Chainsaw Kickback Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Kickbacks are the most common cause of chainsaw injuries; they also pause the most significant hazard when working with a chainsaw. Here, I help you understand chainsaw kickbacks and tell you how you can avoid them for maximum safety. Keep reading!

Chainsaw Kickback

What is a Chainsaw Kickback?

Chainsaw kickback is when the guide bar unexpectedly moves in an upward motion. Kickbacks mainly occur when the tip of the guide bar accidentally comes into contact with an object causing the chain to snag. In some instances, a kickback causes the blade’s tip to move upward or back towards the user resulting in serious injuries.

You must know how to position the guide bar correctly when working with a chainsaw. Never allow the tip or nose of the guide bar to touch branches or the ground when the saw is running. For maximum safety, you can install a safety tip on the guide bar’s nose to prevent any contact with the kickback zone.

What is the Kickback Zone?

The kickback zone is the upper quadrant of the guide bar’s tip. This area is known as a kickback danger zone because there’s a higher risk of kickbacks when you use this part of the chainsaw. When handling a chainsaw, you ought to be careful to ensure this part doesn’t come into contact with obstacles. The size of the bar nose dramatically impacts the potential of experiencing a chainsaw kickback. Chainsaws with a larger nose have a higher possibility of experiencing kickback.

Types of Chainsaw Kickback

  • Rotational Kickback

Rotational kickback refers to the upward movement of the chainsaw when the top part of the guide bar’s tip comes into contact with an object like a branch or log.

When the tip of the guide bar comes into contact with an object, the chain’s rotation is halted suddenly. This sudden halt results in an unutilized force that needs to be redirected somewhere. The energy is transferred back to the chainsaw’s body and causes the saw to push back toward the operator.

  • Linear or Pinch Kickback

A linear kickback is a strong force that causes the chainsaw to move backward toward the operator when the chain gets pinched by the wood you are cutting. The chain usually pinches if the wood you are cutting isn’t firm on the ground. To prevent pinching that leads to linear kickbacks, ensure what you are cutting is level on the ground or is supported by a felling wedge.

  • Pull-in Kickback

Pull-in kickbacks cause the chainsaw to pull away from you in a sudden forward movement. This kickback happens when there’s something on the other end of the wood. Before you start cutting, always inspect the wood for nails and such obstacles to prevent pull-in kickbacks.

What Causes Chainsaw Kickback?

The most common causes of chainsaw kickbacks are the chain getting pinched and the tip coming into contact with an object. Both instances cause the chainsaw to move upwards and backward, making the operator lose control of the gadget, resulting in injuries.

Certain factors increase the risk of chainsaw kickbacks. Let’s have a look at them:

  • The size of the guide bar’s tip:  the more significant the nose or tip, the higher the risk of kickbacks. A larger tip means there’s more surface area on the kickback zone that an obstacle can touch. This large surface area increases the risk of rotational and linear kickbacks significantly.
  • Poor chainsaw maintenance: do you know what care your chainsaw needs? Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule to minimize the risk of kickbacks. You should always clean the chainsaw bar after use, sharpen the blades and keep it lubricated.
  • Incorrect chain tension: a properly adjusted chainsaw should feel snug while pulling freely. It should also hold itself up at the bottom without sagging. If you get  the tension wrong, the chances of snagging are higher, and this leads to chainsaw kickbacks
  • Broken or incorrectly installed components: faulty components on your chainsaw interfere with how it works; they may get in the way of the chain and cause it to snap back. Before you start working with a chainsaw, inspect and ensure all parts are in perfect shape and correctly installed to reduce the risk of chainsaw kickbacks.

How Can You Prevent Chainsaw Kickback?

After going through the common causes of chainsaw kickbacks, you can tell they are preventable. You can take various steps to reduce the risk of chainsaw kickbacks significantly. Let’s take you through some actionable steps that have effectively reduced the frequency of kickbacks. We’ll divide them into what to do before you start the saw and while running the saw.

Before running, the chainsaw

  1.  Read the manual to understand the operating instructions clearly. Even experienced persons must follow manufacturers’ instructions to know how to use a new chainsaw correctly and safely.
  2. Confirm that the chain brake is working before you start the saw. According to OSHA standards, you should engage the chain brake every three steps. The chain brake is essential because it stops the chain from moving in case of a kickback. To activate the chain brake, move the hand guard near the upper handle towards the operator and see if it stops the movement.
  3. Choose the ideal chain for your needs. The type of chain you use impacts whether you will experience kickbacks. If you are a beginner, we recommend using semi-chisel and low-profile chains because they are designed to experience less kickback. When choosing a chain, opt for a sharp chain to prevent kickbacks caused by the chain getting stuck in the wood.

While the chainsaw is running

  • Always use the right part of the blade when cutting and avoid the kickback zone. When cutting, always pay attention to the tip of the guide bar and ensure it doesn’t come into contact with whatever you are cutting.
  • Always work on the left side of whatever you are cutting and stay close to the chainsaw. To ensure you have complete control of the chainsaw, always work as close to the tool as possible. It would be best if you also were on the left side of what you are cutting, as you will have better grip and control.
  • Take breaks to avoid getting fatigued. Most chainsaw kickback injuries happen when tired workers handle a chainsaw and make mistakes.

Chainsaw Kickback Injuries

Research has shown that there are over 28,000 injuries caused by chainsaws annually in the United States. Most of these injuries are on the hands, but some involve head and neck injuries. Kickbacks are the most common and fatal cause of chainsaw injuries.

The good news is that although kickbacks are common, injuries can be prevented by handling the chainsaw properly, wearing protective equipment, and maintaining the tool adequately.

How to Prepare for Kickback and Avoid Injury?

Always take preventive measures when working with any tool; as you handle a chainsaw, always prepare for the worst but hope for the best. In case of a kickback, you will be ready to handle it without any injury. Below are some of the measures we recommend you take:

  • Always identify the kickback zone of the chainsaw and keep it away from touching surfaces or obstacles
  • Get rid of obstacles that might get in the way of your cutting
  • Stand at the proper position so that when a kickback happens, it will be directed away from you: never cut between legs or directly over your head
  • Ensure you have an excellent and firm grip and perfect footing
  • Wear personal protective equipment when working with a chainsaw; this includes: gloves, ear protection, a face guard, a hard hat, and safety shoes

Key Insights and Takeaway

Chainsaw kickbacks are known to cause most of the reported chainsaw injuries; we hope that you now understand kickbacks and how they happen. You should also be in a better position to prevent them and keep yourself safe while working with a chainsaw to prevent injuries.

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