Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Boss (not springsteen)

Third installment of “Woodworking with Harry” Saws of various types.

Examples of two old double buck saws, one from Oregon via Ebay and the other via the second chance shop at the local transfer station $15.00. If nothing else they will be fun to restore and give them a try on some logs up at camp. The other items pictured include an MS290 STIHL Farm Boss and some safety gear.

During our first year, when we had just the small 10x20 cabin and super tiny wood stove, We were able to get by with a “consumer” grade Poulan with I believe a 14” bar. Don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with a small saw and I still have it for lighter work (more on that later) but the point is… that although the small saw functions fine, for hard core work in a situation where you are off-grid/doing much of the log cutting yourself, chances are good you are going to need something bigger. I thought about this during that first winter and decided that the very next spring I would look into getting more of a “Pro/Commercial” saw. Although Husky’s are commonly known as good saws and are available at Lowes/HD I spoke with a few folks who knew more about the subject than I did and everyone pointed to STIHL as the top maker of what they described as an every-day saw. Meaning those who use a saw every day for a living, tend to go with STIHL… That was enough for me so I trusted their opinion and went to visit a local shop. First thing you’ll notice (and I’ll be making comparisons between what I know, the MS290 and a Poulan 14”) is the cost. A factory refurbished Poulan will run you about $99.00 bucks and can be found in catalogs like Northern Tool or at HD/Lowes, whereas a STIHL will be more in the 300-400 range, with the cost going up as the size of the saw goes up. This is not unexpected and in fact if you look on the side of a chain bar for the Consumer saws you will likely see a stamp like mine had that says “for occasional use only”…. STIHL’s have no such stamp and are built accordingly as a true every day working saw. Third up is the size… Knowing that my original saw was only 14” and that I was going to be doing some heavier work I had to make the call to go UP on the bar size…. This is where you have to trust your own skills or gain those skills by working with someone. You would be surprised how different a saw feels in your hand when you go from what you are use to at 14” to an 18”…. First thing that runs through your mind is this thing is a 10 foot monster. Obviously any chain saw can be dangerous you just tend to really notice it more I guess. Side note: One of the reasons I liked the MS290 was because there were options on the bar size. This motor has enough power to go up to a 20” bar if necessary OR you can back off the bar to a 16” if you are not comfortable with such a long bar. As it turns out I was able to use it with the supplied 18” bar. Speaking of POWER… there was immediately a HUGE difference that I noticed. When you fire up the Farm Boss you know that you have a saw in your hand and that is not just because the weight is quite a bit more but with that added weight comes an engine that could power a minibike. It will take some time but you will eventually get use to the rather big difference in weight. Hold the throttle down on this and you will know it. That is a double edge sword though in some cases… having a lot of power will let you cut some wood however it will also allow you to get into trouble very quickly as well. That brings us to some of the safety items. Still working with the saw, it has all the expected safety features that you’d expect but there was another that I didn’t know existed. With this saw you have the option of two chain types.. a low kick (less aggressive) model and a grip it and rip it type chain that is much more aggressive with the wood. I’ve run both and you can tell the difference, but if you are starting out, give yourself all the chances of staying safe and go with the low kick chain first. Next, you will see the hard hat/mesh mask and the chaps. Both are cheap.. I think the chaps were < 50 bucks at Lowes and if you are ever unfortunate enough to touch them with the saw they may save your leg and life. I am not a professional logger or lumberjack and I do not plan on becoming one (even the pro’s have accidents) but since I do not work with chainsaws every day I will do as much as I can to keep from being hurt by one. I don’t think there is a band aid level accident with a chainsaw, so keep yourself safe. Also worth mentioning that the mesh on the helmet and the hearing protection will definitely come in handy with such a large saw. Mesh does not fog up either.

Now, onto the accessories…. Whatever saw you pick for your homestead/Cabin/Ranch/Farm there are a few other accessories that you will want to have with you that may not be obvious. Since most of us are not professional loggers or lumberjacks the chances of getting a saw pinched into a tree or log is pretty high. Spend the extra money and buy an extra bar that matches the chain size you are using as well as a few extra chains. Not if, but when it happens and you end up getting the saw stuck, do not force it and get hurt… shut the saw down and unbolt the bar. Use your extra/spare bar and the extra chain you have to continue or to rescue the one that is stuck. Never a bad idea to have spares. There are a few options for a “Greener” bar/chain oil out there and you will want a couple spark plugs, air filter, pre-mix oil and chain files to go with your saw. Keep a rag, a good set of gloves, extra oil and the pre-mix for gas in a box to travel with you. If you are going to be cutting for an extended period of time, swapping out a chain for a sharp spare is quicker than sharpening the one on the saw, but either can be done during a break.

The only other advice that I could give you other than learn from someone who is a pro. Stop using the saw when it is not cutting properly due to a dull chain. I have seen WAY to many home improvement or just general TV shows that had someone forcing a chainsaw to cut by applying a TON of pressure to the bar or aggressively rocking the saw back and forth.. If nothing else please remember, a properly sharpened chain saw requires almost NO downward force on the bar to cut and if you are forcing a dull chain saw to cut you are dangerously close to a bad accident. As with all other tools a sharp tool is a safer tool and a dull tool is the most dangerous one you have.

So, If you are looking for a saw that will perform when asked and you have the resources I would recommend STIHL… There is nothing wrong with smaller saws and it’s not a contest to see who has the bigger bar, it’s about picking the right tool for the right job, besides if you do outgrow an entry level type saw, you can always keep them like I did for light limbing work when you do not want to lug around the BEAST.

Next Episode is all about Hand saws. New Production Timber Frame Saws, Carpenters saws, Japanese pull saws and specialty saws

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