Selecting Cut-Resistant Leg Protection

Figure 1: Travis Vickerson walks his audience through cut-resistant materials at the TCI Magazine Trainer’s Test Kitchen. All photos by TCIA staff.

This article is based on a demonstration by Travis Vickerson at the TCI Magazine Trainer’s Test Kitchen demo area during TCI EXPO ’21 in Indianapolis, Indiana, in November.

Let’s take a look at cut-resistant leg protection. I’ll talk about the two different types of products available – a tech fiber versus a bulk fiber – and I’ll also address the theory that electric saws will cut through chain-saw protection.

But first, I want to refresh everyone’s memory on why we wear chain-saw protection, including cut-resistant chaps or pants, in the first place.

A big myth out there is that if you wear chain-saw protection and it gets cut, you can walk away unaffected. Hopefully you can. But wearing chain-saw protection is more like a bandage than a bulletproof shield – you might actually get cut, but you may only receive a few stitches instead of a horrific wound or worse. (Figure 1)

Everyone has femoral arteries as big as your thumb running on the inside of your legs. If you cut your femoral artery with a chain saw, you’re going to bleed out in about three-and-a-half to four minutes. If you have an incident, three-and-a-half minutes is going to go by very quickly, so wearing chain-saw protection will help prevent an incident from being much worse.

Chaps Care and Feeding

For chain-saw-protective pants to be effective, they must be washed. In particular, with chap-style pants, the inner bulk material needs to be fluffed. When you wash chaps and let them dry, the inner protective material fluffs back up. Note: Be sure to follow manufacturer instructions for washing and drying.

If you use your chaps every day and get them sweaty, oily and dirty, then fold them nice and tightly and stick them in the truck, all that material inside gets matted down and matted down and matted down. Then, instead of having a lot of fluffy material to grab the chain, there is just a matted layer that offers much less protection for stopping the chain from cutting your leg. And maybe they get so dirty and gross that you then stop wearing them, and that is completely the opposite of what needs to happen. Wear them, wash them and wear them. Rinse and repeat.

And, if you’re using the biggest chain saw you have, then yes, it will very likely cut through the layers of protective material in chain-saw-protection fabric. But what will happen is, the material will clog the chain so it slows to the point where damage to your body is minimized.

One of the products used in this demonstration, the Clogger Zero pant (this is not an advertisement or promotion of this brand or pant), is a seven-layer pant. That means it has seven layers of protection between the outmost layer of fabric and your skin.

The outmost layer, or cover, is on top of the protective material. The cover is not cut resistant. All of the protection is built into the fiber weave underneath the cover. The theory behind it is similar to what happens in the movie “Top Gun.” Those jet planes are landing at high speed on the aircraft carrier. They hit the arresting cable and stop. That’s what the tech fibers in the chain-saw pants are designed to do. They grab the chisel of the chain and slow and eventually stop the chain. Of course, all of this happens super fast.

If you’ve ever nicked your chain-saw pants or chaps with a handsaw or briars or such, you may have had one of the fibers poke through the resulting hole. That fiber runs the full length of the pant. If you cut it when you nicked it, you’ve just shortened that fiber. Like that aircraft carrier in “Top Gun,” you need the entire length of wire to slow your plane down. If you shorten that fiber by pulling it out and clipping it off, now you don’t have as much distance, and that’s going to let the chain go further into the pant.

There are also batting-style chaps, which use a bulk material. The whole theory with batting is that the chain will grab a bunch of fibers at once, which will jam in the sprocket and stop it from turning. Batting-style chain-saw protection is also a seven-layer material.

In demonstrations or tests for cut-resistant protective materials, you need to replicate soft material, like tissue, muscle and blood, for the chaps to work. Testing and demonstration of chain-saw protection should only be performed by individuals who possess the training to do so. Taping the pants to a log or other solid surface, as is done in some backyard tests, is not a true gauge of the potential protection. In my demonstrations, I tape the pants over a towel on a log to simulate actual tissue. I can push down on it, just like pushing into a fleshy leg. What happens when I push on that material and it gives or bends in? The saw can grab more fibers. You want the chain to grab as much material as possible to slow or stop the chain before it hits your skin. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: A battery-powered saw being used for the cutting demonstration.

Also, in demonstrations or testing, I come in from a six-inch drop. That is the testing standard for chain-saw manufacturers, so when I do a demonstration, I am replicating the manufacturer’s guidelines for testing. It’s a six-inch-drop decelerated stop, meaning I activate the trigger to full rev, let it off and then drop the saw onto the pants.

The actual cuts

In the first test, the tech fiber did exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s that cable on the aircraft carrier that catches and stops our plane. The exact same thing happened. If I open up the pants after the cut, we can see that the first layer was cut and just a little bit in the second layer inside was cut. (Figures 3a and 3b) So it worked just like it’s supposed to work.

Figures 3a and 3b: The tech fibers stopped the chain on the third layer.

Next, we did the same thing with the batting-style protection – a 6-inch drop falling into it. I did not try to plunge or bury the saw. If I keep pushing, yeah, it’s going to keep cutting. But in a real cutting incident, no one will continue to cut their leg. They will instinctively release the trigger, so the demonstrations reflect that scenario.

In Figure 4, you can see the difference in the material. The batting style has wonderful horsehair-like material. It’s a very different type of fabric. The batting-style material is going to clog the sprocket and stop the chain from turning. It looks like it cut into three of the seven layers.

Figure 4: The batting-style fibers are bulky.

As you can see, even battery-powered saws are shut down by chain-saw protective material. We’ve heard in the industry for a long time that chain-saw pants are not rated for battery-powered saws. That is correct; there is not a rating out there yet on chain-saw protection for electric saws. The tests haven’t been done. But the big message here is that chain-saw protection works just as well with battery-powered saws as with gas-powered saws.

Travis Vickerson, CTSP, QCL, is assistant district manager in the Lebanon, New Hampshire, office of Chippers, Inc., now a Davey Tree Care Company, an accredited, 49-year TCIA member company based in Kent, Ohio.

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