Drop starting is a dangerous and improper technique for starting a chainsaw.
It involves holding the chainsaw in the air with one hand and pulling the starter cord with the other hand. Think of it as starting the chainsaw in the air rather than on the ground.
It may or may not also involve simultaneously dropping the chainsaw while only holding the starter cord. This action creates a sudden jerk on the chainsaw’s starter cord, causing the engine to start abruptly.
Steve McColman, a mechanic and small engine expert at Steve’s Small Engine Saloon, says:
Many guys drop start their equipment: chainsaws, trimmers, weed eaters, etc. because you can get [the equipment] started easier. It’s not safe, especially for a chainsaw if you don’t know how to use a chain brake correctly.
Drop starting is often used as a shortcut to avoid using the chainsaw’s proper starting procedures, such as placing the saw on a flat surface, using the choke, and setting the throttle.
However, it is not only dangerous but can also cause damage to the chainsaw’s internal parts, such as the starter cord, flywheel, or engine.
Drop Starting A Chainsaw
It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended starting procedures for your chainsaw model. Proper starting techniques help ensure the safe and efficient use of the chainsaw and prevent unnecessary injury or damage.
Here are links to official guides on how to start a chainsaw:
- Stihl USA – How to Start a Stihl Chain Saw
- Husqvarna Chainsaw Academy – How to Start a Chainsaw
- ECHO – Chain Saw Basics for Beginners
Someone might drop start a chainsaw because they believe it is a quick and easy way to start the engine without going through the proper starting procedures. However, this technique is dangerous and should not be used.
Inexperienced chainsaw operators may also attempt drop starting because they are unfamiliar with the proper starting procedures or lack proper training on how to safely operate a chainsaw.
It is also a lazy form of starting a chainsaw as it doesn’t require you to bend or kneel down. It may seem like a good idea, especially during a long day on the saw, but the risks really are not worth it.
Additionally, some people may use drop starting as a way to show off or impress others with their chainsaw skills. However, this is a highly unsafe and irresponsible practice that can lead to serious injury or even death.
Simeon Fuchs, a chainsaw expert and enthusiast at The Sound Farmer, says:
The safest and most controlled way to start a chainsaw is to first place it on the ground. Then put the tip of your left foot on the chainsaw handle so your foot is stuck and can’t go anywhere.
With your right hand, get a firm grip on the handle. Put the choke on if the chainsaw is cold and ensure your chain brake is on so the chain doesn’t start spinning once started.
Pull the starter cord until the engine comes to life, which should only take 1 – 3 pulls, switch the choke off, pull the cord again and the engine should start running.
You do not need to know how a chainsaw engine works in order to start one correctly, but following these steps will ensure no accidents occur while starting one.
Dangers Of Drop Starting A Chainsaw
These are some of the dangers of drop-starting a chainsaw:
1. Loss of control
Drop starting a chainsaw can cause the operator to lose control of the saw. The sudden jolt of the engine starting can cause the saw to jump out of the operator’s hands, potentially causing serious injury.
Drop starting increases the risk of chainsaw kickback, which occurs when the saw’s chain hits an object and jumps back toward the operator. Kickback can cause serious injury or even death.
3. Engine damage
Drop starting can cause damage to the saw’s engine, including the starter cord, flywheel, and other internal components. This can lead to costly repairs or the need for a new chainsaw.
4. Lack of safety features
Modern chainsaws are equipped with safety features, such as anti-vibration systems, chain brakes, and throttle interlocks, that are designed to protect the operator from injury. Drop starting can bypass these safety features, increasing the risk of injury.
5. Arm and shoulder injury
The sudden weight that is applied to the arm during a drop start can cause an injury. This may include a muscle strain or tear, dislocation, or fractures in the worst instances.
OSHA Safety Violation
OSHA’s chainsaw starting guidelines state:
Start the saw on the ground or on another firm support. Drop starting is never allowed.
Drop starting a chainsaw is an OSHA violation and goes against the guidance and/or standards of many government health and safety bodies.
In this example of an OSHA violation against a landscaping company, drop-starting a chainsaw was explicitly cited:
ANSI Z133.1-2006, Section 6.3.5:
When starting a chain saw, the operator shall hold the saw firmly in place on the ground or otherwise support the saw in a manner that minimizes movement of the saw when pulling the starter handle. The chain saw shall be started with the chain brake engaged on saws so equipped. Drop-starting a chain saw is prohibited.
Worksafe, the New Zealand health and safety agency, state in their chainsaw guidelines:
WARNING ON DROP-STARTING
Never drop-start a chainsaw. The danger is that it will swing in an arc at the end of the starting cord and cause serious injury, especially to the body or face.
The same goes for the UK, Australia, Germany, and most other countries with a comparable work safety body.
Drop Starting Accidents
Exact injury statistics specifically related to drop starting a chainsaw are not readily available.
However, chainsaw injuries in general are a serious issue, and drop starting is one of the many unsafe practices that can lead to chainsaw-related injuries.
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were an estimated 36,000 chainsaw-related injuries treated in US hospital emergency rooms each year. Of these injuries, approximately 17% are to the head and neck, and 36% are to the hand, fingers, and arms. 40% are to the feet and legs.
The most common causes of chainsaw-related injuries include kickback, loss of control, and operator error. Drop starting a chainsaw increases the risk of all of these hazards and has the potential to cause various types of injuries to the chainsaw operator, bystanders, or property.
These injuries may range from minor cuts, bruises, and abrasions to severe or life-threatening injuries, including:
- Lacerations: Contact with the chainsaw’s spinning chain can cause deep and severe lacerations that may damage muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.
- Burns: The hot engine components or exhaust may cause thermal burns to the operator or bystanders.
- Strain or stress injuries: The sudden drop of the saw can strain, stress, or even dislocate the hand, wrist, and shoulder.
- Fractures: The sudden jolt of drop starting can cause the chainsaw to rebound, leading to wrist or hand fractures.
- Amputations: Severe chainsaw injuries may result in amputations of fingers, hands, or limbs.
Injuries from drop starting a chainsaw can be prevented by following proper safety procedures, using recommended safety equipment such as gloves, safety glasses, and hearing protection, and receiving proper training on how to safely start and operate a chainsaw.
It’s important to note that chainsaw injuries can range from minor cuts and bruises to severe, life-altering injuries. In the worst cases, chainsaw injuries can be fatal.
To prevent chainsaw-related injuries, it’s essential to use proper safety equipment and follow recommended safety practices. This includes avoiding unsafe practices like drop starting a chainsaw, using the appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) such as a helmet, ear and eye protection, wearing gloves, and receiving proper training on the safe use of chainsaws.
How To Safely Start A Chainsaw
There are two recommended ways to safely start a chainsaw.
Simeon from The Sound Farmer shared the first method above, namely, starting the chainsaw on the ground with your foot on the rear handle.
Stihl describes this method in the Stihl MS441 Manual:
With the first recommended method, the chain saw is started on the ground. Make sure the chain brake is engaged and place the chain saw on firm ground or other solid surface in an open area. Maintain good balance and secure footing.
Grip the front handlebar of the saw firmly with your left hand and press down. For saws with a rear handle level with the ground, put the toe of your right foot into the rear handle and press down.
With your right hand pull out the starter grip slowly until you feel a definite resistance and then give it a brisk, strong pull.
The second method is illustrated above.
The chainsaw can be started safely while being gripped tightly between the legs, chainsaw bar facing outwards.
Stihl describes this method:
The second recommended method for starting your chain saw allows you to start the saw without placing it on the ground.
Make sure the chain brake is engaged, grip the front handle of the chain saw firmly with your left hand. Keep your arm on the front handle in a locked (straight) position. Hold the rear handle of the saw tightly between your legs just above the knees. Maintain good balance and secure footing.
Pull the starting grip slowly with your right hand until you feel a definite resistance and then give it a brisk, strong pull.
These methods are almost universally recognized as safe and legal ways to start a chainsaw.
There are aspects of starting, running, and maintaining a chainsaw that are common sense, and then there are other things that need to be taught and learned.
The drop start method can be picked up as a bad habit by beginners and may not initially be recognized as an unsafe chainsaw starting technique. Chainsaw training is an important part of mitigating the negative impacts of poor chainsaw use. Mentorship is also important.
Encourage one another to practice safe chainsaw handling techniques to prevent injury and death both in the workplace and privately.