Useful as it may be, a chainsaw can slice through flesh and bone in the blink of an eye. That's why experts recommend paying close attention to safety - whatever your level of experience.
A number of organizations offer chainsaw safety courses, including one conducted in Kemptville, Ontario this April by the Lower Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Ontario Woodlot Association.
Lucy Martin sat in to learn more.
Most chainsaw users learn what to do from others and have to survive a bit of trial and error. The trouble is, chainsaw errors can be very unforgiving. Which bothered Pieter Leenhouts.
Pieter Leenhouts: “It started because I needed a chainsaw course. And I thought, jeez, you know? I'm sure other people would like that as well.”
Leenhouts is the president of this local woodlot chapter, which promotes land stewardship. He organized some at-cost courses, which were an instant hit.
Pieter Leenhouts: “Unbelievable. This'll be the fourth time we've put this on, we fill the classes up every time. We have 10 people for every session, we put four sessions a day. I think everybody comes out of this with eyebrows raised, and thinking jeez, this is a really good course.”
This session was mostly older men, plus one teen and one woman.
Instructor John Ferrier has used chainsaws since his boyhood and spent years felling trees in British Columbia. The injuries – and fatalities – he saw along the way convinced him of the value of good training. He became a certified safety instructor in 1991.
Reporter: “In your long experience, you must have had close calls where, you know, pshew! A whisker more and it would have been...”
John Ferrier: “I've had a few, but I've never been hurt. I've never cut myself. But, I've sure scared myself. Lots of times. Probably I'm a little more cautious now than I ever was, because, you know, the older you get, you're supposed to be, get smarter.”
Ferrier says that doesn't necessarily mean younger operators are reckless.
John Ferrier: “I would say that the young people are just super, because they're really anxious to learn and they follow instructions really well. It's the ones that have been doing it for years – that think they know it all – that sometimes can be a problem, trying to convince 'em that they're doing things a little bit dangerously.”
This was an introductory course, including videos on basic maintenance, sharpening and handling.
Participants were encouraged to bring their own chainsaws and ask questions. I asked Ferrier how newer equipment compares to the classic model out in grandpa's shed.
John Ferrier: “Put it up on the shelf for an antique and get a good one. If they value their hands and feet and legs. I would, because I'm not going back. You know, lots of people talk about, 'Oh, the great old stuff.' Well, the great old stuff, they can have it. I've used it. I don't want to ever see it again.”
The session ended with a hands-on sharpening tutorial, using depth gauges and file guides to set the correct angle.
Dave McDonald came from Monkland with a quiet, attentive teen.
David McDonald: “I wanted my grandson to take the course. And he's 16 and I didn't feel competent to teach him safety aspects of the chainsaw. We moved out to the country about five years ago and been using one since then. But before I let my grandson near my chainsaw, I wanted some professional to...” (trails off)
Reporter: “You feeling better now?”
David McDonald: “Well, they're dangerous. They're extremely dangerous. And that's why we're here today, that's all. And I do feel better, yes.”
The lone woman – Susan, from Ottawa – brought her new chainsaw, assembled by store staff. To everyone's quiet horror, Ferrier pointed out the outlet had installed the chain backwards. Susan joked that her safety course fee had just paid for itself.
She recently bought 15 acres that need upkeep. Susan also plans to cut her own firewood.
Susan: “Now I bought a saw that's light enough that I, you know, I'm strong, but I don't want to over-do it. I bought something that I feel comfortable handling.”
Reporter: “This was mostly classroom instruction. (Susan:“Mm-hm.”) Is that going to feel adequate to go out and actually whack down a tree?”
Susan: “Well, I can cheat, because my next-door neighbor in Bancroft is very experienced and very willing to help. And I'm looking forward to having Larry hold my hand, a little bit. (Reporter: “And get some tips?”) Yeah, I don't want to rely too much on other people, but just get started. I think that'll be good. But I would be interested in taking the longer course too, obviously. From what I hear, from other people who use chainsaws all the time, main thing is that you have a really sharp saw, that you have your safety gear, that you know how to hold it properly and what not to do.”
John Ferrier says knowing what not to do isn't always as clear as some people think.
John Ferrier: “Well, I am told, all the time, that, you know, they've been falling for thirty years, or fifty years, and they never had nothing happen. And all I can think of, is, boy – when I see them operating – were they ever awful lucky, because they weren't awful good. They were lucky. They weren't good.”
For North Country Public Radio, I'm Lucy Martin, in Kemptville.