Friday, August 12, 2016

Guest Post: The Care and Feeding of Chainsaws

by Scott Bascom
Scott Bascom is a member of our Facebook Group and has written for us before.

Author's Disclaimer: this article has nothing to do with summer camps, teenagers, or campfire stories. Well, not unless you decide to make it so, but that would be none of my business... even if I do recommend a good hockey mask.

There are three major types of chainsaws: Electric, Gasoline, and
Battery-powered. Of these types, the most popular is gasoline powered, which typically use a two-stroke oil mixture.

These require less maintenance, do not require you to store any fuel, and do not have a motor that can easily go bad from having fuel sit in it. That said, they still require all of the maintenance on the chain and the blade that any other chainsaw does, and they require a power source, such as a generator or working electricity. They are also limited by extension cords.

The most common type, these have several disadvantages as well as advantages over electric chainsaws.

  • If left stored with fuel in them for long periods of time, they tend to clog up as the fuel goes bad. This means that when you pick them up to use them they are not necessarily usable, and they are much more finicky about the maintenance on the engine. 
  • They require all of the maintenance of the electric chainsaw, as far as the bar and chain go. 
  • They are more expensive than electric. 
  • They can have more power than electric chainsaws. 
  • They tend to be more portable.
  • There is a wider selection available. 
  • Most people are  familiar with this type.

These types have an honorable mention here. I don't generally recommend them, but in some very specific cases they are exactly the right thing to have. For example, if you are in a situation where you have electricity but not consistently, or if you cannot get gasoline consistently, or have to use a chainsaw up a tree and have plenty electricity but cannot handle having power cords, the battery-powered chainsaw is for you. It has most of the advantages of an electric chainsaw, such as lack of maintenance on an engine, but it has many of the disadvantages of a gas chainsaw, such as expense, and it has its own problems in battery life.

Picking a Chainsaw
My rules on picking a chainsaw are fairly simple: I decide what I am using it for, and then look for a name brand (Stihl, Husqvarna etc.) that has one that will fit my needs. I understand that not everyone can afford an expensive chainsaw, but I have learned to avoid house brands. Usually you can pick up a Poulan Pro or a Remington for around $150 that will do most jobs.

There is nothing wrong with a used chainsaw off of Craigslist; just make sure that it works when you buy it. Sometimes small engine shops will have one that was left by a customer, and will sell it for the cost of the repair.

If you buy used, make sure you can get the manual online. It will save you much grief.

Most of this section will be focused on care of a gasoline chainsaw. That said, all chainsaws have several things in common:
  1. All chainsaws must have the chains sharpened on a regular basis when you use them. You will usually find the sharpening interval listed in the owner's manual. 
  2. Chainsaws require regular addition of bar oil, which is used to lubricate the chain as it rubs against the bar and you cut through things. You will usually find the maintenance interval for bar oil listed in the manual as well. 

Note: I am assuming you have a sharpening kit on hand. If you do not, you will, at minimum, need a round file to do this. Just do your best, and take it in for a professional sharpening later if you must.
  1. Turn off the chain saw. Unplug it, take out the battery, etc. I know this is a hassle, but  trust me, it's preferable to hideous injury. 
  2. Set the chainsaw down on a firm surface. If you have one, a workbench with a clamp is best, but not everyone has one on hand. A patch of sidewalk or driveway will do in a pinch.
  3. Place the circular file in the chain guide. Both of these items should come in your sharpening kit.
  4. Firmly hold the saw. Do not touch the chain itself, just the base with the handle and trigger.
  5. Engage the chain brake. This will be different on every saw, but is often a lever or button that you twist.
  6. Lay the circular file in the chain guide on the forward facing cutting grooves. 
  7. Going from near the front tip to the handle of the file, use firm even strokes to sharpen. Usually you will only need 2-3 strokes to get to shiny metal, and that is usually enough; if there are deep gouges, it may be time to change out the chain.
  8. Move back along the chain, repeating the sharpening of each cutting groove. 
  9.  Unlock the chain brake as needed, and rotate the chain forward. Lock the chain brake again, and sharpen until all of the forward facing grooves are sharpened.
  10. When you have done all the forward facing teeth, do the ones facing backwards, if your chain is so equipped.

I highly recommend a carrying case with a sharpening kit, the owners manual, and if needed either a spare charger, a spare bottle of premix oil, or power cables. I also recommend a spare fuel can specifically dedicated to premixed 2-stroke fuel if you have a chainsaw that uses it. If you do this, I highly recommend that you use a fuel stabilizer that is rated for small engine use, as that will help to maintain the stability of your fuel and longevity of your tools.

If you are feeling especially rich, I also recommend a spare chain and bar. They come in very useful if you are using your chainsaw heavily during an emergency.

Remember, use common sense. Put this out of the way of small children, teenage boys, and people in hockey masks. Also, I highly recommend that you have a dedicated container for any accessories with this chainsaw.

The first thing to keep in mind with any chainsaw is that, just like any powerful tool, you need to use common sense when using it. Chainsaws are designed to cut into things, and if you're not careful this can include your limbs. Some basic safety tips:

Always wear eye protection. I know it's not all that appealing to have to remember to put on glasses every time you were use the chainsaw, but it can and will throw things into your eyes unexpectedly. The last thing you need is to have in a medical emergency while you're dealing with another disaster.

Always wear hearing protection. Even when using a chainsaw for a short period of time, remember that things can fly into your ears. Especially if you, like me, have ever accidentally cut into a wasp nest. (Running around with a wasp sting in your ear canal is one of the most unpleasant experiences during a disaster).

A good combination of eye and ear protection is a hard hat with integrated earmuffs and face shield. Not only is it all-in-one, but it also protects your head from falling debris and your face from kickbacks.

Always wear gloves. Gloves, aside from the armoring safety factor, will actually help to maintain a grip on the chainsaw when you are working for long hours and are very sweaty. I highly recommend a mechanic-style glove instead of a work-style glove, because they fit your hands better and tend to provide equivalent protection when using a chainsaw, while still allowing great flexibility and dexterity.

Always wear chainsaw chaps. There is a reason chainsaws are the weapon of choice in so many slasher movies: nothing that will do more damage faster to the human body than a chainsaw. Chainsaw Chaps are designed to clog and stop the saw before even a complete revolution of the chain, preventing damage to the leg underneath. You'll have a heck of a bruise and feel like you were kicked by a horse, but that's better than losing your leg or your life.

Remember to cut starting with the base of the blade, unless it is a specific blade, chain and saw setup designed to cut with the tip. Otherwise the it can kick and buck backwards and hit you, and that is absolutely no fun.

(As a side note, several major chainsaw brands have wonderful safety features on their saws, so that if you accidentally put your hand on it, it is far more likely to stop than to cut into you. Unfortunately, these brands are typically fairly expensive, and out of the price range of most blue-collar preppers.)

Remember to stop every 15 minutes to half an hour to check on bar oil level and the general health of the saw. If you have an inexpensive saw, you will probably need to tension it every 5 to 10 minutes of heavy use. If you tension it before you start, you should be able to go up to 15 minutes without problem, but remember that inexpensive saws have more slippage in them. There is nothing wrong with this; you just have to remember it. The bar tensioner is typically located at the back of the saw, and can usually be adjusted by hand without tools.

Finally, remember that in order for a tool to be really useful, you should practice with it before it's an emergency. I highly recommend that you go out and cut firewood or similar before you have to do so in an emergency.

Good luck, and have fun picking out a hockey mask!

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