Should You Drop Start a Chainsaw?


We have all done it: Drop starting our chainsaw. It is an extremely popular way of starting a saw due to its ease and success rate. But should you really drop start a chainsaw? While drop starting a chainsaw is an easy way of starting a saw, it does come with a few elevated safety risks to the user that you should know of. That said, done properly and cautiously, these risks can be greatly mitigated. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about drop starting and how to do it as safely as possible.

It may not be very safe to drop start a chainsaw, but it is effective.

What is Drop Starting?

Drop starting is the act of starting a chainsaw by a pushing a chainsaw down and away (as if letting it fall) and pulling up on the cord at the same time, using the momentum of the chainsaw’s downward trajectory to crank the engine vigorously. It is a popular method of starting a chainsaw because of it’s effectiveness: The downward momentum greatly enhances the speed and vigor of your pull relative to what you could otherwise do. It can easily start even a cold engine in a single pull.

The Danger of Drop Starting

Despite its effectiveness, drop starting is a risky way of starting a chainsaw, and it should be approached with extreme caution.

Risk of Wounds

If the chain were to start spinning and, lacking proper control, it were to come in contact with your leg or hand, the results would be catastrophic. This is particularly true if you did not follow other safety protocols and were not wearing any chaps. Even if the chain brake were engaged and there was no possibility of chain motion, a chain is still sharp, and every tooth is like a little knife. When off and completely disengaged, a chainsaw is still a tool capable of a large amount of damage.

In my time as a forester, I saw a lot of vehicle accidents on woods roads. In one case in particular, the operator of a truck that had gone off the road was completely unharmed–except for a nasty wound that resulted from an uncovered and unsecured chainsaw sitting in the passengers seat. His injuries were ultimately minor, but he still needed stitches. Don’t be that guy.

Chainsaws should always be respected whether they are on or off. Throwing them around inherently risks bodily injury. Unsurprisingly, most chainsaw injuries are inflicted on the legs and hands–areas put at risk by drop starting.

Most common chainsaw injury locations.

Risk to Joints

It definitely is not the first thing one would think of when assessing the danger of drop starting, but it is still worthy of consideration. As most veteran woods workers know, logging is hard on your body. It is a job that requires a lot of physical labor regardless of whether you are doing it professionally or as part of your personal property maintenance. Over time, small tasks take their toll on your body, and you risk chronic injury.

When you drop start a chainsaw, it is a shoulder-intensive movement. Especially if you are using a heavier, professional saw, you put strain on your shoulder that, over time, can result in shoulder injuries such as bursitis and rotator cuff tears. However, it should be noted that these risks are still present anytime you pull a cord, but a drop start is a less-controlled movement, enhancing the risk.

How to Drop Start as Safely as Possible

All that having been said, drop starting is still an effective and popular way of starting a chainsaw, and I know this article will ultimately do little to deter certain readers. But you are probably an adult, so I’ll let you make your own decisions about the risks you are willing to accept. If you do choose to drop start your chainsaw, here are some guidelines to do it as safely as possible:

  • ALWAYS ensure the chain brake is fully engaged prior to starting. NEVER drop start a chainsaw without a chain brake.
  • ALWAYS grip the chainsaw by the front handle. NEVER hold the chainsaw by the rear when drop starting
  • ALWAYS keep the bar pointed away from your extremities and try to keep the bar parallel to the ground

As stated before, throwing around a chainsaw comes with inherent risk, so these guidelines will only help to reduce that risk, not eliminate it. Use extreme caution.

Alternative Methods of Starting a Chainsaw

For those who want to take the safer route, there are of course alternatives to drop starting.

The first method is to take one foot and place it inside the rear handle of the saw, stepping down firmly while using one hand to firmly grip the front handle and the other hand to pull the cord. This can be difficult to do if you have larger feet, but it is probably the safest and most stable method.

A secondary method is to place one knee over the saw with one hand on the front grip and one hand pulling. In my opinion, it is harder to balance yourself properly with this method, but it is still a safe and effective way of starting a chainsaw.

A third method involves placing the rear handle of your chain saw in between your legs and using one hand to grab on to the front handle while pulling with your other. Personally, I find this works when starting a warm chainsaw but is insufficient for starting a cold saw, as more leverage is needed. For many, however, this is their preferred method.

Use Your Best Judgement and Be Safe

Whether you choose to drop start is up to you. You are responsible for your safety and the amount of risk you are able to tolerate. However, I personally believe safety (not just chainsaw safety, but safety of all forms) is less about your methodology and more about your attitude. Do you respect the saw for the amount of damage it can do? Do you drop start while standing idle or do you do so while walking with the chain brake off? These are both drop starting, but they are clearly not the same. However you decide to start your saw, do so with respect, and be smart about it. Stay safe!

Chainsaw on logs.

Zachary Lowry

A forester from northern Maine, I spent my early career working for large timberland owners, managing forest land and investments in the form of managing timber harvest operations as well as planning and managing precommercial thinning, planting, and herbicide application programs. These days I work on my own land and help timberland owners large and small manage theirs.

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