Helpful Tips

How to Use a Chainsaw

how to use a chainsaw

If you’ve recently had a tree service come out to your property to give you an estimate cutting down a dying tree and you were blown away by the steep price tag for this somewhat basic service, you’re not alone. This is one of the most common reasons why homeowners want to learn how to use a chainsaw.

Fortunately, learning how to use a chainsaw is fairly simple, especially if you have the best chainsaw.  You can get this job done yourself, following the proper techniques and safety precautions. In this guide, I’ll go over the steps you’ll take to finally get rid of that unsightly and dying tree on your property for free.

Chainsaw Safety Precautions

Whether you use an electric chainsaw or a gas-powered saw, chainsaws can be deadly in the wrong hands. Chainsaws are dangerous tools that have razor-sharp metal teeth that move at impressive speeds. When you make a cut, the saw can spit out sharp small pieces of wood at a high velocity. A branch that’s under a significant amount of tension can spring back at you when it’s cut. Additionally, a tree that’s felled improperly can flatten surrounding plants in the area or seriously injure you.

There is a proper technique involved in safely and deftly using a chainsaw to slice through stumps and trees. Every cutting situation is different, so there is definitely a learning curve involved.

Chainsaw Safety Gear & Important Safety Tips

Part of using a chainsaw safely is wearing personal protective equipment, or chainsaw safety gear. This equipment should be used every time you use your saw.

This safety equipment includes:

  • Chainsaw chaps
  • Hard hat
  • Gloves
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Ear protection
  • Safety glasses

This gear is especially important when you’re felling a tree. While some seasoned tree fellers may think all of this gear is overkill, especially if you’re doing some light trimming, all it really takes is a sudden gust of wind and you’ll find yourself in a dangerous situation.

It’s also important to mention clothing type. The clothing you wear should fit well, should allow you to move freely, and should feel comfortable. However, do not wear loose clothing since it may catch on the chain.

Chainsaw Helmet

A helmet is by far one of the most important pieces of safety gear and the most underrated. If you’re new to chainsaw use or if you’re working in dangerous conditions, such as when you’re performing overhead work high up in a tree, never work without a chainsaw helmet.

How to Use a Chainsaw

logger using a chainsaw

When you use a chainsaw, the process is divided into 3 main tasks:

  • Limbing
  • Bucking
  • Felling


This process is used for downing trees and simply involves removing all of the branches.


Bucking is cutting up the trunk of a downed tree to length.


When you fell a tree, you’re cutting down an upright tree. Felling a tree is done in a controlled manner, So the person using the chainsaw controls where the tree falls.

Make Sure Your Chainsaw is Ready to Go

Check the:

  • Chain’s tension
  • Chainsaw chain
  • Make sure the brake is working correctly
  • Check the chain oil and fuel

Before you get started, give your power tool a once over to ensure it’s ready to go. Take a look at the controls, chain brake, and handles.

Chainsaw Chain

Is the chain sharp? If not, you’ll need to sharpen the chain before use. A sharp chain can ensure you use the chainsaw safely. You should never use a dull chain since it will make cutting difficult and can cause the chain to slip off the surface of the wood. Using a dull chain is how an accident occurs.

Chain Brake

Place the chain brake forward to ensure it’s in proper working order.

The purpose of a brake is threefold:

  • The brake works as a handguard and will protect your hand from being hit by flying debris.
  • When the brake is engaged, it can prevent you from accidentally cutting yourself when you’re walking with the saw
  • On some models of saws, the brake is designed to automatically engage when kickback occurs. Kickback can occur so quickly that the operator doesn’t have time to shut the saw down.


Of course, you should also make sure you fill the bar oil reserves and gas tank every time you use your saw, even if you’re only planning on using it to cut for two or three minutes. This is a good habit to have and it ensures that your chain will never run out of lubrication during use.

A chainsaw is designed to run out of fuel before it runs out of oil. Running out of fuel isn’t a big deal, you’ll just fill it up again and it will be good to go. However, if you run out of bar oil during use, this will cause the saw to overheat, which can seriously damage it.

Fill up your saw with oil and fuel while it’s on the ground. Make sure that the saw isn’t hot when you’re refueling.

Chain Tension

Before you begin cutting, make sure you always check the chain tension by pulling chain and noting whether or not there is slack. Recheck the tension every hour, adjusting it as needed. A brand new chain will stretch. A loose chain can cause a serious injury and can damage the bar or the chain. A properly tensioned chain can prevent serious injuries.

To adjust chain tension, loosen the nuts that hold the bar and lift the bar as you tighten the chain. You will adjust the screw until the chain rests snuggly against the bar. When you’re not able to lift the chain drivers from the bar groove, the tension is correct.

Firing it Up

cutting down a tree using a chainsaw

There are a couple of methods you can use to safely start up a chainsaw. Most chainsaw users will either fire it up when it’s between their legs or when the saw is placed on the ground. For both techniques, the choke should also be closed and the start switch should be turned on. Some saws will come with a primer button that you’ll need to press a few times.

Ground Starting

Begin by gripping the starter handle using your left hand and put your foot in the handle to brace it. Next, you’ll pull the starter rope. After you’ve pulled it a couple of times the saw should pop but shouldn’t start. Next, you’ll disengage the choke and pull the starter rope again, which will cause the chainsaw to fire right up. Make sure you use a steady grip.

Between the Legs Start

To fire up the chainsaw between your legs, you’ll place the rear of the saw against your right leg and tilted towards the right. Squeeze the saw with your other leg to brace it. Next, you’ll follow the starting procedure I discussed above.

Handling Your Chainsaw

man showing how to use a chainsaw

When you use your chainsaw, be sure to maintain good footing and watch out for any trip hazards. You can keep a good balance by not overreaching with the saw. Make sure you keep your left hand firmly wrapped around the front handle. Grip the chainsaw firmly at shoulder height.


When you use a chainsaw, you have to anticipate kickback. Saw kickback occurs when the top quarter of the bar hits a solid object. When this occurs, the saw’s energy forces the bar up and toward the user with impressive power and speed. When handling kickback, never engage the saw with the upper corner of the bar.

You must practice good operating techniques to help combat kickback such as using a firm two-handed grip, a sharp tensioned chain, and a balanced stance.

You must also be on high alert at all times, especially in situations where the bar may become pinched by the wood that it’s cutting.


When you cut into a log, pay attention to where the log begins to pinch so you don’t allow the guide bar to become pinched. If this occurs, you’ll experience kickback. To avoid kickback from pinching, make sure you’re aware of the position of the guide bar tip at all times.

Wood Tension

Keep an eye on the level of tension the wood is under as you’re cutting. Check on the fibers of the wood and see how they’re reacting to your cuts.

Many beginners make the mistake of using the tip of the guide bar when they’re limbing. Instead, make sure you use the rear of the bar when you bumper spike. Plunge cutting and felling techniques should be watched and researched before you attempt. These tasks can be very intricate to tackle and require some level of experience.


When you’re felling trees, the correct techniques are essential for not only working more effectively but creating a safe working environment.


When you’re removing a tree using a saw, preparation is crucial. First, plan out the felling with the right equipment so your post felling work will be much easier. Before you begin, ask yourself if there are any major obstacles in your way such as buildings, roads, or overhead lines. You can post warning signs if you know that a road crosses the area you’re working in or there’s a lot of traffic on your street.

Felling Direction

Continue preparing for the felling by determining the felling direction. Take a look at the tree and branches. How do the branches grow? Also, take into consideration the wind direction. If you’re not sure of the tree’s natural direction of fall, try stepping away from the tree and checking with a plumb line.  The next step is removing anything in the felling direction. You’ll also want to clear around 40 degrees behind the tree in each direction so you can create your path of retreat.

Pruning the Trunk

Once you’ve cleared the area, posted warning signs, decided on the direction the tree will fall, and created your path of retreat, take a look at the saw’s fuel tank and ensure you have enough fuel for the job.

Next, it’s time to prune the trunk so you can remove all the twigs and branches that may get in the way when sawing the felling cuts.

Cutting Technique

cutting technique on how to use a chainsaw

Once there are no more twigs on the trunk, hold the saw up to shoulder height and begin making the felling cuts. When performing this cut, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind:

  • The breaking bar felling wedge must be inserted before the tree can pinch the guide bar
  • The hinge should have a uniform thickness with the right dimensions

The technique you use for making the cut will depend on the tree’s slope and size, in addition to the size of your saw.

Check for Disease

If you notice that the wood is soft and discolored, or the lower portion of the trunk looks diseased or swollen, then you must tread carefully. These signs indicate that the tree is infested with rot. This also means that the fibers are weak. When this occurs, you want to fell in the tree’s natural direction of fall, using a winch if you’re uncertain. Rot usually subsides higher up in the tree, so you can fell a tree with an extra high stump, for safety purposes.


There are many felling tools to choose from when you take down a tree. The tree size will determine which type of equipment you need. For a smaller tree, you don’t normally need to use felling tools. Often, hand force will be enough. Felling wedges will help provide greater force compared to different types of breaking bars. In some cases, you will need to use a rope with a winch. This will be the most powerful and safest way to fell a tree.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to use your chainsaw correctly involves choosing the proper technique and following basic safety precautions. However, how you use the saw is also dependent on what you’re using it for, whether it’s felling a tree, limbing, or cutting a stump down to size. In this guide, I covered safety basics, including how to fire up your saw the right way, how to handle kickback and the proper steps for felling. If you’re a beginner, while it may seem like overkill, wearing the proper protective gear is crucial to your safety.

Over time, you may feel more comfortable sawing, so you may not require heavy-duty protection. Using the tips included in this guide, you can safely and easily remove small trees, cut down a stump, or remove dangerous limbs that could potentially cause serious property damage. Be sure to talk to family or friends who have more chainsaw experience if there’s a major project you don’t know how to safely handle, such as felling a much larger tree.