To Start
By Tim Ard, Forest Applications Training, Inc.

New operators and seasoned professionals all begin the chain sawing process the same way... they pull the starter cord. Smile!  Interestingly though - do they do it the same way?

Everyone knows the chainsaw and many other two-cycle powered engines; all start by pulling on a starter rope and handle. You simply turn the power switch on and pull the rope right?

I've noticed a few things in my training workshops that make a big difference in the results of the pull.

Familiarize yourself with the switches.
Every chainsaw has controls. Operators must familiarize themselves with the controls of the saw brand and even sometimes between models. There are three settings that are on all units, but many times there are two or three ways they design them.

Look for the on/off switch or switch position. You need to know where the specific switch position is located to quickly turn the saw off, to stop the engine. Make sure you check its position before you start to pull the rope. The saw will not start with the switch off. You are saying... Duh, right? Well I can't tell you how many times I have had to tell operators TRYING to start the saw to turn on the switch. Honestly, I've caught myself once... :)

Saws have a fast idle button or a position of the controls that hold the trigger slightly depressed. This opens the carburetor airflow just a bit to make it a little easier to start a cold or a flooded engine. Yes, it does the same thing as holding down the throttle when pulling a rope during an air start. It's possible with this fast idle feature to eliminate a lot of problem starts.

One often overused, but very necessary when the engine is cool, is the choke lever or choke position. This feature closes the flow of air a bit through the carburetor and causes the intake stroke of the piston to pull in a little more fuel. A cold or cool saw needs to be choked but a warm one... Don't choke it.

If you pull a couple times on the starter rope with the choke on a warm saw, you have flooded it, probably requiring many pulls to clean the rich condition and start the engine.

Make sure you have fresh, properly mixed fuel in the tank.
Petrol loses its poof. Gasoline kept too long in a container or saw tank will lose some of its volatility and simply won't go bang properly in the combustion area. Gasoline you have mixed with oil (fuel) for your chainsaw, will sit and separate. This can be very detrimental to your engine parts requiring lubrication. Ethanol fuel will also collect moisture from the air and cause multiple problems with your saws health. I recommend mixing your fuel in the amount you plan to use within a couple weeks and buy gas with as little or no ethanol at the highest octane rating you can pump. Pre-mixed, stabilized, canned two-cycle fuel is a very good way to go! Fresh Mixed Fuel is an important issue with your starting.

Position the saw for stable starting.
I know I'm going to get a lot of you saying I'm not real world and mamby pamby when I say this but here it is…. Grabbing a chainsaw with one hand, the starter rope in the other and slinging a ten-pound or more chainsaw outward, downward or whatever direction you sling it as a safe and stable starting position is WRONG. It not only causes excessive rope wear and starter damage, it is not a safe practice.

I have started small engines and handheld tools for over 35 yrs. and I have done it without dropping or air starting. There are thousands of others who start without the drop!

Place the saw on the ground if possible. Make sure though to hold the front handle down and your foot in the rear handle, or your knee on the rear handle, to stabilize the saw before you pull the rope. I feel that's the reason many operators drop start. The bending and pulling is tough sometimes.

A very controlled alternative is the clamp start method. Chain brake on, set controls, clamp the rear handle between your knees and hold the front handle with your left hand, reach through and grab the starter grip with your right hand and pull the rope. You can see illustrations and videos on our website. This is one of the best-controlled and safe ways to start a chainsaw in my opinion.

Pulling too much.
If you pull a chainsaw or other small engine rope more than 7 to 10 pulls and it's not running, something's wrong! Go back and check controls, fuel, etc., don't just keep pulling….

Starting with the chain brake engaged.
I've heard all kinds of opinions but the best one I am of aware of is why not? Engaging the chain brake reduces the chance of the chain spinning at start up and you lose control of it and an accident occurs. Yes, the start may be at fast idle and the clutch will heat up quickly, but if you recognize that, you can just twitch the throttle and the saw should idle down and the clutch will disengage. The pros greatly out weight the cons of this technique.

Wear your PPE
Stop! Don't pull the rope until your Personal Protective Equipment is in place. Don't take the chance that you are without accident potential. Anyone can miss something in his or her plan or an outside influence can take place and you will experience a 100% of the consequences. PPE can lessen injury severity potential greatly.

Read your operator's manual.
Read, familiarize yourself and review often the material and information your equipment manufacturer has supplied to you. They do this for a reason- Your Satisfaction and Safety.

Good Sawing!


Tim Ard is President and Lead Instructor of Forest Applications Training, Inc. For more information on our training and services visit or email

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