Saturday, October 10, 2009

I'll bet you don't own a pair of orange chaps

(Before and after I took the chain saw safety course.)

Have you ever had a close call while riding on a bicycle or motorcycle?  You know the kind I mean.  You start to turn left and the car behind you slams on its brakes and blasts its horn, nearly skidding into your left leg.  Or, you are swimming alone offshore, the currents seem much stronger than normal, and before you know it, you are 300 meters from the beach where you started, and you make it back to shore only after an intense struggle.  Later, you learn that if you had just had a simple rear view mirror on your bike or you knew more about ocean tides, you would have been much less likely to be in peril.  A little preparation ahead of time would have saved you a possible knee surgery, or prevented you from ending up like a drowned rat on the beach in Bermuda after entering the water near Miami the week before.

About a week ago I took a 5-hour Chain Saw Safety and Productivity course taught in Candor by Jim Signs.  What an epiphany!  How I managed not to cut off my right ear or my left foot all these years is beyond me.

I thought I was being safe:

1.  I only drank beer out of a can while using the chain saw, never a bottle, which could break and cut you.
2.  I wore Crocs so that if I ever cut my foot badly with the saw, I could remove my footwear quickly.  Plus, with all the holes in the Crocs, blood would drain from my shoes rapidly.  This makes Crocs much easier to clean than leather boots after an accident.
3.  I never wore ear protection, because I wanted to hear my cell phone if it rang. Robin often calls me on that phone when I am in the woods to tell me dinner is ready.  If I missed meals, I might become light-headed, and this is dangerous when using a chain saw.
4.  I never smoked cigars while cutting.  I only lit up between cutting sessions, while I was refilling the gas tank of the saw.
5.  I never used the chain brake when walking among the trees, because I didn't want to wear out that mechanism (repairs can be expensive).
6.  As mentioned in a previous blog, I always take the landline phone from the house with me, because of its intercom feature.  If my wife is ever off the phone with her sister in Ohio, I would be able to call her for help.
7.  And finally, I always wore shorts or a bathing suit when cutting to avoid overheating (I hate sweat).  I especially like to fell trees on windy days; the wind keeps me cool.

Man, I took that safety course and now I realize how wrong I was.  One of the biggest dangers in cutting is "kickback", which is when the saw flips back toward the person holding the saw.  This is the accident where you can lose an ear, or worse.  The saw comes back in 1/10th of a second.  I always had pretty good reflexes (you know, I am an ex-tennis player and all that), so I have been dodging that damn saw for years.  But now I know that it is the upper tip of the saw that causes kickback when it hits the log. Plus, I also learned that the chain saw users' mantra is "Stay out of the kickback plane".  Whenever possible, stand slightly to the left of the plane through which the saw would pass if it kicks back.  See, that 10th grade geometry is coming in handy, finally, to save an ear or two.  Remember what a plane is?  Thank goodness we didn't have to do anything with a rhombus, or I would have stitches all over my body.

But the main lesson I learned was that you have to wear the proper clothing and protective gear.  I went back to Jim's store for three days in a row after the course to buy stuff (see photo).  Helmet with shield and ear protection.  Check.  Boots with steel toe, made from a material that protects against the moving chain.   Check.  Did you know that 22% of all chain saw accidents occur to the feet and ankles?   Proper gloves that really grip the handle of the saw.  Check.  And my favorite--wrap-around chaps that protect your legs from cuts.  Check.  Did you know that 52% of all chain saw accidents occur to your upper leg?  These chaps stop the saw dead if it hits your leg.  Plus, they are blaze orange, so if a tree falls on you in the forest, the rescue squad can find your body more rapidly.

So now I feel better informed, better protected, and I am more productive in the woods.  I also learned a few tricks on cutting and moving wood that should save me time and energy (I hate sweat).  The more free time I have, the more I can write blogs.  The more blogs I write, the more time you waste reading them.  I guess in the grand scheme of things, my increased productivity in cutting wood is a global zero-sum game. 

(If interested in taking this excellent course from Jim Signs, he can be reached at

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