Chainsaws must be selected with great care, but first it is important to consider if you really need one at all. If you have no training and no experience of chainsaw use, it might be better to use an alternative such as handheld, non-powered pruning saws, secateurs or loppers. If the job is substantial, use the services of a professional firm — one that is registered with a recognised arboricultural organisation. And, if you envisage such jobs turning up regularly, find out about training schemes.
Infrequent users, such as professional gardeners requiring the use of a chainsaw once or twice a year, will find most manufacturers offer a selection of less-expensive chainsaws aimed at consumers or “leisure users”. Don’t be put off by the terminology — the saws have lower performance than professional and semi-professional models but are ideal for those who occasionally need to tackle small jobs. Or, you could purchase an electric chainsaw. Although they need a power supply, they are easier to use. They are also quieter than two-stroke engines, without smelly fumes and there is no problem with the fuel going off between jobs.
Where the location and frequency of work demands petrol power, there is plenty of choice. Part-time saw users, such as estate workers or maintenance contractors, can select from the mid-performance range.
The size of saw that most suits you will again depend on your skill in using chainsaws. Unless you have experience using chainsaws, choose a smaller, less-powerful saw as this will be easier to manoeuvre. Heavier saws will quickly tire the arms and hands of the infrequent user — and that’s when accidents are likely to happen.
Saws should also be matched to the work required of them. A small, lightweight and compact saw will be sufficiently manoeuvrable to trim trees, thin bushes or cut firewood. For felling trees, especially hardwoods, choose a larger saw with more power. For more frequent use and where performance is important, look for faster acceleration and higher torque to increase efficiency.
Professional arborists with experience know what type of chainsaw to use for a given job. They match the length of bar and power to the task, but also search for a slim unit with a high centre of gravity so it can be guided accurately. A high chain speed is needed for a clean cut with minimal bark tearing.
Professionals with training and certification are the only people permitted to purchase and use top-handled chainsaws. This type of saw is designed specifically for tree pruning and as such is intended only for work in trees. Top-handled chainsaws must never be used while standing on the ground.
With a sharp chain whizzing round at speed, safety is a priority. The saw must have an effective chain brake and chain catcher. The operator must be able to reach the on/off switch quickly without moving the hands from the working position. The saw must also have a hand guard at the front to stop the other hand falling onto the bar. Check that the exhaust is positioned where it will not cause burns to hands or legs.
The saw needs to be lightweight so as not to strain the hands, arms, shoulders or back, but any reduction in weight should not be at the expense of the quality of materials and construction. Make sure the saw is comfortable to handle and does not over balance you. Labour-saving features, such as easy-starting systems, benefit regular users. A good anti-vibration system is essential, especially for those using saws on a day-to-day basis. Noise levels should be low — especially for work in urban areas.
Chain tensioning needs to be easy to adjust and the saw should be easy to fuel and oil with large filler holes in convenient positions. Maintenance may need to be performed on site, so check how many tools are needed for basics to keep the saw running. Look for features such as snap-lock filter covers and easy access to the spark plug.
Remember to ask about the availability of spare parts so time and money is not lost while parts arrive.
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