LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Chain saws can be hazardous for experienced woodsmen and inexperienced homeowners as they cut limbs and fell trees, says Gary Huitink, agricultural engineer and safety expert with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

"Although everyone has a great deal of respect for the harm a chain saw can potentially cause, experience may lull you into becoming too comfortable," Huitink said.

A review of logging and wood-cutting accidents in Arkansas over the last 11 years indicates that chain saw users can momentarily let down their guard and suffer injury.

"If you are cutting firewood or clearing damage from a storm, remember that errors in using a chain saw were fatal to a number of Arkansans during the most recent decade," Huitink said.

One of the most common accidents with chain saws is the kickback caused when the blade hits an obstruction. To avoid chain saw kickbacks, follow these steps:

o Always keep a sharp chain on your saw. (You may want to get an extra new chain and have tools with you on the job to replace a dulled chain.)

o Find a good footing and hold your saw firmly with both hands. (This may mean removing a limb close to the ground or sawing down a tree, rather than limbing a tree close to the break caused by ice on the limbs.)

o If you note a narrowing that may pinch the saw, remove the saw immediately.

o Remove your saw at the first indication that the blade could bind.

It's easy to misjudge the momentum of the cut limb or tree, especially in a wind, according to Huitink. If possible, finish the cut from the opposite side. If the saw is pinched, shut off the engine and use a mallet and wedges to open the cut and remove the blade.

"Trees that lean against other trees as they are cut can be deadly," the engineer said. "Seasoned Arkansas woodsmen have been struck by these 'widow-makers.' During the last decade, fewer contractors were working with chain saws in the woods, but this mishap has caused loggers' deaths."

Another danger is spring-back, either from the butts of large trees or preloaded branches, Huitink said.

When cutting a tree or limb, be alert to the potential for it to snap back unexpectedly. The whip of a limb or tree as it is cut, generates enough force to knock you down, pin you or cause you to lose control of your saw, said Huitink.

He said anyone cutting wood should wear a safety helmet and safety goggles to protect your head from blows and your eyes from sawdust and other particles. Ear plugs provide hearing protection; the noise from a gasoline-powered chain saw has potential to damage hearing.

"A natural and healthy fear that keeps the user alert to chain saw kickbacks, 'widow-makers' and other wood-cutting hazards is vital," according to Huitink.

For more information on chain saw safety, contact your county office of the Cooperative Extension Service and ask for the publication, "Chain Saw Safety, FSA1009."

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.