Norm's Notebook: Chain Saw
Master Carpenter Norm Abram's techniques for using chain saws
My chain saw is small—just a 12-inch bar—but it's perfectly adequate for thinning small weed trees out of our woods. I let pros fell the big trees, but once they're done, my little saw easily handles the cleanup, including cutting the trunk into logs for the fireplace.
Before using a chain saw, I always check the chain tension. If it's too tight, it'll wear out the bar and sprocket and can even snap. If it's too loose, it can jump off the guide bar.
First, I put on a glove so I can pull the chain around the guide bar. It should track smoothly and with little effort. (If it doesn't, the saw's guide bar may be bent, the sprocket in the bar's nose may need oil, or the chain may be too tight.) Next, I pull the chain away from the bar about midway along its length. The chain should lift slightly—about 1/8 inch—but the crescent-shaped drive links underneath the chain's teeth should remain in the bar's groove.
To adjust the chain tension on most saws, loosen the mounting nuts at the base of the bar, move the bar in or out slightly, then retighten the nuts. Once the tension is right, then it's okay to start.
Forget whatever stunts you've seen where people fire up a chain saw while holding it in one hand. This tool needs to be firmly under your control, especially at the start.
- Place the saw on the ground and make sure there is nothing touching the bar.
- Engage the chain brake. If the engine is cold, pull out the choke completely.
- Put your right foot partway through the rear handle and hold the front handle firmly with your left hand.
- Pull the starter-cord handle with your right hand until the engine starts.
- Push in the choke and hit the throttle once so the engine speed drops to idle. Disengage the chain brake only when you're ready to begin sawing.
When I'm cutting a felled log or a large tree limb into smaller chunks—a process known as bucking—I usually start at the skinny end and work toward the thicker heel. It's easier to get the thinner portion off the ground and on top of another log. Then I can make a single cut from top to bottom through the cantilevered end without worrying about the chain being pinched or landing in the dirt. If the log is too big to slice through in one cut, I'll make a partial cut, then roll it away from me and continue the cut. Be sure to step back at the end of every cut; you don't want that log to land on your foot.
Never cut in the "danger zone," the upper half of the bar's nose; the saw will likely kick back at you.