One of our favorite times of year to head out and camp is in early Spring. Days are still brisk, snow can be found at higher elevations and it seems the multitudes of summer campers are staying home. On the negative side of the ledger are washed out roads and trails, snow or landslides blocking road access deeper into the wilds and, relevant to this post, downed trees blocking passage and forcing lengthy detours. The responsible organization (BLM, Forest Service etc) will most likely get around to clearing landslides and repairing roads, neither of which I can fix on the fly but with the right tools there is usually no need to wait for them to clear downed trees and we can push on to our destination. For many such road blocks the right tool is a quality chainsaw.
I myself was introduced to chainsaws and their uses by my dear, departed grandfather (“Pa”) back when I was a young lad, maybe 10 or 12. Our family cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains is heated by a very old pot-bellied stove.
It has a relatively small “belly” so it needs to be constantly fed with firewood. People who grew up in The Great Depression like my grandfather never just went out and bought something if they could procure it for themselves and the cabin property is covered in various species of tree which regularly fall during winter storms or otherwise need to be dealt with. Turning downed trees into useful firewood was a regular chore that needed taking care of during countless summers spent at the cabin and chainsaws were an important tool in that process. We still have those old, heavy, hot, oily, scary and dangerous saws sitting in the shop under the cabin. They had no vibration dampening, no kickback protection, poor handling and made regular attempts to kill you so you had to be really careful when using them. It may have actually been lucky to learn about chainsaws in an era when they had murderous tendencies to really drive home the importance of safe usage and handling. I am still amazed (and glad) that no one ever got hurt over the decades of chainsawing there. Chainsaws have evolved quite a bit since then.
My regular chainsaw, the one at the top of the page looking nothing like a garage queen, is a Husqvarna Rancher 55. They were made from 1990-2005 and I am the second owner. It is one of my favorite tools. A buddy sold it to me for $100 in 1996 saying it ran when he last used it but now it does not. $116 at the local 2-stroke equipment fixit shop later and it ran like a champ again. It came with a 20″ bar and that has been the perfect size for my usage. It has a 53.2cc engine that puts out 3.3 horsepower (2.4kW) with a maximum speed of 12,500 RPMs. It weighs a not inconsequential 11.46lbs (5.2kg) but it has a nice balance and is easy enough to maneuver. Unlike those old saws this one has numerous safety features to lessen and hopefully eliminate accidents and injuries to the operator and bystanders.
This is where I should mention that, like many tools, a chainsaw can hurt you if used carelessly or improperly. Unlike, say, a hammer though, this tool can not only hurt you but change your life catastrophically and for the long term or even end it…bloodily. I have seen people think they need to rev the saw up to its maximum RPMs and then slam it down on the log they are cutting or sawing back and forth like they are wielding a bow saw. I have seen people with their foot or lower leg underneath the area of the log they are sawing through. I have seen people try to cut down a tree, having no idea how to cut it in a way that directs it to fall in a specified direction with no plan or area of escape. I have seen things go wrong and people running away from the falling tree carrying the still running chainsaw. That last one is tantamount to drowned SCUBA divers who are recovered with weights still attached to them or pulling and throwing the pin and dropping the grenade at your feet. The list is far longer and absurd but suffice it to say…
And, sadly, a good generalization is that most men holding a chainsaw, about to attempt a task for the first time, do not take a friendly suggestion on the possibility of a better or less dangerous way to go about this (soon to be) folly with good grace and thanks. I have learned to now do my part by standing quietly out of the way in a safe spot and film for posterity, or police or insurance reports. So…Ideally don’t go out and just buy a chainsaw and start using it without, at least, reading the Operator’s Manual (lot’s of really good information in mine) and maybe watch a few online videos although some training by professionals would be in everyone’s best interest.
I have the original paper user manual but over the years I’ve gotten my hands on both the owner’s and shop manuals as PDF files and have since learned how to keep it running well and even replaced several parts over the decades. I have both the Dremel sharpening kit and the Stihl 2-in-1 Filing Guide. I normally carry the Stihl sharpener instead of the Dremel and its box of accessories just to save room. UPDATE: Since I first found out about the Stihl sharpener I have been made aware that it is a double-the-price knock-off of the original Pferd CS-X and so I now recommend that people buy that one if they are in the market for a tool like this.
My standard loadout is the saw, a quart of bar/chain oil, a quart of premixed, ethanol-free 2-cycle engine fuel (I regularly use TruFuel), the Stihl sharpener, the stump vise and a scrench. Husqvarna officially calls a Scrench a “combination spanner” which is less whimsical. The stump vise is a relatively new tool. At home I can do a chainsaw job and then bring it back to the garage work bench and sharpen it there. I’ve been carrying the saw on our adventures much more of late and have needed to use it more than once on a particular stretch of road or trail that is heavily covered in fallen timber. With this simple, cheap tool I can sharpen the chain easily and safely, as needed, out in the field without having to wait to return home to a workbench.
A pair of well-fitting, durable, leather-based gloves is also part of the package but keeping them in the chainsaw box would inevitably get them covered in bar oil and I use them enough without the chainsaw that I keep them easily accessible elsewhere in the Tacoma.
With three chains in rotation I always have a newly sharpened one at the ready just in case.
After removing a tree I usually make time to give the saw a once-over and chain sharpening when we are back at camp or home. I pound my stump vice into one of the larger fallen trees in the area to hold the chair bar still and take around 10 minutes with the Stihl all-in-one to get the chain back into proper working order.
I have my eye on newer, “better” saws but for now, with this one working as intended and regularly meeting my needs, I see no reason to run out and drop $600+ on a want and not a need.
The right tools make the job easier…and safer.