While many of us hope that spring is just around the corner, we are still in the thick of winter. For some, this can bring with it the trek outside to cut or gather wood for that much needed furnace. Or maybe the winter weather has caused damage to a tree in your yard, and you need to remove it. Whatever the case may be, keep in mind there is more to the process than just cutting a tree down. Preparation is key when it comes to wood cutting safety. There are many methods to collect firewood for heating the home—or for campfires for those brave enough to stay outdoors this time of year—and each of these come with their own safety hazards.
Because of these hazards, it is important to wear all appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). This includes safety glasses, light work gloves, chainsaw chaps, and safety-toed boots. There are many companies that produce and sell wood cutting specific PPE, including hardhats with attachable ear muffs for hearing protection, and face shields to protect from flying debris. But what are some safe practices for cutting wood?
Hand tools such as saws, axes, and hatchets safely should be kept guarded while not in use and during transport to the area of use, because these tools should be kept sharp. The sharpness of the tools is important to the safety of both the user and those in the immediate area. Not only does a sharp blade make you more efficient in your efforts, but having a sharp blade can help to prevent injury due to “bounce back”, which is exactly what it sounds like. This is caused when a dull axe is swung into the wood and bounces away from the impact point, potentially back into the person using the axe or others working nearby.
Power tools such as chainsaws and wood splitters have a similar way of reaching the same goal as hand tools and are often used in tandem with them. Like hand tools, you want the blade to be sharp. Due to the different densities of wood, you can encounter some of the same safety issues as with a dull axe. Be cautious while using a chainsaw, there is a great deal of torque being generated and sudden snags or releases in the wood can cause “Kick Back”.
Once we have our tools prepared, we need to consider who will be around and with us. Never fell a tree alone! Always have a plan. With one person cutting, the other person can be on lookout for falling debris. Be sure that when using the buddy system, you ensure that your buddy is outside of your cut zone. You and your buddy should create a pre-cut escape plan in the event that you both need to quickly get out of the way of the falling tree or trees.
Weather is also an important factor in wood cutting, as well as the surrounding trees. Be mindful of the strength and direction of the wind. What kind of weather can you expect that day? Ensure that surrounding trees are not in the path of the falling tree and that there are no “widow makers”, or limbs that are no longer connected to trees but are caught in a way that they are suspended above the ground. Widow makers can be shaken loose and can cause a great deal of bodily harm to those under them.
The key to wood cutting safety really is preparation. Use your PPE, familiarize yourself with your tools and keep them sharp, work with a buddy, have a plan, and be aware of your surroundings.
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. (n.d.). Heating with Wood Series: Cutting Firewood Safely. Document NREM-9431.