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Rudi Kiefer: Caution is vital when using chain saws
Rudi Kiefer

In the movies, and even in real life, chain saws are often depicted as the tool of slash-happy destroyers of the natural environment. But in fact, a chain saw is useful not only for clearing fallen trees and branches after a storm like Irma.

Year-round, the saw comes in handy for maintaining a healthy forest or park-like landscape. Cutting up large branches on the forest floor eliminates the possibility of fire started by lightning. 

It is true undisturbed wooded areas need fire to remove dried-up plant debris at the bottom. However, Hall and surrounding counties are heavily populated. A forest fire would quickly engulf homes and threaten lives. This makes the chain saw a proper homeowner’s tool. 

Its manual consists of about 90 percent safety warnings, but a few things aren’t mentioned. Twice I bought what seemed like reputable brand names, only to be frustrated. A good “home use” size comes with a 16-inch bar and chain. 

Inexpensive ones tend to flex, getting the chain jammed at the nose of the bar. Soft plastic parts crack and come loose. The clutch wears out quickly and locks up. The ethanol in modern gasoline attacks the tiny fuel hose inside the gas tank.

To save weight, chain saws usually have a two-cycle engine instead of the cleaner burning four-cycle that you see on lawn mowers. Burning the engine oil along with the gas can cause soot to build up quickly on the spark plug. My bargain-store chain saws, now long gone, became extremely hard to start even with regular plug cleanings. 

To get a chain saw that lasts for years, stop next to a landscaper’s truck at a red light and check the brands that the professionals buy. They don’t have time to waste with hard-starting, flimsy equipment. The brands used by the pros hold up better and don’t need as much maintenance, which also makes them safer to use. This goes for replacement chains as well.

When cutting branches on the ground, be careful not to run the chain into the soil. It works like a grinding compound and will dull the teeth in no time. 

Finally, the fuel-oil mix in the tank deteriorates quicker over time than pure gasoline. When the saw is to be stored longer than a couple of weeks, adding a fuel stabilizer and running the engine for a minute helps with the next start-up. 

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at

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