Common Safety Mistakes when Using a Chainsaw

Misuse of this powerful, high-speed wood cutting tool causes about 36,000 injuries annually.

A chainsaw has sharp teeth set on a chain that moves rapidly around the edge of a hand-held blade. Used correctly, the saw is a safe, highly effective means of cutting trees, logs and other wood. However, a few common mistakes can make it extremely hazardous. Recall that Hall of Fame golfer Greg Norman nearly cut off his hand in a chainsaw accident in 2014. (According to, he was trimming trees when the weight of a branch pulled his hand toward the saw.)

A common mistake is “drop starting” the saw. Never hold the saw in one hand as you pull the starter cord with the other. You’ll have minimal control as the chain lurches into action. The saw should always be started on the ground or well-supported surface.

Don’t be too eager to start cutting. First, inspect the wood to be cut as well as the surrounding area, making sure the saw blade will not hit nails, screws, spikes, rocks, etc.These objects can become projectiles, damage the saw’s teeth and cause kickback.

Another common mistake is to saw with the blade tip. Kickback is often caused when the very upper part of the blade contacts the wood.Continually reposition yourself and the saw so that the long edge of the blade does the cutting. 

Finally, it’s common to over-reach with the saw. Never extend the saw with one arm or lean out on one foot. Maintain secure footing with both feet and a firm grip on the saw with both hands. Otherwise, you can lose control of the saw, especially in a kickback situation.  An excellent rule of thumb: Cut at waist level or below.

Even if rushed for time, never fuel a hot running saw. Shut off the engine and allow it to cool first to avoid accidental ignition. Wipe off any spilled fuel before starting the saw.

It should go without saying that wearing proper safety gear, including safety goggles and chain saw chaps, is a must.

As Norman wrote in an Instagram post from his hospital bed after his injury, “Working with a chainsaw ALWAYS be respectful of the unexpected.”


Mark Hagen is a former magazine publisher and is currently a senior manager at a construction company. He enjoys writing about construction, equipment/tools and woodworking.