What is a Chainsaw Kickback and How to Prevent It?

Richard McMann

Knowledge Based

chainsaw kickback and prevention explainedYou’re heading out of the hardware store, all excited about your newly purchased chainsaw. Just when you are about to exit, the guy at the counter calls out, “Beware of the chainsaw kickback!”

Turns out, he was right! Statistics reveal that around 23,000 chainsaw-related injuries in the US are reported annually. A majority of these injuries are caused by chainsaw kickbacks. 

If you are a new user wondering what is chainsaw kickback exactly, keep reading to find out all that you need to know. 

What is Chainsaw Kickback? How to Prevent It?

Time to kill the suspense! The term “chainsaw kickback” refers to a sudden, unexpected, upward jerk of the chainsaw when you are operating it. At this point, it is vital to remember that chainsaws are powerful and dangerous tools.

With the ability to cut through materials like wood, metal, and concrete; the human flesh seems like insignificant prey. 

Chainsaw Kickback Injuries

Most of the injuries caused by chainsaw kickbacks involve the hands and lower extremities. However, less than 10% of incidents of chainsaw kickback into face and neck regions have also been reported.

Furthermore, the severity of these injuries ranges from cuts to life-threatening lacerations. Therefore, every part of your body is vulnerable to sustaining an injury if caution is not exercised.

Chainsaw Kickback Causes

When delving into a chainsaw kickback explanation, it is essential to understand the dynamics of your machine. You will experience kickback whenever the chain of your chainsaw gets stuck while working through a material.

Once stuck, your machine is still plugged in and using power. When this power is not utilized for cutting purposes, it has to unleash its wrath elsewhere, right? That’s precisely when a kickback happens.

Chainsaw kickbacks are of two types. Knowing the difference between the two will help you to be prepared for any misadventures.

Linear Kickback

This occurs when the chain at the opposite end gets pinched shut by the material you are cutting. Your chainsaw is now stuck and refuses to move forward. 

It will get pushed back with full force. This chainsaw kickback power can be enough to push you off balance. 

Rotational Kickback

This is the one to look out for! A rotational kickback will occur when the cutting angles at the nose of your chainsaw angle back. 

Instead of cutting into the wood, the teeth run over it. In a blink of an eye, the chainsaw tip changes directions and is now pointing toward you. These kickbacks are extremely difficult to handle. 

Due to the rotational force involved, there is a high probability of losing grip on your tool. 

Types of Chainsaws and Their Kickbacks

Pocket chainsaw kickback: Pocket chainsaws are handy instruments. Since these use low-power inputs, kickbacks produced are of low intensity.

Battery chainsaw kickback: Battery-operated chainsaws are cordless instruments. These are fitted with electric motors and come with rechargeable batteries. Lower torque causes lower-intensity kickbacks as compared to gas chainsaws.

Gas chainsaw kickback: Gas-operated chainsaws are heavy instruments with limited maneuverability. They possess high torque. Higher torques and instrument mass yield kickbacks of very high intensity. 

Pole chainsaw kickbacks: Pole chainsaws are simply chainsaws attached to a pole. Since you are not in direct contact with the chainsaw, kickback injuries are mild and blunt. 

Electric chainsaw kickbacks: These chainsaws are corded to a power source. Certain features like low chain and slower cutting speeds yield kickbacks of lower intensities as compared to gas chainsaws.

Pneumatic chainsaw kickbacks: These chainsaws are reserved for industrial usage. They are capable of cutting through metal and concrete. The kickbacks generated are of high intensity. However, you can safely check this off your list, since their usage is limited to professional use. 

Tips on Avoiding a Deadly Chainsaw Blow

By now, you are familiar with what is chainsaw kickback, the dynamics that lead to the occurrence of a kickback, and the types of kickbacks produced by different chainsaws. 

Additionally, you have also realized the potential threats posed to you if you use this tool inappropriately. So what exactly should you do to protect yourself from being a victim?

Read on further to find out how to prevent chainsaw kickback.

Prepare Yourself:

First and foremost you need to be well prepared yourself before handling this tool. Your chainsaw came with a manual for a reason. Don’t ignore it! Read the manual carefully to understand your tool better.

Wear protective gear like a helmet, earplugs, work gloves, protective eyewear, chainsaw pants, and heavy work boots. This will ensure that your body remains protected, in case a kickback does occur.

Before starting work make sure you are not intoxicated, ill, or short of sleep. If so, postpone your sawing plans till some other day.

While sawing, ensure a firm grip with both hands. Furthermore, do not attempt to use the tool above your shoulder height. 

When sawing, position yourself to the left of the chainsaw and do not lean over it to look at the chain directly.

Prepare Your Workplace:

Make sure that the area where you intend to saw is clean and obstruction free.

If you are dealing with stacks of logs, cut them one log at a time

Take frequent breaks to remove all the cut pieces from your work site. This will allow you to have a firm footing while you are operating your chainsaw. 

Prepare Your Chainsaw:

Before using your chainsaw, run a thorough check. All the components should be functioning optimally. 

Chainsaw chains are important components of your saw and are directly related to kickback episodes. Adjust chain tension. Loose chains or very taut ones predispose to chainsaw kickbacks. 

To minimize chainsaw kickback occurrence, consider using a chainsaw anti kickback chain. Additionally, keep the chain sharp with the help of a chainsaw sharpener

The nose of your chainsaw is also known as the “kickback zone”. As the name indicates, it plays a pivotal role in initiating kickbacks. When sawing, keep the nose out of contact with any other object. 

Chainsaws work best at full power. Run your tool at max speed to avoid chain snagging.


What is a chainsaw antikickback chain?

These are chains specifically designed to reduce the force of the kickback. Antikickback chains also have teeth that prevent the chain from getting caught on objects. The ideal setting for this chain type is where there is a high chance of the saw getting caught on something.

Why is my chainsaw kicking back?

The most common reason is when the tip of the chainsaw strikes an object. Other reasons include the wood tightly pinching the chain, using a poorly maintained chainsaw, and using chain depth settings that are excessive.

How can I prevent chainsaw kickbacks?

You can prevent them by following proper cutting techniques. Make sure that the chain is sharp and tensioned correctly. Use your chainsaw at maximum power. Check that your chain brakes are installed and in working condition.

How frequently do chainsaw kickback accidents occur?

Around 30,000 chainsaw-related accidents are reported each year. Most of these are due to kickbacks. The injuries range from cuts to lacerations. 250 deaths per year have been documented due to kickback accidents. 

How can I tell if my saw chain needs a change?

Inspect the saw chain regularly. If you observe signs of wear and tear, or if it appears stiffer than usual, replace your chain. Since every chainsaw is designed differently it is best to refer to the manufacturer’s manual.

Final Thoughts

Chainsaws are highly useful tools. However, if used carelessly, they can prove to be exceptionally dangerous too. Chainsaw kickbacks are responsible for the majority of injuries caused by chainsaw usage.

Understanding the different forces involved in a kickback surely helps you in tackling the phenomenon. If you are a beginner at sawing or one who is struggling with chainsaw kickbacks, our comprehensive guide will prove handy. 

The next time you get to your chainsaw business, be sure to keep these life-saving tips in mind. Stay safe and happy sawing!

Richard McMann
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