use only the guide bars and chains prescribed in the use and maintenance manual of your chainsaw: in this case, 35 cm bar for model MT 3500 S and 41 cm bar for model MT 4110.
Now perform these steps for installing guide bar and chain, only after putting on a pair of gloves.
- Release the chain brake/hand guard by pulling it towards the front handle.
- Remove the chain cover casing and undo the chain tensioner screw.
- Insert the bar under the stud (or collar screw).
- Install the chain between the sprocket and bar channel, complying with the correct chain rotation direction (using the teeth on the cutter links as a reference).
- Fit the chain cover casing in its seat, tighten the chain tensioner screw, and snug the cover casing nut (or nuts) without tightening.
- Adjust the chain tension using the chain tensioner screw.
- Tighten the nut (or nuts) to secure the chain cover casing: the chainsaw must never be started unless the chain cover casing is correctly fitted.
Adjust the chain to the correct tension so that it runs easily along the bar, pulling the chain by hand or, better still, using the shaft of a screwdriver. The chain is properly tensioned, meaning not too slack or too taut, when it can be raised slightly (approx 4 mm) simply by pulling it upwards.
With a correctly tensioned chain the tool will cut better, safety conditions are guaranteed, and the working life of chain and chainsaw are maximised. For the same reasons, apart from working with a correctly tensioned chain it is also important for the bar/chain system to be correctly lubricated.
When working with the chainsaw always wear approved protective clothing. In addition to gloves, the basic apparel includes a pair of professional chain-resistant trousers and a jacket with anti-cut protection. For even greater safety, add a pair of chain-resistant boots and protect the head with helmet, ear defenders and visor.
How to start the chainsaw: start-up
Before starting the chainsaw it must be refuelled, always with the engine cold. You can purchase 2-stroke mixture ready for use or you can prepare it in an approved fuel can, using unleaded automotive petrol and synthetic oil for 2-stroke engines. Comply with the fuel/oil proportions shown on the pack, e.g. the oil ratio for Efco engines is 2%: 2 cl oil per litre of petrol. 2-stroke fuel is flammable: perform these tasks outdoors and do not smoke.
How to start the chainsaw with a cold engine? Assume a position at least 3 m from the place where you refuelled the chainsaw and proceed as follows:
- Apply the chain brake/hand guard by pushing it forward towards the bar.
- Fill the carburettor with fuel by pressing the primer.
- Set the starter (choke lever) to the "Close" position: with a warm engine the starter is not needed so you can skip this step.
- Place the chainsaw on the ground in a stable position: the chain must be clear of objects and free to rotate (so do not attempt to start the chainsaw if the guide bar is inserted in a cut).
- Firmly grip the front handle.
- Pull the starter cord several times, until you hear the engine fire for the first time.
- Return the starter to its original position ("Open").
- Pull the cord again to start the engine.
- Wait for a few seconds for the engine to warm up, keeping it at idle speed.
- Release the chain brake by pulling it towards you, i.e. towards the front handle.
- Accelerate to unlock the automatic half-throttle.
You are now ready to start work. Hold the tool with both hands: the rear handle with the right hand and the front handle with the left hand (this grip must be adopted also by left-handed operators).
How to use the chainsaw: how to cut and the main types of cut
Before you start cutting duties with the chainsaw, always make sure there is sufficient light and a good level of visibility, make sure the working area is clear and at least 10 m from the nearest power lines. When starting the chainsaw and during cutting operations ensure that people and animals remain at a distance of at least 15 m.
Always work while maintaining a stable and safe position; never attempt to work while balanced on a ladder. When cutting with the bottom of the bar, i.e. with "pulling chain", the operator can maintain the maximum control of the chainsaw: the chain tends to pull the tool towards the log and the front of the chainsaw serves as a rest.
Conversely, use caution when cutting with the top of the bar (with "pushing chain”). In this case, the chain tends to push the chainsaw backward and if you are not gripping the tool firmly there is a risk that the blade will "slip" until reaching the kickback zone, meaning the top part of the tip of the bar. The expression “kickback” refers to a sudden upward and rearward jolt of the chainsaw
Never attempt to make a cut above the height of your shoulders because when holding the chainsaw at height it is extremely difficult to compensate for possible kickback. Once again, due to the risk of kickback do not use the tip of the bar to make cuts.
If you use the chainsaw to cut large branches (diameter greater than 10 cm), never attempt to sever them with a single top to bottom cut, because the weight of the branch would result in tearing of bark and wood fibre, thus harming the tree. Instead, use a relieving cut technique (a relieving cut means an initial cut on the underside of the branch, after which the cut can be completed working from the top of the branch).
Still in doubt about the steps required for start-up and correct use of your chainsaw? Check out this video.