How to use your Stihl chainsaw safely



Studies have shown that on average, 30 000 people are injured each year as a result of chainsaw accidents. Preventing injury whilst using your chainsaw is extremely important should you wish to optimise productivity and achieve your goals for the day, as well as keep yourself and your employees safe. Fortunately, there are various methods to promote safety while on or off the job. In just a few minutes of reading, pick up some tips about how to operate your Stihl chainsaw safely.




Always kit up before using your Stihl chainsaw


One of the easiest ways to avoid injury while using your chainsaw is by donning the appropriate protective gear. Having the correct gear on when using your chainsaw is not only required by most companies, but also the sensible thing to do should you wish to stay out of hospital and avoid multiple stitches, or worse. Taking the time to kit up properly can mean the difference between a small wound and an intense injury should an accident occur. The following safety equipment is necessary when you use your Stihl chainsaw:


  • Face shield to protect your face from flying debris, dust and smoke
  • Head protection (a hard hat or logging helmet)
  • Safety vest
  • Cut-resistant pants to prevent leg injury in the case of an accident
  • Hearing protection such as muffs or ear plugs
  • Heavily protective footwear to prevent injury from falling or rolling wood (these shoes must have steel toes)
  • Cut-resistant gloves to protect your most vulnerable body parts


The above personal protective equipment can work out to be quite costly, which often deters chainsaw users from making use of it. This is a mistake, as one cannot put a price on safety. If you are planning to buy a chainsaw, ensure that you have budgeted for protective gear at the same time as the two should be bought simultaneously.


Train or prepare adequately before using your Stihl chainsaw


It should come as no surprise to hear that chainsaw’s are dangerous machines and that users put themselves at risk when operating them. Despite this, the job must be done. When you train or prepare yourself adequately before operating your saw, though, you are decreasing the likelihood of accidents from occurring. There are higher risk saw operations that require a certain amount of experience or training, such as cutting trees affected by root rot (they often split suddenly), operating on steep slopes or being forced to work in elevated, sloped or unsteady areas.


If you are unable to take a class or undergo any formal chainsaw operating lessons, you are strongly advised to thoroughly read and absorb the entirety of the Stihl chainsaw operating manual before you switch your new saw on. In the same sense, never operate your saw without the manufacturer’s guidelines at the forefront of your actions


Perform routine maintenance on your Stihl chainsaw


A properly cared-for chainsaw is of the utmost importance, especially when it comes to the longevity and effectiveness of your machine as well as your own safety. Each manufacturing manual should have its own maintenance instructions, but the following is a general guide on how to maintain your machine:


First and foremost, you must routinely see to the sharpness of your Stihl chainsaw chain. The chain is responsible for the cutting of wood and must always be as sharp as possible. This means that users will have to expend less effort and time, which will prevent fatigue and joint stiffness or pain due to an extended and non-efficient session. Dull chains also increase the potentiality of injury, as the operator will need to push down harder on the saw – which may heighten the machine’s reaction forces and increase the likelihood of kickback, pinching or stalling.




Ensure that chain tension is optimal and running at factory recommendations. A proper level of chain tension on the saw’s bar makes sure that the links are effective from all sides – ensuring the speed of the chain is constant. Having the correct chain tension also decreases the likelihood of the chain completely disengaging from the bar and causing havoc.


Never forget to check the bar oil levels before operating your chainsaw. If you are using the saw for an extended period or long workday, you should periodically check the bar oil levels during the session. Bar oil is a special and particular formulation created to stick to the chain bar during usage, and therefore do not use any other oil for lubrication as it is unlikely to be effective.


Always ensure that the air filter of your chainsaw is clean and not clogged by debris, otherwise you can be sure that your saw is not operating optimally.


Prepare the area before using your Stihl chainsaw


Contrary to popular belief and film fiction, one cannot simply pull out a chainsaw and get to work at a moment’s notice (safely). There is more preparation required before a productive session of sawing than one may think. You need to take the time to plan and make sure that the work area is safe and suitable for the job. This involves the following steps:


Clear away debris, dirt, tree limbs, rocks, stones or any obstruction from the saw’s proposed path. Failing to do so can result in the chainsaw tip colliding with an object and becoming stuck (which may cause kickback and consequently injury).


In the same sense, clear any obstacles that may cause you to lose footing or stumble while you are on the job.


Check that there are no non-workers hanging out in the general facility or in harm’s way. Most people are unaware of best Stihl chainsaw safety practices, and therefore their presence in the work area can be hazardous (especially if they are not wearing the correct personal protective gear).


  • Make sure that your own personal protective gear is in good condition before you start working.
  • Take a good look for nails, screws or any other similar metal objects that could interfere with your Stihl chainsaw’s path.
  • Identify all electrical wires, lines and outlets in the general area.
  • When refuelling your Stihl chainsaw, ensure that you are doing so in a well-ventilated area with no open flames in sight. After refuelling, check the ground or your clothing from any spillage and clean up accordingly.


Perform safety checks on your Stihl chainsaw


It is extremely important to perform rigorous safety checks on your chainsaw, especially if it is new or if it has been sitting in your garage for some time without being used. This is necessary since the various safety features on your Stihl chainsaw have been carefully manufactured and applied with your safety at the forefront.


The following safety features, among others, must always be in working order:


The spark arrester: This is a feature of the chain’s exhaust system which serves to prevent sparks from exiting the saw and potentially starting fires. You can recognise the spark arrester by its appearance as a small, rectangular mesh screen. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that the mesh is free of build-up either in the form of dirt, sawdust, or carbon – otherwise the arrester becomes ineffective, and the chainsaw will likely not run as a result.




Hand-guards: These features quite literally are the barrier between a potential loss of a finger and a productive sawing session. Never make use of a saw if these features are not strong and in good condition.


Vibration reduction system: This feature is a lifesaver for the user’s hands, arms and joints. As a common and standard feature, the vibration reduction system consists of rubber bushings and springs that connect the engine and guide bar to the rear and front handles. In essence, as its name suggests, the feature limits vibration during use and consequently allows for longer usage periods with fewer negative side effects on the user.


The Muffler: This feature plays a huge role in protecting the user from inhaling exhaust (as it directs it in another direction) as well as reduces sound. Keep in mind however that the muffler should never be touched, as it can reach temperatures of around 480 degrees Celsius and can cause severe burns.


The chain brake: Possibly the most important safety feature of all, the chain brake serves to stop the chain, as its name so clearly suggests. This action should always be fast and efficient, and should be tested frequently to ensure its smooth running, as its correct application can result in mitigating an accident effectively.


Injuries most likely to occur while operating a Stihl chainsaw


The most common chainsaw-related injuries are caused by “kickback,” which occurs when the chainsaw’s tip, or teeth, come into contact and catch on a hard object – and knock backwards towards the person who is operating the machine. Avoiding kickback is as simple as always being aware of where the tip of the saw is at all times, and never allowing the tip to touch branches, the ground or logs while running. Positioning yourself to the side of the cutting path is also a good idea if it is at all possible – effectively placing you away from the bar and chain and reducing the risk of injury due to kickback.




Pinching is another instance that frequently inconveniences chainsaw users and often causes kickback. This occurs when the saw becomes stuck and sometimes stalls while it is cutting something. If pinching occurs and the chainsaw becomes stuck, ensure you turn it off if it has not stalled before working out the best way to dislodge it. It is advised that you familiarise yourself with other potential injuries so as to know how to best avoid them at all costs.


Stihl chainsaw Do Nots


As with every kind of machinery, there are several actions or practices that one should perform when using a chainsaw:


  • Never use just one hand
  • Never perform a cut where you would need to pull the chainsaw towards your body (also known as a backhander cut)
  • Do not use the saw while holding it above shoulder-level
  • Never use a chainsaw when standing on a ladder or any other kind of unreliable scaffolding
  • Do not stand below a log or tree you are cutting on a slope, as the log may roll over you
  • Never walk around with the chainsaw on (the power source should always be switched off when not in direct use)
  • Never attempt to cut two things at once with your Stihl chainsaw
  • Do not allow oil and fuel from soiling the handle of your Stihl chainsaw
  • Never place the chainsaw down on the ground while it is still running
  • Never attempt to cut anything other than wood with the saw
  • Never use a chainsaw if you are ill, fatigued or distracted.