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One of the most important pieces of safety equipment you can wear when using a chainsaw is chap pants. This is coming from someone who, early in their career, was ignorant of the importance of chaps and managed to cut themselves. Now I won’t use a saw without them. Let’s find out how chaps actually work.
Chainsaw chaps work by jamming the chainsaw with layers of thick Kevlar threads. On impact, the threads jam the saw so quickly that it stops immediately. Because the saw is jammed before it passes through all layers of the chap pants, the user’s leg is protected from harm.
To help you understand things further, I’ll go into a little more detail about how this process actually works, compare some different varieties of chaps, and also give some information on protecting other parts of your body.
How Do Chainsaw Chaps Stop a Saw From Cutting You?
Chainsaw chaps are made from many layers of a Kevlar-like material. This material is made up of many long fibrous threads. Layer upon layer of this material forms a protective cushioning around the user’s leg, protecting them from a chainsaw. Covering this Kevlar material is a regular mesh or synthetic material.
Once a chainsaw hits the chap pants, the saw immediately cuts through the first layer and into the Kevlar, tearing it apart. When the Kevlar material is torn apart, hundreds of the long fibrous threads get tangled in the saw, causing the saw to jam instantly.
These long threads get tangled in the chain and bar of the saw, and as the chain travels around the bar, these threads then get tangled in the sprocket of the saw. This is what causes the saw to jam. On an average chainsaw, the chain is traveling approximately 90 feet per second. Due to such high speeds, it only takes the threads milliseconds to reach the sprocket and cause the jam.
The Kevlar material does take a lot of damage, and a few layers are completely destroyed. However, because there are so many layers, the saw will have stopped before the last layer is torn, protecting your leg from harm.
If you are using chap pants and they do end up being cut with a chainsaw, you will need to throw them away and get a new pair. Chap pants are completely destroyed and unusable once the Kevlar material has been torn. The damage is so severe that there is no way to stitch the material back together.
On the other hand, your chainsaw is still usable after it has been clogged by chainsaw chaps. You will need to take your saw apart and give your saw a good clean-out. In particular, you will need to clean out the sprocket, making sure all the threads have been taken out. You will need to then look over your chain and bar, taking extra care to ensure no threads are remaining in the nose of the bar. Once clean and put back together, your chainsaw will be good to go again.
Cheap vs Expensive Chaps
In general, if you can, it is best to spend more on safety equipment, and chaps are no exception.
High-quality chap pants are made from better material and are thicker than the average budget pair. As mentioned above, a chainsaw will still cut through the first few layers of chap pants before the saw is jammed. The better the material and thicker the Kevlar layer, the less likely you are to cut your leg.
Cheaper pairs of chap pants just won’t have the same amount of layers needed to protect you. They will still stop the saw and are definitely better than wearing jeans or shorts, but there is a good chance you will still get injured. This injury can range from a small scratch to a larger gash.
If you are frequently sawing, please invest in a quality brand of chaps. It doesn’t take long for a saw to kick back into your leg, and you’ll be thankful for them if it were to happen.
I was lucky when I cut myself. I managed to get away with a small cut on the top of my thigh, requiring five stitches. The femoral artery is in your thigh, and if that gets cut, it will be disastrous.
Trousers vs Clip On Chaps
For me, chap trousers vs clip-on chaps come down to convenience.
Being an Arborist, I am cutting all throughout the day, so I personally find chaps in the form of trousers work best. With trousers, they are still bulky and heavier than regular pants, but I don’t need to put them on and take them off every time I use a saw. Trousers are very popular in the professional world of Arboriculture for their convenience, and there are many quality brands.
Chap trousers are a little more expensive than clip-on chap pants, but if you’re frequently cutting, you will be getting a lot more use out of them. One thing to note with chap trousers is their longevity. Chap trousers last approximately one year before you need to get a new pair.
The reason for this is the Kevlar material eventually begins to slide down and bunch up at the bottom of the trousers. This leaves a thinner layer at the top of the trousers, leaving your leg vulnerable. This happens after about one year of use.
The more traditional clip-on chaps are perfect for the backyard chainsaw user. As the name suggests, you just clip them on as needed. Provided you store these chaps in a cool dry place, away from the sun, these chaps should last a long time.
Provided you have bought quality chaps; you will get great protection with either trousers or clip-on chaps.
Are There Chaps For Other Parts of Your Body?
Your leg isn’t the only body part at risk of being cut. Fortunately, there is a range of other cut-resistant clothing for you to wear if you need that added layer of protection.
If you are using a small saw, it’s worthwhile considering wearing gloves that will protect your hands from being cut. Big saws require two hands to operate, lowering the risk of you cutting or the saw kicking back into your hand.
Using a small lightweight saw that can be held in one hand increases the temptation to cut and hold. Cutting and holding is when you hold the branch with one hand (for control) and cut with the other hand. This technique isn’t recommended, but it’s easy to get complacent and start grabbing at branches.
Chainsaw gloves work similarly to chaps. They are fitted with a thick Kevlar material that jams the saw when cut with a chainsaw. These gloves are a great layer of protection for anyone working with a saw near their hands.
Forearm sleeves offer protection to your forearms for a similar reason to gloves. Using a smaller saw, people tend to cut and hold, increasing the risk of forearm and hand injury.
These sleeves are perfect for the professional doing work in a cherry picker. Though forearm sleeves tend not to be commonly found in the industry, our workplace issues them to everyone who uses a cherry picker for tree work.
Chainsaw boots are based on a regular steel-toe boot design. The only difference being the material covering the boot is made from Kevlar, thus working similarly to all other chap designs.
Chainsaw boots work great as added protection when cutting logs or branches that are on the ground. When standing over anything you’re cutting, there is a small risk of cutting into your foot or, again, the chainsaw kicking back into your feet. The risk is small, but if it were to happen, regular boots and chaps wouldn’t be enough to protect you.
One downside to chainsaw boots is how big and clunky they are. These boots tend to be uncomfortable to wear, so they can become a pain when working in them all day. Another negative is how hot your feet can get wearing them. This isn’t too much of a problem in Winter, but the Summer months will cause quite a lot of discomfort.