Perfectly square or round hedges can add a lot to a garden’s overall aesthetic, but many onlookers may not realize the amount of hard work put into keeping the bushes well-manicured. Large hedges need extensive pruning, sometimes requiring the use of a chainsaw. However, using chainsaws can often be dangerous, so you must remember some important safety tips when embarking on such a project.
To safely cut a hedge with a chainsaw, make sure you read the user manual, wear the necessary safety gear, cut at the appropriate height, and understand your plant’s pruning needs. If necessary, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Moreover, make sure to always clean up after yourself.
The rest of the article will discuss these tips in more detail. I will also share some other important elements to remember when using a chainsaw to cut a hedge. So let’s get started!
1. Read the Chainsaw’s User Manual
A chainsaw should be the last piece of equipment you should consider when it comes to trimming your hedge, but you can use one to address unruly woody bushes or trees that require heavy pruning. However, you have to be extra careful when using a chainsaw as it can be too rough on your plants.
Planning ahead is necessary to ensure that you’re using the chainsaw properly and pruning your hedge correctly since incorrect pruning can significantly damage or even kill your plants. You must therefore choose the right tools when pruning a hedge.
There are several types of chainsaws you can use to cut a hedge, and each one requires you to follow specific safety precautions. Regardless of what kind of chainsaw you intend to use in your garden, it’s always best to understand its basic functions, including how each part works.
So if you decide that a chainsaw is the only way to go after thorough consideration, check out the types of chainsaw you can use to cut a hedge. You can choose a chainsaw for pruning depending on the power source:
- Electric chainsaw with power cord
- Battery-powered chainsaw (cordless)
- Gas-powered chainsaw
Here are some tips you need to remember to use them safely:
An electric-powered chainsaw needs a steady power supply to continue running. You have to keep it plugged in during use. That said, you need to ensure there isn’t any interference between the power supply and your chainsaw.
Inform the members of your household when you plan to use the chainsaw to keep them away from the power source and the cord. It’s also best to keep your pets away from the yard while you work on the hedges.
Cordless or Battery-Powered Chainsaw
Battery-powered chainsaws are a great alternative to electric chainsaws with cords. While older models have a short battery life, newer and pricier models boast excellent battery life. It is a good investment if you frequently use a chainsaw but find the fuel price increase and inconvenience of running a gas-powered chainsaw impractical.
However, some people might misunderstand that the long battery life of new battery-powered chainsaws equates to extended, non-stop use. Although this is possible, it can significantly reduce the lifespan of your machine.
It is important to remember that you still need to take breaks while using the chainsaw, ideally every 10-20 minutes, to avoid overheating and damage to the machine. Allow the engine to rest for at least five minutes before you resume cutting a hedge.
If you have plenty of trees in your garden that need cutting, a gas-powered chainsaw is ideal because it is specifically designed for heavy-duty work. However, for regular hedge pruning or trimming, you may want to opt for a lightweight machine.
Nonetheless, if you only have a gas-powered chainsaw, you can still use it as long as you follow the instructions in the user manual carefully. As discussed above, it can be too heavy for first-time users, and you might as well ask for help from a more experienced gardener.
You also have to check if the machine has enough fuel to last the period you need to finish your gardening task.
Basic Guide to Using a Chainsaw
Each type of chainsaw comes with a specific set of guidelines users have to follow for efficient and safe use. However, there are some general rules you need to abide by regardless of the kind of chainsaw you have. Check them out below:
Check the Blades for Any Damage
Check for signs of rust and remove it properly to prevent it from spreading to other metal parts. A damaged blade on a chainsaw can be dangerous as it can get caught in a woody branch and cause the chains to come off. This can be harmful to the chainsaw operator and the machine itself.
If the damage is too severe for you to mend, it might be best to ask a professional for repair or buy a replacement for the broken part. It may be costly, but you can be sure that your machine can continue working safely and efficiently.
Sharpen the Blades When Necessary
Sharper blades can cut through hedge wood more smoothly. A dull blade can make your job twice as hard and can even be bad for your plants because it won’t cut through the wood as finely.
Remember that wounds from a dull blade may take longer to heal, risking exposing your plant to microbial infections or pest infestation. The branches may also fail to grow into your desired position when cut so roughly.
Check the user manual to confirm what tools you can use to sharpen the blades. Depending on the blade’s material or design, the manufacturer may have recommendations on the best tools to use.
Check and Lubricate the Chains
The chains of a chainsaw are just as important as the blades. Worn-out chains can make the machine shaky and harder to control, turning it into a safety hazard. Ensure that they are properly lubricated for a smoother performance. This can also prevent potential damage to your machine.
Tighten the Chains Properly
Loose chains can result in a kickback which can cause injuries to the chainsaw operator. You must ensure that the chains are secure and tight enough to operate smoothly. Follow the instructions on the user’s manual on how to tighten the chains.
Secure the Power Source
Whether your chainsaw runs on electricity, battery, or gas, you need to ensure that the machine has sufficient power to carry out the task. Avoid overusing the chainsaw and take breaks when necessary. This can help you avoid damage to your machine that can incur large repair costs.
2. Wear Safety Gear
Using a chainsaw can be challenging and dangerous even for experienced users. Cutting a hedge can also present risks as you might get cuts from splinters flying all over the place as you cut through thick woody branches.
Therefore, it is imperative to put on safety gear or personal protective equipment (PPE) regardless of your level of expertise in handling a chainsaw.
Below are some essentials you should never go without when using a chainsaw to cut a hedge:
Eye Protection or Goggles
Fine splinters can get into your eyes when doing any woodwork, making eye goggles one of the most important types of safety gear when doing heavy garden work. Even when pruning your hedges using gardening shears or mowing your lawn, you should not ignore the safety goggles can offer.
Goggles that you can tie at the back of your head are better than those you can wear like glasses because they are more secure and don’t fall off.
Additionally, opt for goggles that can also protect the top and sides of your eyes. Since splinters from chainsaw cutting can fly anywhere, you may want to have full coverage of your eyes.
It’s essential to wear working gloves that fit your hands properly. They do more than just protect your hands from splinters. They can also provide a good grip on the chainsaw in case your hands get sweaty from working too long under the sun.
Choose working gloves with an excellent grip to prevent the chainsaw from slipping from your hands while in use. It can be a lifesaver to have a firm grip on the chainsaw in case of a kickback or the sudden upward movement of the saw.
Long Sleeves and Long Pants
Wearing long sleeves and long pants can protect your skin from splinters. Chainsaws can be rough on plants, and you will likely find debris flying in all directions at speeds high enough to cut your skin.
The clothes might not be enough to protect you from the larger and sharper bits of wood, but they can help reduce the impact.
It is no secret that chainsaws can be pretty noisy when in use. Chainsaws emit approximately 106 decibels (dB), which is higher than the threshold the human ears can withstand without the risk of potential hearing damage or loss.
As a result, users have to wear ear plugs or hearing protection devices to avoid any health issues that can occur from extended exposure to such noise levels. You can also wear ear muffs on top of your ear plugs while using a chainsaw to muffle the sound further.
3. Cut the Hedge at the Appropriate Height
Keep the Chainsaw Below Your Shoulders
A good rule of thumb is to never use a chainsaw above shoulder level. Your right hand must operate the chainsaw from the rear handle while the left hand is on the front handle to keep the saw down while in use and in case of a kickback. Otherwise, you risk seriously injuring yourself.
Avoid Cutting Too Close to the Ground
Using the chainsaw too close to the ground makes it far more likely for you to hit the soil or the rocks in it and damage the blades. If you have to cut low-lying branches and foliage, it may be better to use pruning shears or a lightweight hedge trimmer, as using a chainsaw would just be asking for trouble.
Avoid Cutting Too Close to the Wall or Fences
For hedges that grow too close to a house wall or fences, be sure to keep the saw away from hard objects. Using a chainsaw when working on the part of the hedge close to hard surfaces can be dangerous, so you may want to use a different tool for these types of parts.
That’s why keeping your hedges away from the house is essential. It can help make all sides of the hedge accessible for pruning tasks. To learn more about how much distance there should be between your home and a hedge, you can refer to my article: How Close to a House Can You Plant a Laurel Hedge?
4. Understand Your Plant’s Pruning Needs
Although many plants can benefit from regular pruning, it is important to understand your plant’s pruning needs. A chainsaw is rough and shouldn’t be used on plants less than five years old. Ideally, you should use a chainsaw only for those that require extensive pruning or cutting.
Many plants used for a hedge are tolerant to heavy pruning and can quickly bounce back even after being cleared of up to 30% of their volume. However, some plants are better off with only less than a quarter of their mass removed. Many plants can even go years without pruning.
Nevertheless, pruning is necessary to control a hedge plant’s spread and prevent it from becoming leggy. A wider foliage spread and branching typically reflect the plant’s spread underground, with the roots trying to keep up with the plant’s growth requirements.
Use a chainsaw to cut hedges sparingly. If you’re unsure whether or not your plants are tolerant to the heavy pruning from a chainsaw, you can consult an experienced gardener or leave the plants unpruned. Otherwise, you risk killing the hedge.
You can instead prune the hedge plants using alternative and lightweight tools based on their pruning requirements.
Hedge plants also have season-specific pruning requirements. Many deciduous hedge plants need pruning when they are dormant in winter or early spring.
However, you also need to consider whether your plants bloom on new or old wood. Incorrect timing of pruning can result in fewer or unattractive flowers for the next several years.
On the other hand, not all evergreen plants can endure heavy pruning. Some tolerant evergreens may need pruning in winter. Considering the season, you will need to take extra precautions when using a petrol-powered chainsaw, such as using winter-grade oil.
5. Ask for Assistance When Necessary
When using a chainsaw, you have to stand firmly on two feet to maintain your balance and control the force and movement of the machine. This is relatively easy if you only have to stand on even ground.
As discussed, you should never use a chainsaw above shoulder level as it can be difficult to control that way and can lead to dangerous situations. Ideally, hedges shouldn’t be over 6 feet (182.88 cm) tall, and you have to cut the top to keep it at an ideal height. To learn more about how tall your hedges should be, you can refer to my other article: How Tall Should Hedges Be In Front of A House?
So, if you need to tend to a taller hedge using a step stool, you will likely need assistance. You can ask a family member or a friend to keep the stool steady while you’re on it to make sure you don’t fall over.
Your assistant must also wear safety gear like goggles, gloves, and ear plugs when helping you out because they are subject to the same risks from noise and sharp or hard plant debris while working with you.
The assistant can also stay on the lookout in case other people or pets try to approach you while you work. Wearing ear plugs on top of the noise of the chainsaw can keep you preoccupied and unaware of the surroundings, so it helps to have someone keep others away.
6. Clean the Area and the Chainsaw After Use
After using the chainsaw to cut a hedge, it’s important to clean the machine and the plant debris. Leaving your chainsaw uncleaned after every use can reduce its lifespan. It can also be risky when you try to use it again next time since some hardened plant debris might jam the chains.
Remove the plant sap from the blades and chains using brand/product-appropriate cleaners to prevent rust from building up on the machine’s metal components. Different types and models of chainsaws may have specific cleaning requirements, which you have to follow carefully.
Cleaning the chainsaw after every use also helps prevent the spread of disease from one plant to another in case you plan to use the machine to cut other plants.
A chainsaw is a powerful and extremely useful tool you can use in your garden. While not designed to tend to lightweight pruning needs, you can use it to cut a hedge that requires extensive pruning. Just be sure to follow some safety precautions, such as:
- Reading the user manual and manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Wearing safety gear, including goggles, gloves, and earplugs.
- Cutting the hedge at the appropriate height and depth.
- Cleaning the chainsaw right after use.