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Brushing is the practice of clearing branches, trees, and other obstructions from a trail, and is an important element of trailwork. Removing brush keeps the trail clear of branches that might smack hikers as they hike along the trail. Depending on the severity of the problem, different tools can be used, from humble lopping shears all the way up to the mighty brush saw. Cabin and Trail is generally responsible for brushing trails maintained by the Dartmouth Outing Club.

Light brushing


  • Lopping shears ("loppers")

How to

The most important thing about brushing is to brush aggressively -- brush grows back FAST, and you don't want Mother Nature to undo your work in a single rainy month. So don't hesitate to cut saplings down to the ground and cut branches way back from the trail. A good visualization is to imagine yourself carrying the door to your house down the trail -- you should be able to carry the door (4' x 8') along the trail without hitting any branches*.

Public enemy number one is tree saplings; unlike some small plants that remain small throughout their lives, tree saplings will continue to grow and obstruct the trail more and more. It's important to nip them in the bud so be merciless and cut them to the ground. Sometimes a pair of little hand trimmers goes faster than the full length loppers, for cutting lots of little guys.

Whenever cutting branches, cut limbs all the way back to the trunk; when cutting saplings, cut them all the way to the ground. You should never leave half-clipped trunks or limbs sticking out. That's just weird.

*Editors note: carrying an actual door is not recommended; it may be difficult to see where you're going. If you insist on carrying a door, make sure it at least has a window in it or one of those peepholes to see through.

Hard-Core Brushing


  • Lopping shears ("loppers")
  • Stihl FS350 Brush Saw (rrrrrr)
  • Harness for the saw (Orange plastic plate with nylon straps)
  • Cutting helmet (a faceshield AND safety glasses are important, it flings chips everywhere)
  • Spare blades
  • A round file for sharpening (7/32" or ¼” depending on which blade you have)
  • A steel pin for changing the blade. A large nail will do (size doesn’t matter as long as it fits in the hole on the top of the power head).
  • "Star Scrench" (A scrench that has a star-shaped ("torx") screwdriver bit instead of a flathead bit... yes, we do have these)
  • Gas/oil mix (the same 50:1 ratio as for the chainsaws). You can go through a LOT of gas in an afternoon, so bringing a small gas can is probably preferable to one of those little aluminum bottles.

How to

The brush saw is one of humankind's coolest inventions, and looks like a souped-up weedwhacker that has a circular-saw blade at the end of the shaft. It allows you to achieve rates of recreational deforestation that you never even thought were possible. With the brush saw you can cut an incredible number of saplings and shrubs very quickly and with a small group of people (3 is a good number for a brush saw team).

A good system is to have a brush saw operator wreak havoc on the brush, and have one or two helpers who follow them at a safe distance and throw the brush off of the trail (this is not a trivial task, since "brush" here can mean trees several centimeters in diameter). The brush saw can only cut close to the ground, so the helpers should also have loppers to take care of high branches that need to be trimmed back.

How to safely (and mercilessly) operate the brush saw:

  1. First put the harness on like a vest and snap the clip together over your sternum. Adjust the straps so the plastic plate sits on your right hip.
  2. Lay it on the ground with the blade not touching anything. It does not have a "chain brake" so it spins when you start the saw.
  3. Squeeze the triggers on the right hand handlebar and slide the lever all the way back to "start". The lever should stay at "start" and the triggers should stay in when you let go.
  4. On the powerhead, switch the choke to closed.
  5. Squish the little rubber bubble until it is filled with gas. Three or four times should do it.
  6. Pull start just like a chainsaw. It should start, run briefly, and die. That's your cue to switch the choke from closed to open and start the saw again. As soon as it starts, squeeze the trigger and run it at high rpm's for 15 seconds or so to help it warm up. Then when you release the trigger it should idle and the blade should stop turning. Listen closely for the sound of overgrown saplings quivering with fear.
  7. Pick up the saw and hook it on the harness (which you are hopefully already wearing along with your cutting helmet). Hook it at a level where you can stand comfortably and have the blade be parallel to the ground and a couple of inches off the ground.
  8. To cut - It is hard to hurt yourself with this saw but easy to hurt others. So stay well clear if you are not the one running the saw, and watch out for other people if you are the operator. Be careful of your footing and rest when you are tired. Just pivot your upper body back and forth to cut. Run the saw at full power, or at idle - not in the middle. Running in the middle tends to foul the engine - so wind it right up, cut what you need to cut, and let it go back to idle. Try to cut close to the ground so you don't leave a lot of annoying little stumps. Watch for rocks which will dull the blade. When the blade is sharp you can cut hardwood saplings a couple of inches through, woo hoo! If the saw whines or you smell smoke, you are cutting something too big and/or the blade is dull.
  9. To shut off the saw switch the switch on the right handlebar to "off".
  10. It’s easier to sharpen the blades in the shop than out on the trail; and we have multiple blades. So a good method is to take several blades with you when you head out, switch when each gets dull, and then sharpen them all at once when you get back.

Changing the blade is easy:

  1. Shut off the saw (obvi)
  2. Insert the steel pin/nail into the small hole on top of the power head.
  3. Rotate the blade until you feel the pin “bottom out” and the blade won’t spin any more.
  4. Use the wrench end of the scrench to loosen the hex bolt that holds the blade in place. It’s tricky – to loosen it, you must turn it clockwise. (most normal bolts loosen only when turned counter-clockwise).
  5. Remove the hex bolt and two circular metal pieces. DON’T lose them, and DON’T forget the order they were in.
  6. Replace the blade. Make sure the teeth are pointed in the correct direction – if you forget, there’s an arrow on the blade shield that reminds you which direction the blade spins.
  7. Replace the metal pieces, and tighten the hex bolt by turning it counter-clockwise. The pin will again need to be inserted into the top of the power head.
  8. To sharpen the blade:

Put the powerhead on the ground and prop the blade at a comfortable height, maybe on a stump. OR remove the blade from the saw, and lay it flat on a table or bench. Look along the edge of the blade and notice that the teeth are bent slightly in opposite directions. Just like a chainsaw chain, you go around and sharpen all the ones on the right hand side and then all the ones on the left. Use the round file at about a 5 degree angle to the teeth and sharpen the leading edge. Just like a chainsaw you want to get the leading corner, the top edge, and the side edge sharp. The teeth that point down get duller faster so they will need more sharpening.

You can download the manual to the FS350 as well as all our other Stihl tools here: