If you were to stroll through the cemeteries of British Columbia you would be surprised and puzzled by the predominance of young men buried there. Twenty-to-thirty-year-olds taken in the prime of their youth. Soldiers? No. Victims of a plague? No. They were lumberjacks, killed in the forests of BC. Sobering testimony to the dangers of harvesting wood.
Today, lumbermen have huge machines that grab trees hydraulically, snip them off at the base and send them through another machine that strips them of branches. Hardly any risk at all. But since you and I must harvest wood the old fashioned way, with chain saws and splitting axes, we have to keep safety top of mind.
Here are some practices that have kept me out of the ER and an early grave.
Know Your Saw. Go against the male mindset and read the owner’s manual. Modern chain saws have all kinds of safety features such as chain brakes, broken chain catchers, safety throttles, etc. but they are still inherently dangerous machines. Cut with the part of the chain nearest the saw. There is a kick-back zone near the far end of the bar. Clean your saw before every harvesting session and use a sharp chain. Easier on the saw, easier on you, safer.
Felling Trees. Never, ever do this alone. If, after studying the weight distribution of the tree, you’re not certain where it wants to fall, walk away from it. Thump the area of your hinge cut before you make it to be certain you’re cutting into solid wood. If there is punky wood on the side you cut last, the tree may fall while you’re making the hinge cut.
Check For Widow-Makers. Look up before and after felling a tree. There may be a sizeable limb dangling there ready to fall on you during of just after the felling process.
Prone Trees Have Stress Points Too. Always start at the top of the felled tree and work towards the trunk. Clear trimmed branches away from your work. Study the way the trees is resting on the ground. Stress points will become apparent. Respect them and prevent pinched saw bars or kickbacks.
Split Trunk Pieces Only On Level Ground. Take a batter’s stance with your splitting axe. Keep your feet comfortably apart and balanced. Stand far enough away from the trunk piece so if something unforeseen happens the axe hits the ground not your shin.
Soak the end of your splitting axe in water for a couple of hours to assure the axe head is tightly attached to the handle.
Know When To Quit. Most wood cutting accidents happen because of fatigue. Take regular breaks. If you find yourself tripping on small branches your body is telling you to quit. The wood will wait.