Whenever you operate a chainsaw I would always recommend that you wear appropriate clothing. Depending on the circumstances this includes things like chainsaw safety gloves, chaps, hats and visors.
Chainsaws have a number of built in safety features but these aren’t foolproof and can’t keep you 100% safe. You can significantly reduce the chance of mishaps or injury by operating the saw in the correct manner and also by wearing the right gear.
So let’s have a look at some of the apparel you should consider.
Protective chainsaw gloves in my view are essential. They serve two purposes. Firstly, they will protect your hands from flying wood and debris, as well as the saw’s chain in the event it jumps from the bar or snaps. As you would expect, chains can cause particularly nasty injuries - deep cuts to muscle and tendons can result in permanent loss of use of the hand. Whilst in most cases the saw’s safety mechanisms, such as the chain catcher, will prevent serious harm, a small risk still remains. Why take the chance? Safety gloves are made from strong materials such as Kevlar and will help prevent serious injury.
The other major benefit of wearing hand protection is that it helps to reduce the long term impact of vibration. When working with vibrating power tools for sustained periods, damage can be caused to the hands, arms and fingers. The medical term for this is Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Early symptoms might include tingling and numbness which can eventually result in limited use of the limbs. The bad news is that unless this is treated early the damage can’t be reversed resulting in permanent impairment. Conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and vibration white finger are classic examples of injuries brought on by the excessive use of vibrating tools.
Before you start to panic, it should be pointed out that doing a bit of light cutting every now and again is unlikely to cause you harm. There are prescribed safety limits which are calculated based on the level of vibration (measured in meters per second squared m/s²) and length of continuous use. As an example, a machine which has a vibration level of 10 m/s² could be used for up to 30 minutes before control measures need to be introduced. A machine recording 5 m/s² could be used for up to 2 hours. Wearing safety gloves will extend the time you can safely use the chainsaw, so in the first example you would be able to use the tool for up to 2 hours.
When it comes to chainsaws, the vibration impacts differ between the front and rear handles. Some manufacturers will supply this information whereas others don’t. Our reviews will note the vibration levels wherever possible. For example, the Husqvarna 445 which has some excellent anti-vibration dampening, has measurements of 3.1 m/s² at the front handle and 4.9 m/s² at the rear handle.
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As I mentioned, not all manufacturers provide this information. You should always look for any guidance in the operator’s manual but my advice would be that you should always wear gloves both for the immediate and long term protection which they offer.
So what are the best chainsaw gloves? There are plenty of options available. For example the Endura Hi-Viz cut-resistant chainsaw gloves (shown above) are a popular choice. In addition to anti-vibration reinforcement they also have enough cut resistance to handle a chain running at 3,140 feet per minute (16 m/s).
When it comes to protecting the legs, there are two types of trousers – Type A and Type C. Type A can be supplied as safety chaps to provide protection to the front legs only and are generally recommended for homeowner and farm use. Type C provide complete leg protection and are favored by professionals.
A good pair of chaps can make the difference between a stopped chain and an extremely serious injury. As chainsaw chains have gotten faster and more aggressive, it has been necessary to develop stronger fabrics. The challenge has been to match this strength with both weight and flexibility as they need to be both practical and comfortable to wear. So how do they work? Chaps are basically in the style of an apron which fit over the front of the leg and have tie offs around the waste and legs (an example of which is shown below).
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If you are looking to invest in some chaps you should ensure that they meet the leg protection requirements of OSHA 1910.266 standards for chainsaw operators as well the requirements of ASTM F1897-2008 39JY, which means that they have to withstand a chain speed of 2,750 feet per minute (or 14 meters per second).
It may be a little inconvenient and uncomfortable to wear a pair of chaps and no, they don’t look like the coolest fashion accessory you will find but if the chain ever comes into contact with your leg you will be glad you went of the trouble of donning a pair.
As with vibration injuries, the full impact of hearing damage isn’t immediately noticeable so there may be a temptation to neglect hearing protection. If you are using a small electric saw for short periods on an occasional basis it’s unlikely that you will need ear protection. If, however, you are using a larger saw for some bigger jobs investing in a pair of defenders is a wise choice.
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Exposure to noise levels over 85 dB(A) can lead to hearing impairment. Wherever manufacturers disclose the information we will include it in our reviews. That said, there are cases where this information isn’t available and in such circumstances I would recommend that protection is worn when using gas powered and the larger electric chainsaws. If your saw is as loud as say a blow-dryer or kitchen blender then you are in the 80 dB(A) to 90 dB(A) range.
Head and Eye protection
When carrying out larger jobs, the wearing of a safety helmet will provide some protection against falling twigs and branches. Not only this, it will also offer protection in the event of kickback should the bar be thrown back towards the operator. (Note, this is only if the brake as activated and the chain has stopped moving – a moving chain will cut a helmet).
The wearing of either googles or a mesh visor is advised as will it prevent wood chips and other debris from causing eye damage. You can buy a combined helmet, visor and ear protection product as shown below.
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Alternatively, if you are only undertaking some small cutting you may wish to invest in a pair of protective goggles.
If you are contemplating doing any serious cutting then you should consider getting some appropriate footwear. Chainsaw boots are based on traditional steel toe-capped boots but ones, such as the pair shown below, will also provide protection to other areas such as the Achilles tendon and the ankle.
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You may also wish to consider upper body protection which will help should you ever be unfortunate enough to lose control of your saw. Chainsaw jackets and sleeveless vests, for example, are designed using special protective materials. They may not stop the blade completely but they will dampen the chain mechanism and slow the chain down which will help to reduce the severity of any injury.
In summary, in most countries there are safety standards imposed on professional users in terms of the clothing and the safety gear which should be worn. There are obviously compelling reasons why these standards are in place and in my view if it’s good enough for the pros then it is also good enough for us amateurs and casual users.
Wear the gear and stay safe!