Chainsaw Kickback And How To Prevent It [Explained]

Every year 36,000 people are injured by chainsaws and another 250 die. Chainsaw kickback is responsible for a significant percentage of these numbers.

Chainsaw kickback is when you get a sudden and rapid motion from a chainsaw that you weren’t expecting.

To safely use a chainsaw, understanding kickback, its causes, and how to avoid it is important.

Before you pick up your chainsaw again, make sure you understand what chainsaw kickback is and how you can prevent becoming part of a statistic.

Types Of Chainsaw Kickback

There are two types of chainsaw kickback, each caused by a pinched chain or contact with the tip of the chainsaw bar. Learning how to avoid making either mistake is important for basic chainsaw safety.

Rotational Kickback

Rotational kickback is the most common type of chainsaw kickback. This type of kickback happens when the top tip of the guide bar/chain comes into contact with an object like a log or a branch, sometimes out of sight beyond what you are trying to cut.

The chain will get snagged and violently rotate up and towards the operator.

Rotational kickback is one of the easiest ways to severely injure yourself with a chainsaw as it causes the saw to launch up and toward the body or face of the operator.

Linear Kickback

Linear kickback is a sudden motion that occurs when either part of the chain at the end of the bar is pinched by the log, thrusting the saw back toward you.

The log can pinch the blade when it sags inwards as you cut, sending the chainsaw directly back towards you throwing you off balance and putting you in danger.

What Causes Chainsaws To Kick?

There are a variety of reasons why your chainsaw can be kicking back. Before using your chainsaw, you should ensure it is in proper working order to minimize the chance of kickback.

Dull Chains

A dull chain can easily cause your chainsaw to kick back. The teeth of the chain won’t be sharp enough to cut through the wood and will eventually get pinched or snagged.

Poorly Tensioned Chain

Tight chainsaw chains can cause different problems, but a loose chain can easily cause the chainsaw to kick back. Ensure your chain is properly tensioned before each use.

Pinched Chain

Chainsaws generate a lot of force, a force that is usually used to move a chain at fifty miles an hour. When the chain gets pinched, that force has to go somewhere.

Pinched chains transfer the energy of the chainsaw into the body of the saw, causing the blade to immediately and violently launch upwards toward the operator.

Re-Entering A Cut

Extreme caution should be used when re-entering a cut. You can easily pinch the blade or accidentally enter the cut when the saw isn’t at max power.

Chainsaw Kickback Zone

The Chainsaw Kickback Zone

While operating a chainsaw, it’s important to stay out of the chainsaw kickback zone. The chainsaw kickback zone is a 90-degree angle from the tip of the saw, back toward the operator.

This area is where the chainsaw will violently fly if the blade is suddenly pinched or the tip of the chainsaw touches a branch.

How To Avoid Chainsaw Kickback

Avoiding chainsaw kickback isn’t hard. The majority of the time you experience kickback, it’s because of user error or improper handling of the saw.

Avoid making the following mistakes and you can prevent most kickback scenarios.

Check That The Chain Brake Is Working Correctly

Chainsaws come with a number of safety features, but the chain brake is perhaps the most important one. Chain brakes are installed in most modern chainsaws as mechanical braking systems.

The Chainsaw Chain Brake

On the inside of the chainsaw is the mechanical brake, while externally there is a chain brake handle you can rest your wrist or forearm against to quickly enable the mechanical braking system.

If the saw were to kick back, your wrist would push the handle forward as the saw rotates backward. It will then activate and stop all movement of the chain, preventing you from becoming seriously injured.

You can easily test that the chain brake stops the chain before use by engaging it while the saw is running and verifying it works.

Most saws also have an inertia braking system to stop chain saw kickback even if your wrist is not near the brake handle. The way to test this is to drop the power head from about a foot above a table. The saw should not be running for this test to work.

Make Sure The Saw Chain Is Sharp

A dull chain isn’t going to help you cut a log, but it can still definitely cut you.

Ensuring your chain is sharp can help prevent the chain from getting pinched or stuck, causing a kickback.

Make Sure The Chain Is Tensioned Correctly

Loose chains can easily cause the rotating chain to get snagged and increase the risk of kickback.

Most saws feature an easy and adjustable chain tension system. Ensure yours is tightened to specifications before use.

Run The Chainsaw At Full Throttle

Running the chainsaw at full throttle ensures the chain can do its work and efficiently cut the log or tree.

A sharp, fast-moving chain will have a less likely chance of getting pinched and kicking back.

Avoid Making Contact With The Chainsaw Bar Nose

The easiest way to lose control of your chainsaw is by touching a branch, log, or another object with the top tip of the chainsaw bar.

It’s simple physics. As the chain runs forward, the chainsaw will be pulled back with equal force.

Keep A Solid Grip

You should always have complete control of the chainsaw when operating it.

Always have a solid grip, with one hand on the rear handle and the other on the front handle.

Always take breaks if you feel your arms or hands getting tired.

Stand To The Left Of The Chain

Standing to the left of the saw can help keep you out of the kickback zone.

When chainsaws kick back, it’s often a direct and vertical motion from the tip of the saw. Standing to the left should hopefully move you out of the potential kickback zone.

Be Prepared For The Kick

Kickback happens. If you use a chainsaw regularly, you will experience kickbacks at one point or another.

The best thing you can do is prepare for it and ensure that if it does happen, you are in the best possible position to deal with it.

The best position is one that is out of the kickback danger zone.

Clear Your Surroundings

Being able to have a firm footing is really important to handle the risk of kickback.

If you have debris all around you then you might take an awkward step when you experience kickback, leading to a more serious injury that could have been avoided.

Never Saw Above Shoulder Height

Chainsaw Cutting Above Shoulder Height

Using a chainsaw properly is all about control. Using a chainsaw at or above shoulder height is an easy way to lose control.

Holding a heavy chainsaw that produces a ton of power over your head can throw off your center of gravity and cause you to lose your balance.

Protective Gear To Keep You Safe

Using the proper protective gear when operating a chainsaw is essential if you’d like to remain safe.

Luckily, there are a variety of different products on the market to make your life safer and avoid getting tore up from kickback.

Chainsaw Chaps

Chainsaw Chaps

Chainsaw chaps should be worn by anyone operating a chainsaw. Chaps are made of cut-resistant fibers like kevlar that jam the chainsaw.

They provide the best protection for your legs and can quickly stop a chainsaw that comes in contact with them.

Protective Gloves

Chainsaw Protective Gloves

Gloves are a must when using a chainsaw. Not only can they protect your hands from the rough, rugged logs, but they also can jam a chainsaw if it were to come in contact with your hands.

Not all gloves are made from materials that will stop the chainsaw, so be sure to check that your gloves are cut-resistant.

Logging Or Steel Toed Boots

Logging Or Steel Toed Boots

A good pair of boots can save your feet in a number of different ways. Boots should be comfortable to stand in all day, yet durable enough to take years of beatings.

A good logging boot will also protect your foot from some falling logs, and can even help prevent serious injury from a chainsaw.

Helmet With Metal Face Guard

Helmet With Metal Face Guard

Your head and neck are the most dangerous places to strike with a chainsaw in the kickback zone. It makes sense to invest in gear that will protect them.

Chainsaws are great for cutting through wood, but they can’t do much against a metal face guard.

Most loggers wear helmets anyways to protect their heads from falling branches. It’s easy enough to purchase one with a metal guard.

Low Kickback Chains

A low kickback chain, or a reduced kickback chain, is great for any new chainsaw user or someone that is worried about kickback.

A low kickback chain doesn’t mean the chainsaw blade will never kickback, it just reduces the chance of it.

Check your local chainsaw dealer or online for a low kickback chain.

Install A Safety Tip

Guide Bar Tip Guard

A safety tip, or a guide bar tip guard, is installed on the guide bar’s nose and prevents you from accidentally making contact with it.

Most kickbacks happen when the tip touches an object. Kick guards ensure that your chainsaw tip will never come in contact with anything accidentally.

Final Thoughts

Chainsaw kickback is no joke. It has killed or caused serious injuries for thousands of people over the years and if you want to prevent yourself from being part of that statistic, there are a few things to keep in mind the next time you pick up a saw.

Always make sure you stay out of the kickback danger zone, avoid touching logs with the top tip of the guide bar, and wear proper protective gear.

Chainsaws kick back, it will happen eventually if you use a chainsaw often enough. The best thing you can do is minimize the risk of kickback and stay prepared.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

How fast is Chainsaw Kickback?

Chain saw kickback is fast - extremely fast. The chain saw kickbacks so fast that you might not be able to react to it in time and move out of the way.

What is the most common Chainsaw injury?

The most common chainsaw injuries are to hands or legs. Only about 10% of injuries involve the head or neck.

How does Kickback happen?

Kickback occurs when the top tip of the chain saw touches a log or other object. This causes the chainsaw chain saw to rotate towards the operator very quickly, almost in the blink of an eye.

Kickback can also occur when the chain gets pinched or snagged. Avoid using dull chains or touching the tip of the saw against anything.