How to Prevent Saw Kickback

First, let’s talk about what causes circular saw kickback and chainsaw kickback so you’ll better understand how to prevent being injured by it.


What Causes Kickback

Chainsaw kickback and circular saw kickback can occur whenever your chain or blade stops suddenly – that is, whenever it jams or binds up in the cut or hits a foreign object.

That’s because saw chains and blades build up tremendous amounts of kinetic energy during cutting. When they stop suddenly, that energy has to go somewhere. With mounted or table saws, this energy kicks the material being cut back toward the operator. With chainsaws and circular saws, the saw kicks back, causing the blade, chain, or saw to strike the operator or, alternately, causing the operator to lose control of the saw and drop it on his legs or feet.

No matter how it happens, though, chainsaw kickback, mounted saw kickback, and circular saw kickback can all injure and even kill you.


How to Prevent Saw and Chainsaw Kickback Injuries

No matter what kind of saw, blade, or chain that you use, there are at least two ways to reduce your chances of being injured by saw kickback:

  1. Prevent the blade or chain from stopping suddenly while cutting.
  2. Reduce your chances of being struck by the saw, blade, or chain if it does kick back.

There are five factors that you can control here: Saw, Blade or Chain, Material being cut, Operator of the saw and the operator’s cutting Technique.

Disclaimer: The safety tips in this article can help prevent, not eliminate, chainsaw kickback and circular saw kickback. Nothing can completely eliminate all workplace hazards, due to unforeseen events and acts of God.


Saw

  • Make sure mounted and table saws are placed on firm, flat, stable surfaces. Make sure conveyor surfaces are clear of debris that could cause the material to slip or pinch the blade.
  • Don’t use a chainsaw or circular saw that’s too heavy for you to control.
  • Don’t try to defeat, remove, or tie back the blade guard or to pull the guard back beyond its limits.
  • Don’t cut with the upper front quadrant of your chainsaw’s chain or circular saw’s blade. In fact, don’t let this quadrant touch anything while running.
  • Set the blade guard so that it prevents you from cutting with the upper front quadrant of the blade.
  • If your saw has moving blade guards, make sure that they return to their normal positions quickly after cuts. If they move slowly or don’t move at all, get them fixed before you use the saw.
  • Operate the saw and blade at the manufacturer’s recommended speed – never above.
  • Make sure the blade is properly supported on the shaft and that the blade washers or flanges are properly assembled before cutting.
  • Set the blade or chain depth to no greater than 1/8″ to 1/4″ more than the thickness of the material that you’re cutting. This will help prevent the blade from contacting the floor or other foreign objects during cuts.


Blade or Chain

  • Maintain your blade and inspect it before cutting. Make sure it isn’t warped, damaged, or broken, and make sure it doesn’t wobble or have abrasive material on the sides. If it is or does, throw it out and replace it with a new blade.
  • Keep your blade or chain sharp. Dull blades and chains are more likely to bind up in cuts.
  • Make sure your blade or chain is the correct size for your saw.
  • Make sure your blade or chain is appropriate for the material that you’re cutting and the type of cut that you’re making (i. e. don’t use a ripping blade for crosscuts in wood).
  • Try not to use tooth blades, which can increase the risk of kickback. If you must use a tooth blade, then make sure that it has sufficient “tooth set” – that is, enough space between the sides of the blade and the material being cut – to prevent binding.
  • Make sure your blade has the proper arbor hole for your circular saw. This helps prevent slipping and wobbling during cuts.
  • Keep your blade clean. Pitch, sap, and other materials increase both the thickness of your blade and friction in your cut, both of which increase chances of binding.
  • Never allow the blade to overheat.


Operator

  • Wear all appropriate personal protective equipment while cutting.
  • Make sure that you’re trained in proper cutting techniques and safety precautions, as well as in how to hold and use your chainsaw or circular saw.
  • Be aware of all hazards before and during your cut.
  • Make sure everyone assisting you is properly trained and instructed in how to assist you.
  • Make sure you have sufficient room to make your cut. If you have to, establish a safe zone and keep others away from you while you cut.
  • Maintain your balance and footing at all times. Hold circular saws and chainsaws firmly and with both hands. Avoid overreaching and sawing in awkward positions or above your shoulders. These actions prevent both you and the saw from slipping.
  • Don’t stand directly behind the saw or the material being cut. This reduces your chances of being struck by the saw if it does kick back.
  • Don’t use circular saws or chainsaws on ladders or stepstools. If you must do elevated cutting, mount the saw on guide tracks.
  • Make sure you’re well-rested before you start cutting. Avoid long-term, repetitive cutting, especially with circular saws and chainsaws. If you cut when tired, you’ll stand closer to the saw, which will increase your chances of being struck if it kicks back.


Material

  • Whenever possible, use wedges or spreaders to keep the material from pinching your blade or chain.
  • Support the material so that it doesn’t sag while being cut. Sagging material can pinch your blade or chain.
  • Avoid cutting small pieces that can’t be properly supported.
  • When using a handheld saw, avoid cutting material on which you can’t properly rest the saw shoe.
  • Make sure the material doesn’t roll, slip, or vibrate during cutting.
  • Make sure the material doesn’t touch your blade in its upper quadrant.
  • Leave sufficient clearance for the material being cut.


Technique

  • Be careful.
  • Allow the saw to reach full speed before starting your cut.
  • Don’t lean into the cut. Leaning puts you closer to your chainsaw or circular saw and increases your chances of being struck if it kicks back.
  • Don’t make off-center or crooked cuts. Cut only in straight lines. If your saw has a guide or fence, use it.
  • Don’t twist or push your blade or chain in the cut.
  • When using a handheld saw, put the saw shoe on the clamped and supported portion of the material and allow the cut-off piece to fall away.
  • Be especially careful when cutting pitchy, knotted, or warped wood, or when cutting material with embedded foreign objects like reinforced concrete.
  • When re-entering a cut, align your blade or chain and then carefully ease it in. Re-entering a cut roughly or quickly can bind up the blade.
  • Ease up near the end of the cut. If you do, you’ll be less likely to hit the floor or other foreign objects when your blade or chain cuts through your material.
  • Don’t remove your blade or chain from the cut until it comes to a complete stop.
  • Take your finger off the trigger or power switch if your blade or chain binds up, if the saw stalls, or if power is interrupted.
  • Take your finger off the trigger or power switch after making a partial cut.
  • Don’t use the saw to pry or push material out of the way, especially when the blade or chain is running.


Citations

“How to properly use a Circular Saw and prevent kick back – The Tool Guru.” How to properly use a Circular Saw and prevent kick back – The Tool Guru. The Tool Guru, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012..

“Masonry and Concrete Saws.” Masonry and Concrete Saws. State Compensation Insurance Fund, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

“Safe use of hand-held cutting saws.” Safe use of hand-held cutting saws. WorkCover Authority of New South Wales, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.

“Woodworking ETool: Production Handheld Circular Saws.” Woodworking ETool: Production Handheld Circular Saws. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2012. 

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