I know what you’re thinking:  “George, how can you think of something like a chainsaw as a prepping tool???”

Well, the answer is simple:  Once you leave the “call 9-1-1 for any problems – or the water department – or whatever – and you get back to Nature, you finds that nature isn’t going to be all neatly arranged like people living in the people-coops (apartments) think in their ridiculous visions of what to prep for.

Given $200 bucks to spend, it is hard to find something that can empower more work in a remote, wilderness (meaning no other dangerous people around) than a couple of long guns and a chainsaw.  Let me give you some examples:

  • Downed trees:  You have that bug-out spot in the country but there’s a problem with your evac route:  A major storm has downed trees and there’s no easy way around ’em.
  • Fire:  Think about California:  How many of the people there with a little head’s up and a chainsaw might have been able to help their homes survive – if they’d had a chainsaw and the foresight to put on a metal roof and keep low-lying brush cleared?
  • Emergency Shelters:  I can guarantee you that with a four-wheel drive vehicle, 100-feet of 5/8ths good rope and a CHAINSAW, I can whip up a pretty decent emergency shelter any time.
  • Long Term Shelter:  If you have a ton of trees like we do, there’s an easy way to build an underground house:  Dig a deep hole (something around 8 feet deep ought to do it, and then cut down and move in logs as overhead beams.  Then, with an inexpensive pool liner and sloping for drainage, cover with 5-8 feet of dirt.  How you have a basic shelter that will be almost impervious to many of the coming threats.

Sure, $200 worth of freeze-dried food is great, but a) someone’s going to try and steal if from you if you’re around other people and b) where are you going when it rains.  You know, that Maslow Hierarchy of Needs stuff.

Which Chainsaw is “Right?”

OMG, this is a tough one.  Depends what you mean by “right.”

Cheap: If you’re willing to gamble, there are some great Chinese-made saws on the market (and on the Zon) for well under $200.  These come with some risk, however, based on the reviews of the $129 Meditool 52CC Chainsaw, 3.5HP Gas Chainsaw, Gas Powered Chainsaw Handed Petrol Chainsaw with Smart Start Super Air Filter System and Automatic Oiling and Tool Kit.  Read around ther web and realize parts may not be easy to find.

Mid-Range Saws:   Since we are (nominally) a tree farm operation when we’re not trying to get by otherwise, we need a saw.  We need something more dependable than the imports, too, since at least half a dozen times a year a tree (min. 12″ diameter) will fall over our access roads and block us in.  We went with a $190 Poulan Pro PP5020AV 20-Inch 50cc 2 Stroke Gas Powered Chain Saw With Carrying Case.  Great saw – some of the time – which we’ll get into in a minute…

Great Saws:  If you have money to burn there are only a couple of choices.  On the Zon, something like the $467 Husqvarna 460 Rancher 20-Inch 60.3cc 2-Stoke X-Torq Gas Powered Chain Saw will keep you cutting all day and with care, it’s a good basic professional woodsman saw.  Going up from here?  Well, the German name Stihl saws are very well-regarded in the woods but now you’re into something sold only through a dealer network and you can buy somewhere between 2 and 10 of the cheap and mid-range saws to pay for one Stihl.  Again, this is a “You get what you pay for deal” so common in life.

Set Up and Assembly

Since I have a Poulan that was on the workbench this week, you may be interested in a tour de saw for some idea if you’re a newbie at tree-falling.

Let’s look at mine (with the recoil starter removed which we’ll get to in a sec.):

Here’s what you are looking at:

  • That fan in the middle is how 2-cycle chainsaws are cooled.  The air comes in from the recoil starter side *(generally the left) and cross-cools the saw.  Simple centrifugal fan.
  • On the left, the targer of 2 liquid ports is where the gasoline goes.  Because these are 2-cycle saws, you need to mix oil and gas per the manufacturer’s directions.  The mixture may be oil-heavy (16:1, gas to oil mix), somewhere in the middle (20:1 or 24:1), or a less oily (30:1 or 32:1).  It is EXTREMELY important to get the oil mixture right.  If you don’t – say by putting in too much – the motor will “crud-up” with carbon and, oh yeah, won’t make full power.  On the other hand, if you don’t put enough in, then there won’t be enough lubricity in the fuel and then you;ll get great performance – right up to when the piston seizes up!!!
  • On the right is a smaller liquid port for chain bar oil.  Yes, I have used 30-weight motor oil in a pinch, but it’s not the right stuff.

Chainsaw Technique

Next thing to understand is (most) saws are built to right-handed users.  Read the instruction manual  for details on how the chain-brake works.  This will disengage the chainsaw in event of a kick-back.

NEVER cut with the wood on the top side of the chain.  If it “grabs” you will have a snarling saw coming your way – out of control – and that doesn’t end happily.

NEVER stand with the saw between your legs, either.  If the chain breaks – which they all do if used long enough – they will come flying toward yours femoral artery.  You can’t wear too much protective gear:  Saw chaps and a face guard.

As to the cutting, take a good look at the teeth shown below;  They are generally on the left side of the chain bar – some saws have them on both sides.

These guys make chain-sawing easy as hell.

You just gently lower the running saw onto a tree and move it away from yourself (and down slightly) until it runs into these teeth.  Pull the trigger to rull on the power and now just rock the saw gently to cut at a decent clip.

How fast?  Depends on the wood, the saw, and conditions, of course.  But if the saw RPMs are screaming, with the teeth dug in, left the handle of the saw slightly.  You see, with the teeth dug-in, you will leverage the blade into taking a meaner “bite.”  On the other hand, if the saw is bogging down, rock back by pressing the operate side of the saw down a bit.

If you’re lightening up the blade loading (pressing down on the handle to raise the blade) and it doesn’t pop right back up to speed, you may be in a piece of wood that is “binding” the blade.

I could go on all day about “blade binding” but the general concept is that if you support a good sized tree at the root end, and the only other support point is the tippy-top part of the tree, you will have a long wood span.  If you go back to engineering spans (one of our earlier courses, lol) you’ll know that on the top of the span there is a COMPRESSION load.  So when you cut at the top and you go put in a quarter-inch wide saw “kerf” (the slit left by the blade) compression may reduce this to zero.

Ah, how to solve this?

Three ways:  Try to fall your tree so that it’s about supported in the middle.  This way, compression loads are small and you cut from both ends toward the fulcrum tree in the middle that you felled on.

Next choice is to mechanically “buck.”  Which is why we have big teeth on the tractor’s load bucket.  Easy to get these under damn near anything and lift.

When the brother-in-law (Panama Bates) and I did some sawing (a good while back) I’d run the tractor – and using the bucket I’d lift one end of the tree so he’d have a decent section just under waist-high.  We’d make two or three cuts (ab out 18″:: each for firewood for the neighbors – and then I’d re-buck for the next section.  Only downside to this is it’s a two man operation.

Third choice is what?  Cut a series of “Vee’s” in the tree.  You make one 45-degree cut down until you just feel binding begin, then quickly remove the blade and come at it from the other 45.  It’s more cutting, but hell, that’s half the fun of chainsaws – making all those chips and noise.

While you’re doing all this, the blade will get hot and hot blades dull faster than cold ones.  There are two ways to tension a blade.  Mainly, upper right with my grimly drawn arrow, you want to only be able to pull the blade (hard pull, too) not more than 1/2″ or so.  An other way is to pull on the nose of the blade (left) but here there should be almost no play.  If there is, the chair can come out of the blade guides and now we have a problem.

Great!  What Can Go Wrong?

Assuming you come away with 10-digits and your legs intact?

Here’s the worst case:  The recoil starter breaks.  And while you’re trying to put on the new starter cord, the recoil spring flies out.  The resulting rannygazoo looks like this:

Another one of my Picasso-like arrows points to the 2-1/2″ circle where you supposedly can rewind the recoil starter spring which has obviously sprung.   There is a TINY little area where the spring is supposed to hook.

At this point your choices are:

  • Buy a new saw ($200).
  • Buy the “impossible recoil spring rewinder” tool on eBay for $40.
  • Turn on the milling machine and lathe and make an old-school rope starter pulled – ending the problem forever, but leaving a spinning fan exposed… OR
  • If you get REALLY LUCKY as I did, you’ll find the whole assembly for sale on eBay for $36 including free shipping.

Other pointers?  Dump all the gas out when you’re not using the saw or it will gum up everything.  Consider an aviation-grade fuel additive like AvBlend or other to help with the life of the engine.  Buy a half-dozen Oregon saw blades on the ‘Zon for whatever saw you get…and brush after every meal!

Write when you get rich or run out of trees…

Paul Bunyan  George@ure.net