The past few weeks of lab for my “Introduction to Forestry” class have entailed learning a good deal about chainsaws.

If any of you out there have read previous posts from this blog, you will well know that I have a stormy relationship with the chainsaw, having epically failed on my first attempt to start the thing last semester.

Needless to say, I was both looking forward to and dreading my rematch with the noisy beast.

Lab 1 – Chainsaw Anatomy & Maintenance

Luckily, the first lab didn’t involve attempts to start them up.  First, we had a thorough safety lesson along with a demonstration on how to disassemble the chain saw, take off the chain, clean the chainsaw bar, oil up the clutch, and put the whole thing back together.  Then we had to do it ourselves and also learn how to sharpen the cutting teeth and file down the depth gauges.

Later that day, my instructor approached me individually and took me out to the tool yard to give me a one-on-one lesson on starting a chainsaw.  After attempting and failing with 2 larger chainsaws, he brought out an arbor chainsaw (smaller and hence easier to start – it is the kind that tree trimmers will take up when climbing a tree) and I got that one to start.  I was most certainly excited.  Starting something is better than nothing…but the big guy still stood as an adversary unconquered.


the little guy



Lab 2 – Chainsaw Fueling & Starting

The second lab, we learned about to properly mix the fuel (1 part 2-cycle oil to 50 parts gasoline) and where to put bar oil vs. the mixed fuel (always fill up both before you go to saw!).  Then, it was judgement day – and we all went out to try to start them up.

As I expected, I tried and tried and tried, and failed and failed and failed.  But my attitude about it was better than previous failed attempts – after all, at least I had gotten the little guy to start…and maybe some people just aren’t able to start the big one no matter what they do.  Maybe I was one of those people.  Maybe I had to just accept that.

Lab 3 – Cutting with a Chainsaw

The third lab was to teach us how to cut with the chainsaws.  I approached this day in a jovial manner, accepting the inevitable – I won’t be able to start it, but surely someone can start it for me so I can at least practice cutting.  I laughed to myself of my certain failure.

We spread out and were told to start the chainsaws up, and I tried and failed repeatedly, just as before.  I was used to it now.

My teacher came over to me, and had me place my chainsaw bar under a log that had about 6″ of space between its bottom and the ground.  Then he had me try starting it using both hands on the starter rope while the log and my feet held the body in place.  And – it worked!  I was quite pleased, but smiled to myself thinking “well perfect – if I am asked to start a chainsaw on the job ever, I’ll just have to tell my manager ‘hang on a sec while I find a log to secure this under and I’ll get her going.‘ ”

I was happy to be able to start the thing, even if in a compromised manner… but some part of me just wouldn’t let it go : I wanted to be able to start it like everyone else.

While I contemplated whether or not I should just be thankful and move on, we got a lesson in cutting.  First we started with cutting cookie-like slices off of a log and then we moved on to cutting fire-wood length pieces.  I will readily admit: the feeling of cutting wood, with saw dust of your own creation flying all over your clothes, in your face, through your hair was a sort of high than I cannot aptly articulate.  You’ll just need to try it for yourself.

The lab was drawing to a close, and I decided to try starting the chainsaw without assistance of the anchoring log…just one last time.  Somehow, by some surprising miracle, I was able to.  I am not sure what finally clicked, but something in my muscle memory seemed to remember the rhythm of pulling the starter rope with two hands, what it felt like when successfully done, and was able to translate that to a single-arm pull.  I felt like a child, gleeful in suddenly being freed of training wheels, and giddy in the celebratory feeling of stumbling into feeling quite adult.  I was no longer a forestry failure!


the big guy

The bigger take away for me, however, is that I discovered that I am thankful for the challenges of being uncomfortable.  There is a gift provided by disappointed hopes, even if those hopes are never realized.

That morning I had read a verse from 1 Thessalonians and wrote part of it on my arm, to ward off the demons of disappointment I had been sure I was to encounter that day : “…in everything give thanks.”  And I walked into that day, ready to be thankful for what was likely to be a repeated failure.  Because, the mere discovery of wanting something so much as to be disappointed is a blessing in of itself.

It is a stretching season for me, and “in everything (I) give thanks”… but it is certainly easier to give thanks, when you prove the victor.

Take that chainsaw.


3 thoughts on “chainsaw

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