If you’re just beginning your journey into using chainsaws you may have heard of the dangers of kickback and are now wondering if a low kickback chain is something you should look into?
While kickback is dangerous, as long as you treat the chainsaw with respect and pay attention while working it will probably not be as bad as you are expecting.
There aren’t many chainsaw operators who haven’t experienced the sudden and terrifying moment when the kickback force makes the bar rear up out of the cut, and the chain brake is the last line of defense to prevent serious injury.
Having said that, there are also some drawbacks to using a low kickback chain, which we’ll cover in this article.
By the end you’ll be able to decide if you should stick with standard chains or take a shot with a low kickback version.
What Is A Low Kickback Chain In The First Place?
A low kickback chain has an additional feature that restricts the cutting depth around the nose area of the bar where kickback is most likely to occur. Let’s have a quick look at the features of a standard chan.
A standard chain consists of a series of links that have cutters on every alternate link. At the leading edge of the cutter, the depth gauge provides the guide to set the thickness of the chip that the cutting corner will produce as it moves through the wood.
Now the relationship between the depth gauge and the cutting corner is constant while the chain moves along the parallel sections of the bar length, but when it gets to the nose, things change.
As the link travels around the nose, the depth gauge falls in relation to the cutting corner, which causes the thickness of the cut to increase almost instantaneously, and hence the probability of the dreaded kickback rises exponentially.
The safety or low kickback chain introduces an additional depth gauge on the link that has no cutter attached. The way this is done is to incorporate a depth gauge into the tie strap.
This additional depth gauge limits the amount the cutter can remove as it passes over the nose of the bar. This prevents the tooth from making a deeper cut and assists in allowing the operator to stay safe.
Semi Chisel Chain Vs Full Chisel Chains
Semi-chisel chains have slightly rounded corner teeth. The advantage of the small radius on the cutting corner is that it provides a greater cutting area, and consequently, the corner remains sharper for longer.
Semi-chisel chains are ideal for softwoods as well as dirty or frozen woods. They won’t cut quite as fast as the full chisel chains, but the chain stays sharp for longer and is regarded as a superior safety chain.
Full Chisel Chain
A full chisel chain will provide a faster cutting experience. An example of a full chisel chain is the Stihl RS.
(The RS stands for rapid super)
The sharp corners will cut through hardwoods at a rapid rate but be alert because these blades have a lot of bite, which can translate into an energetic kickback if you are not careful.
Pros Of Low Kick Back Chains
Low kickback chains reduce the risk of injuries caused by kickbacks by reducing the ability of the teeth to make deep cuts. This makes chainsaws fitted with low kickback chains much safer to use.
Safety is always an important consideration when using a chainsaw, and the low kickback chain does make a significant difference, especially with smaller and lighter chainsaws which are more likely to be used by casual operators.
Less Risk For Beginners
Low kickback saw chains are very much like the training wheels we were all too quick to remove as kids.
The safety chains do make using the chainsaw a little less risky because the muscle power required to hold the saw is reduced as a result of the individual teeth removing a smaller amount of material as they move around the bar.
Cons Of A Low Kick Back Chain
A pro chain will offer a quicker cut, but for the casual operator, speed should be secondary to safety. There are, however, two problems associated with using a low kickback chain.
Low kickback chains are more difficult to sharpen with a hand file because of the additional depth gauge that requires dressing as the blade is sharpened. The result is often that the resharpening process is delayed because of the difficulties experienced, and the blade is then used in a dull condition.
In order to make cuts with a dull blade, the saw is forced down harder into the cut, which creates the very danger the low kickback chain is supposed to avoid. one of the essential features of chain saw safety is to sharpen the chain as soon as required.
Typically this would be after every second filling of the gas and chain oil tanks, but with cutting harder woods, sharpening may be required after every filling of the tanks.
The other big disadvantage of a low kickback chain is that it makes making a bore cut almost impossible.
This is only a serious problem if you are going to be doing some precision felling of trees leaning the wrong way to your desired direction.
Forcing the bar tip into the wood is not going to help you very much even with a low kickback chain.
For operations like cutting firewood, the reduced functionality is of little consequence, but if you are going to be felling trees and you need to make some bore cuts, I’m afraid you will need to fit a normal chain to your saw.
Manually Filing Rakers
One of the best tools I bought many years ago to sharpen my chains was the Stihl two-in-one file holder. This little tool makes the job of sharpening the teeth and dressing the depth gauge a simple operation.
The trouble with finding out that your rakers need to be dressed usually occurs after you have sharpened the chain, and it still doesn’t cut properly.
Now you will have to travel around the bar and dress each depth gauge being super careful not to damage the recently sharpened teeth.
Using a sharpening tool that does both operations simultaneously makes so much more sense.
A pro chain is going to outdo a low kickback chain in terms of cut speed, but a full chisel cutter will also outrun a semi-chisel cutter in terms of cut speed, and then there is also the rpm of the saw and the hardness of the wood to consider.
Cutspeed is determined by a variety of factors, including the shape and sharpness of every tooth.
The Sweet Spot Of Cut Speed
Watching professional lumberjacks compete in cutting logs demonstrates that the performance of the saw is a balancing act.
There is a precise speed when each tooth moves through the wood, taking the maximum amount of chip and the speed of the engine remains constant.
That is the sweet spot when the saw is ‘in balance’ and operating at peak performance.
Don’t run the saw at maximum revs.
Compare this to an amateur, and the striking difference is that unskilled saw operators tend to run the saw at maximum revs, and all that does is accelerate the wear on the bar and chain.
You will achieve significant benefits from monitoring the performance of your saw in terms of the number and shape of chips being thrown out by the saw.
Reducing the rpm while maintaining a healthy cut speed will significantly reduce the wear and tear on the saw.
When Is It Best To Use A Reduced Kickback Chain?
Cutting firewood logs is usually in a controlled environment, but when it comes to trimming or felling trees, different factors come into play, and a reduced kickback chain provides a big safety benefit.
Branches are always under tension, and great care should be taken when trimming them as it is all too easy to get the chain pinched, and the resultant kickback becomes inevitable. It is so much better to call up the low kickback chain and be a little patient but much safer.
Small Saws With High Chain Speeds
These types of power tools are ideal for pruning and trimming projects. Ideal as a starter type saw for beginners because they are light and easy to control.
Many of the top brand chainsaw manufacturers, like Stihl and Husqvarna, sell models in this range, either battery or gas-powered.
Who Is A Low Kickback Safety Chain Right For?
A low kickback chain saw chain, or safety chains, as they are sometimes called, are the ideal chain for people new to operating a chain saw. Although the low kickback chain will prevent cutting with the bar tip, the chain will be suitable for most other operations.
The additional safety features make cutting branches and trees much safer for the novice chainsaw operator.
It is still vitally important to concentrate on chainsaw safety at all times while operating your saw. Using a low kickback chain is not an excuse to get lackadaisical in your approach.
Allow the safety chain to operate freely and without applying substantial force to the cut; otherwise, the chain may grab into the cut creating the potential of a kickback.
Slow and steady are the keywords when operating a chain saw.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
How common is chainsaw kickback?
The frequency of kickbacks is dependent on the skill of the operator and the type of wood being cut. Using the top of the bar tip to cut is an invitation for a kickback.
Kickbacks are also more common when cutting branches or felling trees, particularly when trees are required to fall in a certain direction, and to accomplish this, a bore cut needs to be made.
How do you stop a chainsaw kickback?
The best method to prevent kickbacks is to be alert and maintain a position where the bottom half of the bar is in contact with the wood. Be careful that there are no other pieces of wood on the other side of the cut piece that may be in the way of the bar tip.
Using a low kickback chain will also go a long way in preventing kickbacks.
What makes a chainsaw bar low kickback?
Low kickback chainsaws have a special chain fitted that has a depth gauge piece fitted to every link that does not carry a tooth. The additional depth gauge prevents the teeth of the chain from taking too big a cut or digging in as the teeth pass over the bar tip.
Although this feature does reduce the speed of cutting, it does make the chainsaw considerably safer.