How to Start a Chainsaw

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If you’ve never used a chainsaw before, just starting one up can be very intimidating. Follow this guide for tips and step-by-step instructions on how to start a chainsaw, whether that chain saw is gas-powered or electric. We’ll also include a list of the protective equipment you need, how to safely stop the chainsaw, and some general tips for safe chainsaw use.

How to Start a Gas-Powered Chainsaw

The process for starting a gas-powered chainsaw may seem complicated, but it’s actually quite straightforward. Note that the process is slightly different when starting a cold engine versus a warm engine.

Man preparing on how to start a chainsaw
  1. Fuel the chainsaw. Each manufacturer recommends their own oil-to-gas ratio for best performance. Fill the tank with an appropriate blend of oil and gas before you start the chainsaw. Adequate fuel flow is important to get a gas-powered chainsaw started.
  2. Take it outside. Never start your chainsaw in the same area where your fuel is stored. Gas-powered chainsaws must be operated outdoors to avoid harmful build-up of carbon monoxide.
  3. Place the chainsaw on the ground. Starting your chainsaw on the ground ensures that you have complete control over this dangerous tool at all times. Do not attempt to start an unsupported chainsaw.
  4. Activate the chain brake. The chain brake prevents your chain from spinning. It should be activated while you are starting the chainsaw, and deactivated before you begin to cut. Check your user’s manual for instructions on how to activate the chain brake on your chainsaw.
  5. If starting a cold engine: turn on the choke control. The choke valve is controlled by knob or pull tab. When the choke control is on, it limits how much air can get into the engine. A fuel-heavy mix of gas and air is ideal for starting up a chainsaw.
  6. If re-starting a warm engine: set the fast idle control, usually accomplished by pulling the choke control out and pushing it back in.  
  7. Purge the air. Repeatedly press the plastic bulb on the side of your chainsaw. When you see fuel start to fill the bulb, you can stop pressing.
  8. Press the decompression valve. Check your user’s manual for the exact location of the decompression valve. The decompression valve should always be pressed before starting the chainsaw, as it will make the starting process easier.
  9. Grasp the forward handle. Firmly hold the chainsaw in place, gripping the forward handle with your left hand. Keep your left arm straight, locking your elbow.
  10. Pull the cord. Grasp the starter cord firmly with your right hand. Bring your elbow straight back, pulling the starter cord out about one foot. Try not to overextend the starter cord.
  11. Keep pulling rapidly. Repeatedly allow the starter cord to retract into the chainsaw and immediately pull the cord again. Continue pulling until the engine starts to make noises as if it is trying start.
  12. Release the decompression valve and choke control. Now that the engine is ready to start, you don’t need these features activated. Depending on the model of chainsaw you are using, these features may automatically deactivate when the engine starts.
  13. Start the engine. Keep pulling the starter cord until the engine starts and does not falter. Immediately set the speed of the chainsaw to idle, since the chain brake is activated.
  14. Disengage the chain brake. Before you can increase the engine speed and start cutting, you must release the chain brake.

How to Start an Electric Chainsaw

Starting an electric chainsaw is fairly straightforward. The steps below provide a rough guide. You should still check the instructions that came with your specific model to ensure proper operating technique, as your machine may have different features.

Preparing on how to start a chainsaw on firewood
  1. Place the chainsaw on a stable surface. The best place to start a chainsaw is on the ground. You can also use a workbench, provided it is clear and sufficiently stable.
  2. Connect the chainsaw to power. If your chainsaw is battery operated, insert a fully-charged battery. If you’re doing work out in the woods, consider packing a spare battery. Corded electric chainsaws must be connected to an adequate power source using exterior-rated extension cords.
    Make sure the extension cords are routed appropriately so they are not in danger of being cut by the chainsaw while you work. Be mindful of the cord’s location and avoid creating a tripping hazard.
  3. Hold the chainsaw. Place your left hand on the forward handle. Lock your elbow, and keep your arm straight to ensure the chainsaw is far away from your body. Place your right hand around the rear handle.
  4. Establish your footing. Stand with one foot slightly forward and the other slightly back, balancing between the two. Find a stable position from which to support and control the chainsaw.
  5. Stand to the left. Kickback happens from time to time. Be prepared for it by standing just to the left of the cut you’re making. This keeps you out of the path of the saw if kickback causes it to slip or jerk.
  6. Press the safety lock. Most electric chainsaws have a safety lock button that must be depressed in order to start the engine. This prevents the engine from accidentally turning on. Hold the safety lock in.
  7. Move the power switch to the ‘ON’ position. With the safety lock held in, you should be able to move the power switch from ‘OFF’ to ‘ON’.
  8. Pull/press the trigger. Applying pressure to the trigger will start the engine, turning the chain.

Learn more about the right chainsaw for your needs:

What Protective Equipment Do I Need to Start a Chainsaw?

Before you even pick up on how to start a chainsaw, make sure your fragile body is well protected. Personal protective equipment for chainsaw use includes:

  • Gloves. Most chainsaw injuries are to the left hand and arm. Protect your extremities with a quality pair of cut-resistant gloves.
  • Snug-fitting clothing. Your clothing should be heavy, durable, and fit close to your body. Avoid trailing scarves, dangling handkerchiefs, or anything that could get caught in the chain. Cut-resistant chaps are a good idea if you’re going to be doing a lot of chainsaw work.
  • Boots. Rugged boots with good tread provide the stable footing you need to control a chainsaw.
  • Eye protection. Chips and splinters are an inevitable byproduct of cutting wood. Protect your eyes with safety glasses or goggles.
  • Hearing protection. Chainsaws operate at over 100 decibels (dB). Hearing damage can occur in just a few minutes of exposure to this volume. Earplugs or noise-reducing ear muffs are essential when working with chainsaws.
  • Head protection. When cutting branches overhead or taking down an entire tree, use a hard hat to prevent contusions and concussions.
Preparing on how to start a chainsaw

How to Stop a Chainsaw

Knowing how to safely stop a chainsaw is just as important as knowing how to start a chainsaw.

  1. Release the trigger. The trigger is what causes the chainsaw’s motor to run. Releasing the trigger will cut power to the motor and stop the chainsaw.
  2. Wait. Even when power has been removed, the chainsaw will still continue to spin for a few seconds. Wait until it has stopped moving entirely before setting the chainsaw down.
  3. Disconnect. If the chainsaw is electric, unplug it from the nearest extension cord or outlet. If it has a battery, remove the battery back from the body of the chainsaw.

Chainsaw Safety Tips

Chainsaws are tools, not toys, and safety protocols must always be observed to avoid injury.

  • Stick to wood. Chainsaws are only designed to cut wood. Cutting metal, plastic, glass, tile, cement, or other substances with a chainsaw is dangerous and should not be attempted.
  • Adjust the tension. The tension of the chain on the blade must be just right for the chainsaw to cut efficiently and operate safely. A chain that is too loose is an immediate safety hazard. Consult the instructions for your chainsaw model on how to appropriately tension the chain, and perform this maintenance before each use.
  • Stay lubricated. There should be a bulb on your chainsaw that injects oil onto the chain. Press this button every 15-30 seconds while using the chainsaw to keep everything moving properly.
  • Avoid pull-in kickback. Inspect any wood you’re planning to approach with a chainsaw. Make sure there are no staples, spikes, or nails in the wood that might catch the chain and pull the chainsaw forward.
  • Avoid rotational kickback. Only the bottom edge of the blade should come into contact with the wood. When the top edge of the blade touches wood, the chainsaw can come flying back at you. Never use the tip of the blade to cut – stick to the bottom edge of the blade.
  • Avoid linear kickback. If the wood you are cutting is unsupported, it can fall into the chain, pinching it between the two pieces of wood that you are cutting. Try to support your cuts. Where supporting the cut isn’t practical or possible, such as large tree branches, cut small sections starting at the end.

Conclusion

Read through general safety tips to ensure your wellbeing before how to start a chainsaw. There are two kinds of chainsaws; electric and gas-powered. Electric chainsaws must be connected to a battery pack or outlet, and are started by pressing the safety lock and power button.

Gas-powered chainsaws have a more complicated starting sequence. Always wear protective gear when using a chainsaw.

Ellenkate grew up on job sites run by her family’s construction company. She earned her theater degree from The Hartt School, a prestigious performing arts conservatory in Connecticut. Her design and DIY work from her Chicago loft was featured in the Chicago Reader and on Apartment Therapy.