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Chain saws

A chain saw can be one of the most useful tools to have around if you live in the country. It is also one of the most dangerous.
Mark Palas of southeastern Minnesota is covered in protective wear for doing chores. Whatever the size of the job, the right chain saw will put the power in your hands.

Guide to Chain Saws

For clearing overgrown trails, harvesting timber, thinning stands of trees, or cutting up firewood, a good chain saw can be one of your best investments. And if you already own an older-model chain saw, now really is a great time to upgrade. New models are more powerful, lighter in weight, more comfortable to use, easier to start, and most important of all, safer than ever before.

Consider size and follow-up service

Bigger is not always better when buying a chain saw. Larger saws are heavier and more unwieldy and fatiguing to use than their smaller counterparts. Their longer cutting bars can be a disadvantage when cutting smaller stock or working in tight quarters.

On the other hand, using a saw without enough power or cutting capacity can be dangerous, as well. Most models come with a range of cutting bar lengths.

Before you buy, take stock of the work you'll need to do and size your saw appropriately for those jobs. If you'll be felling large trees as well as doing some light-duty trimming work, you may be better off buying two saws of different sizes, rather than trying to make do with a compromise. Or, consider supplementing a large felling saw with an alternative cutting tool.

The best place to buy a chain saw is at an outdoor equipment dealer, not a hardware or home center store. The equipment dealer will be able to provide warranty service and will have staff that can guide you to the best saw for your needs. Many dealers will even allow you to try out and compare saws right on their premises. Chances are they'll stock the necessary safety and maintenance equipment you'll need to work safely and to keep your saw in top condition.

Ever-improving safety features

"A chain saw is the most dangerous hand tool that can be purchased on the open market," says Carl Smith, a fifth-generation logger and chain saw safety expert. "Approximately 40,000 injuries and deaths [from chain saw use] were reported last year in the United States. Most of them could have been prevented."

Part of that accident prevention involves buying a chain saw with the latest safety devices. OSHA requires all new chain saws to be equipped with the following features; if you buy a used saw, make sure it has these safety features as well.

  • Chain brake: Stops the chain if kickback occurs. All saws sold after February 9, 1995, are required to have this feature. Older, used chain saws weren't required to have the chain brake, so they should be avoided.

  • Chain catcher: Prevents a broken or dislodged cutting chain from flying off the saw and injuring the operator.

  • Hand guard: Prevents the operator's hand from slipping into the path of the cutting chain.

  • Throttle: Stops power to the chain when pressure on the throttle is released.

  • Throttle interlock: Prevents the throttle from activating until the interlock is pressed.

  • Antivibration handle system: Reduces operator fatigue and joint stress. Some saws are also equipped with an antikickback chain, bar, or tip guard. These devices are all highly recommended.

Covering up with protective gear

While you're out buying your chain saw, purchase the following safety items, as well:

  • Hard hat: Protects the head from falling limbs.

  • Protective leg chaps: Reduce the chance of serious injury if a moving cutting chain comes into contact with legs. Wear over pants to clog up the saw's cutting chain and sprocket.

  • Gloves: Protect hands.

  • Eye protection: Keeps flying wood chips and debris from entering the eyes.

  • Hearing protection: Prevents hearing loss.

  • Above-the-ankle leather boots: Protect feet and ankles from accidental cuts.

  • Bar cover or saw carrying case: Prevents injury while carrying or storing the saw.

  • Chain file: Keeps the saw sharp. A dull chain is dangerous to use and will produce sawdust-like powder rather than chips. In addition, the chain should be professionally machine-sharpened after every three hand sharpenings.

Added enhancements

In addition to their built-in safety mechanisms, premium chain saws may feature these enhancements:

  • Advanced antivibration system: Gives the operator more comfort.

  • Advanced air-filtration system: Allows more running time between air filter changes.

  • Side-mounted chain tensioning: Provides faster, easier cutting chain adjustments.

  • Compression release or variable ignition timing: Makes starting easier.

  • Electronic ignition: Makes starting easier and results in better overall performance.

Deciding on gas or electric

If you think chain saws are noisy, smoky, and require maintenance, you're right -- unless you're talking about an electric chain saw.

Electric models can be a great choice if you are able to do your cutting within 100 feet or so of a power outlet. (The four saws featured below are all gas powered.)

Electric saws often cost less than a third of the cost of a gas saw, weigh less, start with the squeeze of a trigger, and stop instantly when the trigger is released. They make no noise when they're not cutting (gas saws are still noisy at idle). There is no volatile fuel to store and mix, and they require virtually no maintenance aside from occasionally sharpening and tensioning the chain.

While electric chain saws are not as powerful as the most powerful gas saws, they are adequate for all but the largest of cutting jobs.

Husqvarna's 55 Rancher

Lightweight moving parts and a 3.4-hp. engine give the 55 Rancher its fast acceleration. The saw is also equipped with LowVib, a vibration dampening system that isolates the handles and fuel tank from the engine. An air-injection system removes up to 97% of the dirt and dust before it reaches the air filter.

The powerhead weighs 11.4 pounds, has an angled front handle, a high center of gravity, and a flat underside. Safety features include a double-acting chain brake, right hand guard, and chain catcher. Price: $349.95.

For more information, call 800/487-5962 or visit www.usa.husqvarna.com.

Husqvarna's 55 Rancher

John Deere CS36

One of John Deere's Pro-Series lightweight, professional saws, the CS36, boasts one of the best power-to-weight ratios among its class: the powerhead weighs just 9.1 pounds. No-oil-at-idle in the 2.1-hp. engine reduces consumption. The saw is ergonomically designed and comes with a 3Ú8-inch, low-profile, semichisel chain.

A forged and wafered connecting rod provides better durability, bearing lubrication, and heat dissipation. All saws in this line come with an inertia chain brake, guide bar safety tip, and low kickback chain as safety features. Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $199.99 with a 14-inch bar. For more information, call 800/537-8233 or visit www. deere.com/en_US/ag/homestead/productlanding.html.

John Deere CS36

Jonsered CS 2150 Turbo

A centrifugal air cleaning system and side-access chain tension adjustment are just two of the features on this saw. There is a compression-release valve for easier starting of its 3.3-hp. engine. Jonsered includes steel coil spring vibration dampening. The powerhead (without bar and chain) weighs 10.8 pounds.

An inertia-activated chain brake and reduced kickback saw chain are standard safety features. Both 16- and 18-inch bar lengths are available. Suggested retail price: $399.95, which includes a carry case kit. For more information, call 877/693-7729 or visit www.jonsered.com.

Jonsered CS 2150 Turbo

MS 270C Stihl Wood Boss

Stihl equips their MS 270C with a heavy-duty antivibration system. The 3.5-hp. engine has a new electronic-ignition system for quicker, easier starting. Its powerhead weighs 11.7 pounds and comes standard with Stihl's tool-less, quick chain adjuster. Maintenance is further simplified with tool-less air filter access and a heavy-duty air filter for longer cleaning intervals. Other features include a translucent fuel tank for fast fuel level checks and a large tank opening for ease in refilling. It has an ergonomic front and rear-handle design. Stihl recommends their 16-inch guide bar for this saw. Price: $349.95.

For more information, call 800/467-8445 or visit www.stihlusa.com.

MS 270C Stihl Wood Boss

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