If you own a chainsaw or are looking to buy one, you have no doubt heard of chainsaw chaps. They are the most common and most recommended piece of chainsaw protective gear–and for good reason! But are chainsaw chaps necessary? Yes, chainsaw chaps are absolutely necessary for operating a chainsaw. They are extremely effective at preventing the most common (and most deadly) chainsaw injuries, and it is incredibly dangerous and unwise to ever operate a chainsaw without wearing them, regardless of your experience level. Accidents happen to the best of us, and so it is crucial we take appropriate steps to protect ourselves against risk. Chaps are an excellent way to do just that.
Chainsaw Chaps Prevent the Most Common Injuries
In 1994, the US product Safety Commission conducted a survey of chainsaw accidents and their subsequent injuries. Below is a diagram of common injuries and their relative frequency from their findings. Notice something?
As you can see, leg and foot injuries are extremely common, and because of the location of the femoral artery, these injuries can easily be fatal. Fortunately, these injuries are easily preventable. While situational awareness and safety-mindedness are always your number one defense against injury while operating a chainsaw, chaps provide excellent protection against potential leg injuries. By simply wearing chaps, you can greatly reduce the risk of about 50% of chainsaw injuries. Who wouldn’t want to protect themselves from that, especially when the consequences of not doing so can be so dire? Responsible chainsaw operators protect themselves from risk to the greatest extent possible. Whether they are loggers, woodlot owners, or homeowners, their families depend on their health and safety.
How Chainsaw Chaps Work
The function of chaps is actually incredibly simple. Inside every pair are thousands of strong Kevlar fibers. In the unfortunate event a running chainsaw comes in contact with the chaps and cuts through its outer layer, the Kevlar fibers (which are not severed by the saw) get caught in the chain and bind up the saw, bringing the chain to a quick halt. This happens incredibly quickly and prevents the chainsaw from cutting any further. A proper pair of chaps should stop a saw entirely, completely protecting the skin underneath. But don’t just take my word for it, watch this demonstration below:
As you can see, the chaps were 100% successful in protecting the log beneath them. However, even with chaps, one should not depend on this outcome. As stated previously, your first line of defense is your own safety-mindedness. Don’t let safety gear weaken that frontline!
The Types of Chainsaw Chaps
Luckily, there are today several different types of chainsaw chaps on the market to choose from. Here are the three main types:
Apron chaps are the cheapest and most popular type of chaps around. They attach around the waist and have protective material that lays across the front of the legs. By doing so, they offer protection to the most vulnerable part of the legs but also leave the back of the legs open and well-vented, which is great for working in the hot days of summer. However, this style of chaps does reduce the amount of protection to the calves, which can lead to injury in the right situation.
Much like apron chaps, wrap-around chaps attach like a belt from the waist and hang over the front of the legs. However, they also wrap around the back of the leg and provide much-needed protection to the calves. This is personally my preferred style, not only because of the extra protection, but because I live in Maine, and they offer a great deal of warmth when logging on a cold winter’s day. Conversely, their greatest downside is the lack of proper ventilation. For sawyers working in warmer climates, they can get stuffy! In fact, they can be so hot, that the chaps can themselves be a safety hazard in the form of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Do you live in a hot climate but also want the protection of wrap-around chaps? Don’t worry, there are chaps for that! Well, sort of. There are full chainsaw pants on the market made of breathable fabrics and vents. They offer the same protection of wrap-around chaps with more flexibility and breathability, which is great for arborists and those working on hot summer days. Unfortunately, their increased comfort does come at a much steeper price tag, so that should be considered.
Choose a Pair of Chaps That Work for You
Regardless of what style you decide to buy, the most important consideration is what will work for you. They must fit well and be comfortable. If they don’t fit, you won’t get the full protection, and, like all safety equipment, if they aren’t comfortable, you aren’t as likely to wear them every single time you pull that chainsaw cord. Take your time to examine your options and choose the best pair for you, your size, and your unique situation.
What Are the Safety Standards for Chainsaw Chaps?
The two main standards for chainsaw chaps are the North American ASTM F1897 and the European EN381. When buying a pair of chaps, be sure to buy a pair with one of these standards. If you are curious about what each standard entails, a great guide can be found here.
Chaps Must Be Replaced Periodically to Remain Effective
Do you have an old pair of chap that are dirty, oil stained, sun-faded, and full of small holes? I have bad news for you: those chaps won’t protect you. A 1996 study found that after six months of heavy, full-time use, chaps fail standards tests 50% of the time. This does not mean you need to replace your chaps after six months, as this study was looking at use by loggers in incredibly harsh conditions. It does mean, however, that you do need to occasionally inspect your chaps for damage and replace as necessary. If your pair matches my earlier description, you should treat yourself to a fresh pair.
To Be Safe, You Need More Than Chaps.
Chaps only protect your legs, but as the diagram of chainsaw accident frequency suggests, there is also a great number of injuries to the foot. For this reason, chainsaw operators would be wise to invest in Kevlar chainsaw boots. These boots have a layer of Kevlar similar to chaps that can bind up a chain in the event of contact. In tandem with a steel toe, these boot can really save you grief.
And of course, one needs to worry about more than the chain. Debris thrown up from the chain can cause injury to eyes, and the loud noise of the engine can damage your hearing over time. These threats require proper eye protection and ear protection, respectively.
We at The Timberland Investor have assembled a guide to chainsaw gear and equipment. I suggest you give it a read to familiarize yourself with other important pieces of equipment to keep you safe.
Chainsaw Injuries Are No Joke
Chainsaw cuts aren’t like knife cuts. That’s because chainsaws don’t cut at all: They dig, shave, and rip. Thus, chainsaw injuries are nasty, nasty business. You should never chance it.
When I worked in the woods as a forester, I was fortunate enough to work with old-time, multi-generational loggers who told me some of the most fascinating stories about their lives, their businesses, and the lives of their parents and grandparents. One such man had been a logger so long, he told me stories of the last of the horse loggers. During those days, chainsaws were still a new technology. The industry wasn’t as safety-conscious as it is today, and they didn’t have chainsaw chaps or other pieces of safety equipment to protect them. Many of those stories he told me–too many of them–were gruesome and tragic. I am personally thankful we have the safety technology we have today for the sake of woods workers everywhere, and I never take it for granted. You shouldn’t either. Always wear your chaps!