Chainsaws are an invaluable tool for arborists working in utility line clearance, tree pruning and vegetation management. But like most heavy-duty machinery, proper chainsaw repair and maintenance is paramount to ensure consistent performance and prevent accidents. Roughly 36,000 people are treated for chainsaw-related injuries each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of whom are experienced tree professionals. As such, it’s essential for businesses in the tree services sector to offer their workers in-depth arborist training that includes chainsaw safety, maintenance and repair. The following guide touches on some of the most important tips and industry guidelines for using, fixing and servicing chainsaws in tree care settings.
Safety First: The Importance of Proactive Maintenance
The first step to ensuring proper chainsaw safety is to understand the manufacturer’s instructions, as each brand will have its own controls, internal design and service schedule. That said, most chainsaws designed for professional use have similar 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 using a chainsaw, tree professionals should always check these core components for signs of damage, wear or obstruction, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This proactive approach to maintenance can not only help identify possible issues before accidents occur, it can also lengthen the lifespan of the equipment itself. 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, such as safety glasses, work gloves, hard hats, etc.
When working on the ground or at elevation, arborists should always have a coworker nearby to help minimize the risk of serious, even fatal, injuries. Additionally, chainsaws must never be operated above shoulder level and no adjustments should be made to the chain while the engine is running.
Chainsaw Repair and Upkeep Best Practices
Tree professionals sometimes encounter chainsaw maintenance issues immediately before or during their tree pruning operations, forcing them to make on-the-spot adjustments. While some mechanical problems can be resolved rather easily, many will require replacement parts and a safe environment to perform chainsaw repairs. The most common maintenance concern is a dull chain, which can increase the risk of kickbacks and impact the tool’s overall performance. Other common issues include gas leaks, warped guide bars, faulty spark plugs and clogged air filters. 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
While a dull saw chain can lead to more severe safety and maintenance issues, it’s actually quite easy to keep them sharp and in working order. As noted by Popular Mechanics, there are several different methods of sharpening a chainsaw – filing by hand, using a power sharpener, etc. – that tree professionals can make use of. Although bench-top sharpeners may be the most expedient solution, arborists often encounter saw chain problems in the field where such equipment may not be readily available. In these circumstances, using a round file of appropriate diameter is the quickest way to sharpen the chainsaw’s cutting edges.
- 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.
Once you’ve mastered how to sharpen your chainsaw, it’ll likely be much easier to maintain its other core components. If you’re able to eliminate a dull saw chain from your list, locating damages and mechanical flaws is often more straightforward. When in doubt, be sure to consult the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations to remain safe during your chainsaw repairs.