Tim Carter's Ask the Builder

This chain saw is surprisingly lightweight. It feels like a toy when you pick it up, but it chews through oak logs as if they were butter.
This chain saw is surprisingly lightweight. It feels like a toy when you pick it up, but it chews through oak logs as if they were butter. (By Tim Carter -- Tribune Media Services)
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By Tim Carter
Saturday, November 29, 2008

Q: DEAR TIM: I need a chain saw and am flummoxed as to which type to buy. I'm certain that I want a gas chain saw, but wonder whether to get an 18-inch or a 14-inch model. I've never used one before and am concerned about my safety. Can an average person use one with little fear? What tips can you offer about buying and working with these tools? -- Laurel S., Lusby, Md.

A: DEAR LAUREL: I can see why you are overwhelmed. There are so many chain saw brands, models and features that it's tough to separate what is really needed for a particular job. I can help you, as I just went through this myself. However, it's impossible to share all you need to know in this short column.

Years ago, I operated a chain saw regularly. My father-in-law owned a large tract of forested land from which we harvested wild cherry trees for woodworking and firewood. I used a durable chain saw that had an 18-inch bar. The saw was fairly heavy, and it cut through hardwood trees with little effort.

I was never injured by the chain saw, but my father-in-law was seriously hurt one day. He slipped while using it and made a deep cut in one of his legs. Accidents happen, but this one may have been prevented had he been wearing chain-saw chaps. Chaps are protective clothing and are an absolute must. You should also wear heavy gloves, safety glasses and a helmet with a cutting shield.

You can work with a chain saw safely. Stores that sell chain saws often run training classes or demonstrations, and I urge you to inquire about them. Chain saw manufacturers have produced excellent videos and DVDs that take you through a safety course. These critical safety lessons must not be skipped.

I now own a fantastic Craftsman 2.4 cubic inch, 40cc two-cycle gasoline chain saw that has an 18-inch bar. When I first took the saw out of the box, I was disappointed. It was so light that I thought it was a toy. As soon as I started it and began to use it, I changed my mind. This saw is a beauty. The saw I used over 30 years ago was much heavier and created arm fatigue before the rest of my body was tired. Pay attention to weight as well as features that lessen vibration.

Other manufacturers make great saws, too. When selecting one, think hard about what you will be cutting. You want a chain saw with a bar that's longer than the diameter of the wood you will be cutting. You absolutely can cut logs that have a diameter larger than the bar is long, but you take risks doing this.

Price is also an indicator of quality. Chain saws that cost more tend to have better parts and components, and they usually are more rugged. The extra money you spend will almost always give you a saw that will not let you down, and if cared for, it can last generations. If you want recommendations about great chain saws, talk to the owners of tree-trimming companies. They use the saws each workday and know which brands are dependable.

Cutting logs is a science. Be aware that a freshly cut tree has enormous tension in it as it lies on the ground. You can easily get the chain saw bound up in a cut as the tree pinches the chain. The tree can start to roll and trap you as you cut. You must always be aware of these dangers.

Be sure to read the owner's manual several times. Never take shortcuts with respect to the gas and oil that must be used. The bar needs oil to lubricate the moving chain. Use high-quality gas and oil for top performance.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, http://www.askthebuilder.com/printer_Submit_Question.shtml.

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