Chainsaws are among the best power tools ever invented, cutting countless hours of manual labor in half.
But though they’re useful, they’re equally as dangerous. This is why manufacturers and safety organizations make it a point to warn users of the dos and don’ts of chainsaw operation.
Strangely enough, these manuals rarely answer one of the most commonly asked questions in chainsaw operation: should you let a chainsaw warm up before using it? And if so, why?
Should You Let a Chainsaw Warm Up?
It really depends on the chainsaw.
Gas engine chainsaws need to run for a short time after startup so that the engine’s components are evenly lubricated throughout every moving part.
Electric chainsaws don’t need to be warmed up because they use electricity instead of gas. Upon startup, it evenly disperses power through the motor without having to lubricate the parts.
Why Should You Warm Up Your Chainsaw?
Like human muscles, gas chainsaws work best when they operate at optimum temperatures.
When a chainsaw sits idle, the machine’s lubrication stays in one spot until the next start-up.
This means that when you use the chainsaw without it warming up, the first revolutions of the machine’s spindle may be dry or unevenly lubricated, which can damage the internal components.
Warming up your chainsaw for a minute or two allows the engines to run smoothly at full throttle, which is something you rarely get with cold-starting.
Warming up also ensures that the machine cuts at an even, constant temperature, which is especially crucial during colder months.
All this contributes to the chainsaw’s performance. The better the machine’s performance, the easier it’ll be to use. It’ll also lower the risk of accidental injury and damaged parts.
How Do You Warm Up a Chainsaw?
Warming up a chainsaw is a relatively straightforward process.
Start the saw, put it on idle, and let it run until the exhaust gasses are good and warm.
Depending on the size of the chainsaw, this can take anywhere between a minute or two.
For small chainsaws, it can take only 30 seconds to warm up. Once the time is up, you can start using the machine for whatever you need to do.
What’s the Difference Between Warm-Starting and Cold Starting a Chainsaw?
In chainsaws, a cold start is performed when the machine is being switched on for the first time in a while or is switched on straight after refueling.
On the other hand, a warm start is restarting the machine after you’ve put it down for a few minutes.
Cold Starting a Chainsaw
In general, here’s how to perform a cold start:
- Activate the chain brake so the chains don’t start spinning when you power on the machine.
- Press the decompression button to release some of the compression from the combustion chamber. This makes the engine easier to turn over when it’s time to pull the recoil rope. If your machine doesn’t have this button, skip this step.
- Activate the choke by pulling it out and moving it to the top position. Push the fuel pump, the primer bulb, or the air purge, six times or until the fuel fills the carburetor.
- With your right root on the rear handle, pull the starter rope three times until the machine ignites. Use your dominant hand to give your pulls a bit of momentum.
- Push the choke down once.
- Pull the starter rope until the machine starts. Then, put it on idle for a few minutes before releasing the brake.
Warm Starting a Chainsaw
You should only perform a warm start if the chainsaw’s engine is already hot.
Warm starting is much like cold starting, except without pulling the starting rope.
Pull the choke out and push the primer bulb until full. Then, move the choke to a half-choke position before pulling over.
Warm-Up Tips During Cold Weather
If you’re planning to use your chainsaw throughout the winter season, here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- If you’re planning to use your chainsaw semi-regularly during winter, make sure to warm up your chainsaw at least once a week to prevent the lubricant and engine parts from freezing.
- If you’re not planning to use it in the winter season, empty the tank and run the carburetor dry before storing it away.
- If your chainsaw is equipped with a carburetor shutter, switch the machine to Winter Mode.
- Clean the chainsaw after each use. Remove wood chips from the chain sprockets and sprocket cover and scrape out any debris from inside the track.
- Clean the chainsaw filter after 10 hours of constant use. Dismantle the filter cover, remove the air filter, and wash it in clean, soapy water. Once it dries, apply foam filter oil to extend its service life.
- Invest in premium winter-grade oil. Winter-grade oil smoothly coats the insides of the chainsaw even in negative-degree weather. If you don’t have winter-grade oil, mix about 5 to 10% diesel or kerosene into the oil.
- During the winter, wood is harder and more solid. For this reason, never forget to sharpen the chain of your chainsaw before cutting a large piece of wood.
- Decrease the chain-filing angle by about five degrees to minimize wear and tear, as well as reduce vibration.
- Invest in a carbide-grain chain as it helps cut wood cleaner and with greater ease.
- Brush off sawdust, snow, and moisture from around the fuel tank before refueling to keep moisture out of the fuel. If water gets into the fuel, the engine will not work as optimally as it should.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Chainsaw
Chainsaws are handy but dangerous, especially if you don’t know how to properly maintain and use them.
Here are some of the biggest dos and don’ts of using a chainsaw to avoid potentially disastrous accidents:
Do Keep the Blades In Tip-Top Shape
Needless to say, sharp blades cut more effectively than rusted, dull blades. Sharp blades not only cut crisp, consistent lines but also protect the machine for long-term usage.
The life expectancy of a chainsaw’s blades—or rather chain—varies from user to user.
It really depends on factors such as the type of wood you’re cutting, the type of chain you’re using, the duration of the cut, and how well you look after the chain itself (i.e., cleaning, lubrication, etc.).
You’ll know it’s time to replace your chainsaw in the following scenarios:
- The chainsaw bounces or rattles whenever you use it, making it difficult to position on wood.
- It takes a bit of force to draw the chain into the wood.
- The chainsaw’s cuts are crooked and jagged.
- The chainsaw is smoking when in use, even with proper chain tension and correct lubrication.
- The chain has several damaged or missing teeth.
Don’t Cut on the Ground
This might seem a bit obvious, but I’ve seen it often enough that it’s worth mentioning: don’t cut on the ground when using a chainsaw.
Obviously, no one in their right mind would purposely push their chainsaw into the dirt. But this is sometimes impossible to avoid if you’re cutting close to the ground.
Avoid this entirely by putting the piece you want to cut on top of a bar, away from the ground. If the log is on the ground, use a technique called overbucking to cut it.
To do it, you’ll simply need to push the chain on top of the log or branch, applying light pressure on the chainsaw. As you do so, the teeth should automatically pull the chain bar into the wood.
As you let the chain do the work, don’t let the guide bar nose or chain touch the ground.
Do Cut With Proper Blade Tension
If a chain’s tension is too tight, the drive sprocket can wear down and break. If it’s too loose, the chain may come off the bar, creating an unsafe working situation.
Always make sure the chain is properly tensioned to avoid these issues. The chainsaw chain should feel well situated but at the same time pull freely.
Perform a pull test by pulling down the underside chain. If the chain snaps back into position, that means the tension is correct.
Don’t Refuel the Chainsaw When It’s Hot
Please don’t do this! If you refuel a chainsaw while it’s hot, you may start a fire or, at the very least, damage a perfectly good chainsaw. If your chainsaw dies mid-application, let it cool down for several minutes before refueling it again. Take that long-needed lunch break or just continue the job the next day. Wait at least 10 minutes before refueling and resuming the job.
Do Put On Your Safety Gear
Always wear safety gear during the job, regardless of how experienced or professional you are.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), you should always wear the following during the job:
- Goggles or visor
- Ear protectors
- Chainsaw chaps
- Protective pants and jacket
- Safety mitts
- Steel-toe boots
You might think wearing all that seems like a bit of an overkill, but chainsaws are dangerous and unpredictable. Protective wear will save you from injury and even save your life.
Don’t Use Used Motor Oil
Motor oil is expensive, so using old or recycled motor oil seems like a smart choice. But the truth is, using old motor oil will do you more harm than good, especially when used frequently.
Used motor oil contains acid, fuel, water, and soot—all of which can damage motor parts. It’ll do you and your chainsaw well to just purchase brand new motor oil.
If you need to use old motor oil, make sure to filter it first! Still, I wouldn’t recommend it.
Electric Chainsaw vs. Gas Chainsaw: Which Is Better?
Electric chainsaws and gas chainsaws have their own pros and cons, but which one should you use for your projects?
Electric chainsaws are the go-to choice for home DIYers and casual users.
As the name suggests, this type of chainsaw is powered by electricity. It comes in cold and battery-powered versions, with the latter being more portable than the former.
Electric chainsaws are suitable for jobs that don’t require much power.
The battery-powered version works for short periods at a time, usually less than three hours, which doesn’t make them the right choice for long-winded jobs. Plus, they’re generally less powerful than the corded model. Still, they’re a great choice for on-the-go light jobs.
Corded models are plugged directly into an outlet, giving the machine a constant supply of power. You’re limited with movement, but that can easily be remedied with an extension cord.
Unlike gas-powered chainsaws, you don’t have to warm up the machine before using it. You also don’t have to constantly refuel it all the time, saving you not only fuel money but also reducing the risk of underlying health issues produced by the flames.
Gas-powered chainsaws are the ideal choice for woodworkers and professionals who regularly take on heavy-duty cutting jobs.
Gas chainsaws are much more powerful than electric powered chainsaws, but that also comes with several disadvantages.
For one, gas chainsaws are heavier and noisier than their electric counterparts.
They also need to be warmed up before they’re used, lest they suffer from internal wear and tear.
Finally, and perhaps most annoyingly, these chainsaws need to be refueled every 15 to 40 minutes, depending on your usage. This can get expensive really fast, especially if you’re working on demanding projects.
Aside from these minor disadvantages, gas chainsaws are portable and powerful. Because of their impressive power and long blades, they can easily cut through thick tree trunks without too many issues.
If you own a gas-powered chainsaw, let it warm up first before use. If you use it without warming it up, the machine’s internal lubrication won’t be distributed evenly throughout the components, resulting in internal wear and damage.
You won’t have this issue with electric chainsaws. Since electric chainsaws are powered by electricity, you don’t have to worry about the lubricant freezing or stagnating in the machine. You can use it immediately without the warm-up process.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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