MARSHFIELD, Mo. — Homeowners and disaster-recovery volunteers who use chain saws should use extreme caution to prevent injuries.

“In the hands of a careless, inexperienced or tired operator, a chain saw can be very hazardous. Injuries from a chain saw are usually ragged and traumatic,” said Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

To reduce risk of injury, select a saw that fits your needs, is balanced and has safety features. Read the operating manual. Many manufacturers also provide video instruction.

“One of biggest dangers in operating a chain saw is kickback,” Schultheis said. Kickback occurs when the nose of the guide bar strikes another object. This contact may cause a lightning-fast reverse action of the guide bar back toward the operator. It can result in severe upper body, neck or facial injuries or death.

While the smaller consumer chain saws must come equipped with a low-kickback (or safety) chain when purchased, this is no guarantee that kickbacks will not occur, according to Schultheis.

Be sure to match the length of the saw's guide bar to the type of job you expect to do most often. Don’t tryto cut material that is larger than the guide bar you choose.

A guide bar 8 to 14 inches long is good for trimming limbs, cutting small logs and felling small trees. Mid-weight saws with 14- to 20-inch guide bars are used to cut logs and for felling small- to medium-diameter trees. Heavyweight saws with guide bars longer than 20 inches are for professional use and are not recommended for consumers.

Occasional saw operators as well as professionals should wear protective clothing.

Protective ballistic-nylon chaps or leggings can help prevent injury.

Always use safety glasses. Earplugs or shooter’s muffs provide protection from 90-plus decibel noise. Hard hats protect you from falling limbs and flying debris.

High-top shoes and gloves with slip-resistant palms are recommended.

Do not operate the saw above shoulder level.

Never drop-start a saw. Rather, place the saw on level ground with the bar and chain up out of the dirt. Be sure to hold the saw firmly on the ground when pulling the starting rope.

“Remember, the chain on the saw is moving as fast as 55 miles per hour, or more than 80 feet per second. You can’t react quick enough to prevent injury,” Schultheis said.

For more information, see the MU Extension guide sheet “Operating a Chain Saw Safely” (G1959), available at MU Extension centers and online at