I think we all know that every career comes with its benefits and struggles. Creating sculptures with chainsaws is no different! I’ve found it’s important to be intentional about taking care of my health as a carver. This is for both my immediate wellbeing and comfort, but also for longevity. A couple of recent health-related events have made me even more aware of this recently, so I thought I would use this blog to share some practices I use that can help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver
Manual Handling & Back Health
Good manual handling practice is SO important! Everything from the tools to the wood itself can be heavy and it can take its toll on the body. My advice is to mechanise lifting things where possible. It’s also good to use an adjustable work bench to lift sculptures up to waist height when you’re working. This means you aren’t bending at the waist and relieves the strain on your back.
If you can’t lift the sculpture, there are ways of taking the weight off the chainsaw. I’ve found tool balancers are a great way to do this and setting them up is relatively cheap. Just make sure you get one that supports the weight of your tools!
PPE for Chainsaw Carving
I’ve talked about PPE before in this blog about basic chainsaw carving kit. I also talk about it in this health and safety blog, and touch on it on social media. So basically, you’ve probably heard my thoughts on this before.! However, wearing the right PPE is one of the key practices to help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver, so I’m sharing again!
First off, there are standards that list some basic PPE for using chainsaws. Please don’t use a chainsaw without being kitted out in everything on that list which you’ll find at https://www.hse.gov.uk/treework/safety-topics/chainppe.htm. But let’s chat about some of the individual elements…
It’s worth noting that the minimum PPE won’t help your breathing. A well-fitting face mask or powered respirator is essential when creating fine dust with sanders. The drier the wood, the finer the dust which means your mask needs a good filter that is properly cleaned/replaced. Most wood dust can be carcinogenic so I can’t emphasise enough how important this is. You’ll see me in a couple of different masks, but I do love the JSP Powercap.
Eye protection comes in various forms from built in protection with powered respirators like the JSP power cap (above), to safety glasses that just stop larger particles. Ultimately choosing eye protection is a very personal decision but it’s worth noting that lone-standing glasses can fall off more easily than goggles or protection that’s built into another item.
In addition, fine dust can really dry the eyes out! Fellow carvers, I’m sure you agree? If you wear contact lenses then it’s important to flush the eyes with eye drops or rinse your lenses at the end of a day so there’s no irritation or even permanent damage to your eyes.
Ear Defenders are also an essential. And, as with all equipment, it needs to be well maintained if it’s going to be effective. In the case of ear protection, changing the hygiene kits often will help the ear defenders maintain a proper seal around the ears. I tend to use Stihl ear defenders, and especially love the ProCOM for many reasons you can read about in my blog: Six Reasons I Use the Stihl ProCOM.
There’s a bit of debate about the usefulness of wearing gloves while using a chainsaw. Largely this is because the protection you get from standard gloves obviously won’t stop a chainsaw if it’s applied directly. Insert grimace here at that thought!!!
However, wearing gloves is not just about injury caused by a blade. The protection gloves offer for the back of the hand helps in the case of a chain derailing or breaking. When that happens, it can flip around with the possibility of striking the hand.
Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome
There’s another reason to wear gloves though too.
For me, an extremely compelling reason to wear gloves is preventing the onset of white finger or HAVS (hand arm vibration syndrome).
In case you have never heard of HAVS, it’s basically a collection of sensory, vascular, and musculoskeletal symptoms caused by repetitive trauma from vibration. Sadly, once the damage is done, it’s permanent. However, you CAN prevent that damage, and that’s where gloves come in.
The best way of preventing long term vibration damage to nerve endings is simply by maintaining circulation in the fingers. That’s much more difficult during cold weather, especially when working outside with exposure to wind and rain! I actually use different gloves throughout the year depending on the temperature. Thinner gloves during the summer mean more comfort and added grip. Thicker gloves during the winter keep the hands warm, with the added bonus of heated handles on some models of chainsaw!
Good Maintenance as a Practice for Staying Healthy as a Chainsaw Carver
Good maintenance of both tools and PPE is another key practice to help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver. I’ve written before about maintaining chainsaw bars, and will write more about chainsaws in future. Bringing it back to PPE though, Kevlar can become brittle over time (and with washing!) and won’t work as well. My advice it to keep an eye on it and replace when needed. Look after your trousers and boots too and follow any manufacturer instructions for washing, cleaning and storage to keep them effective as long as possible.
Internal Health: Food & Drink
There are a few practices related to ‘internal health’ to help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver too.
It’s very easy to get wrapped up when carving (especially if you’re settled up some scaffolding) and on a roll. It’s important though to remember to hydrate and keep an eye on blood sugar levels. Both of these are important for long-term health, but even in the short term, low blood sugar and machinery is not a good mix! Even if you didn’t pass out, low blood sugar affects energy and concentration and that’s when accidents can happen. There’s a reason that diabetics have to check their blood sugar levels before driving or using machinery! And let’s face it, it’s not exactly a hardship to take a break for some biscuits from time to time!
Staying Healthy as a Chainsaw Carver: Muscles & Cramp
It’s probably fairly obvious that – as with any physical work – carving large sculptures takes its toll on the muscles. Stretching after a heavy session will help ease muscles and there are some good videos online if you need guidance.
If you suffer from cramp easily then I’d recommend increasing salt intake and potassium too (tomatoes, bananas etc) to help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver.
Staying Healthy as a Chainsaw Carver – Weatherproofing!
Extreme cold and wet can be hard to manage so it’s important that you wear the right clothing. Wind proof, water proof, breathable, vented – whatever you need for any weather, it’s available!
But sensible clothing choice is not limited to when you’re actually carving. Sitting in wet clothing afterwards is not just unpleasant but can lead to being unwell. So, it’s very basic advice, but I always pack extra clothes and change out of wet things before driving home and recommend you do the same.
Protecting Your Mental Health as a Chainsaw Carver
Taking care of your mental health as an artist is something that could fill a whole blog in itself. And I will! Watch this space!
For now, though here are a couple of brief tips I’ve found helpful for taking care of my mental health as an artist:
- Avoid prolonged sessions on social media. Personally, I find Facebook in particular can be a very toxic environment!
- Try to be content with creating for your own approval of yourself, rather than the approval of others – customers aside, of course!
- Don’t be too hard on yourself if things are going well or don’t look as you hoped. Mistakes are part of improving!
Being self employed, I can easily feel I need to fill every minute with work. Learning when to rest and when to work is an ongoing learning process, but it’s also really important practice for staying healthy. Please schedule rest!
Final Thoughts on Staying Healthy as a Chainsaw Carver
It’s been a lengthy blog, but I hope it’s also been a helpful one. In the interest of honesty, I do just want to say here that I’ve ignored most of these practices at one time or another in my career. So I’m on this journey of learning how to look after my health as much as anyone else.
Fellow artists, what would you add to this list of practices to help you stay healthy as a chainsaw carver? Drop a comment and let me know!