Posted March 22, 2021

Abrasive chainsaws cut kickback almost 50 percent when cutting pipe in trench

Study commissioned by ICS Diamond Tools identifies risk of circular cutoff saws and suggests alternatives for safer cutting.

For operators cutting pipe in the trench, circular cutoff saws have long been the preferred choice of power tool. But the comfort afforded by familiarity comes with the increased risk of kickback-related injury or death, report researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.. 

While circular cutoff saws have many safe applications, their inherent design exposes the operator to greater kickback-related hazards like head and neck injuries, lacerations or fatality when cutting pipe in the trench. According to a research study recently published in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, abrasive chainsaws generate nearly 50 percent less kickback energy than circular cutoff saws – making them a safer choice in the trench.  

ICS Diamond Tools, a division of Blount International, engaged a world-leading research university to conduct an independent research study to measure kickback energy for circular cutoff saws and abrasive chainsaws when cutting pipe in the trench. 

ICS has always prioritized safety, and its parent company, Blount, pioneered saw chain designs and championed regulations for safer wood-cutting chainsaws in the 1970s. While there is now strong regulation in place for wood-cutting saws, there isn’t currently any regulation specific to pipe cutting in the trench, which exposed a need for data collection around the kickback risks. 

The independent research study focused on pinch-derived kickback in an effort to better predict kickback risk to saw operators. Researchers developed a mathematical model and designed, built and tested a kickback machine to evaluate the phenomenon, focusing on differences between circular cutoff saws and abrasive chainsaws. The model allowed for the direct comparison, and results showed that kickback energy of the circular cutoff saw is nearly twice that of the abrasive chainsaw.

“Kickback events happen so fast, and not even the most experienced operator is able to react. But there’s been a lack of data surrounding the kickback risks of different tools, and this independent research study helped solve that,” says Todd Gerlach, director of product group, Concrete Cutting and Finishing division at ICS. “Results found that using an abrasive chainsaw decreased kickback risk by nearly 50 percent when compared with a circular cutoff saw, making them a safer option for operators in the trench. We’re proud to support this data and hope that it helps decrease injuries by informing operator choices and helping shape regulations for pipe-cutting in the trench.”

Using an abrasive chainsaw also allows more control of the tool without having to reposition themselves around the pipe – or reposition the blade guard for the final cut as they do with circular cutoff saws, which is when the danger of kickback increases significantly. 

Beyond reduced risk of serious injury, using an abrasive chainsaw to cut pipe in the trench also improves project efficiency by reducing excavation requirements. 

To view a white paper detailing the full independent research study on how to decrease risk in the trench and learn more about safer alternative cutting methods, visit