How to start a chainsaw

How to start a chainsaw
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A chainsaw is an incredibly useful machine that can cut through everything from wood and metal to plastic and even concrete. However, while you don’t need a license to use a chainsaw, proper chainsaw safety is vital, as these powerful tools can be dangerous if they're not used correctly. Knowing how to start a chainsaw safely will give you the best possible start to tackle your sawing tasks. 

What the expert says...

“Chainsaws can be very dangerous and can cause major injuries if not used correctly. In some cases, they can even be fatal,” warns Thomas Goodman, a property and construction expert for MyJobQuote (opens in new tab)

We consulted an expert in all things chainsaw to get his input on how to start a chainsaw correctly and safely.

If you're looking to invest in a new chainsaw, read our guide to the best chainsaws (opens in new tab) you can buy. With options from Stihl, Makita and Oregon, and plenty of both gas and electric, and corded or cordless models, you’re bound to find the perfect chainsaw for you and your garden in our roundup.

No matter what brand of chainsaw you use, it's important to keep yourself safe. Thomas Goodman, a property and construction expert, says, “The risks involved with using a chainsaw can vary, depending on whether you are using the chainsaw at heights, for example, when using the chainsaw on a ladder, rope, or in trees. In order to protect yourself and those around you, it’s important to take some appropriate chainsaw safety measures.”

How to start a chainsaw

Thomas Goodman talked us through a step-by-step guide to starting a chainsaw. 

Step 1:
“Before starting the chainsaw, activate the chain brake by pushing it forward,” Goodman explains. “Then, remove the bar cover. If your chainsaw has a decompression valve, press this now. This helps fire up the engine, which starts the chainsaw.

Step 2:
“If there is a primer bulb on your chainsaw, press this several times. This helps with starting the chainsaw. You now need to set the master control to choke/cold start. Do this by pressing the throttle trigger and the throttle trigger lockout. Then, move on to press the master control lever. Ensure this is pressed all the way down.

Step 3:
“To start up the chainsaw, lay it down on a flat surface. The cutting blade should not be in contact with the ground as this could blunt it when the chainsaw starts and could also put you at risk of injury.

Step 4:
“Keep the chainsaw on the ground and place your left hand on the handlebar. Place your right hand on the starter rope. Push the front of your right show into the rear handle to keep it steady.

Step 5:
“Pull the starter rope slowly using your right hand until you feel some resistance. Now pull the starter rope several times very hard until the engine fires up briefly. Pull it upwards and keep it as vertical as you can without letting the rope chafe against the housing of the fan. The engine may fire only briefly and then die again. If so, move the master control lever up one notch in order to open the choke. Pull the starter rope again hard until the engine fires up again.

Step 6:
“Once the engine has fired up again and is running, pull on the throttle trigger briefly using your index finger. This will move the master control lever back to its normal idle position. Lift the chainsaw from the ground slowly. Be careful not to touch the throttle trigger.

Step 7:
“Pull the chain brake handle towards you using your left hand. This will release the chain brake. Keep hold of the handlebar with your left hand when doing this. When you hear it click, this means that the chain is released and can begin to turn.

Step 8:
“Before you start your job, check the lubrication on the chain. Hold the saw against a light-colored background and completely open the throttle. If there is some chain lubricant on the light-colored background, this means your chainsaw is ready for work.”

How to stay safe with a chainsaw

Goodman says that in order to stay safe with a chainsaw, one must be well-prepared, know your limits and wear the correct protective gear. “Read the user manual and ensure you know everything about the chainsaw before using it,” Goodman explains. “If you are a beginner, start simple with the projects. 

“Understand your limits. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s better to call a professional to do the work for you. Always wear protective gear, including goggles, hearing protection, gloves, boots, chaps, and a hard hat. Don’t cut alone. Always have someone close by in case something goes wrong. Just make sure they’re not too close to you as to put themselves in danger. Always keep a first aid kit nearby and never cut wood that is being held by someone else. Don’t rush anything. Relax and do everything slowly to avoid mistakes.”

Husqvarna vs Stihl chainsaws: stihl chainsaw cutting a tree

(Image credit: Stihl)

There are also certain very important dos and don’ts when starting and using a chainsaw. Goodman advises:

• “When you start your chainsaw, make sure the chain brake is on.

• “Always hold the chainsaw with two hands. Never use just one hand. 

• “Never climb a tree with the chainsaw.

• “Inspect the chainsaw before you use it. Make sure the safety features are working and the chain is on the guide bar tightly.

• “Don't ever cut using the tip or nose of the chainsaw as this can cause a kickback which can lead to injuries.

• “Never cut with a chainsaw above your head. Allow the chainsaw to cool down before refueling.

• “Turn the chainsaw off when moving from tree to tree. Never use a chainsaw on a ladder.

• “Use a scabbard when transporting your chainsaw.

• “Keep the chainsaw out of reach of children at all times.”

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Deborah Cicurel is a London-based freelance journalist specializing in lifestyle, travel, interiors and more.  She also regularly reviews lifestyle, tech and parenting products, putting them to the test to ensure other consumers are well-informed before making important purchasing decisions.

With contributions from