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Chain Saw Kickback Explained: Learn How to Avoid The Danger


Kickback is a term used to describe the sudden, upward motion of a chain saw’s guide bar and is one of the most common causes of chain saw accidents. If proper cutting techniques are not followed, the lightning-fast kickback of a chain saw can be very dangerous and may result in serious injury.



What Causes Chain Saw Kickback?

The Kickback Danger Zone

How to Reduce the Risk of Kickback

Not an Experienced Chain Saw User? Use Low Kickback Chain



What Causes Chain Saw Kickback?

There are two circumstances that can cause kickback when using a chain saw. The first occurs when the moving chain at the tip or the nose of the guide bar strikes an object. The second situation is when the wood closes in, pinching the saw chain in the middle of the cut. Both of these situations cause the chain saw’s guide bar to launch (or “kick”) up and back, which may cause the user to lose control of the saw possibly result in injury to themselves or others.


The following the factors (alone or in combination) can increase the risk of chain saw kickback:


  • Improper saw maintenance
  • Dull chain
  • Loose saw chain tension
  • Incorrectly installed chain parts
  • Loose rivets
  • Bent, cracked, or broken saw chain components
  • Incorrectly sharpened chain angles
  • Excessive chain depth gauge settings
  • Incorrect chain depth gauge shapes


Additionally, as the size of the guide bar’s nose increases, so does the potential risk for kickback.




The Kickback Danger Zone


The term “kickback danger zone” refers to the top of the tip of the chainsaw bar. This area has a high kickback risk. You should never saw using this part of the chain saw bar, since doing so will significantly increase the chances that you will experience kickback.


When this area of the bar touches an object like a branch or log, there is high likelihood that a sudden kickback reaction will occur. The larger the bar nose size, the higher the potential for chainsaw kickback.



How to Reduce the Risk of Kickback


Step 1: Before you use a new chainsaw, be sure to read through the operating instructions in their entirety.


Step 2: Stay alert at all times when using a chainsaw.

If you are tired, it’s not a good time to use a chainsaw.


Step 3: Be particularly cautious when removing tree branches.

Kickback can be caused during limbing if the nose of the bar strikes logs, stumps, hidden branches and the end of logs.


Step 4: When preparing a tree for felling, use the underside of the bar (aka pulling chain).

Never saw above shoulder height. Following these two practices will help reduce the risk of kickback while pruning trees and felling objects (bushes, small trees) blocking your way.


Step 5: If you are using your saw for felling or crosscutting, boring the chainsaw bar into the trunk may be the best way to cut.

The best way to avoid kickback, however, is to avoid putting the tip of the chain saw bar against the wood.


Step 6: Make sure the chain brake on your saw works prior to use.


Step 7: Pay attention to the nose of your chainsaw bar and how it is positioned.


Step 8: Choose low kickback chain saw chains.

When buying saw chain, choose the suitable for your needs which has the lowest kickback potential.


Step 9: Use narrow-nose bars, such as Oregon Double Guard bars, to ensure maximum kickback safety.


Step 10: Wear the right clothing and equipment to protect commonly injured areas:

Step 11: Avoid clothing that is too tight or too loose.

Step 12: When cutting, make sure your thumbs and fingers are completely wrapped around your chain saw handles.

Step 13: When performing maintenance, follow all of the instructions that came with your chain saw chain.

This helps minimize the risk of injury.



Not an Experienced Chain Saw User? Use Low Kickback Chain

Most of today’s chain saws incorporate features which reduce kickback and other sources of chainsaw-related injury. These built-in features include chain brakes, the front (left) hand guard, the bar tip guard and low or reduced kickback chain and guide bars. In order to guarantee the effectiveness of these safety features, you need to make sure that your chainsaw is properly assembled and that all the components are securely attached and functional.



Unless you have experience or training for responding to chainsaw kickback, you should use low kickback chain. In North America, low kickback chain is packaged with a green label from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).


Note: Some older Oregon product packaging may use a blue label to identify low kickback chain.


Professional saw chain has a yellow label with a warning on it. This type of saw chain is not low kickback and is only intended for use by professional chain saw operators.


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