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Old 04-01-2019, 07:44 AM
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How dangerous is a chainsaw to use?


I have a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a wood stove. There are a number of dead trees on my property that I would like to cut up for firewood, but I've never used a chainsaw. Talk me into, or out of getting one as you see fit.

If I get one, how steep is the learning curve and how likely am I to cut my head off the first time I use it? I was thinking of getting a smaller, cordless chainsaw to start with; there are lots of smaller branches and trees that could keep me busy for months on the property.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:11 AM
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They can be pretty dangerous. Slicing off parts of your body is only a portion of the danger. If you are cutting down trees, you have to do it safely to make sure the tree doesn't fall on something or someone, including yourself. I don't know if there are classes on how to operate one, but I would suggest trying to find one before striking out on your own. They also make safety chaps that will protect your legs, I would definitely purchase them and use them too. I have owned a chainsaw for over 20 years and recently bought a pair of the safety chaps even though I only use my saw two or three times a year at most.

Last edited by Emergency911; 04-01-2019 at 08:13 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:12 AM
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I just want to say here that I had the same concern about a chainsaw, so when I needed to get a bunch of heavy bushes and small young trees cleared, I got one of these instead. It's basically a small electric chainsaw in the form of an alligator pruner, and it worked really well for what I needed it for. The disadvantage is that the maximum diameter it can cut is 4", but you mention that you have a lot of smaller branches to deal with, and that would work well for those. It looks a lot safer than a chainsaw, and I never felt any risk using it.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:13 AM
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One of the most dangerous things to do with a chainsaw is to cut down dead or dying trees. First, felling any tree is a task requiring skill. Dead trees are unpredictable - branches can fall off with little provocation, trunks can split, etc. They're not called widowmakers for nothing. Are the trees already on the ground or still standing?

But even cutting up downed trees for firewood can be tricky. You're best off taking a chainsaw safety course from where ever you buy your saw. They will show you how to operate one, and make sure you have all the necessary safety gear (helmet, goggles, ear protection, chaps).

If you're going to be doing a significant amount of cutting, I'd get a gas powered saw. They're much more powerful and easier to use for a long period of time. Cords get in the way, IMO, and battery powered saws run out of juice too quickly for real work.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:20 AM
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The chainsaws themselves are better than they were but still far from fool-proof. I strongly suggest a good pair of "chaps" or an apron designed for the purpose especially for beginners like you.

https://www.northerntool.com/shop/to...SABEgIF1fD_BwE

Last edited by kopek; 04-01-2019 at 08:23 AM.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:21 AM
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Thanks all, it didn't occur to me that there might be chainsaw classes that I could attend. I'll look into it.

I'm not planning on cutting down any trees. There are plenty of trees down on my property that I want to cut up for firewood.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:23 AM
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I've been using chainsaws for about 30 years. I heated with wood for 10 years. Six cords a year it took.

Every tree. Every cut. Is different. You must pay attention to every aspect. From having an escape route for yourself, to where you 'hope' the tree will fall. If you get a real chainsaw, get a Stihl. Expensive, but you won't be disappointed.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:24 AM
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Thanks all, it didn't occur to me that there might be chainsaw classes that I could attend. I'll look into it.

I'm not planning on cutting down any trees. There are plenty of trees down on my property that I want to cut up for firewood.
It's a good idea to cut those downed trees up anyway. If you can burn them, more the better.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:24 AM
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If by 'cordless' you mean electric then you aren't cutting down anything large. Get a real chain saw, learn to use it cutting up already downed trees and branches, then move your way up to small trees. Don't even try to take down a large tree by yourself.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:27 AM
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Safety equipment is mandatory! You want sturdy gloves, goggles, and always, ALWAYS sturdy boots! Sandals, flipflops, sneakers are verboten.

Chainsaw safety class is an excellent idea.

I also recommend finding an experienced chainsaw user in your community and politely ask to shadow that person for a day or a weekend.

You will so enjoy being nice and toasty in your cabin, burning wood you cut yourself!


~VOW
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:56 AM
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They'll kill you, but like most everything dangerous they're loads of fun.
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Old 04-01-2019, 08:57 AM
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Complacency is the greatest danger, IMHO. Some decades back, a coworker was hacking up some branches on his property. Next thing he knew, the chainsaw was hacking up his leg. Luckily, it didn't get bone or a major artery, but it did a job on his calf... all because he wasn't paying attention.

I've used both electric and gas chainsaws. They frighten me a bit, so I'm very VERY careful and aware of what's going on. So far, so good - no lost appendages. To me, one of the main things to pay attention to is the lay of the log - make sure you don't end up with a partially cut piece pinching and trapping your saw. I use saw horses, or I prop one log on another so the cut end falls away.
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Old 04-01-2019, 09:12 AM
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Something nobody has mentioned. Chain maintenance. If you find a class on the safe and proper usage if a chain saw, or learn the old fashion way as I did ("here son, your big enough to hold it without tipping, take over there and start limbing the tree")
Make sure you chain has sharp teeth and is set to the correct tension. I like to keep a couple of extra chains around since different species of wood wear the teeth at different rates (heck different parts of the same tree wear the teeth differently) and it's not always convenient to run to the shop and wait a day or few for sharpening.

I know, sharp teeth? Chain tension is the real point, but yeah, like kitchen knives, if your chain has dull teeth you work harder, tire quickly and I've never had a sharp saw kick back on me, but I have had a dull saw do that.
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  #14  
Old 04-01-2019, 09:21 AM
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I know a guy who cuts his own firewood. I think I might see if he'd be interested in working with me to cut up some of the trees on the property and then he could have half of the wood. That way, I could learn on the job with someone who knows what he's doing.
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Old 04-01-2019, 09:26 AM
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Some good advice here.

Gloves, glasses, and boots are not optional.
Chaps are also a good idea.
Ear protection is often overlooked, especially if you're sawing for a long time.
I would also add a hard hat if you're downing trees.

Make sure your area is clear around your feet and plan an exit route... or two.
Cut slow and smart.
Always cut away from your body!


Inspect your saw before every use!

Make sure your bar oil is full and dispensing properly. More is better than les in this case.
Check your guard and chain brake.
Handle the saw firmly but (as with all power tools) DO NOT fight with it. If something goes wrong, LET GO! The chain will stop.

A dull chain can cause users to push too hard and a broken chain can cause severe injuries.
Buy a chainsaw file and learn how to sharpen and change your chain! I always keep a spare in the case.

Take a small engines class. Nothing is more frustrating (or exhausting!) than a chainsaw that just won't start!
  #16  
Old 04-01-2019, 09:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VOW View Post
I also recommend finding an experienced chainsaw user in your community and politely ask to shadow that person for a day or a weekend.
This. Take a safety class first so you can at least be conversant/cognizant of the peculiarities of chainsaw, but nothing beats having a coach there to say, "Nope, that's gonna kill ya."

And remember: you don't control a chainsaw, you have to let it give you control. Respect that monster or it will eat you.
  #17  
Old 04-01-2019, 09:59 AM
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If by 'cordless' you mean electric then you aren't cutting down anything large. Get a real chain saw, learn to use it cutting up already downed trees and branches, then move your way up to small trees. Don't even try to take down a large tree by yourself.
Heh. Your comment (IMO) is outdated. I have two gas powered chainsaws and a DeWalt 40V 16 inch bar battery chainsaw. Anything my big gas powered Stihl Farm Boss can handle, my DeWalt battery chainsaw can handle just as well.

In the spring I use a chainsaw most weekends, and I find myself grabbing the DeWalt more and more. For most jobs I eschew the safety stuff, other than good footwear. I've been using a chainsaw most of my adult life and the most serious injury I've suffered has been when I was putting a new chain on the tool.

It is a potentially dangerous tool. They scare me. I always take a hit of weed just to calm my anxiety, then get to work. Dead-falls are dangerous, limbs under tension can do unpredictable things. Climbing a tree and using a chainsaw is something I'd leave to the pros.
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:07 AM
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Heh. Your comment (IMO) is outdated. I have two gas powered chainsaws and a DeWalt 40V 16 inch bar battery chainsaw. Anything my big gas powered Stihl Farm Boss can handle, my DeWalt battery chainsaw can handle just as well.

In the spring I use a chainsaw most weekends, and I find myself grabbing the DeWalt more and more. For most jobs I eschew the safety stuff, other than good footwear. I've been using a chainsaw most of my adult life and the most serious injury I've suffered has been when I was putting a new chain on the tool.

It is a potentially dangerous tool. They scare me. I always take a hit of weed just to calm my anxiety, then get to work. Dead-falls are dangerous, limbs under tension can do unpredictable things. Climbing a tree and using a chainsaw is something I'd leave to the pros.
Well, I guess I'll have to see one working to believe it. I wouldn't mind having a battery powered saw that worked. I guess you get a lot of torque out of that motor that hasn't been there in the electrics I've seen in the past.

And, yes indeed the danger is great. You can be careful and control the saw, but you can't control the tree.

Last edited by TriPolar; 04-01-2019 at 10:09 AM.
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:19 AM
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If you don't dedicate yourself to learning and safety, and plan for a one-time use, I'd advise against even trying any big project -- that's for the professionals. Some years ago, when I was much younger, we had a tornado pass through, leaving numerous, 1-2 ft diameter trees on the ground, blocking the driveway. Two of us decided to play lumberjack and rented a chainsaw. We quickly found out we were not lumberjacks and wisely turned the task over to more experienced dudes.

Although I now have a small electric chainsaw for undemanding projects, that's as far as I ever wish to go. Consider letting the professionals handle it if you can.

(Although that alligator gadget looks like a neat idea!)
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:32 AM
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Well, I guess I'll have to see one working to believe it. I wouldn't mind having a battery powered saw that worked. I guess you get a lot of torque out of that motor that hasn't been there in the electrics I've seen in the past.
Here is Tara Kul using/comparing a gas vs battery chainsaw. I think the DeWalt is actually the saw I own.

The one downside is how much you can do until the battery needs recharged. I have a back-up battery, but to be honest it takes enough time to run down a battery that I need a breather anyway.

My smallest battery chainsaw is a Worx saw that is so light it can be put on a remote pole. Small limbs can be safely cut from the ground. Very cool tool!

(I used to have a 4 gas tank limit. After the 4th tank, I was done for the day. As I aged it went down to 3, then 2. I now am tired before the first tank is empty, or the first battery is drained.)
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:38 AM
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When I was in medical school, we had a class where we observed autopsies with the county medical examiner.

His comments on suicide: "When someone commits suicide by cutting themselves with a knife, you will often see 'hesitation marks'. They are small cuts on the skin that are made before they make the cut that ends their life. When someone commits suicide by chainsaw, there are no hesitation marks."

Our class decided that another comment he made would make a good American Indian name: Cuts with the grittiness of an unripe pear. (describing scirrhous carcinoma)
The things that stick in your mind!
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:38 AM
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One thing that’s appealing about the cordless chainsaws is the ease of use and low maintenance compared to gas powered ones.
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:15 AM
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One thing thatís appealing about the cordless chainsaws is the ease of use and low maintenance compared to gas powered ones.

I have used corded, cordless and gas; to me they are all about the same in terms of care/maintenance. What gets you in trouble with some of the corded/cordless is you open the box and go to town without thinking. You don't have that moment of getting the engine going and warm that tells you "beyond this point there be dragons".
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:20 AM
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<snip> (Although that alligator gadget looks like a neat idea!)
Yes, it does! Except it's smiling at you!
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:26 AM
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Here is Tara Kul using/comparing a gas vs battery chainsaw. I think the DeWalt is actually the saw I own.

The one downside is how much you can do until the battery needs recharged. I have a back-up battery, but to be honest it takes enough time to run down a battery that I need a breather anyway.

My smallest battery chainsaw is a Worx saw that is so light it can be put on a remote pole. Small limbs can be safely cut from the ground. Very cool tool!

(I used to have a 4 gas tank limit. After the 4th tank, I was done for the day. As I aged it went down to 3, then 2. I now am tired before the first tank is empty, or the first battery is drained.)
I'm convinced. I don't think I'll do anything requiring more than a 16" bar anymore.

Anyone want a buy a low mileage Husky Rancher?
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:28 AM
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I have seen some hairy injuries from chain saws
I hate them.about as much as tractors. They are injuries waiting to happen.
Get training anyway you can. And buy a bunch of bandages.
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:43 AM
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At some time I ran out of bar/chain oil, and used vegetable oil instead. Have been using it since - apparently without obvious consequences. (Electric chain saw, small jobs). What am I missing?
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Old 04-01-2019, 11:49 AM
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At some time I ran out of bar/chain oil, and used vegetable oil instead. Have been using it since - apparently without obvious consequences. (Electric chain saw, small jobs). What am I missing?
Your chain won't last quite as long, will need sharpening a little more often, won't cut quite as well. None of it very noticeable.

Last edited by TriPolar; 04-01-2019 at 11:50 AM.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:00 PM
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I'll second (third, fourth, fifth) the chaps and a full face mask. I've got a lovely 5" scar on my leg where I allowed the chain saw to drop too far before it stopped. Stupid? Yes, but foreseeable. I wear a full face because the little branches and chips can hit your face hard enough to distract you...and distraction (along with complacency) will eventually bite you in the ass.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:02 PM
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You're gonna need a log splitter next. Just pointin' that out.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:40 PM
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At some time I ran out of bar/chain oil, and used vegetable oil instead. Have been using it since - apparently without obvious consequences. (Electric chain saw, small jobs). What am I missing?
Isn't veg oil more expensive? I keep oil drained out of various crankcases and have used that as lube for our chainsaws in a pinch*.

*Speaking of a pinch, although I do not use all the safety stuff I probably should, I always have my wedges handy when I fell/cut up trees.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:42 PM
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You're gonna need a log splitter next. Just pointin' that out.
Heh. We have a fireplace, but rarely use it. All the wood I cut around the property gets piled up for our annual OMG Bonfire.
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Old 04-01-2019, 12:47 PM
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Coincidently, I used a chainsaw for the first time in about 25 years this past weekend, and managed to drop a large branch on my foot.
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Old 04-01-2019, 01:32 PM
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I don't have chainsaw experience. I'll leave the advice about training, maintenance, and protective equipment without comments from my ignorance. I do have a lot of experience with risk management. The thread so far has focused on reducing the risk of injury and reducing the severity of injuries if you do screw up through PPE. You can't ever reduce that risk to zero. Plan for what happens when you do screw up.

Having someone there to watch and help if things go very badly is probably a good idea given your inexperience. Checking cell phone charge and that you have good signal near where you are cutting is probably a good idea before the first cut. Having first aid gear nearby to deal with severe bleeding is pretty important. You can potentially bleed out from a serious injury very quickly. Even an immediate call to 911 might not get an ambulance there in time to save your life if there's no effort to stem the bleeding in the interim.

Avoiding serious injury is Plan A. Making sure you don't die from a serious injury that happens despite your best efforts is Plan B. Don't ignore Plan B.
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Old 04-01-2019, 01:56 PM
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I have a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a wood stove. There are a number of dead trees on my property that I would like to cut up for firewood, but I've never used a chainsaw. Talk me into, or out of getting one as you see fit.

If I get one, how steep is the learning curve and how likely am I to cut my head off the first time I use it? I was thinking of getting a smaller, cordless chainsaw to start with; there are lots of smaller branches and trees that could keep me busy for months on the property.
I knew a guy doing tree cutting for a living. One day he was using a large saw and it kicked back and hit him in the face. Left a nasty permanent vertical gash on his face.

I'd wear protective gear.
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Old 04-01-2019, 04:58 PM
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Knew a logger who got a relatively minor cut from the chain on his hand, and he kept working. Three hours later he was headed to the hospital with one of the nastiest infections ever. Don't take even the slightest chainsaw-related wound lightly.
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Old 04-01-2019, 05:07 PM
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The biggest thing I found is don't over do it in a session. It's natural to be safe and careful when you start out. But the vibrations combined with the weight of the thing held at safe arms length, sap your hand and arm strength incredibly fast when you aren't used to doing it. And within even 5 -10 minutes, fatigue can make you lazy and careless.
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:23 PM
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I heat with wood and have thus spent a lot of time with chainsaws, over many years. No injuries - or even close calls - thus far, and I try to deepen my respect for these tools every time I use one.

Some of my rules:
Use a top-quality saw (which for me means a Stihl) and keep the chain in top condition
Only the operator should be closer than 10' to a running saw
Two hands firmly on the saw
During every cut, all body parts must be well clear of the extended path of the saw

As with all subjects, there are plenty of useful YouTube videos.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Sparky812 View Post
Ear protection is often overlooked, especially if you're sawing for a long time.
It is indeed often overlooked - a sure sign of a chainsaw duffer. But it should be considered mandatory for even the shortest job - a gas chainsaw used without hearing protection will definitely cause hearing damage.
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Old 04-01-2019, 10:52 PM
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As for the actual goal of cutting the downed wood for firewood, I'm not sure that would be very useful. Rotted wood typically doesn't make for good firewood. The rotting process means it loses a lot of the material which would have burned, so you won't get a lot of heat from it. But also bugs start to live in the rotted wood, which you might end up bringing into the house. So if you cut downed wood, only use the wood which is still in pretty good shape for firewood from the freshly fallen trees. And a lot of kinds of wood isn't good for firewood. Pine trees, for example, have a lot of goop in them which creates soot that coats the chimney. So also make sure that you're selecting wood of an appropriate species to be used for firewood.

How comfortable are you with tools and power tools in general? Do you feel at home with a drill or something in your hand? Or are you more of a newbie when it comes to tools and stuff? If you are confident at using power tools in general, a chainsaw won't be all that challenging. Having a lot of tool experience will mean you'll be more comfortable with how the chainsaw feels and what manipulations you have to do for the cut. Regardless, you should get comfortable with a chainsaw because a cabin in the woods means you'll have to be cutting trees continually.

Some other options you might want to look into are a bow saw and a chainsaw pole saw. A bow saw is a hand saw that's useful for cutting branches and smaller diameter trees. A chainsaw pole saw is a small chainsaw mounted on a pole that's useful for cutting small branches high up while you stand on the ground. It's a handy and safe way to control branches that are growing too close to your cabin without having to get up on a ladder to get to the branches.
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Old 04-02-2019, 12:47 AM
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Another vote for training first.

I've used a very small electric chainsaw to lop off and then shorten smallish branches (4" diameter). Never had any classes or training, but I've only used it for two or three hours over the past ten years, wore some inadequate protective gloves and goggles, worked VERY slowly and VERY carefully, didn't have any problems. BUT- I'm normally quite risk adverse, and I was VERY nervous (scared, actually) whenever that saw was running. I could feel that I was pushing my luck. I decided that next time I will get professional guidance first- I'm too old to be so foolish.
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Old 04-02-2019, 09:59 AM
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As has been noted, cutting down standing trees is a complicated activity that should be considered inherently dangerous. Dead standing trees are an additional complication, since the standard techniques depend for safety and control on the strength of the tree's wood near its base, which may be compromised in a dead tree (and in some live ones as well). For an amusing (and instructive) hour, check out YouTube videos of tree-felling gone wrong.

The weight of a tree lying on the ground creates internals stresses that complicated cutting it up. Safety requires a chainsaw operator to be good at evaluating these and working with them. Some people have this sort of mechanical sense - and some never will. If you question your ability to devlope this, best to leave the chainsaw work to someone else.
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Old 04-02-2019, 05:24 PM
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I was a complete novice to chainsaws and tree felling when I moved to my current home in 2015. The property was/is full of dead ash trees. Thanks, Emerald Ash Borer! I bought a Stihl MS 270 right after I moved and contrary to the consensus here, I've had problems with it. I dropped a tree right across the path to my shed, sectioned it up a little, shut the saw off and it wouldn't restart. I needed to get the tree off the path so I bought a Husqvarna Rancher 450. I finally figured out the Stihl had an intermittently bad ignition coil. It would start, run fine, shut it off and then wouldn't restart. Replaced the coil and now I have two saws! I like the Stihl better for the most part but the Husqvarna is a more dependable starter.

Ash trees that have been dead a long time still have nice, solid wood but the roots rot underground and they fall over.

YouTube is your friend! I watched a lot of videos before I tackled dropping whole trees and it still doesn't always work the way you expect. I bought the chaps, hard hat with screen face shield and hearing protection and gloves. I had a close call once. I try to preserve as much vegetation as I can and when a tree started falling in an unexpected direction, I started moving towards safety and the saw caught on some brush and pivoted the still rotating blade into my leg. This was before I got the chaps. Learn to use the blade brake!

One great purchase I made was a Timberline Chainsaw Sharpener. It's pricey but if you are going to use your saw a lot it pays for itself pretty quick vs. paying to have it sharpened.
I have a 20V reciprocating saw and use it, with a pruning blade, to cut the small branches. A lot lighter and less fatiguing than the chainsaw.
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Old 04-03-2019, 07:02 AM
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Yeah, there is plenty of usable wood in downed trees; you can get a permit to harvest wood from downed trees on national forest property. Obviously, you don't want a rotting tree, but there are a few downed trees on my property that have good firewood. Harvesting wood is the only reason I would buy a chainsaw, I'm certainly not going to try and landscape my property; I've got a fox living on it and last week two mallard ducks showed up and started building a nest. I plan on keeping it nice and wild. The previous owners had a big pile of firewood, but a lot of it has just rotted in place over the years, there was very little of use in there, but the copperheads love living in there. Now, as I try to clear that wood out (it's taking up part of the driveway), I make sure I do it when it's cold out so any serpents are nice and logy.

Thanks for all the advice. I definitely will look into classes and won't skimp on the safety gear. I'm leaning towards a Dewalt cordless chainsaw, it should be more than enough for my needs and I won't have to worry about finicky starts and mixing oil, etc. If I suddenly stop posting here, well, you know what happened.
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Old 04-03-2019, 07:50 AM
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If I suddenly stop posting here, well, you know what happened.
You should make a point of posting 6 or 8 times a day - that way, we can notice your absence quickly and send help.
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Old 04-03-2019, 07:54 AM
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Well, during the week I live in DC, so if I stop posting mid-week, I was murdered. If I stop posting over the weekend, I've cut my leg off at the cabin.
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Old 04-03-2019, 08:02 AM
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Thanks for all the advice. I definitely will look into classes and won't skimp on the safety gear. I'm leaning towards a Dewalt cordless chainsaw, it should be more than enough for my needs and I won't have to worry about finicky starts and mixing oil, etc. If I suddenly stop posting here, well, you know what happened.
Most of the larger Dewalt saws require oiling. The smaller ones do not.
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Old 04-03-2019, 08:37 AM
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Chainsaw is not nearly as dangerous as a worm drive circular saw. Those will mess you up. I've been careful, and have had no problems with either.

I'll back up a bit, that when using a chain saw you are often on unlevel ground and such can make it quite dangerous.
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Old 04-03-2019, 08:48 AM
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Chainsaw is not nearly as dangerous as a worm drive circular saw. Those will mess you up. I've been careful, and have had no problems with either.
Alright, why is the best type of circular saw a problem? Is it because you can see where you are cutting? Is it because the saw has the torque to move through heavy wood with ease? Please tell me.
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Old 04-03-2019, 09:02 AM
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I'm leaning towards a Dewalt cordless chainsaw, it should be more than enough for my needs and I won't have to worry about finicky starts and mixing oil, etc.
That'll be really convenient to have a cordless one. If you find the working time is too short, consider getting a second battery so you can keep going. Also, the working time of the battery will decrease with age, so a 2nd battery helps with that as well.

If you get other cordless tools, consider getting tools which use the same battery. It makes it easier so you don't have several different kinds of batteries and chargers to deal with. Also, you can often save money by just buying the bare tool instead of the combo pack that has the tool/battery/charger.
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Old 04-03-2019, 09:06 AM
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I'll back up a bit, that when using a chain saw you are often on unlevel ground and such can make it quite dangerous.
Also, with a circular saw, the wood you're cutting typically isn't trying to kill you.
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