What is Chainsaw Kickback?

Last updated on May 27th, 2023 at 03:34 pm

Chainsaw kickback is a term that frequently comes up when discussing chainsaw safety. This potentially dangerous event occurs when a chainsaw’s cutting chain suddenly stops or is abruptly forced backward, causing the saw to violently jerk in the user’s hands.

Understanding chainsaw kickback and knowing how to prevent it is essential for both novice and experienced users. In this blog post, we will explore what is chainsaw kickback? the causes of chainsaw kickback, discuss safety precautions, and provide tips for reducing the risk of this hazardous occurrence.

Understanding Chainsaw Kickback

Chainsaw kickback occurs when the saw’s cutting chain suddenly stops or is violently forced backward, causing the saw to abruptly and uncontrollably jerk in the user’s hands. This rapid movement can result in the chainsaw striking the operator, potentially causing severe injuries or fatalities. Two primary factors contribute to chainsaw kickback: pinching the bar and contact with the upper tip of the bar.

Pinching the Bar

When cutting with a chainsaw, the wood being cut can sometimes close in and pinch the top part of the chainsaw bar. This pinching action can cause the chain to stop or slow down suddenly, leading to a rapid and uncontrolled motion of the chainsaw.

Contact with the Upper Tip of the Bar

The upper quadrant of the chainsaw bar’s tip is known as the “kickback zone.” When the kickback zone comes into contact with an object while cutting, the chain may come to an abrupt halt or even reverse its direction, causing the saw to kick back towards the user.

Causes of Chainsaw Kickback

There are several factors that can contribute to chainsaw kickback:

Nose Contact

The most common cause of kickback is when the upper tip or nose of the chainsaw bar comes into contact with a solid object while cutting, such as a log, branch, or another part of the tree.

Pinching the Chain

Kickback can also occur when the chain becomes pinched or caught between the wood being cut. This can happen if the tree or branch being cut closes in on the chain, causing it to become stuck and forcing the saw back towards the operator.

Cutting with the Tip

Using the tip of the chainsaw bar to make a cut, rather than the full length of the chain, can increase the risk of kickback. This is because the chain’s rotational force is concentrated at the tip, which makes it more likely to catch and jerk the saw.

Incorrect Chain Tension

A loose or improperly tensioned chain can cause it to catch on the wood or slip off the bar, leading to kickback.

Dull or Damaged Chain

A dull or damaged chain can make it more difficult to control the chainsaw and increases the likelihood of kickback. Regularly inspect and maintain your chain to ensure it is sharp and in good condition.

Improper Body Position

Standing too close to the chainsaw or not holding it with a firm grip can increase the risk of losing control during a kickback.

Incorrect Cutting Techniques

Using improper cutting techniques, such as plunge cuts or ripping, can increase the risk of kickback.

To minimize the risk of chainsaw kickback, it’s important to follow proper safety procedures, maintain your chainsaw, and use the appropriate cutting techniques. Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and be aware of your surroundings while operating a chainsaw.

Types of Chainsaw Kickback

Chainsaw kickback is a dangerous and sudden reaction that can occur during chainsaw operation. It typically happens when the tip of the chainsaw bar comes into contact with an object, causing the saw to jerk violently back towards the operator. This can lead to severe injuries or even fatalities if not handled properly. There are two main types of chainsaw kickback:

Rotational Kickback

Rotational kickback is the most common and dangerous type of chainsaw kickback. It occurs when the upper quadrant of the chainsaw bar’s tip, known as the “kickback zone” or “danger zone,” makes contact with an object like a log or branch. 

When this happens, the chain’s cutting teeth can dig into the object, causing the saw to rotate rapidly upward and backward around the cutting axis in the direction of the operator. This sudden, forceful motion can be difficult to control, and it can result in severe injuries if the operator is not prepared or using proper safety equipment.

To minimize the risk of rotational kickback, follow these safety precautions:

  • Always be aware of the bar’s tip and avoid contact with objects while cutting.
  • Hold the chainsaw firmly with both hands, maintaining a secure grip.
  • Use a chainsaw with a chain brake, which is designed to stop the chain in case of a kickback.
  • Maintain proper body positioning and footing while operating the chainsaw.
  • Keep the chain sharp and well-maintained to prevent it from getting stuck in the material being cut.

Linear Kickback

Linear kickback occurs when the chainsaw’s chain gets pinched or caught in the material being cut, forcing the saw to be pushed straight back towards the operator. This type of kickback is less common and generally less severe than rotational kickback but can still cause injuries if the operator is not prepared.

To minimize the risk of linear kickback, follow these safety precautions:

  • Ensure proper tension on the chain to prevent it from getting stuck or pinched.
  • Use proper cutting techniques and avoid cutting with the bottom of the bar or forcing the saw through the material.
  • Be aware of potential pinch points or obstacles in the cutting path.
  • Keep the chain sharp and well-maintained to allow for smooth and efficient cutting.

By following these safety measures and using proper cutting techniques, you can significantly reduce the risk of chainsaw kickback and ensure a safer working environment.

How to Prepare for Chainsaw Kickback?

Preparing for chainsaw kickback involves understanding the risks, using proper safety equipment, and employing the right cutting techniques. By taking these precautions, you can minimize the chances of kickback and protect yourself in case it occurs. Here are some steps to prepare for chainsaw kickback:

Understand the Risks

Familiarize yourself with the common causes of chainsaw kickback, such as contacting the “kickback zone” or “danger zone” on the tip of the bar, or getting the chain pinched or caught in the material being cut. Being aware of these risks can help you avoid situations that may lead to kickback.

Use a Chainsaw with Safety Features

Choose a chainsaw that has built-in safety features, such as a chain brake and a low-kickback chain. A chain brake can stop the chain instantly when a kickback occurs, while a low-kickback chain has a design that reduces the likelihood of kickback.

Chainsaw with Safety Features

Wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE): Protect yourself by wearing appropriate safety gear, including:

Chainsaw Chaps or Pants

These are made from cut-resistant material and can protect your legs from injury in case of kickback.

Safety Boots with Steel Toes

These provide added protection for your feet and improve your footing while working with a chainsaw.

Gloves with Cut-resistant Material

Gloves can help maintain a secure grip on the chainsaw and protect your hands from injury.

Eye Protection

Safety glasses or goggles can protect your eyes from flying debris or wood chips.

Hearing Protection

Earplugs or earmuffs can help protect your ears from the loud noise generated by the chainsaw.

A Hard Hat or Helmet with a Face Shield

This can protect your head and face from falling objects or debris.

Maintain Proper Body Positioning

While operating the chainsaw, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a stable stance. Hold the chainsaw firmly with both hands, with your left hand on the front handle and your right hand on the rear handle. Keep your left elbow locked and your body slightly to the left of the chainsaw to minimize the impact of a potential kickback.

Use Proper Cutting Techniques

Employ correct cutting methods to reduce the likelihood of kickback. Avoid cutting with the tip of the bar, and be cautious when cutting materials that might pinch the chain. Be mindful of your surroundings and any obstacles that might come in contact with the chainsaw bar while cutting.

Keep the Chainsaw Well-maintained

A well-maintained chainsaw is less likely to experience kickback. Regularly inspect and clean your chainsaw, ensuring that the chain is properly tensioned and sharpened, and that all parts are in good working order.

By following these steps, you can be better prepared for chainsaw kickback and reduce the risk of injury while operating a chainsaw. Always remember to work cautiously and attentively, and never operate a chainsaw when you are fatigued or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Kickback Safety for Beginners

There are several safety factors that can be helpful for beginners for a kickback prevention:

Choose the Right Chainsaw

When purchasing a chainsaw, select a model with safety features designed to reduce the risk of kickback. Look for chainsaws equipped with a chain brake, low-kickback chain, and reduced kickback guide bars. The chain brake is a critical safety feature that stops the chain when the saw experiences a sudden movement, while low-kickback chains and guide bars are designed to minimize the force of kickback.

Proper Maintenance

Regularly inspect and maintain your chainsaw to ensure it remains in good working condition. A well-maintained chainsaw is not only more efficient but also safer to operate. Keep the chain sharp, well-oiled, and correctly tensioned. Replace damaged or worn parts promptly, and ensure the chain brake is functioning properly.

Use Proper Cutting Techniques

Utilizing correct cutting techniques can significantly reduce the risk of chainsaw kickback. Always cut with the lower part of the bar, avoiding contact with the kickback zone. Maintain a firm grip on the saw with both hands, and keep a stable stance. Additionally, avoid cutting with the chainsaw above shoulder height or in awkward positions, as this can increase the likelihood of kickback.

Learn from Experienced Users

If you are new to using chainsaws, consider attending a chainsaw safety course or seeking guidance from an experienced user. Learning the correct techniques and best practices will help reduce the risk of chainsaw kickback and improve your overall safety and efficiency.

Wear Appropriate Safety Gear

Always wear the recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating a chainsaw. This includes safety glasses, hearing protection, gloves, boots with non-slip soles, and protective clothing such as chaps or leggings made from cut-resistant material.


Chainsaw kickback is a dangerous phenomenon that must be taken seriously by all chainsaw operators. Understanding what is chainsaw kickback?, causes of kickback and taking appropriate precautions can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

By selecting the right chainsaw, maintaining your equipment, using proper cutting techniques, learning from experienced users, and wearing suitable safety gear, you can ensure a safer and more efficient chainsaw experience. Remember, safety should always be your top priority when working with powerful tools like chainsaws.

Lastly, we encourage you to keep learning and seeking ways to enhance your chainsaw skills and safety knowledge. Consider attending workshops, seminars, or refresher courses to stay up to date on the best techniques and equipment available. By actively engaging in chainsaw safety education, you not only protect yourself but also contribute to a culture of safety within your community. Stay safe, and happy cutting!

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