How to Use a Chainsaw | Chainsaw 101

Hello guys, my name is April Wilkerson and in this video I’ll be starting at the beginning to cover how to use one of my favorite tools, a chainsaw.

The chainsaw isn’t a tool that you should just jump in and figure out how to use as you’re going. So in this video I’m going to cover the basic…going over all the parts, maintenance, and using it safely. 

If you are watching the video, I’ve broken the video down into different portions to make it easy if you’d like to skip ahead or easily jump back to hear a talking point again. I’m mostly going to cover gas power saws but will cover electric at the very end. I recommend checking out the video for more details.

  • Parts of a chainsaw – 0:37
  • Needed Fluids – 1:55
  • PPE – 3:07
  • Kickback – 4:33
  • Putting on, Tensioning, Removing the Chain – 7:42
  • Picking Out the Right Chainsaw – 9: 38
  • Making Safe Cuts with a Chainsaw – 11:03
  • Sharpening a Chainsaw – 13:02
  • Storing a Saw – 14:09
  • Battery Operated Chainsaws – 14:53

Parts of a saw

First off, lets go over each part of the chainsaw. They all will be slightly different of course but the basics are the same. The bar is this portion here that the chain rides along, rotating always away from the user.

You have a priming pump or priming bulb which can aid on start up a cold machine, more on that later.

Here you have the pull handle which is used to start the saw.

Right here you have the trigger which is like the accelerator peddle on a vehicle. It’s progressive meaning the harder you pull it, the more fuel you are giving the engine, and the faster the chain will go.

On the top side is what’s called the trigger interlock, and this is a safety measure that won’t allow you to squeeze the trigger without it being compressed.

Up here at the front you have the chain brake which is a built in safety device. Don’t make the mistake of holding this as handle when the saw is running. With the chain brake released, the chain can move freely. When this brake is engaged and pushed forward, the chain won’t be able to rotate.

On that note the proper way to hold a saw is to hook your thumb around the handle and not have it in front like so. If you experience pushback a potential danger is your hand can slip off and run into the chain. 1) you can have gloves with built in intex just like chaps but 2) if you have your thumb hooked then it will help you maintain control and in a safe position. 

You can flip the saw on its side, which is totally fine to do. Some things have an orientation they need to stay in, but the chainsaw can be maneuvered around every which way just fine.

On the side you’ll see two caps. One will be for gas and the other will be for the bar oil. They both have symbols.

Before using a saw, I always make sure both of these are topped off. I try not to run my saw out of gas completely, but it’s alright if you do. However, on bar oil, you never want to let that get empty or you can damage the bar and chain. 

Needed Fuels 

Again, the first thing I do when using a saw is make sure both chambers are full. I personally do not recommend using regular pump gas in your yard power equipment. I invest in a higher fuel choice that has no ethanol. Actually I use this Motormix in all my two stroke power equipment because I find it so frustrating if a machine sets up for a little bit and becomes hard to start because the ethanol in most of today’s fuels, gets the carb and other components all gummy. So this fuel is a little more expensive but there is a reason for it and a benfit. 

Then another investment that I think is worth it is the bar oil. Stihl bar oil has an additive in it called a tacifier which makes the oil climb up, and stay in the rivets of the chain to lubricate instead of getting slung off. 

At the end of the day you’re going to have a lot of options with fuels. But, you get what you pay for.

PPE

Let’s talk about PPE, which is Personal Protective Equipment. Of course the basics are needed – eye protection and hearing protection, boots and gloves. But there are a few extras. Chaps are the big one. It’s very easy to think jeans are enough when using a chainsaw, I used to be that person actually. And they’re not.

Chaps are designed to almost instantly stop a full speed running saw if it comes in contact with your leg. Chaps are made up of layers of material called intex which is designed to make the clutch slip should the chain come in contact with it.

Here’s an example of how that looks when the blade comes in contact with the material.

It’s not only incredible that it works, but it’s also incredible that it’s so simple to prevent a massive injury. Something most people don’t know (because few read instruction manuals), is you should to wash a brand new set of chaps before use. This puffs them out to create an air barrier in the different layers for added protection. Also you know the length is correct when the bottom of chaps are touching the top of the foot. 

For your top section, I typically at least wear long sleeves if I’m out stomping in the woods, just to give my arms some protection from branches but you can also wear a top that has intex in the shoulders.

Gloves will protect your hands from not only cutting on the chain.

Last element of PPE is a face shield which comes on a hard hat. 

With or without the face shield, another protective measure you can take is to not be in line with the saw but instead be either to the left or right so that should the saw kick…..your head and face are clear. 

Kickback

On that note lets go ahead and talk about kickback. Remember that the chain is rotating away from the user, that means when you are using the bottom of the bar to make a cut it is wanting to pull forward.

Opposite, when you are using the top of the bar it is wanting to push back at you.

Both of these cuts are just fine but maintaining your balance and stability on your feet (or whatever cutting position you’re currently in) is one of the more preventative safety measures you can take when using a saw. So be ready for the different forces so you can counter them. Kickback occurs when the tip of the saw comes into contact with the log. Again, rotating chain: when it contacts the wood it will want to try and walk up. The faster it’s rotating, the faster it will pop up at you. So avoid using the tip to make cuts, keep your head out of line with the saw just in case, then also wear your helmet system.

It’s worth pointing out that you do have a built in fourth line of defense on the saw, which is the chain brake. It’s designed so that should you experience kickback, the brake will be engaged by your wrist before the bar reaches your face. On all Stihl units there is also an inertia feature that will sense a force and engage the chain brake for you if there is enough kickback energy.   

Starting a saw

Lets move onto starting. The safest way to start a saw is to place it on the ground and place your foot through the rear handle.

Going back to the power switch, if you have a cold machine you will want to start it using the full choke position. If you’re curious, this will change the mixture slightly so that a little more fuel is given, and a little less air.

If you don’t care about the technicals, that’s ok. What you need to do is go ahead and engage the chain brake and put the saw in choke (on this machine I’ll engage the trigger interlock and push the switch all the way down but look for the symbols on the saw to understand the correct location). Now pull the handle until the engine turns over and tries to start.

Once you try and start and hear a sound that sounds like it wanted to start but changed its mind, move the switch from full choke to half choke, which is just up one click. This will change the ratio again then it should just take another pull before it fires up. Once it does fire up, you immediately want to squeeze the trigger of the saw which will automatically move the switch into the standard on position and regular idle. 

If the chain isn’t moving it’s because the chain brake is on, to release it pull the handle back. You never want to continuously run the chain with the brake on or you’ll burn up your clutch.

It is great practice to get into using the chain brake with your wrist so that as soon as you release the trigger, you engage the chain brake, which will immediately stop the chain instead of allowing it to slowly wind down. Of course if you release the trigger and start lowering the saw and accidentally get into your leg….even though the chain is winding down….it can still be a potential danger so pushing the chain brake forward every time you release the trigger is a great preventative measure. 

To kill the saw completely, simply push the power switch up to the off position. 

Putting on, tensioning, and also removing the chain

Lets cover putting on, removing, and also tensioning the chain. This is probably where you will get the most variety in the different models so I’ll show you the most common.

I’m using a Stihl MS211, and this one has the quick chain adjuster which is toolless. To take the chain off flip out the handle and unscrew until the side cover comes off. Make sure you are wearing gloves and rotate the large gear until the chain is loose.

Now remove the bar and chain as a unit. When putting it back on, you’ll put the chain around the bar, put the chain on the sprocket as you put the bar on the stud. Make sure the chain is facing the correct direction which is towards the nose of the bar. Now rotate the gear to slightly tension the chain then place the cover back on.

You tighten up the cover all the way, but then back off half a turn to create some slack. Grab the nose of the bar and hold it all the way up, now you can use your thumb and rotate the tensioner until it stops rotating. This is a feature that won’t allow you to over tighten the chain.

Last thing is to tighten up the cover. You’ll want to use a gloved hand to make sure the chain can rotate freely. If it doesn’t, make sure the chain brake isn’t on or you probably have the wrong chain pitch. 

The second way requires a tool that is a combination between a wrench and a screwdriver so they call it a “scrench”.

All the steps are basically the same except when you place the chain back on and adjust the tensioning, you’ll use the screwdriver. It’s important to get the bar positioned on the adjusting pin. On these types you can certainly over tighten. To prevent that, once you place the cover back on use the screw driver to adjust the tension. It’s tight enough when you can pull the bottom of the chain down and it snaps back and rotates freely.

Again, make sure you’re holding up the nose of the bar when tensioning and also when you do the last step which is tightening the cover. Use the scrench that comes with the saw so you don’t over tighten these nuts. It’s this length for a reason.

When you want to remove the chain in order to sharpen it or replace it, simply remove the covering, and loosen up the tension until you’re able to slip the chain right off. *can look at sprocket, bar, and chain to make sure they match. When hand testing, if making a bunch of racket or not rotating check again that things match. 

Alright, I think we’re ready to start cutting.

Picking out the right saw for the job/property

It can be overwhelming going to pick out a saw because there is a large variety. Stihl tries to help with the by requiring every dealership have staff trained so they understand the product and match the customer needs to the saw. I recommend finding a local dealer that has the saws out of the box so you can personally hold each saw before purchase.

In general there are two main variables the engine size and the bar length. You can buy the engine of the saw and place a range of different bar lengths on it however there is a limit on how long you can go without straining the engine. So for example: this ms211 saw has a range of 12”-18” bar length. 

So one way to pick out which saw is right for you is to determine the diameter of trees you will be cutting into because that will determine the length of bar which will help determine the engine size.

Of course if you have a large property then the size could vary, which is the case for me, and which is why I have multiple saws. A larger one that can support the longer bar and get through hard woods quickly but also a smaller one that allows me to run it for hours without it wearing me out.

It’s important to take your time and find the right saw for you because power translates into weight so while you might think the bigger the better, it’s more important to get the right size that will allow you do get the job needed done without wearing you out. You get tired, you slack on form and attention and that’s when mistakes are a higher risk. 

Making cuts

When it comes to using the saw, it’s pretty self explanatory but there are a few tips to make the job easier and more efficient. 

Your stance will vary depending on the cutting direction and position, but if you have a down tree and need to cut it up, your feet should be in a stance that makes you feel well balanced and steady. Keep your face to the left the blade so that if the blade kicks back, it will miss you. If I’m cutting down a small bush or tree at the base, I drop to a steady, controlled position on the ground then hold the saw on it’s side to make the cut.

A few cuts is easy to do but if I’m cutting for hours, I use my thighs to assist in holding up my arms to avoid getting fatigued. Again, be mindful of what’s on either side of the truck to avoid running your chain into something that will dull it or create a kickback.

Always get the saw rotating before you engage in the wood. 

When you lower the bar into the cut you’re aiming for the back of the saw to hit first and sink in so that you can use the bumper spikes on the body of the saw to grab into the wood so that when you pivot the bar forward, they will dig in and aid in keeping the saw engaged. 

On that note: I see some people want to make a sawing motion when using a chainsaw but a rocking motion is much more efficient. Drop the back down some then drop the nose to let it catch up. Now repeat. When you get towards the bottom of the cut you want to finish with the saw parallel 

Take it easy when you’re punching through, if you’re close to the ground. Dropping a bar into the dirt dulls the teeth, especially if you’re in rocky terrain. The chain is spinning up to 60 miles per hour so if you touch dirt for 1sec, every tooth has been dulled.

If you are cutting a log that is directly on the ground, you can cut 3/4 of the way through, the roll it over so that you can complete the cut. 

I know it’s tempting to use a chainsaw for everything within reach but you never want to cut over your shoulders. If you have something above this position then it’s safest if you change over to a pole saw. You never want to use a ladder when operating a chainsaw so if something is above your shoulder, stay safe and switch to a pole saw.

Sharpening the chain

You’ll want to keep the chain sharp to make the most out of your time cutting.

A good general rule to remember is to sharpen the chain after every other tank of gas used. Of course this can vary depending what you are cutting. The chain will dull quicker if you’re cutting dirty wood, such as a log packed with dirt. An alternative if you don’t want to sharpen that often is to invest in a carbide tipped chain which will stay sharp 10x longer buuuut that requires a diamond sharpening wheel so figure out what is most important to you. 

There are two best ways to sharpen a chain, a bench mounted grinder…

….or an accurate hand filing tool.

A visual for the chain getting dull is the chips/shavings coming off the cut. You want to see chips, not saw dust. If you see dust, stop and sharpen the chain. The hand file is meant for touching up and maintaining the sharpness. If you let the chain go completely dull then you’ll need to use an electric grinder or take it to a dealership to get the teeth back to true.

When sharpening, know that every other tooth is alternating in direction. So you can cock the file one way and sharpen every other tooth before switching the direction and repeating on the other sides.

Storing the saw when not in use

Then last talking point is storing a saw. If you buy a saw new then keep the bar guard so that when you stow it away you can put the scabbard back on and protect the blade from getting ran into something that could knock an edge off but also protect anybody should they run into it, as it will cut somebody just sitting there, not running. 

If you are stowing it way for a long duration such as winter, you’ll want to drain all the fuel, the bar oil and gas, then start the saw and let it idle until the saw dies.

Now it’s ready for storage. However if you use MotorMix (or another fuel choice with no ethanol in it) one huge advantage is you don’t have to drain the fuel. So you would only have to drain the bar oil then you are ready to store it away for winter. 

Battery Operated Chainsaws

Moving on to the last topic, lets quickly cover battery operated chainsaws. I looove battery operated saws and honestly, for the majority of homeowners, they are the ones I recommend getting.

For anybody who has a down tree from a storm, using a saw to cut up firewood, purning existing trees….they are going to be hard to beat. They are incredibly light weight so you don’t have to have a lot of upper body strength. They require so much less maintenance since they don’t have a carb or engine. They are easy to start every time no matter if it’s right out of the box or 6 months since you last used it. With a charged battery, you just pull the trigger and you’re good to go.

Noise! They are so much more quiet and also carry less vibration. Even if you have a good size tree dimeter, a battery saw will be able to easily get the job done. A tad bit slower than a gas, but it isn’t by any means slow and if you aren’t a pro then all the others benefits outweigh this one weakness (in my opinion). Plus, lets not forget how much better for the environment it is.

If you are a homeowner looking for a saw to do jobs around your yard, I 100% recommend first looking into a battery saw. Heck! I have acres that I maintain and work over and I consistently reach for mine in certain situations over my gas ones. 

Stihl has a new battery saw coming out designed specifically for pruning and I know that battery is only going to continue to get better and dominate evenutally, so while gas power is great, just don’t rule out another option that might be better suited for your needs. 

Ah! That was a lot of information. My goal was to put together a concise but solid overview if you are new to using a chainsaw so if that is you, then I really hope this video has helped you out. Leave me a comment down below if you would like more videos like this in the future.

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