Chainsaws are a great addition to a homeowner's tool arsenal, but they need to be treated with respect. It takes years and years to become proficient enough to tackle cutting down large trees, but there are enough books, videos, and tutorials available to bring small tree-cutting jobs within reach of those wanting to clear a spot for a backyard dirt bike track. The key to success is taking the time to learn how to use the chainsaw safely, and then abiding by all the safety procedures.
Safety gear: Get some basic safety equipment. Really. You don't need to go crazy, but at the very (very) least get safety goggles, sturdy over-the-ankle boots, and if your're cutting down anything more than large saplings, consider a hardhat. Goggles have a tendency to fog depending on the weather and how much you sweat, so buy a pair of safety glasses in addition to the goggles to see which works better. Don't bypass the safety glasses. Trees are amazing living entities and their bark will grow over a foreign obstruction, so there may be a piece of metal from an old rusty sign, or maybe a step from an old hunting stand hidden beneath the bark. Hitting a metal obstruction with a chainsaw can cause considerable damage to your eyes. Another ocular concern is the wood chips themselves. The wood chips (even if they're softwood) can be surprisingly sharp and might be coated with bar oil. If you think safety glasses are too expensive, consider the cost of new eyes. Oh wait - you can't buy new eyes.
Chainsaw safety tips in a nutshell:
- bring a cellphone and first-aid kit
- place the first-aid kit, cellphone, and other gear at the base of a tree that's not being felled so they're easy to find and don't get buried under branches. If it's a large area consider tying a ribbon or other identifying mark on the tree so you can find the gear quickly in an emergency
- leave kids and pets at home (along with the beer cooler)
- make sure there are no power lines anywhere in the vicinity
- keep your vehicle far enough away from the trees to avoid having a tree land on the vehicle, but close enough to access quickly in an emergency
- in case someone unfamiliar with the vehicle needs to drive it in an emergency situation, leave the keys inside the vehicle in plain view
- look for branches caught in the tree which may come loose and fall unexpectedly
- chainsaw engines are designed to power certain sized bars - don't try to save money by putting a 20" bar on a chainsaw rated for a 14" bar
- clear an escape route before felling the tree, and remember that trees don't always fall in the direction they're supposed to so make it a wide path
- a chain is much more likely to snap if it's not lubricated so check the bar oil reservoir often
- check the tension of the chain often since it will stretch with use and heat from friction
- chainsaw mufflers are small but very hot
- be careful when dealing with dead trees as they tend to break rather than fall when cut
- dead trees can also harbor bees and they'll get seriously annoyed when you start cutting up their living room
Chainsaw brands : Husqvarna, Stihl, and Echo are all excellent brand names and their websites offer lots of info about how to safely use a chainsaw. They all have YouTube channels but add "USA" onto the end when searching (i.e., Echo USA) to find the relevant channel. Poulan and Black & Decker offer affordable entry-level chainsaws and may be a good choice if the project is small. Lowes and Home Depot sell chainsaws as does Amazon, but chainsaws (like other power equipment) need to be maintained, and if you're not going to do it yourself it pays to find an independent dealer that can do the maintenence. An independent dealer is also better suited to answering the 'best chainsaw to buy' questions. Prices (especially online) vary so check several retailers before buying. When shopping make sure to compare things like bar size, ccs, and starting mechanisms in order to make an accurate comparison.
Chainsaw basics video: There are lots of great YouTube videos about chainsaw basics and how to cut down a tree, but make sure the video you're watching was created by experienced professionals. Here's a video about the basics of using a chainsaw and another that covers choosing a chainsaw: