Hedge trimming is an important part of garden maintenance. Neat, tidy hedges not only look aesthetically pleasing but also serve functional purposes like providing privacy, acting as windbreaks, and defining property lines. While hedge trimming can be done with manual shears and electric trimmers, a chainsaw is the best tool for managing thick, overgrown hedges.
In this comprehensive guide, I will walk you through the entire process of cutting a hedge with a chainsaw – from safety precautions to step-by-step cutting techniques. I’ll also provide tips on chainsaw maintenance, discuss alternative trimming tools, and share best practices for optimal hedge health. Equipped with this information, you’ll be able to safely and efficiently tame unruly hedges in no time. So let’s get started!
Safety Comes First: Personal Protective Equipment
When operating a noisy, fast-spinning chainsaw blade near foliage, safety should always be the number one priority. Before firing up the chainsaw, you must wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent injuries. This includes:
- Safety goggles to shield your eyes from debris
- Heavy work gloves to protect your hands from cuts and scratches
- Steel-toe boots for foot protection from falling branches
- Hearing protection like earmuffs to prevent hearing damage
- Long pants and long sleeves to cover exposed skin
- A helmet for head protection from falling wood
You should also have a fully stocked first-aid kit on hand in case of minor cuts and abrasions. Investing in high-quality safety gear greatly reduces the risk of accidents when using dangerous power tools like chainsaws. Don’t attempt to cut hedges without the proper PPE – it’s simply not worth the risk.
Size Matters: Selecting the Right Chainsaw
While safety gear protects the operator, the chainsaw itself needs to be up for the hedge trimming task. The key factor determining chainsaw suitability is bar length. Here are some general bar length guidelines:
- 10 to 14 inches: Best for light trimming of smaller ornamental hedges
- 16 to 18 inches: Ideal for most suburban hedge cutting jobs
- 20 inches or longer: Necessary for cutting tall, dense hedges
The engine power (cc rating) should also align with bar length. Don’t use an undersized chainsaw bar thinking it will be easier to maneuver. Hedging requires sustained cutting power. Choose a robust gas chainsaw designed specifically for hedge trimming, not just occasional limb cutting. Safety features like reduced kickback bars and low kickback chains are also recommended for beginners.
Step-By-Step Cutting Techniques
With protective gear on and appropriate chainsaw selected, it’s time to start trimming. Here are some step-by-step chainsaw cutting techniques for neat, even hedge shaping:
1. Stand Square and Lean In
Position yourself directly in front of the hedge section you are cutting. Keep your dominant side closest to the hedge. Maintain a wide balanced stance with knees slightly bent. Leaning your body toward the hedge helps steady the saw for straight cuts.
2. Keep the Bar Level
Hold the idling saw with both hands maintaining an even bar level. Tilt the top slightly toward you but don’t angle it or waver.
3. Cut on the Pull Stroke
Apply light pressure on the throttle to begin cutting through foliage slowly on the pull stroke. Let the spinning chain do the work. Don’t force or twist the blade.
4. Use Vertical Cutting Strokes
Make long vertical cuts from top to desired hedge height. Overlap slightly with each consecutive cut. Vertical cuts give a tidy uniform finish.
5. Cut One Side at a Time
Work in sections, systematically cutting one side at a time. Continue down one hedge face before moving to the next. This prevents an uneven appearance.
6. Inspect Between Passes
After finishing a pass on one hedge side, inspect for unevenness before moving to the next side. If needed, make additional vertical trimming cuts to even out.
Preventing and Fixing a Dry Chain
One common annoyance when chainsaw hedging is a dry chain that lacks proper oil lubrication. Without bar and chain oiling, cutting performance and safety decrease. Here’s how to both prevent and fix chainsaw oiling issues:
- Check chain oil level regularly. Top off tank when near empty.
- Use the manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil. Don’t substitute other liquids.
- Clean the oil delivery port periodically to remove obstructions.
- Adjust oil pump delivery rate if the chain doesn’t get adequate lubrication.
- Examine the oil filter and delivery lines. Remove any contaminants or kinks.
- Replace damaged, leaky, or clogged oil lines. Don’t operate without proper oiling.
A little preventive maintenance goes a long way in delivering consistent chain lubrication for safe, effective chainsaw operation. But even with proper care, oil flow issues can still arise. By addressing problems promptly, you can get back to hedge cutting quickly.
Master Chainsaw Safety
While extremely useful for taming unruly hedges, chainsaws must be treated with caution and respect. Follow these essential safety tips when using chainsaws around the home:
- Wear full protective gear even for quick jobs. Chainsaw injuries happen fast.
- Check the safety features like chain brake, throttle trigger lock, anti-vibration system.
- Always hold the saw firmly with both hands. Maintain solid stance and footing.
- Keep blades away from power cords, fences, and other hazards.
- Refuel, adjust chain tension, or make repairs only after stopping the engine and allowing it to cool.
- Frequently inspect the saw for issues like damaged guards, loose fasteners, or dull teeth.
- Store idle saws in cases away from children and pets. Disconnect the spark plug.
By exercising common sense and reviewing safety procedures regularly, even novice chainsaw users can avoid accidents. Don’t let apprehension prevent you from exploring chainsaw hedge cutting. Just emphasize safety above all else.
Alternative Trimming Tools
While chainsaws make quick work of overgrown shrubbery, smaller hedges and light trimming jobs can be managed with simpler tools:
Electric Hedge Trimmers
- Less powerful but safer option than gas chainsaws
- Ideal for periodic maintenance trimming
- Corded models provide unlimited runtime
- Cordless models allow full range of motion
Bypass Hand Pruners
- Manual cutting blades for precision pruning
- Allow access to tight spots that power tools can’t reach
- Best for small hedges and detail hedge sculpting
Both electric and manual alternatives are less efficient for large hedges, but provide quieter, cleaner cutting for lighter duty pruning. Consider your specific trimming needs and hedge sizes to pick the best option.
Shaping Hedges Artfully
When trimming hedges, don’t just hack branches randomly with a chainsaw. Thoughtful shaping preserves the hedge’s natural form. Follow these artistic trimming tips:
- Visualize the desired finished shape before making cuts
- Prune strategically to highlight natural features
- Cutsymmetrical side planes for visual balance
- Remove inward-facing growth to open up hidden branches
- Thin interior branching for desired density and light penetration
Take time to analyze the existing form and growth patterns. Execution of proper horticultural technique shows in the refined hedge shape. Blending science and artistry leads to beautiful, thriving hedges.
Assessing Hedge Health
Inspect your hedge’s overall vigor at least yearly, diagnosing any signs of poor health:
- Discolored, wilted leaves signal various diseases. Treat appropriately.
- Webs, eggs, or chew marks indicate insect infestations. Control bugs before severe damage.
- Sparse interior foliage exposes excessive interior shading. Thin branches to increase air circulation and light.
- Sections with weakened branches may need rejuvenation pruning. Remove old wood to encourage new growth.
Don’t let minor issues become major headaches. Catch problems early and restore hedge vitality before it declines too far. A healthy, vibrant hedge starts with a sharp diagnostic eye.
Frequently Asked Chainsaw Hedge Trimming Questions
Can I use a chainsaw safely for small ornamental hedges?
Yes, with care. Match the saw to hedge size, maintain control, and wear protective gear even when cutting smaller hedges. Chainsaws require full attention even for quick jobs.
How often should I trim my hedge with a chainsaw?
It depends on the growth rate, but trimming 1-3 times per year keeps most hedges neat. Cut back overly long shoots as needed between regular trimming sessions.
When is the best time of year for chainsaw hedge trimming?
Late winter just before spring growth minimizes sap loss. But avoid cutting during freezing weather or nesting season. Scheduling depends on hedge species and purpose.
How do I maintain my chainsaw specifically for hedge cutting?
Sharp chain, proper chain tension, clean air filter, fresh fuel mix, lubricated bar, and tight fasteners are key for peak performance. Hedge resin quickly builds up and requires frequent cleaning.
Can I use a chainsaw safely for tall, hard-to-reach hedges?
Yes, with caution. Use a pole saw attachment to keep both feet on the ground. Never stand on ladders while chainsaw operating.
What protective gear is essential when chainsaw trimming hedges?
Heavy duty gloves, steel-toe boots, helmet with face shield and ear muffs, chaps, and close-fitting clothes from head to toe. Assume branches and debris will drop.
When do I need to sharpen my chainsaw chain for hedge trimming?
Inspect teeth before each use. Sharpen immediately if you see visible damage, dullness, or poor cutting. A sharp chain is critical for clean cuts and safety.
I hope this guide has shown that chainsaws can be extremely effective for taming overgrown hedges when used properly. Respect the equipment, wear full protective gear, and apply the right cutting techniques for clean, even hedge shaping. Chainsawing does involve risk, but safety training and vigilance greatly reduce the hazards.
Remember to assess hedge health periodically and remedy any issues early. Proper nutrition, pest control, pruning techniques, and trimming frequency keep hedges looking lush and neat. Take time to sharpen skills and chains alike. And don’t hesitate to call professional arborists for large-scale chainsaw jobs or safety advice.
Michael Boyle is the founder and main author of Chainsaws Finder, boasting over 20 years of experience in the chainsaw industry. Hailing from Texas, Michael combines his extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise to provide reliable advice and top-notch service. His vision is to empower chainsaw users to tackle any project with confidence, making Chainsaws Finder a trusted resource in the field.