Hints for the Safe Harvest of Firewood

Information obtained from the Colorado State University Extension Service

Quick Facts:

The least expensive way to obtain firewood is to cut it yourself.

Accidents in the woods usually are cause by unsafe working habits and unsafe working conditions.

It is good sense to minimize injuries by wearing protective clothing and equipment.

Safe operation of a chain saw includes reading the operator's manual, never operating it in an unventilated area, shutting off the engine and being sure the chain has completely stopped before moving or working on the saw.

Tree cutting should be planned so that handling, and hence opportunity for accidents, is kept to a minimum.

Trees should be examined for the direction of fall, any rotten or loose limbs and other problems before cutting.

The proper way to fell or buck a tree should be studied carefully before attempting either.

Cutting Wood

The majority of accidents in the woods are caused by unsafe working habits. A smaller percentage are caused by unsafe working conditions. The following rules for safe wood cutting will help develop good work habits: be alert at all times to personal work practices and those of other persons working nearby: if a close call with a chain saw, axe or with falling trees or limbs occurs, take time to analyze what happened and avoid a second occurrence ( the second time may not be a close call): never work alone in the woods: always use common sense.

Even with good work habits, skill with tools and attention paid to eliminating unsafe conditions, an accident still can happen. It is good sense to minimize injuries by wearing protective clothing and equipment. The following clothing should be standard for persons harvesting trees or working with chain saws: hard hat of metal or plastic, logger's pants without cuffs, ballistic nylon knee pads fixed in pants or logger's chaps with pads), heavy boots with good soles (not leather; safety toes suggested), close-fitting clothing in good repair, heavy gloves (ballistic nylon protection on left hand recommended), ear protection (Sweedish wool, ear muffs or the like) and eye protection goggles, face mask or safety lenses for glasses.

Such gear is available at reasonable cost from safety equipment supply companies or dealers as well as surplus stores.

Chain Saw Operation

Gasoline and oil mixtures for use in chain saws should be stored in clearly marked steel containers for this purpose. Do not use gas or plastic containers for gasoline. They break and leak and gasoline will dissolve some plastics.

Dirt should be wiped off the saw before the gas tank is filled. Move the saw to an area free of debris as least 10 feet (3 meters) from gas before starting. Never smoke while handling gasoline.

Other safety precautions to observe when using chain saws include:

· Never operate the chain saw in an unventilated room.
· Shut off engine and turn the switch to "off" before attempting any work on the saw.
· Be sure the saw has a legal muffler to prevent fires in dry weather and to protect the user's ears at all times.

To keep a chain saw in proper working order, be sure it gets adequate oil of proper quality. Follow the instructions for chain oil grades, gas and oil mixtures and adjustments. Keep the chain and bar covered with a plastic or wooden guard when the saw is not in use.

Keep the saw chain sharp. If the saw is in constant use, it should be sharpened with a file and filing guide as needed. A direct-drive saw chain requires a razon sharp edge that can be dulled very quickly by dry wood or dirt. Operating with a dull chain will damage the chain and bar. If the chain can not be sharpened by the user, have a saw dealer do it.

Felling Trees

Trees to be felled should be inspected carefully for loose or rotten limbs before starting to cut. Vibrations while cutting cause these limbs to fall. Also, carefully examine the lower tree trunk for rot, which could cause the tree to fall in the wrong direction.

Small trees and brush around the tree should be removed to eliminate any chance of catching them in the chain and causing a kickback or binding.

Before felling any tree, plan the direction of its fall. An escape path should be cleared away from the direction of the tree fall. In winter, snow should be cleared away from the stump area.

Be sure the chain saw is solidly placed on the ground with the chain free of dirt, snow or twigs, and hold it down with your foot while starting the engine. When cutting with a power saw, keep a firm grip with both hands on the handles and keep the guard tightly against the tree or log. It is safer to move so the chain saw is near the body where one has greater strength and control in the arms.

A notch should be made in the tree near the ground level to a depth of ¼ to 1/3 the diameter of the trunk. Then a back cut should be made from the opposite side of the notch an inch or two (2 to 5 centimeters) higher, until it reaches within an inch or so (2-3 cm) of the notch.

The tree should fall toward the notch, turning on the hinge of wood that has been left. A wedge frequently is driven in the back cut, especially with larger trees, to help move the tree in the right direction.

The chain saw engine should be shut off before moving from one place to another. The chain should be completely stopped. A slow moving chain can kick back if it is caught on the tip of a branch.

Wood, plastic or magnesium wedges can be used to facilitate the felling or cutting up of a tree. They are lightweight and will not seriously damage the chain if they come in contact. To be safe and avoid kickback or breaking of the chain, the saw should be stopped before wedges are inserted.

Avoid cutting with the chain saw raised above waist height. Limbs should be removed after the tree or branch is on the ground. Observe all safety precautions. Watch the positions and actions of other persons nearby. Be sure they are out of the range of the saw and the fall of the tree before starting to cut. If a tree becomes hung up in another, which is likely to happen, the safest way to get it down is to pull it away with a tractor or winch. It may be possible to roll the tree with a peavey (a strong lever with a sharp spike used in handling logs) to dislodge. It also is possible to cut off sections of the trunk of the lodged tree and cause it to fall of its own weight. Do not attempt to cut the tree in which the felled tree is lodged and do not try to climb either tree.

Once the tree is on the ground, carefully cut all trees which may be bent over under the felled tree. These "spring poles" should be released from the top because they spring out and up when cut. Persons should stand cautiously to one side when doing this cutting.

When cutting limbs from a downed tree, always cut the limbs with saw or axe on the opposite side from which you are standing. A person should stand on the uphill side of a log when doing any cutting so as to avoid getting crushed by a rolling log. A downed tree can be cut in lengths (bucked) where it lies or it can be skidded to an open are near the vehicle where it can be bucked and split.

Tree-length sections can be supported on skids six to either inches (15 -20 cm) high and spaced at intervals so that the wood can be cut without pinching or binding the saw. A splitting maul (heavy sledge hammer with a sharp edge) eases the splitting process.