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Cut Protection For Pro Saw Users

Many pro saw users wear cut protective garments. Most know and understand the benefits of wearing them. They gladly put them on each morning. Some wear chaps reluctantly. They wear them because they have to. They don't want a safety ticket.  There is also a group who rarely wear them. They think chaps are bulky, ineffective, and in a word; unnecessary.

If you are in the first group.  You've probably had an accident or a close call with your chain saw. If you were wearing chaps, you avoided a serious injury and realize how effective these garments are. If you weren't wearing chaps... well, you probably got a lot of stitches.

If you are in the middle group, keep wearing them. Someday, when they help protect you from a serious injury, you will move into the first group.

If you are in the last group, please keep reading.  We want to change your mind. Cut protective garments are important and every saw user should wear them. You should also understand how they work and know how to take care of them.

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This is one of our test pallets. The ham is inside the pants, just above the knee area. The rest of the pants are filled with sawdust. The pants are securely mounted to the pallet with heavy-duty screws.  The safety chaps are installed on the pants, just like a real person would wear them

Madsen's Ham Test

We wanted to learn more about the chaps we sell. We wanted to see them perform, so we set up a simple test out behind the shop. We didn't have fancy testing equipment, but we did have an idea. We started with two pairs of logger's jeans. One, we filled with wood chips to simulate the shape of a man's legs. The other pants we filled with ham. Yep, we went to a butcher, got bone-in ham, and shoved it into the pant legs. Both pairs of pants were fastened to heavy wood pallets with wood screws.  Our home-grown test lab was ready.

The Unprotected Leg

You guessed it, we were anxious to cut ham, so the first test cut was to a leg with no cut protection.  We revved up the saw to full speed and let off the trigger as the chain came in contact with the jeans - just as an operator's reflex would do in a real accident. In an instant, the ham was cut to the bone, which surprised us.

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A chainsaw can cut you to the bone before you can move. If you think you move fast enough to avoid  injury, you are wrong. The saw's operator let his finger off the throttle the instant the saw's chain hit the denim -- just like an operator would do when he thought he was about to get cut. The saw's chain, only powered by inertia, cut this ham to the bone.

This grizzly test demonstrated two things. 1) Chain saws make nasty cuts.  They don't cut animal tissue like a knife; they tear it.  The least gruesome way to describe the test wound is... well, it would have kept a doctor busy sewing for a while. 2) The second thing our test demonstrated was just how quickly an accident happens.  In an instant, a chain saw can cut you to the bone.  This happens so fast, no thought of moving your leg would have made it out of your brain in time. Even an alert person would not have had time to respond before they were seriously injured.

Next, we made a cut to a test leg protected by new chaps. These chaps were made with Labonville's newest cut protective fabric; a type of knit polyester with Kevlar strands running through it. We ran the saw to full speed and let off the trigger as the chain came in contact with the jeans - just as before.. The chaps stopped the chain without cutting through. Close inspection revealed the saw chain had gone through several layers of cut protective fabric in the chaps, but it did not penetrate the jeans on our test leg.

How Chaps Work

When a moving saw chain comes in contact with a chap, the outer shell quickly gives way to the safety pad. Once in the safety pad, cutter teeth snag on its fibers. As the chain moves, some of the fibers get cut, while others get pulled from the weave.  The fibers that are pulled from the weave, slow the chain down.  In our test, some of the loose fibers were pulled into the sprocket cover on the saw motor, jamming it.

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Fibers from a chap's protective pad are cut and pulled from the weave. Many of them end up traveling into the saw's clutch area, jamming it up. This also helps slow a moving saw chain

All of this happens in a moment, but this extra time is often enough just enough additional reaction time to get your leg away from the saw and avoid a serious injury. Even when an injury is not avoided, a cut protective garment will usually reduce the severity of a saw cut.

Fitting Protective Garments

At the same time this test revealed the new material's cut resistance, it also demonstrated how hard a moving saw chain pulled on the chaps.  It literally tried to rip the chap off the test leg. The force was so violent it actually moved the pallet the test jeans were attached to.

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Notice how hard the chaps are being pulled on the test leg. If chaps are not snugly held in place, a saw's chain will move them, exposing the leg. Leg protection must stay between the leg and the saw chain for it to protect a saw operator's leg. Also notice the fellow who is making the test cut  is wearing chaps himself!

This clearly showed having loose or improperly fitted chaps would reduce the protection they offer. To be effective, chaps must be positioned correctly on the legs and worn snug. They must be held in place -- ready to take punishment from a saw chain. When chap pads hang loose inside pants or are worn loose on the outside, they will simply be moved to the side when the saw chain comes in contact with it. Safety pads will not protect you if they are not between you and the moving saw chain! While they need to be fitted snug to the leg, don't take this advice to an extreme. Chaps that are too tight may impede movement, which is dangerous, too.

When selecting a pair of chaps, they should cover from the waist to the boots.  Pro saw users come in many sizes, so there is no one-size-fits-all safety garment.  Chaps that are too short leave important areas exposed; Chaps that are too long may drag, get hung up, or impede movement.

Cut Resistant -- Not Cut Proof

The manufacturers of pro saws make an ongoing effort to improve and develop safety features on saws. A chain brake is just one feature that helps make pro saws safer to operate.  Chap manufacturers also push ahead. Companies like Labonville, the company that makes most of the cut protective garments we sell, also continually works to improve the quality and design of their garments. The newest chaps we tested are a result of this effort.

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This is a close up of a cut chap pad. In this test, the saw only penetrated four of  the protective layers, so the test leg was not damaged.  The yellow strands in the photo are Kevlar.

Along with safety progress, saw manufacturers also work to improve cutting performance. While not every performance gain comes at the expense of safety, the fact remains, the faster and more powerful the saw; the more difficult it is to make effective cut protective apparel.

Top chain speed on today's pro saws exceeds one hundred feet per second. Perhaps a more amazing fact is at this speed, a chain on a  32" bar travels around it more than ten times a second.  What this means is, even if you let off the throttle the instant your chain touches the safety pad, there is still a lot of inertia to punish a safety pad.


Now, couple this idea with the fact that many pro users run saw chain with square ground chisel cutter teeth. This is the most aggressive and "sharp" cutter tooth there is. The result is, it is very difficult to stop the chain on one of today's pro saws. As a result, even the best safety pads are not cut proof. All chain saw operators must realize a serious chain saw injury can still occur when cut protective garments are being worn.

How to Clean Chaps

With use, cut protective garments get dirty. They may also get soaked with gas, oil, and sweat. This reduces their cut protective qualities. To remove mud or dirt from the outer shell, first allow the garment to dry, then brush it off with a stiff bristle brush. To remove perspiration, light oil, or stains, Labonville suggests hand washing the garment in warm water with detergent. When it is clean, rinse it thoroughly in warm water to remove all of the detergent. Never use chlorine bleach or machine wash Labonville safety garments. (For other brands of safety garments consult the manufacturer for laundering instructions.)

While laundering helps, the only way to maintain a high level of cut protection in these garments is to replace them periodically.

When Chaps Should Be Replaced

Any time a chap is cut, it must be replaced. While it is easy to understand the garment will not protect against another cut in the same location, what many saw users don't realize is even a small cut can reduce the effectiveness of the entire pad.

The reason is, any cut will sever some of the protective fibers and pull others from the weave.  Even if the next cut occurs in a different place on the pad, some fibers will be missing and the remaining ones may be cut strands. While the problem of missing strands is obvious, less obvious is the cut strands. These won't offer the same braking effect as those that are full length, because it is easier to pull them from the weave. Even a small cut can significantly reduce a chap's protective qualities. So, if your chaps are cut, they've done their job. Don't patch 'em - replace 'em.


Those of us involved in our behind-the-shop test witnessed how fast a chain saw accident can happen. We also saw how severe a chainsaw cut can be. At the same time, the tests proved that cut protection is effective when worn properly.

If you were a chap wearer before you read this, we hope you've learned more about how they work and how to maintain them for maximum effectiveness. If you weren't a chap wearer, we hope we've shown you why you should make it a habit. Our goal is to be the one place you can count on for straight and informed talk on pro saws... That's why we're the Pro's Choice.

Video of Chap Test Cuts

Note: This video was taken in the parking lot behind Madsen's shop of the test cuts pictured above being made. It was produced by Washington State's Department of Labor and Industries. It is something every chain saw user should watch.

Got more questions about cut protection? Call or stop in.

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