Chainsaw Maintenance Tips and Tricks [Your Ultimate Guide]

Maintaining your chainsaw properly will add years to its life and make every job go more smoothly.

It will also allow you to run it more safely since the blade will be sharp and you won’t need to put undue pressure on the saw to get through a tough cut.

Make sure your saw is cool to the touch if you’ve been using it before doing any work on it.

Use the following chainsaw maintenance tips as a guide and you’ll enjoy safe, effective performance from it every time you put it to work!

Chainsaw maintenance tips

Here are 5 easy steps to get you off on the right foot followed by more detail explanation of how to clean your blade, sharpen the chain, and even change it if needed.

Let's get started...

1. Have the proper tools and materials available. This should be before you begin so that you won’t have to stop the job part way through to get what you need.

Not only is that a hassle, but it’s also possible you’ll lose track of what you’ve done and forget to complete an important maintenance step.

You should have your owner’s manual for the saw – and if you’ve lost yours, a .pdf version is probably available online from Husqvarna, Stihl, Craftsman, Poulin, Remington, Homelite and the other top manufacturers.

Also gather your chainsaw oil, sharpener, cleaning solution, file, screwdrivers and a couple of rags.

2. Start by cleaning your chainsaw. Disassemble it enough to get sawdust and grime completely out of it.

Dirt especially can lead to excessive wear on moving parts so you’ll want to remove that with a gentle cleaning solution and a rag.

You might use an air compressor to blow out debris in hard to reach places. Remove pine tar and tree sap from the machine as well.

3. Oil the internal parts according to the manufacturer’s specifications. You may not have to do this when maintaining your chainsaw every time. A visual check will let you know whether or not it needs it.

Read our choices of the best 2 stroke oil for chainsaws...

4. Check the air filter when maintaining your chainsaw that is gas powered. Clean or replace it as needed.

Do the same with the spark plug. Check for wear and tear on any other parts that might be due for replacement.

Put the unit back together once this job is complete, checking to see that all screws are tight, including those you didn’t remove. The vibrations of the working saw have a way of loosening fasteners.

5. Visually check the blade for evidence of damage.

If it doesn’t need replacing then sharpen the blade as specified in the manual. Having the right size file is essential to getting the proper edge on the blade.

Once you’ve got it sharp, oil the chain and bar to protect it from corrosion and to properly lubricate it.

6. Make sure to tension the chain correctly.

This is one of those tasks that are worth completing and then double-checking since, along with the sharpness of the blade, is most essential for both safety and top performance of your machine.

How To Clean Chainsaw Blades

Whether you are a seasonal chainsaw user or a frequent one, your blade is bound to get sticky with frequent or infrequent oiling.

And over time, it will get clogged with sawdust and debris, and extremely messy, with secretions from trees, at times, solidifying on it.

Cleaning the chainsaw blades will not only extend their life but also give you tension-free service for years to come.

You will know that your chainsaw needs a thorough cleaning if:

  • When your chainsaw is not cutting properly and producing fine sawdust instead.
  • There is a lot of chattering and bouncing when you switch on the chainsaw.
  • You have to put pressure on the chain while cutting and the chain is not pulling itself in as it should.

If you have come across one or any of these symptoms, it means that the chain needs immediate care.

Before you do anything else, make sure your chainsaw is turned off. If you have an electric chainsaw, make sure it is unplugged from a power source. If yours is the battery powered variety then make sure to remove the battery.

  • Make sure you have a clean environment such as a workshop, or an empty space. Place a piece of clean canvas or thick cloth on the floor so you can put your disassembled chainsaw and other parts on it to avoid it from getting dirty on the bare floor.

  • Wear protective splash eyewear and gloves.

  • The chain will need to be removed from the chainsaw before you start cleaning it. Remove the chain by turning the knobs that loosen or tighten it, and then slide it off the guide bar. Consult the manual of your particular model as it may have some additional features tethering the chain.

  • Once it is off, the chain will have to be soaked for a little bit to remove the grease off it. For effective cleaning, you will need household ammonia, a bucket of water and a hard brush. Mix about a cup of ammonia in the bucket of water and put your chain in this mixture and let it soak for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Remove the chain from the mixture, and use the brush to remove all the grease and dirt from the chain until you are sure it looks clean. Take your time with it and clean thoroughly.

  • If you feel the chain needs more cleaning, make a new mixture of ammonia and water and let it soak for some more time before giving it another thorough scrub if you feel it needs a second round of cleaning.

  • Once this is done, rinse the chain thoroughly under a tap because you do not want any lingering residue of this mixture on your chain.

  • Dry the chain immediately after the thorough rinse to avoid allowing any rust to set in. Before lubricating, the chain should be totally dry.

  • Some users apply a coat of penetrating oils such as WD-40 prior to lubricating the chain. This is an optional step and is not a replacement for lubricating.

  • The chain is now ready to be lubricated. In order to do this properly, you will need to lubricate both the chain and the guide bar. This will reduce the friction between the guide bar and the chain and reduce the amount of heat produced, allowing the chain to move and cut evenly and freely.

  • Leave this chain on a clean and dry surface to let it soak in the oil for a little bit before re-attaching it.

Once you have ensured that all parts are working and moving smoothly as they should, reattach the chains to the guide bar, and see if it is moving freely like it is supposed to.

How To Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain

How to sharpen a chainsaw chain

If the chain on your chainsaw has become dull, you will end up spending longer than usual to complete your tasks and at the same time, the chainsaw will be prone to what’s known as a kickback, which is extremely dangerous.

A kickback essentially means that the chainsaw gets caught in the wood while you’re cutting it, and jumps up towards you. Kickbacks are one of the primary causes for chainsaw injuries.

Dull chains also lead to excessive fuel/power consumption and increased damage.

So, if you notice that fuel or battery power is getting used up quicker than usual, then there's your sign it's time to sharpen that chain.

Necessary Tools

To start with, you will need a kit for sharpening your chainsaw that includes the following tools:

  • round file for the cutter’s edges.
  • A flat file for adjusting the depth gauges.
  • A scrench.
  • A chainsaw sharpener.

Since this is a power tool related task, it is better to be safe and use safety gloves and safety glasses as well.

The Process [4 Easy Steps]

Sharpening a chainsaw is mainly about sharpening the cutters and adjusting the height of the depth gauges in accordance with the cutters.

There are three parts of a chainsaw that you’ll need to sharpen when it starts yielding dust:

  • Left cutter.
  • Right cutter.
  • Depth gauge.

The depth gauges are the round metal extensions in front of each cutter tooth that regulates how deep the cutters can bite on the material you are sawing on.

With the wear and tear of the cutters after multiple sharpenings, their height decreases. Hence, the height of depth gauges also needs to be reduced to match with it.

The cutting edges are easy to sharpen using a round file of the diameter same as the diameter of the round cutting edges.

Here are the steps you need to follow to sharpen your chainsaw blade...

1. Fasten the Chainsaw Blade

Secure the chainsaw by using a vice and clamping it on a flat surface, preferably a table top. It is important to fasten it so that it doesn’t move during the sharpening as it could result in an accident.

Even if you don’t have a clamp, be very careful about stabilizing the chainsaw blade so that there is no shifting while using the sharpener.

You also need to secure the chain by using an adjusting screw and tightening it by a screwdriver. This will keep the chain from moving as well and make it easier to sharpen.

2. Choosing and Setting Up the File

After securing the chainsaw blade, you need to choose the file to sharpen. Not all chainsaws have the same diameter of the teeth.

So it’s important to find out the exact measurement and use a round file of the same diameter. Also, the cutters face in alternate directions. Start with one direction first and then move on to the next.

Place the file in front of the cutter tooth you are going to sharpen first. The placement should be such that 20% of the diameter of the file is above the top surface of the tooth.

Before starting, check the angle for filing your chainsaw needs, as it differs for different chainsaws and can be found in the user manual.

3. Sharpen the Cutters

After you have positioned the file over the tooth, run it through the cutter and grind it. Don’t use too much force and don’t remove the file backward as it can cause damage to the tool.

Sharpen the cutter by grinding the file through it multiple times until it is shiny and sharp. It might take 4-5 times of grinding at a specific angle to completely sharpen the cutter.

The same number of times should be used for the rest of the cutters as well.

If there is a small piece of material left on the edge of the cutter after filing, that means that the cutter is sufficiently sharpened.

When the first tooth is done, release the chain brake to bring the next tooth closer and sharpen it with the file.

Since the cutters on a chainsaw blade are placed in alternate directions, you’ll first finish all the cutters in one direction in a row by rotating the chain and bringing the next tooth forward.

Once you have reached the first tooth you sharpened, change the placement of the chainsaw blade by 180 degrees so that now the cutters in the alternate directions are faced at the previous angle.

The alternate cutters will also need to be sharpened using the same force and grinding the file same number of times.

4. Adjusting the Depth Gauges

Along with sharpening the cutters, you also need to sharpen and adjust the depth gauges since they regulate how deeply the cutters can saw. The depth gauges are filed using a flat file.

Choose the first depth gauge and file it down to the height as mentioned on the chain, which is the height the depth gauge is positioned below the tooth.

Depth gauges are also placed in alternate directions. So, follow the same process as with the cutters and file them using the same grinding pattern and number of strokes.

Once you are filing the ones in the same direction, reposition the chain to face the other side and file the alternate depth gauges.

Check the rakers, the bumps between each cutter in the chain, to see whether they are of the same height. The top of the raker should be below the top of the depth gauge and they should all be of the same height.

Once you are done with filing the cutters and the depth gauges, loosen the adjusting screw to relieve the tension and render the chainsaw in a working position.

Things To Look Out For...

  • After sharpening the chain, if the chainsaw starts pulling to one side that means one set of cutters are a little sharper than the others. In order to prevent this from happening, make sure you that the number of strokes on each cutter is identical.

  • Ideally, the file guide you use should have a clamp. This will ensure that the angle at which you file each cutter remains identical as well. This too will reduce the chances of uneven sharpening and help the chain last longer.

  • There’s a limit to the number of times you can sharpen the chain. After about five to six times, you should consider getting a new chain. It’s possible to push it to ten times, but half a dozen times is a safe limit.
Loose chainsaw chain

How To Change a Chainsaw Blade

The steps in the process of chain replacement are very simple and can be completed in five minutes but there are some things that can make all the difference between a chain that has been installed correctly and an incorrectly installed one, which will give you trouble.

First, let’s check whether you need to change your chainsaw’s blade.

After that, gauge which replacement chain matches your chainsaw perfectly by checking the size, measurements and type of chain that your chainsaw requires.

Is It Time To Change the Chain?

Over time, the chains will lose their sharpness and working becomes harder. There are a few signs that you must look out for to gauge whether it is time to change the blade on your chainsaw.

The first is that you have to apply pressure on the engine unit for the chainsaw to cut. Here the saw chain stops pulling itself into the wood, making your job tougher.

The second sign is that the chain is creating fine sawdust instead of coarse strands while doing a split or crosscut.

Another sign is when smoke starts to crop up despite the chain lubrication and chain tension working as required. The chainsaw could also be running one direction making the cuts crooked.

This usually happens if the cutting teeth on one side of the chain become dull or if the length of the cutting teeth is uneven.

Lastly, keep a lookout for a rattling sound or odd bouncing when you’re trying to make the cut with your chainsaw. This causes great difficulty when you’re trying to achieve precise positioning while working.

Changing Your Blade


Release the Nuts and Unlock the Brake

First, you will be required to remove the guide bar side panel. There are usually two nuts that hold together the side plate on most chainsaws.

These nuts can be unscrewed with the help of the wrench, which will allow you to remove the plate and access the chain.

In some models, the chainsaw’s brake is attached to the guide bar side plate.

In such a situation, you have to ensure that the brake is unlocked before removing sprocket the plate.

If this removal is done with the brake in the locked position, it will be difficult or impossible to reinstall.


Release the Chain Tension

Pull the nose of your chainsaw’s bar away from the tool so that it is released from the tensioner.

This is done only after the sprocket plate is off of the saw.


Remove the Old Chainsaw Chain

It should be easy to remove the chain from the guide bar after all that slack in it.

Simply pull the drive links out of the guide bar and let the other end of the chain slip around the clutch drum.


Loosen the Tensioning Screw

Now it is time to find the tensioning screw on the inside side of the guide bar and loosen it. This makes installing the new chain easier.


Thread the New Chain On

This step requires you to be a little more careful as it involves threading the new chainsaw chain around the tool’s clutch drum.

Make sure that the drive links are engaging in the sprocket. The rest of the drive links have to be threaded into the guide bar and around its nose in a similar way.


Align the Guide Bar

Once the chain has been threaded in an effective manner, you need to put some tension into it. This can be done by pulling on the nose of the guide bar, away from the tool.

While you are pulling the guide bar, it is important to ensure that it is seated on the saw’s adjustment pin.


Side Plate to Be Put Back

If the guide bar is positioned properly, the side plate above it is ready to go back on. Replace the plate along with the nuts that hold it into position.

Keep in mind that the nuts should not be tightened all the way yet. Let the guide bar move a little as the chain is being tightened to the correct tension.


Correct the Tension by Tightening

Use the same tensioning screw that you had dealt with earlier to adjust the tension on the chainsaw chain. This is found on the side of the guide bar.


Tighten the Nuts on the Side Plate

This is the last step in the process and the replacement is now complete.

Final Words...

Congratulations, You have just learned some of key aspects of chainsaw maintenance that will no doubt extend its the useful life!

It should go without saying to use extreme caution during any of these tasks and every time you put your chainsaw to use.


Drew - CountrySilo


Co-Founder CountrySilo

Growing up around the farmlands of the Midwest you learn at an early age getting your hands dirty is a way of life. Whether it was helping my Grandpa make cedar furniture, mowing neighborhood lawns or throwing bails of hay the do-it-yourself mentality runs strong in our family.

I am excited to help you tackle your projects and discover new ways to make your house a home!

Learn More About Us...

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