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I am evaluating some cut-retardant gloves for use with a chainsaw. At first the idea of protecting my hands appealed to me, but later I couldn't really justify to myself why that purchase would make sense if the rest of my torso was unprotected.

I'd like to know if there is a rationale for spending money to protect your hands before spending money to protect the rest of your torso, including arms. It seems like your hands are actually not that likely to be hit by the chainsaw's blade. It's kind of hard for me to visualize how that would even happen, or at least happen at a frequency that is much higher than the frequency of another part of my torso being hit.

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I think the rationale for protecting any part of your body is just that--to protect a part of your body. If you aren't protecting the rest of your body, don't ask if you should buy gloves, ask if you should ALSO buy protection for other parts of the body. (the answer is, btw: yes, of course you should! :) ) –  DA01 Apr 7 at 3:58
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I think you're right. I modified the wording to more clearly articulate that this question is about the prioritization of protection, and not simply a question of whether you should protect your hands or not. –  Anonymous Apr 7 at 5:00
    
I have lots of trees in my yard and it was customary to see me walking around 3-4 times a year like I was in a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Between upkeep, chain issues, getting the thing started, and then the safety factor I decided to move to a nice axe about 3 years ago. I am not sure it saves me time but I don't think it costs me a ton either and I feel much safer. Only issue with using an axe to cut everything is I cannot really trim high branches. –  DMoore Apr 7 at 16:22
    
I think the rule of thumb is to not use a chainsaw at any height above your shoulders. For those jobs I'm guessing they would recommend a pole saw, of which I know little about. –  Anonymous Apr 7 at 20:46

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

A diagram put out by the US Product Safety Comission shows that the left leg and left arm/hand are the most commonly parts of the body injured by chainsaws:

enter image description here

(Source: OSHA Web site)

If the dots on the diagram represent frequency of injury, protecting the left hand would help prevent a common source of injury.

The State Compensation Insurance Fund website also states that "The most frequent chainsaw injuries occur to the left leg and the back of the left hand."

The diagram on the OSHA site dates back to 1994, so it's not clear if modern safety features like chain brakes have changed the distribution of injuries.

Note that the STIHL Cut-Retardant Gloves referenced by the asker of this question only provide cut protective material on the left glove: "Engtex®, a cut-retardant material, is sewn into the back of the left glove", so Stihl too has identified this as a particularly vulnerable part of the body.

To be honest, from personal experience, I'm unsure why the back of the left hand is so frequently injured, it must be because that hand can slip off the grab-bar when the chainsaw kicks back and the hand slides into the moving chain.

Since I was curious whether or not the current injury distribution matched the 1994 statistics, I did a little more research and found a CPSC query tool that gives access to their injury data.

When running this tool against their 2012 data, it reported that the CPSC estimates that there were 30,509 chainsaw injuries, and they had detailed data for 635 cases. I downloaded the detailed case data and counted up the number of hand, wrist and finger injuries:

Hand:   54  injuries (8.5% of total)
Wrist:  15  injuries (2.4% of total)
Finger: 123 injuries (19% of total)

They also provide limited details of each accident, here is limited descriptive data for a random 15 hand injuries:

  • 59YOM USING A CHAIN SAW TO CUT BRANCHES CHAIN KICKED ..LAC TO HAND
  • 40YOM-HAND LAC-GOT CUT WHILE USING A GRINDER TO SHARPEN A CHAIN SAW CHAIN-@ HOME
  • PT'S FRIEND WAS TRIMMING BUSHES WITH A CHAIN SAW AND PT'S HAND GOT IN THE WAY. LACERATION HAND, RIGHT. 54 YOM*
  • CUT HAND ON CHAIN SAW. LACERATION HAND, COMPLICATED. 44 YOM*
  • 59YOM CUT HAND WITH CHAIN SAW/ RT HAND LAC
  • 43YOM THAT WAS HELPING A FRIEND CUT DOWN A TREE WHEN HE WAS HIT IN THE RT HAND WITH A CHAINSAW. DX: RT HAND LACERATION
  • 17YOWM WHILE HOLDING CHAINSAW IT SUDDENLY FLIPPED & JERKED HIS HAND VIA A ROTATIONAL FORCE. DX: SPRAIN R HAND
  • 32 YOM CUT HAND ON A CHAIN SAW AT FRIENDS HOUSE DX/ LEFT HAND LAC
  • 46YM CUTTING WOOD WITH CHAIN SAW THAT KICKED BACK CUTTING HAND >>LAC
  • 88YOM HELPING SON CUT A TREE, PATIENT WAS HOLDING TREE LIMB, CHAIN SAW ACCIDENTALLY CUT HIS HAND . DX. LAC. HAND.
  • 57YM CUTTING A TREE WITH CHAIN SAW WHICH KICKED BACK CUTTING HAND >>LAC
  • 54YOM WITH LAC TO HAND FROM A CHAIN SAW
  • 49YOM CUT HAND WHILE USING CHAIN SAW DX: HAND LACERATION
  • 49YMC CUTTING A TREE WITH CHAINSAW KICKED BACK FELL CUTTING PALM ON CHAINSAW/LACERATION
  • 17YOM LACERATION TO HAND CUT WHEN THE CHAIN SAW HE WAS USING SLIPPED CATCHING HIS GLOVE

Based on this data, it does appear that kickback is a significant factor in hand injuries -- I didn't look at all of the records, but looks like kickback is cited around half the time for hand injuries.

When looking at finger injuries, kickback doesn't appear to be listed as a cause as often:

  • 41 YO M PT WAS USING A CHAIN SAW AND CUT THE TIP OF HIS LT MIDDLE FINGE
  • 35 YOM INJURED FINGER WITH CHAIN SAW. DX-LACERATION RIGHT INDEX
  • 20YOM CUT THUMB ON CHAINSAW/ LT THUMB LAC WITH TENDON INVOLVEMENT
  • FINGER LAC, 37 YOM CUT FINGER WHEN USING A CHAINSAW
  • 41 YOM LACERATED LEFT THUMB ON A CHAIN SAW
  • 49YOM CUT HIS HAND ON CHAINSAW. +ETOH/LAC FINGERS
  • 38YOM CUT FINGER WHILE USING CHAIN SAW DX: FINGER LACERATION
  • 44 YOM SUS LAC TO FINGER, ACCIDENTALLY SLID CHAIN SAW OVER FINGER
  • LT THUMB LAC.34YOM LACERATED THUMB ON A CHAIN SAW.
  • 30 YOM SUS LAC TO FINGER, HIT IT AGAINST JAGGED PORTION OF CHAIN SAW
  • 71 Y/O MALE CUT FINGER WITH CHAINSAW AT HOME
  • 55YOM CUTTING SOME BRANCHES USING A CHAIN SAW INJURED LT FINGER;
  • 58 YOM W / LACERATION TO RT 3RD FINGER S/P WAS HELPING SISTER CLEAR UP
  • 55YOM PT CUT L INDEX FINGR W/ CHAINSAW AT HOME. WAS NOT WEARING WORK
  • 45YOM LACERATION TO THUMB CUT WHEN CHAIN SAW HE WAS USING SLIPPED

For comparison, I looked at the distribution of injuries for 1997 (the earliest date they provide downloadable case data for), and the distribution is similar:

Hand:   57  injuries (10% of total)
Wrist:  9  injuries (1.6% of total)
Finger: 145 injuries (25% of total)

I'm not sure what conclusion to make from the data -- if the gloves provide protection for the hands and fingers, they appear to be a good investment and will protect you from a common source of injury. If they are only effective for hand/wrist injuries, those injuries only account for around 10% of all reported chainsaw injuries, so there may be less value in the gloves.

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I wonder too what the statistics currently are. I have never experienced a kickback that has made me lose my grip. I guess that's why I was suspicious whether the hands were even that vulnerable. If you were to lose your grip during a kickback, I can see the left hand being at risk. –  Anonymous Apr 7 at 5:05
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I too was curious, so I dug a little deeper and added a lot more data to my answer - the hands + wrists + fingers account for around 30% of the reported injuries, so it looks like they are at significant risk. Whether or not the gloves provide adequate protection for the fingers is another question... –  Johnny Apr 7 at 6:42
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It looks like many of the people who got hurt in the hand were assisting not actually using the chainsaw...so if you get the gloves maybe get a pair for your assistant as well! –  Grant Apr 7 at 20:49
    
Any scenario where you can get hit with someone else's chainsaw seems inherently unsafe. I'm guessing gloves aren't the answer there, although obviously I'm not an expert. –  Anonymous Apr 8 at 6:14
    
I realized an important point that probably ought to be made is that if the gloves make it more likely you will lose your grip on the chainsaw, that could easily offset the protective benefit they provide. I can see it even being a net negative. –  Anonymous Apr 9 at 18:49

No. Chainsaw chaps and a hardhat (and ear and eye protection) make sense when using a chainsaw. Your hands are generally on the saw, even when things go wrong. The hardhat and chaps (leg protection) protect the areas that are most often involved in the saw cutting the operator. Given what I know about how chainsaw chaps work, I doubt any gloves you could actually work in would have a significant effect .vs. a chainsaw (the chaps have a sufficient bulk of kevlar that the saw ends up getting stalled by the fibers jamming in it, rather than by it "resisting being cut.")

Note that these things only work if you make a habit of using them EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU USE THE SAW. If you find yourself choosing not to, contemplate the time efficiency of a trip to the emergency room until it does not seem like too much bother to put them on, even if you are only cutting one limb.

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Agreed -- protect the rest of your body before you protect the hands -- if both hands aren't on the chainsaw while you're operating it, you're already doing it wrong. My brother got a serious cut on his arm when the chainsaw kicked back and hit him in the upper arm -- took more than 60 stitches to close it, fortunately it was just a flesh wound that didn't hit tendons or bone. –  Johnny Apr 6 at 21:00
    
Agreed. Another way the chaps help is that often they are bright coloured, so you are more likely to see your legs in the path of the blade. Gloves are just helpful for dealing with the branches and the chips that are thrown from the saw –  Steven Apr 6 at 21:59
    
This answer is basically what I was thinking myself. Still, tool companies appear to be marketing these gloves. In just one example, STIHL shows someone wearing them while the rest of their arms appear unprotected. STIHL Cut-Retardant Gloves –  Anonymous Apr 6 at 22:20
    
After a bit of research, it appears that the hands (or at least the left hand) is at particular risk of injury, thus it is probably worth using protective gloves. I added my research as an answer. –  Johnny Apr 6 at 22:52

funny, but the examples show also that when a hand was cut, it was very often not the chain operator, but somebody helping !

So for your specific question regarding gloves, i would think it is not that useful preventing YOU from being cut at all, but more to prevent you from debri and getting splinters when actually doing the job itself, cutting down trees or whatever.

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