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Are Pole Saws Dangerous?

So you’re considering investing in a new pole saw – or you want to start using the one you’ve got. They look good in the pictures online and in the store, but now you’ve actually come to use it – are they dangerous?

Pole saws are not dangerous if you follow all the necessary safety precautions and wear the correct protective clothing. The main things to avoid are kickback, falling branches and trying to cut branches at ground level. 

Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail. We’ll consider step-by-step how to cut safely with your pole saw – and also look into essential safety equipment and cutting tips to make your pole saw use far from dangerous and actually fun!

Are Pole Saws Dangerous?

How To Cut Safely With Your Pole Saw

Pole saws can be plain or fancy. They can be powered by you, or with an engine running on gas or electricity. The electrical ones can be corded, or battery powered. Most pole saws extend from 6 to 20 feet.

Manual pole saws have a slightly curved, serrated hacksaw blade. These saws are the lightest and extend the farthest, up to 20 feet. Manual pole saws work very simply. Using a push-pull motion, the blade cuts the wood on the pulling stroke.

Simple, right? Simple, effective and often better for your tree. Unless you are a professional, manual saws can be better for your tree because the cuts are slower, finer and in control. Many manual pole saws have a clipper as well as a saw. The clipper is pulled shut with a long pull cord.

Engine powered pole saws have small chain saws on the far end. The controls to run the chain saw are located near the handles at the near end. This is a very comprehensive guide to pole saws, safety and methods.

If you think an engine-powered pole saw fits your bill, be aware of the dangers. There are no dangers in a manual pole saw. For engine-powered pole saws, and chainsaws, kickback is a real safety issue.

Kickback is the surprising, violent upward motion of the saw when you accidentally touch the teeth of the saw to the branch in the wrong way. Chainsaws and pole saws cut using a chain of saw teeth moving very fast – up to 50 miles per hour. The chain moves in a clockwise direction around a roughly oval shape.

Imagine that the oval has cardinal directions, North, South, East and West. To cut a branch, you use the southern, flat side of the oval. The motion of the teeth moving clockwise cuts the branch.

Kickback happens when you accidentally touch the saw to the branch in the Northeastern, rounded quadrant of the saw. Physical forces will send the blade up, back, and towards you.

Kickback can also happen when you pinch the movement of the chain. Happily, you can avoid kickback with good safety practices and anti-kickback saws. Here’s a good explanation of kickback and how to avoid it.

Things To Do Before You Start

  • Do some research. Read the pole saw instructions and watch some videos.
  • Pick a sunny, calm day after a sunny week. Don’t pole saw when it’s cloudy, drizzly or there are puddles on the ground.
  • Get your shades on. You will be looking up into the sun.
  • If you have a power cord, lay out your cord so it doesn’t get in a tangle around your prize rose bushes or become a tripping hazard.
  • Think through the sequence of branches that need cut. You should start with the outermost and lowermost ones and work closer and closer to the tree trunk.
  • Check the chain oil level.
  • Do a practice run on a small branch.

The Basics of Pole Saw Cutting

These are the basic steps for an engine-powered pole saw.

  • Following the pole saw instructions, lay the saw on the ground and start it. Let it warm up.
  • Lift the saw up to the branch and rest it on the topside of the branch. With the saw resting on the branch, your hands should be comfortably positioned on the saw handles and not more than chest high. If your hands have to be any higher, extend the pole.
  • Position yourself. You should have both hands on the pole saw. You should NOT be directly under the limb, but aside from it. The more vertical the pole saw, the easier it will be to handle. Your feet should be apart and firmly planted.
  • You should feel physically comfortable and in control at this step.
  • Lift the saw off the topside of the branch a little.
  • Engage the chain with the throttle.
  • Then start your cut. Some experts recommend starting with a groove first by tapping the throttle.
  • Keep going, slow and steady, concentrating on the second half so you can slow down and keep your balance when the saw goes all the way through.
  • When the limb is down, stop the chain with the throttle or turn off the saw.
  • Set the saw down. Be mindful that it will be hot to the touch.
  • Put the cut branch into a slash pile out of the way.

Essential Pole Saw Safety Tips

  • Gear up! Consider using PPE – personal protective equipment. You may need a hard hat, goggles, stout gloves, and steel toed boots. At the very least, wear a long-sleeved shirt (more fitted is better than baggy), jeans and heavy gloves. Take off nice jewelry and, for pole-sawers with long hair, tie it back.
  • Map out the overhead hazards, especially the electrical ones.
  • Plan out the job, including exit routes. Try to predict where a limb will fall (and roll) and make sure you have a safe path out of the way.
  • Your kids and their friends should stay well away. If you need to, enlist a helper person to keep them safely corralled, or set up a roped off area. Keep your pets away, too. You don’t need the distraction.
  • If you can’t reach a branch without a step stool or ladder, stop! Call a professional.
  • Try to have a level, non-slippery surface for your feet. If the problem tree is on a significant slope where you will not have secure footing, consider calling a professional.
  • Invest in a safety harness that fits over your shoulders and clips onto the handle end (many pole saws are supplied with this kit already).
  • Cut one branch at a time. Once it’s down, move it to a slash pile away from the tree so it doesn’t become a tripping hazard.
  • Never put too much weight on the saw. If you find yourself bearing down while the saw is slowing down, the branch may be too thick for your saw. By bearing down on the saw, you risk serious overbalancing once the branch falls.
  • Give yourself breaks. Holding a pole saw upright and dragging branches is tiring.
Pole saw safety tips

Are Pole Saws Safer Than Chainsaws?

Both chainsaws and pole saws are very dangerous. They can leave you with serious, life-changing injuries.

Chainsaws are more powerful and heavy than engine-powered pole saws. Chainsaws are counted as one of the most dangerous power tools, mainly due to the risk of kickback.

Engine-powered pole saws don’t have the power of a chainsaw. But they still have a moving chain that can easily hurt you. Pole saws change your center of gravity. You can easily lose your balance – and lose control.

How Thick Can a Pole Saw Cut?

For a manual pole saw, up to 2-inch branches can be cut down. Clippers can cut branches up to 1.5 inches thick.

Engine powered pole saws can cut thicker branches – it depends on the size of the saw head. Saw heads range in length from 8 inches to 12 inches. The maximum branch thickness is around 8 inches with the largest saw head.

Don’t be tempted to use your pole saw for trimming your bushes. Use a trimmer.

How High Can a Pole Saw Cut?

Manual pole saws can extend up to 20 feet. Engine powered pole saws can extend from 6-14 feet.

Can a Pole Saw Cut Down a Tree?

An engine-powered pole saw could easily power through a small tree.

But poles are going to make cutting anything at ground level unwieldy and even dangerous. Consider buying a hacksaw, an axe, or even a chainsaw if you have a lot of trees to chop down.

Final Thoughts

Any engine powered pole saw can be dangerous if you don’t use it properly or wear the appropriate protective clothing. However, if you follow the safety instructions and get kitted out in your PPE properly – there really is nothing to worry about.

The main usage problems with pole saws come from kickback (as with any chainsaw), cutting above your head and larger branches falling on you – or trying to inappropriately cut branches at ground level.

If you follow these simple precautions then you’ll find using your pole saw in the backyard is actually more fun than dangerous. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >