If you need to trim, cut, or prune high-level branches, limbs, or vines — it’s valuable to understand how to use a pole saw.
Sure, you could carry your beefiest chainsaw up an extending ladder, overstretch precariously, and hack away while trying to maintain your balance. But, I wouldn’t advise it — unless you want to look like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
Safety is crucial — that’s why it’s important for me to pass on my experience and knowledge of risk-free pole saw use. Thus, allowing you to achieve results worthy of a pro arborist — where the only cut-off limbs are those of the tree.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
With your mighty tool in your hand, it’s natural to want to power away immediately.
But, don’t be premature.
Taking it slow and steady, and preparing thoroughly beforehand, will provide a more satisfying and pleasurable finish, save you time, and heighten safety.
Check you have all the below items before commencing your lopping, pollarding, or coppicing project:
- Pole saw.
- Extension cord — if using a cabled pole saw.
- Additional power cells — when wielding a cordless unit.
- Spare fuel — if utilizing a gas-powered machine.
- Pencil and paper for plan sketching.
- Cones, ropes, tape, or spray paint — to cordon off the cutting area.
- Chain oil — or SAE 30 weight motor oil.
- Eye protectors.
- Face mask.
- Steel toe-capped boots.
- Ear defenders.
- Dry, non-windy, weather conditions.
- Rake, barrow, or buddy for cleaning up.
How to Use a Pole Chain Saw — Step By Step Instructions
Step 1 — Precautions
Safe tree-trimming is akin to safe sex — without the proper precautions, it will be messy, dangerous to health, and lead to years of regret.
To avoid these pitfalls, follow my six golden rules:
1. If you watch trade-pros using a pole saw, you’ll notice that they utilize a system of chains, pulleys, and ropes to safely lower lopped limbs to the ground. Chances are, you don’t have this luxury, so always ensure the working area is clear from garden furniture, other tools, and perhaps the kids — to avoid unwanted crushing.
3. Bear in mind, it’s challenging to achieve the perfect cut on seriously thick branches with a pole saw. Anything greater than seven or nine inches in diameter should be addressed with a chainsaw — or by a professional.
4. Never work near power lines.
5. Familiarize yourself with the jump-cutting technique — explained below — allowing the cut limbs and branches to separate from the tree without tearing the living flesh, and aiding it to fall in your chosen direction — not on your head.
6. Always wear protective gear.
Step 2 — Prepare Your Work Area
7. With the cutting area cordoned off, clear away any tripping hazards — paying particular attention to exposed roots, and the pole saw cable (if not battery or gas-powered) and any extension cords.
Remember to clear lopped branches and limbs as you go along to prevent accidental stumbling.
8. Plan your trimming. Pro-arborists and tree surgeons often make a quick sketch of the tree, indicating where and in what order to cut the branches. Typically, you tackle low-hanging and thin branches first, higher-level and thicker limbs later.
Step 3 — Prepare Your Pole Saw
9. Read the manufacturer’s manual! Once complete, read it again to familiarize yourself with your machine. The following tips for pole saw preparation are meant as a general guide — not a replacement for your unit's user instructions.
10. Attach the power cell, plug-in, or fill with gas — depending on your motor type.
11. Check the chain tension — it should flip back to its correct position when pulled 0.125-inches away from the sprocket. If not, adjust according to the manufacturer’s guide. Make sure you wear gloves to avoid losing a finger.
12. Add lubrication. Many modern pole saws are fitted with an auto-oiler reservoir, allowing you to fill a container without directly addressing the chain.
13. Ensure that the head unit (the mini-chainsaw itself) is securely attached to the top of the pole — and angled to suit your cutting style.
14. The final check — look for any signs of damage to the chain, motor unit, and pole. If you witness any degradation, contact a tool professional to repair the machine before use.
Step 4 — Protect Yourself
15. Knowing how to use a pole pruner is as much about safety as it is technique — so always don high-quality and undamaged protective wear, including industrial-grade:
- Eye protectors.
- Face mask.
- Steel toe-capped boots.
- Ear defenders.
Additionally, avoid items of wear that can cause snagging or catching — such as jewelry and loose clothing — and keep long hair tied back.
Step 5 — Assume the Correct Cutting Position
16. Grip the pole saw with both hands at chest level — not above your head with one hand. You’re an aspirational arborist, not freakin’ Jason Voorhees.
17. If possible, use a pole-saw support harness for additional stability.
18. Stand with feet apart for a stable base.
19. Position yourself below and to the side of the limb you’re addressing — unless you fancy a bout of concussion.
20. Adjust the pole saw length to adequately reach the target branch — as directed in the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 6 — Cutting Branches and Limbs With the Pole Saw
21. With prep finished, it’s time to get down to business — how to use pole saw for cutting limbs. So switch on your machine and check your plan for the correct cutting order.
22. Lopping trees is either a one or two-stage process — depending on whether you’re tackling a small or large branch. Small limbs are those that you can easily hold in the air with one hand — large branches are, well, those you can’t.
23. For small growths, you can typically cut straight through the thin wood like a knife through butter. Take your time, address at an angle of around 60-degrees, and slowly guide the chain blade through the wood. Then, remove the fallen branch from your operational area.
24. For large limbs, you need to utilize the jump cut — preventing the limb from falling at a surprising (and therefore dangerous) trajectory and shielding the tree from damage that could lead to bacterial ingress.
25. With thin branches removed (as in point 22, above), it’s time to proceed with the jump-cutting process — reducing the size, and therefore weight, of the limb. Starting at the end of the limb, repeatedly cut off sections of around two to three feet — always making the cut just above a node.
26. As these lopped areas will gradually become thicker as you approach the trunk — it can be advantageous to make a few initial, light, chainsaw passes to create a groove. This increases traction for the chain, leading to a smoother cut.
27. On the opposite side, cut downwards to meet this initial cut — using the groove method as described earlier. As the two cuts merge, the limb will descend perfectly vertically — with no unwanted swinging or tearing.
28. Continue with your tree-cutting plan following the above guidelines until your tree looks amazing.
Step 7 — The Clean-Up
29. If you’ve listened to my advice, you will have cleaned up the majority of fallen wood during your project.
30. Manually lift any remaining larger limbs and branches, place them in a wheelbarrow, and store or dispose of them correctly.
31. Use a rake to address any residual twigs and leaves.
32. Have a cold one, call your neighbor round to admire your handiwork, and suggest to your partner/girlfriend/wife/someone-else’s-wife that you deserve some ‘special time.’
Additional Tips For Using a Pole Saw
On top of the techniques and safety advice outlined above, here are my bonus tips to become a true pole saw aficionado:
- Keep the pole and handle free from oil.
- Ensure the chain stops completely before putting the machine down.
- Only have your unit repaired by a qualified tool engineer.
- Don’t overreach.
- For added safety — use a reduced-kickback chain and guard.
- Cut one branch at a time — it’s not a race.
- Have frequent comfort breaks — it’s nice to get away from the noise and vibration.
- Don’t touch the chain while it is moving.
- If you need to touch the blade to check tension — wear gloves.
The Final Cut
With preparation, planning, and patience — your pole saw cuts the parts other saws cannot reach.
I consider understanding pole saw use to be an invaluable skill for the ardent home gardener — allowing you to lop, dock, and shape your tree while keeping two feet planted safely on the ground.
I really hope you enjoyed this walkthrough — and, if you think one of your arboreal-loving buddies would benefit from checking it out, please feel free to share.
Now you know the tricks behind how to use a pole saw — so get outside and prune like a pro.