10 September 1999

On course, and member of the chainsaw elite

Staying within the law when it comes to chainsaw use

requires a certificate of competence plus an ID card.

Geoff Ashcroft donned the safety gear and joined

three other delegates on a two-day course held at

farmers weeklys Easton Lodge farm

DRIVING to Easton Lodge, I have a sudden fear about the chainsaw course I am about to begin. It is not so much the apprehension of failure, but the level of danger I think I am about to put myself in over the next two days.

A chainsaw is perhaps the most feared piece of kit found on the farm. And to use one without proper instruction or qualification is not only dangerous, but also a breach of the Health & Safety at Work act.

So a two-day training course at FARMERS WEEKLYs Easton Lodge farm could yield the minimum two certificates of competence I need to maintain a chainsaw, then cross-cut fallen timber. Should I wish to fell trees, I will need to take additional training modules at a later date.

Lance Taylor, a Lantra instructor and NTPC assessor of 16 years experience, was to guide me and my colleagues through the training modules – CS30 chainsaw maintenance and CS36 cross-cutting timber.

Our two days are not a return to the classroom. Far from it. This is all hands-on training between a small group which promotes a healthy discussion. And its easy to learn from your own, and other peoples mistakes.

The first part of our assessment requires familiarity with the working principles, safety features and correct maintenance of the chainsaw. Its thorough, takes a day and needs to be fully understood before the saw can be put to practical use.

Indeed, there are many valid points which I found beneficial. After all, poor saw maintenance puts your safety at risk.

For example, an unevenly worn chain and bar will prevent the saw from cutting straight. It can also lead to the saw jamming in timber. And setting the correct chain tension is essential to ensure sprockets dont wear prematurely or the chain jumps or snags, during use.

Additionally, a thorough understanding of chain types and their correct applications quickly dispels the expectation of when is the saw going to kick back.

"Kick-back is easily avoidable," says Mr Taylor. "If your saw is properly maintained and used correctly, a chainsaw will not kick back."

There are four messages which Mr Taylor is anxious to get across during the two-day course. These are; when not sawing, always ensure the chain brake is applied; when cutting, always keep the chainsaw in front of you – never cut across or to the side of yourself; be aware of the position of the saw; be aware of the position of your body, in relation to the saw.

"If you keep these factors in mind, you will enjoy using the chainsaw productively," he says.

After a nights reading through the CS30 chainsaw maintenance notes as a brush-up on everything learned on day one, I feel ready to put my knowledge to work.

But before picking up the saw, the correct "chainsaw-spec" safety gear has to be worn – currently, the minimum is class 3 for boots, and class 1 for leggings and gloves. A safety helmet is also mandatory and must include a mesh visor and ear defenders.

Eager to swing the chainsaw into action, its time for instructor Lance Taylor to run through recognised starting procedures. There are two; the first relates to a cold engine and dictates a floor-start. The second, for hot starting, can be done from a standing position and requires the chain brake to be applied.

Yo-yo starts – dropping the chainsaw while simultaneously yanking the rope starter – are an absolute no-no, and are a common contributor to the injuries list.

"Control of the saw must be maintained at all times," insists Mr Taylor. "And before you start, its ear protectors on, visor down."

With the saw running, two simple checks are made. The first check is to satisfy myself the chain brake operates properly, the second is to check that oil is being circulated onto the chain and guidebar.

Happy the brake works and oil is flowing, we tour Easton Lodge in search of a suitable trunk to mutilate.

Lance Taylor quickly assesses our 6m long, 0.6m diameter trunk (20ft x 1ft 8in) which is laid awkwardly on uneven ground. He asks how we intend to cut the timber into easily handled sections without getting the saw stuck. And after hearing a selection of half-correct suggestions, he produces a bag of plastic wedges and an axe – the latter doubles as a hammer.

"Never go cross-cutting without them," he says. "Theyre as useful as an extra pair of hands and can help you prise apart the trunk as you cut deeper and deeper into it. And youll never get the saw stuck."

By the end of day two, I felt confident and at ease when using the chainsaw. No longer a tool to be feared, the chainsaw suddenly became an essential piece of equipment for the outdoor workshop. Above all, our instructor was happy we all grasped a sound understanding of whats required to maintain and use a chainsaw.

And all that remained was for me to produce two passport size photographs, so the NPTC could issue my valid chainsaw-user identity card.