New QCF Level 2 Certificate in Arb/Forestry

Some really exciting news... I've been working on building a series of new courses designed for those who want to enter the arboriculture or forestry industries. The first of these courses, the QCF Level 2 Certificate in Forestry and Arboriculture is just about ready to roll. Each of these courses covers a series of NPTC certificate of competencies, as well as underpinning knowledge that will allow you to submit your work to gain a Level 2 qualification. Not only that, but it's cheaper than taking the individual NPTC courses! For more information, find out after the jump...

The course is designed to take you from complete novice, to a competent chainsaw operator capable of carrying out typical ground-based arboricultural operations, in just three weeks. The course covers the following NPTC certificates:

  • CS30: chainsaw maintenance and crosscutting

  • CS31: felling and processing small trees

  • Manually operated wood chippers

  • Stump grinder operations

The information and practical experience gained by completing the NPTC elements will provide around 90% of what is required for the QCF Level 2 qualification; additional material supplied both online and through various workshop and site activities completes the remainder.

You'll be carrying out chainsaw maintenance on at least two different makes / models of saw (and probably more), felling small trees and looking at the different felling methods available for different situations, dealing with hung-up trees, delimbing or snedding (safe branch removal methods), maintaining and operating a chipper and stummp grinder, as well as maintenance of winches and other necessary equipment.

It's a great opportunity to learn the basic skills, earn a recognised qualification and take your NPTC assessments. The course starts on the 10th January 2011, and runs for 3 weeks (Mon-Fri) at Sparsholt College, Hampshire.

I'll be the tutor for this course and the cost of £1,457 includes the three weeks tuition, loan equipment and PPE, NPTC assessment fees, registration & handling fees, course notes, access to the online learning environment that's been specially built for this course and all transportation to and from any sites. All you need to do is turn up and bring some food/drink!

If you want any more information, contact me via the comments, or email me at

Bad Habits: Part Four:

This next bad habit is not one that I see too often, but every now and then it finds its way back into the students mode of working. It is, of course, the knees down approach to cutting timber. So what's wrong with this? After all, it looks to be a nice stable and comfortable position to be cutting in, and the operator is down next to the wood, rather than bending over it (another favourite). Whilst these things may indeed be true, it's not really the safest thing to do, so how should you be cutting timber that's on the floor, just like in the picture?

Find out more after the jump...

Well, the problem with putting both knees down on the floor to cut the wood is one of unsafe working practices, and it simply boils down to the fact that the operator cannot move out of the way quickly enough should anything happen.

Instead of putting both knees down, the best thing to do is to adopt a sort of crouching position, although if you need to put one knee down for stability or comfort, then that is acceptable.

If you're a bit sceptical about this, try it for yourself! Kneel down with both knees on the floor, then try to stand up, or move sideways... now just crouch down so that neither knee is on the floor. Now stand up; you should find it a lot easier to get yourself out of the way. [Probably best not to do this if you have poor knees!]

Of course, for logging timber then it's better to use a saw-horse or similar, to allow you to stand up and cut, but that's not option if you're dealing with a tree that you've just felled and you're cross-cutting the stem.

In the next of the 'Bad Habits' series, we'll have a look at cutting using the top of the bar...

Bad Habits: Part Three:

Continuing on with this short series of common mistakes made by operators is the classic "head in line with the bar" syndrome. This is such a common error and it's easy to see why; especially when you're concentrating on getting your cuts right and trying to line them up.

Of course, the real problem with this is that should you suffer any kickback then you can guess where the bar is heading..? If you look at the picture on the left, you can see that this student has his head right in line with the bar (I realise that it's unlikely that he's going to get any kickback here, but it's just to show a poor head position). Find out more after the jump...

With you head in line with the bar, should you get some kickback then that chain, which is doing something approaching 50mph, is heading straight for your face. That's not good, and definitely would constitute a 'bad day at the office'. I tend to find that students want to get their cuts as accurate as possible, and hence they can line up the cuts if their head is over the bar, so how are you supposed to line everything up if you can't put your head in line with the bar?

Easy! Line it all up, then move your head before you start cutting! Now, I'm not suggesting that you try and hold the saw way out to your right hand side, just that you move your head slightly to left to take it out of the line of kickback. That's really only just a few inches.

This point is very important and can be a potential failure point on your assessment; it's written in the assessment schedule under part 2 (CS30.2) where it expects safe usage of the saw, and specifically states that your head must be out of line of the chainsaw. So remember, line everything up, move your head slightly to the left, chain brake off and cut. Stay safe...

Bad Habits: Part Two...

In part two of this short series looking at common problems that I find when teaching chainsaw usage, we have the classic... forgetting to either pull down the visor, or close the ear defenders (or both). So what's the big deal here? Find out more after the jump...

As you can see from the anonymised image of John Smith from Andover, Hampshire here, it's all too easy to forget to pull down the visor that's supposed to provide protection for your eyes and close the ear defenders - by the way, none of the images in this series have been posed, they're all examples of real learners making common mistakes.

John here (not his real name... and he doesn't live in Andover either) was totally unaware that he was putting both his vision and hearing at risk; but there's more to it than that. The thing that can cause major problems is that once the operator realises their mistake they will naturally release the saw with one hand and correct the PPE. And there's the 'gotcha' - not only have you been operating the chainsaw with improperly worn PPE, but you've also now only got one hand on the chainsaw and the chain brake is off. You've just compounded the problem!

So, given that it's almost natural to forget to pull down the visor, or ear defender(s), at some point what can you do? Simply apply the chain brake, sort out the PPE and then once you've corrected that problem continue to cut the timber.

Just to give some kind of comparison on sound levels, the Stihl MS260 saws are rated at 114dB, but just how loud is this? This is akin to a loud rock concert (115dB) and it's worth noting that sound levels of 125dB are physically painful. U.S. occupational health recommend no more than 15 minutes of exposure at 115dB, so using a saw with no ear defenders for any length of time really isn't clever. I said, "using a saw... never mind".[Source: Galen Carol Audio)

Bad Habits: Part One.

It always amazes me just how quickly new students pick up bad habits. I've lost count of the times that students returning to me for more chainsaw tuition have got into bad ways! I kind of expect 'old-hands' at using saws to have already fallen into bad habits, but not people who have just passed their CS30 and are coming back after a couple of months to do their CS31! So what are these common pitfalls? Find out more after the jump...
There are several, common poor practices that I see again and again, and in the first of a short series I'll be picking up on these and try to explain why they're such a heinious crime not a good idea.

In this first one, we'll take a look at the Wandering Thumb Syndrome. You can probably make out in the picture above that this student has moved their thumb on to the top of the front handle. Not a good move, and a potential failure point on your assessment.

So why is this so bad? After all, it's often quite comfortable working this way, but the problem starts should you suffer from kickback. What's going to happen to the handle when the tip of the bar contacts some timber and throws the saw back? The saw handle will come out of your left hand as there's nothing to stop it.

Compare that with keeping your thumb around the handle... try it out, just hold a saw with your thumb on top of the handle, and then wrapped around it. You'll see that if you were to get any kickback, the handle just pushes back into that squashy part of your hand between thumb and forefinger.

So, for your own safety (and to get you through the assessment!) always keep your hand securely on the front handle, and that means keeping your thumb round it.