Why Should Chainsaw Operators Be Wary of Kickbacks?

Why Should Chainsaw Operators Be Wary of Kickbacks?

Chainsaws are powerful and dangerous tools that require skill, caution, and vigilance to operate safely. One of the most hazardous risks associated with chainsaw use is kickback. Chainsaw kickbacks occur when the moving saw chain suddenly jerks back toward the operator, causing loss of control and potentially severe or fatal injury. 

All chainsaw operators should have a thorough understanding of kickbacks and how to prevent them. This article provides a comprehensive guide on chainsaw kickbacks – what they are, why they are dangerous, and most importantly, how operators can stay safe by avoiding them.

What is a Chainsaw Kickback?

Why Should Chainsaw Operators Be Wary of Kickbacks?

A chainsaw kickback occurs when the cutting teeth on the saw chain abruptly dig into the wood, causing the guide bar to thrust back forcefully in the direction opposite of the chain rotation. This sudden reactive force causes the operator to lose control of the saw. There are two main types of dangerous kickbacks that can occur when operating a chainsaw:

Rotational Kickback

Rotational kickback, also called type 1 kickback, happens when the tip of the guide bar touches an object or when the wood closes in and pinches the saw chain. This contact pulls the chain along the tip and rotates the bar upward. The operator’s hand gets caught on the rear handle, and the rotating bar drives back toward them violently. This is the most common and hazardous type of kickback.

Pinch Kickback

Pinch kickback, also called type 2 kickback, occurs when the wood clutches the moving saw chain along the top of the guide bar and lifts it out of the kerf. The chain’s motion rapidly pushes the guide bar backward. This kickback is less forceful than a rotational kickback, but it can still cause the operator to lose control of the saw.

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Kickbacks typically occur due to these common causes:

  • Touching the tip of the guide bar against wood or other objects
  • Cutting with the saw’s kickback zone near the tip of the bar
  • Sawing with the bar at an incorrect angle or with an improperly sharpened or maintained chain
  • A loss of control due to poor handling and grip
  • Fatigue, distraction, or overconfidence while operating the chainsaw

Why are Kickbacks Dangerous?

Chainsaw kickbacks pose an extremely hazardous risk as they can result in severe, even fatal injuries for the operator. When a kickback occurs, the high-speed rotation combined with the engine’s power and sharp cutting chain drives the bar back at the operator with tremendous force. This can cause deep lacerations, bone fractures, or even amputation of body parts.

According to studies, chainsaws account for nearly 36,000 injuries annually in the U.S. About 20-30% of these accidents involve dangerous kickbacks. Sadly, amateurs using chainsaws make up 45% of hospital emergency admissions. This demonstrates the immense risk posed by kickbacks even for hobbyist chainsaw users.

The frightening truth is that kickbacks can happen without warning, even to professional loggers with years of experience. staying alert, avoiding hazardous situations, and properly handling saws is critical for mitigating kickback risks. Chainsaw operators should always keep safety at the forefront and never let their guard down while cutting.

How to Prevent Kickbacks

While kickbacks may seem unpredictable, there are several effective ways chainsaw operators can reduce risks:

Proper Handling and Grip

Correct grip and handling is key for controlling a saw if kickback occurs. Operators should always firmly grasp the rear handle with the right hand, and the front handle with the left. Don’t let go of the chainsaw handles during operation for maximum control. Also, maintain a balanced, sturdy stance with your weight slightly forward. Never extend yourself off-balance while cutting.

Using Safety Features and Low-Kickback Chains

Modern chainsaws are equipped with safety mechanisms such as chain brakes and throttle trigger locks to help minimize kickback risks. Using these safety devices is critical. Also choose chains with design features to reduce kickback tendency. Low-kickback guide bars further enhance control and safety.

Avoid Cutting with the Tip

Only cut using the lower quarter of the bar near the engine. Never let the tip make contact, as this can initiate rotational kickback. Also avoid twisting or bending the saw when cutting, as this brings the tip into contact with wood.

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Stay Low to the Ground

Work at waist level or below when possible. Cutting at shoulder height or above dramatically increases the chances of a dangerous kickback occurring.

Chainsaw Safety Features

Chainsaw manufacturers implement various kickback-prevention technologies into their products. Understanding these safety mechanisms allows users to properly employ them for reducing kickback risks:

Chain Brake

This is a braking system designed to stop the saw chain’s motion in the event of a kickback. On most models, a mechanical inertial trigger senses the guide bar’s movement and engages the brake. This stops the chain in fractions of a second. It also can be manually activated as a safety precaution.

Throttle Trigger Interlock

This mechanism prevents the throttle from being engaged until the interlock button is concurrently pressed, reducing chances of accidental throttle blips that could cause kickbacks. However, the interlock doesn’t prevent issues while actively cutting.

Stop or Kill Switch

This switch cuts ignition to the engine instantly when pressed. It shuts down the motor during kickback situations to stop the chain’s rotation quickly. Fast stopping is imperative for mitigating kickback injuries.

Rear Hand Guard

The hand guard creates a protective barrier between the operator’s hand and the rear of the saw. This shield prevents contact between the hand and a broken or jumped chain in kickback situations.

Proper Chainsaw Handling Techniques

In addition to safety mechanisms, certain handling practices dramatically improve an operator’s ability to control a saw in case of kickback:

Holding the Chainsaw

Always firmly grip the rear handle with your dominant hand, and the front handle with your other hand. Wrap your thumbs and fingers tightly around the handles – an unbreakable one-hand grip. Don’t overextend your reach. Keep proper footing and balance at all times.

Starting the Chainsaw

Start a chainsaw on clear, level ground. Ensure your footing is stable and saw is braced firmly against your thigh. Engage the chain brake and set saw on fast idle. Pull the starter cord steadily with your right hand while still gripping the rear handle.

Cutting Techniques

Employ correct chainsaw cutting techniques to avoid situations that cause kickback. Use the underside of the bar near the engine for bucking cuts. Never cut above shoulder height as this introduces the bar tip to potential kickback contacts.

Chainsaw Maintenance

Routine inspection, sharpening, and part replacement ensures your chainsaw operates safely and as designed. Neglecting maintenance increases preventable wear and kickback risks:

Regular Inspection

Inspect your saw before each use for issues like dull, loose or damaged chains, deteriorating guide bars, faulty brakes, and cracked handles. Replace any worn parts. Check that all safety features function properly.

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Chain Sharpening

Keep your cutting chains uniformly sharp to their specified angles. Dull chains increase the risk of kickback tremendously. Sharpen all cutting teeth uniformly and replace chains once they’ve lost more than 1/32nd of their length.

Replacing Worn Parts

Immediately replace any damaged, worn or faulty chainsaw components. Components like the chain brake, throttle trigger, stop switch, and hand guard play pivotal roles in kickback prevention.


Chainsaw kickbacks represent an ever-present danger for operators. Staying aware and vigilant when running a saw is critical for avoiding catastrophic injuries. Always maintain a sturdy grip, proper stance, and control over the saw even in unexpected situations. Additionally, incorporate safety mechanisms, low-kickback equipment, attentive cutting techniques and consistent maintenance to minimize hazardous kickback risks. With caution and care, chainsaw operators can wield these useful tools while steering clear of their inherent dangers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the kickback zone on a chainsaw?

The kickback zone refers to the upper quarter of the guide bar nearest the tip. Allowing this area to contact wood dramatically increases the potential for a rotational kickback to occur. Keep the kickback zone away from objects to prevent kickbacks.

Can kickbacks still occur with a low-kickback chain?

Yes, while low or reduced kickback chains are engineered to minimize the risks, they cannot guarantee kickback prevention. Operators should always stay alert and use proper handling techniques, even with safety-enhanced chains.

How can I tell if my chainsaw chain is dull?

Signs of a dull chain include having to apply extra force when cutting, burnt or sawdust-clogged cutting teeth, and chains that produce dust instead of larger chips. Chains should be sharpened or replaced at the first signs of dullness to prevent increased kickback risks.

What should I do if I experience a kickback while using a chainsaw?

If a kickback occurs, immediately engage the chain brake and release the throttle to stop the chain. Move away from the cutting area and check for injuries before resuming operation. Review kickback causes to prevent it happening again.

Are there any chainsaw models that are specifically designed to reduce kickback risk?

Many chainsaw manufacturers now incorporate enhanced kickback safety features on their saws. Models with chain brakes, low kickback chains/bars, reinforced handles, and other innovations help reduce, but not eliminate, the risks.

How often should I inspect and maintain my chainsaw?

Thoroughly inspect your saw and test all its safety mechanisms before each use. Sharpen or replace dull chains every few hours of use. Replace any damaged or worn components. Always follow the manufacturer’s maintenance guidelines for your model.

Can I use a chainsaw to cut wood above my shoulder height?

Cutting overhead creates an extreme kickback hazard and should be avoided at all costs. The loss of control when cutting above shoulder height dramatically reduces reaction time and ability to maneuver the saw safely.

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