How I learned to love the chainsaw

All the artworks were created by Koro.

In 2006 President of Russia Vladimir Putin has signed into law the new Forest Code.

Among other things, the code has effectively eliminated the system of centralized forest protection. There used to be as many as 70,000 forest rangers, while the remaining workforce was reduced by 75%.

Logging companies were said to be the major beneficiaries of that law. Critics noted lobbying efforts by Ilim Pulp — a major paper pulp producer, partially owned by International Paper. Then Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev was one of its founders, and once had a 20% stake in the Ilim.

The effects of the new Forest Code are blamed for a host of issues, and are most commonly mentioned in relation to fires. Another notable story has been a massive infestation of forests in the Moscow Region with a bark beetle, that happened in 2013–2014.

The bark beetle invasion has left a lot of dead pines, which started to fall, blocking an access to forests.

In late 2018, I resumed running — my sport of choice since the high school. It was especially helpful that the apartment I rented was located at the edge of a town in the Moscow District. So all I had to do was put on a pair of sneakers and run along a magnificent forest route.

Very soon I realized that it was not actually running but a novel kind of a sport, which involved dodging a large number of dead pines blocking the way. And I didn’t like it at all.

After a brief search in the Internet I knew what to do. Just to be completely sure, I texted my brother and asked him whether the chainsaw I wanted to purchase was a good one, in his opinion.

Instead of doing what I expected — providing a simple yes or no answer — he did the right thing. He offered me to borrow his own chainsaw, and spent several hours training me to operate it safely.

Shortly afterwards, I was out there in the woods, making my first cuts with a chainsaw. Trying to regain myself…

While cutting a fallen tree, the major obstacle is that it’s not static. The tree is under a considerable stress (like many of us — just kidding!), and as you start cutting it, the release of the stress results in elastic deformations. And your chainsaw could get stuck in the tree because of those deformations. Once that happens, it’s rather unpleasant, because the chainsaw is held by the force of the tree’s weight, and it’s pretty much impossible to get it back.

You either have to cut the chainsaw from the tree using an axe, or (preferably) to replace the guide bar if you have a spare one.

How can you avoid such a conundrum?

The manuals for operating a chainsaw tell you that you need to make two cuts, at the top and at the bottom of a tree trunk. You make a relieving cut at the compression side, which is followed by a bucking cut at the tension side.

There are two issues with that.

First, how do you know which side is the compression side, and which is the tension side? It’s not quite obvious for a fallen tree. Sometimes you can figure that out by the way the tree is lying. But you would often be wrong, and each time you make wrong assumptions, the chainsaw will get stuck.

Second, you need to have a good control of the chainsaw, so that the two cuts meet exactly where they are to. If you are slightly wrong, and there’s a layer of wood between the two cuts, the chainsaw will get stuck.

So, I suggest to slightly modify the prescribed scheme.

When there’s a tree lying at its side, you often want to start cutting somewhere in the middle of the trunk. The idea is to make two pairs of cuts at top and bottom sides of the tree. Which makes it four cuts for a start. Initially all four cuts are shallow ones, and you deepen them, one by one, until you can tell the compression side from a tension side. Each tree is a mystery until you have figured that out. After that, you keep making the pair of cuts from the tension side, until any of the cuts is complete.

In this case the tension side is at the top of the trunk. After you notice a similar pattern, keep making a pair of bucking cuts on the tension side.

With such an approach, the deformation is evenly spread across the pair of cuts, which makes it much harder for you to get your chainsaw stuck. And if it gets stuck, it’s much easier to put it away.

Granted, there’s more work to be done, but it’s more predictable and you have a better control of the situation.

It’s past the sunset, but I’ve still got a plenty of gas and other supplies which I’m in no mood to bring home. It’s pitch dark, and I’m working with a headlamp.

The headlamp casts its light on everything I look at. But there are margins of blackness and fear outside the illuminated area.

It’s a scare time.

I do not know the names of all beasts that inhabit the darkness, but there are two who I fear the most.

The Bear comes to play with me while I’m working with a chainsaw. He is a cheerful fellow who might eat me one day.

He loves to play cat-and-mouse with me, by gently tapping on my shoulders or breaking a branch sideways. He is quick enough to avoid being looked at. Always one step ahead of me.

Whenever I look in his direction, I see the place he has just vacated.

He is a gentle fellow, delicate enough not to confront me directly. I’m lucky that I do not meet him while he is hungry.

I turn off the chainsaw to do some maintenance of it and of myself — because I’m also a complex machine that must be fed and have a little rest to work safely. There’s an incoming phone call, and a couple of missed ones — while working, I couldn’t have heard anything because of the earmuffs. My wife asks me, if I could possibly continue tomorrow. Because all the animals are asleep in their little homes, and I disturb them. I reply that the roads I clear could be used by the animals, too. No, she responds, the roads are for humans only. I promise to come home as soon as I run out of gas, within may be an hour.

I’m mightily tired and high on endorphins. I can do magic with the last drops of the fuel. I’m highly efficient, but there are too many fallen trees, and I realize that I cannot remove all of them today.

Then the gas is over, I need to get packed and go home.

That’s when I meet the Lynx.

She follows me — up there in the branches — to see that I leave the forest safely. She loves me.

The Lynx is also very shy. That’s why I must not look back, to avoid embarrassing her. She is craftful to avoid my gaze whenever I look backwards, and that saves me. For if she is seen, she would kill me just to cease the embarrassment.

There’s a trick to avoid the Lynx, though. It’s not going back. The path ahead is blocked by fallen trees that could not be removed today. It takes effort to tread it and not get lost. But there’s no Lynx that way.


If there’s one thing a man with a chainsaw should be afraid of, it’s the chainsaw itself.

After the throttle trigger is released, the chainsaw continues to move for a short period of time — due to the flywheel effect. It’s one of the multiple warnings you can read in the manual. Ignoring it, I ripped my jeans with a moving chainsaw, luckily sparing me from any injury.

Yeah, I was stupid enough not to wear any protective clothes.

By all means it was a close call, so I followed the advice my brother had given me earlier and attended the First Aid courses.

I chose a two-day course in Moscow in a school which provides training in line with the International Red Cross recommendations. The instructor was quite jovial, and the group of students turned out to be friendly and supportive.

In principle, if I find you collapsed somewhere in Russia, I could help you stay alive until the emergency medical help arrives.

I have also learned some important stuff concerning my hobby as a volunteer ranger.

First, safety is paramount. If there’s a dangerous place or a situation which might harm you, don’t go there. That’s especially relevant for operating a chainsaw in a forest. More so if you are doing it alone.

Second, a chainsaw leaves a crushed wound, which is bad news. In case of a traumatic amputation, retaining the lovely body part is going to be complicated and expensive.

Third, if a chainsaw part is stuck inside you, don’t take it away. And don’t put it back if it has accidentally fallen out of your body. The goal is to minimize the risk of traumatizing blood vessels any further after the initial damage.

Fourth, there are three types of wounds, depending on the bleeding rate. If the bleeding is insignificant, it’s dealt with by washing the wound with some antiseptic and applying a dressing to avoid an infection. If the bleeding is moderate or severe, a possible infection is the least of your concerns — you need to stop the bleeding. That’s achieved by applying compressive bandages, or if that doesn’t help, a tourniquet.

Fifth, whatever you do, has to be done quickly. As the compensated stage of the hypovolemic shock passes — which might take from 30 to 90 seconds — and the decompensated shock develops, you are about to lose consciousness from the pain, and die from the blood loss if left unattended.

So, preferably, do not work alone.

One of strongly underrated Russian books is “Tales of a Dark Forest” by Djonny. It’s basically Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” on steroids. In 1990s Russia, while many people were focused on survival, a group of young people was having fun. In a telling episode, Djonny and his friend Crazy were meeting a state official in St. Petersburg on a business occasion. They were high on acid, so the question Crazy asked that official — in a very demanding fashion — was “Who are you and what do we need from you?!”

…I cannot draw.

And I wanted to know if I could make some pictures using a chainsaw.

Of course, there are some complications.

First, a guide bar is nothing like a pencil. It’s impossible to cut a dot using a chainsaw. So, any drawing that could be created with such a tool would necessarily be constrained to straight lines and arcs of a sufficiently large radius.

Second, drawing such a picture would require working with the tip of a guide bar. That’s a major complication, because using the tip of the guide bar is strictly prohibited, as it results in a kickback — a major source of workplace traumas, which occasionally result in deaths.

The blue region of a guide bar is safe. But touching a surface with the red region of the guide bar results in a kickback, which might injure or kill you.

The trick is to use only the lower part of the guide bar tip, and never use the center or the upper parts. If you are careful enough with properly positioning the chainsaw against a wooden surface, you can avoid a kickback.

Still, it’s always dangerously close to getting a kickback. I certainly do not recommend violating safety regulations.

…I asked artist Koro to make some sketches that I could try to recreate somewhere in a forest.

I do not know how to properly attribute the photos below. They were created by my own hand, but the design is not mine. Yet it was a quite entertaining experience, and I hope you enjoy viewing them, too.

A deer.
A hunter.
A head of a horse.

Apparently, it doesn’t hurt to look for a hidden message while you are out in the woods.



Writing about aspects of Russia’s history

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