How to avoid chainsaw kickback

‘Chainsaw kickback’ is a phrase that is used when discussing operating chainsaws. To ensure absolute safety, it is extremely important to ensure you’re well versed in what it means and how to handle it. It can mean the difference between getting the job done and serious injury.

To fully prepare for chainsaw kickback you first need to understand what it is, how it happens and, more importantly, how to avoid it.

What is kickback?

Chainsaw kickback is the term that is used to describe the sudden jolt by the chainsaw in an upward direction. It is potentially very dangerous and is one of the most common causes of accidents involving chainsaws. Once the chainsaw decides to bite back there is next to nothing you can do so it is always important to be aware of how it can occur and how to prepare against it.

Kickback is usually caused when the chain gets snagged. The power from the engine is still providing energy and this has to go somewhere. As a result, based on Newtonian physics, the reaction is equal and opposite causing the kickback. This, therefore, means that the more the chainsaw gets stuck, the more violent the kickback will be.

The most common place this will happen is on the “kickback zone” on the chainsaw blade. This is a 90° angle at the top of the chainsaw as seen below. If you are using this point of the chainsaw to cut, it’s easy for the blade to momentarily get pinched on the wood.

In addition to this, there are a number of other factors that can increase the chances of experiencing kickback. They are mostly due to the setup or basic maintenance of the chainsaw.

If the chainsaw is dull due to a long life this can increase the likelihood of kickback, as it isn’t as capable of cutting through the wood. Likewise if the chainsaw chain isn’t tight enough this will also affect the efficiency of the chainsaw and will increase the risk of kickback.

How to prepare for kickback

When the chainsaw decides to bite back there will be almost nothing that you can do to stop it. You should always be prepared for when this does happen, most importantly by wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE). It is imperative that you are wearing the right gear before the work starts. As the chainsaw is most likely to kickback upwards you will need to make sure you have a helmet, preferably with a visor.

It’s also recommended that purchase the right type of jacket, trousers, gloves and boots before you start work as this could possibly be the difference between life and death if the chainsaw decides to bite back.

Ways you can avoid chainsaw kickback

To reduce the risk of kickback there are a number of different things you can do to minimise the frequency.

  • Read the manual
  • This should always be the first port of call, especially if you are not very experienced with chainsaws. Your manual will provide all of the important information on how to use your chainsaw safely, and correctly.

  • Make sure the chain brake works before you start
  • The chain brake is arguably the most important component of a chainsaw. It’s designed to stop the chainsaw chain by applying a brake. This can be used when you are changing position without turning off the whole chainsaw, but it is also a valuable component for kickback. The chain brake can activate under kickback conditions, which can mitigate very serious injuries.

  • Use low-kickback chains
  • Certain chainsaw chains are better for kickback than others. It is, therefore, important to choose the right chain for your needs. Low profile chains or semi-chisel chains are ideal for beginner chainsaw users as they are designed to incur less kickback. A full chisel chain has square-cornered cutting teeth, which cut through wood quicker but also have a higher risk of kickback.

  • Use a sharp chain
  • As mentioned above, a dull chain can cause kickback, as the teeth will not be able to cut through the wood, which will cause the chain to get stuck and cause kickback.

  • Be wary when felling tree trunks
  • If the nose of the chainsaw bar strikes a log or a hidden branch you will be at risk of kickback. It is therefore very important to be careful when limbing any trees, as the risk can be higher.

    It also places additional importance on how you are standing; if you are using a ladder you must make sure it’s stable as a violent kickback could affect your balance.

  • Pay attention to the nose of your chainsaw bar
  • As mentioned above you need to make sure you are avoiding the kickback zone when you are cutting, and be sure to use the correct part of the blade. Your manufacturers manual will have the information bespoke to your machine.