Editor’s Introductory Note: The following are some recounted experiences, observations, and advice, earned through experience. I hope that you benefit from this, and thereby avoid repeating the author’s mistakes. – JWR
It was an unremarkable autumn day: pleasantly cool, and a trifle overcast. I had thrown some logs on top of the last load of wood that I had hauled. Those logs now needed to be bucked for splitting.
All of the proper protective equipment was in place: eye protection, hard hat with attached hearing protection and face screen, gloves, Kevlar chainsaw chaps, and sturdy footwear. As I prepared to start the chainsaw, I noticed a hole in the thumb of my right glove. I commented to my wife, “The next time we go to the hardware store, I need to pick up a new pair of gloves.” Then I started the saw.
After the first log had been bucked, I turned the saw to set it down. Something tweaked my right thumb. I looked down and saw a surprising amount of blood.
Observation: Wood cutting can be dangerous: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, logging workers have the most dangerous occupation in the United States, with a fatal injury rate of 135.9 per 100,000 workers per year and a non-fatal injury rate of 2,449 per 100,000 workers per year. A task that is so dangerous for trained and experienced professionals poses significant risks to less experienced amateurs like me.
Observation: Damaged or worn out protective equipment may not protect: Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will. I am still not sure how the chain managed to seek out the one hole in my gloves. In a dangerous environment, being truly prepared means being prepared even for unlikely occurrences.
I put pressure on the wound with my other glove, and asked my wife to get something with which to control the bleeding. She ran into the house and grabbed one of her best dish towels. After applying direct pressure with the dish towel for a couple of minutes, I removed it to assess the wound. I saw a large flap of white, dead-looking skin. It was rapidly inundated by a rising tide of blood. I said, “I think I need stitches. We should probably go to the emergency room.”
Observation: When you or a loved one is bleeding, it may be difficult to make good decisions: Based upon an objective assessment of the injury, urgent care would have been a more cost effective solution than the emergency room. But the words “chainsaw injury” and “emergency room” somehow seemed to go together at the time.
Observation: Telling emergency room personnel that you have been injured with a chainsaw is a good way to get prompt attention.
In the treatment room, the doctor put an o-ring around the base of my thumb to stop the bleeding. He then cut away the dead skin, cleaned the wound, and glued it together with super glue. Finally he removed the o-ring and applied a dressing. With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, I realized that I could have provided similar treatment at home. I have since used this knowledge after reaching into a tool box and grabbing the wrong end of a cutting implement.
Observation: I am not a medical professional. This is not intended as medical advice. Patrick F. McManus would characterize my ministrations as “miner surgery”. See “Tying My Own” in They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?)
The entire experience ended up costing me some minor discomfort, about $1,000 in medical bills, and one of my wife’s best dish towels. That was a relatively modest price to pay for a memorable lesson on the dangers of wood cutting, the importance of properly maintaining protective equipment, and the treatment of moderate finger lacerations. The cost of such lessons is often much higher.
It was New Year’s Day. The day dawned bright and clear with a light dusting of snow. Temperatures were in the twenties. I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to trim a branch on “the bee tree”.
“The bee tree” is a hollow maple next to our driveway. The branch in question hung over the driveway and hindered the passage of taller vehicles. I had been waiting for temperatures to drop low enough to discourage the bees from attacking me while I worked.
Observation: Stinging insects present a hazard to wood cutters. The stings themselves are not the primary danger, although the CDC reports that for the years 2000 through 2017, an average of 62 people died each year due to hornet, wasp, and bee stings. The greater risk involves our attempts to avoid stings while participating in activities such as climbing a tree or operating a chainsaw. Carefully inspect your work area for stinging insects before beginning a project.
Several bees sallied forth to resist the assault on their tree, but succumbed to the cold before they could do any harm.
The branch ran near the power line that supplies our house. I believed that I could cut the branch in a way that would cause it to miss the power line as it fell. My wife believed the same thing.
Observation: While working near power lines, if you need to ask someone else for reassurance that you are doing the right thing, you are probably not doing the right thing.
Observation: Power lines present a serious hazard to wood cutters. According to the CDC, between 1980 and 1992, an average of 411 American workers died each year because of electrical exposure.
The falling branch landed on the power line, ripping the power mast from the side of our house. My wife went inside and reported a burning smell. I then shut off the main breaker.
Observation: Sometimes when the Schumer hits the fan, it is because I threw it there myself. I had unintentionally created a temporary, localized grid-down situation in our home. This had also partly simulated an EMP attack. A power surge had fried the circuits in most of our “wall wart” power cubes.
Observation: Unintentional preparedness drills are irritating.
Observation: Linemen and electricians are not particularly happy about being called into work on New Year’s Day. The electrician was a friend who had a similar experience, so he at least was a little sympathetic. The total cost between the power company and the electrician came out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $800, if I remember correctly.
Observation: If you do something dangerous that has a 90% chance of success, and you do it ten times without incident, you are overdue for something bad to happen. Be extremely cautious when working near power lines. Know your limits. When in doubt, don’t do it.
Here are a few tips to make woodcutting slightly less dangerous, which for emphasis I am including in BOTH Part 1 and Part 2:
- Always wear appropriate, well maintained protective equipment.
- Have a spotter nearby while you are working. They can summon help or perform first aid if necessary.
- Your chainsaw’s manual almost certainly includes a well written and practical section on safe cutting techniques. Read it.
- Inspect the work area for hazards before beginning a job. This would include things like overhanging dead branches, obstacles blocking escape routes, power lines in the vicinity, and stinging insects or other dangerous creatures.
- Make sure that spectators are clear of the work area.
- “Listen to your body” (I am indebted to Lee for this helpful turn of phrase from his August 31, 2019 comment at SurvivalBlog). If you become fatigued, find something less dangerous to do until you are properly rested. Fatigue can inhibit your thought processes, and interfere with your physical ability to respond to danger.
- Don’t use anything that can interfere with your reaction time and judgment.
- Make sure that your tools are properly maintained and appropriate to the task.
- Minimize distractions.
- Never operate a chainsaw while standing on a ladder.
- Be aware of the influence weather conditions may have on your task. Terminate work on a task if the weather becomes unfavorable to its safe completion.
- If there is an element of risk involved in a project, thebn do everything you can to minimize that element of risk.
- Know your limits. Based upon your training, experience, equipment, the weather, and other factors, are you able to safely take on this project? When in doubt, don’t do it.
To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.