How to Sharpen a Chainsaw?

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A chainsaw is a handy tool to have wildly when it’s firing on all cylinders. Upon purchase, a new one cuts like a dream. However, over time, you may notice you can’t miss in a straight line, your chainsaw is cutting slowly, or the chain is hitting the dirt while the unit is running.

Greenworks 14.5 Amp 18-Inch Corded Chainsaw 20332

Chainsaw maintenance is non-negotiable. One of the benefits of sharpness maintenance is the prolonging of the useful life of the saw, and that’s because the quick and efficient style of cutting a chainsaw is known for preserving its sprocket, engine, and guide bar. 

When the saw is sharp enough, it tends to cut through its intended workloads in a straight line and quite quickly. So, if you are noticing any of the symptoms mentioned above, the chances are that your chainsaw needs sharpening. 

Luckily, you don’t need to be an expert to have yours sharpened well. All you need is an overview of the steps to take and the right tools. It should take you less than two hours in total, and you’re going to be cutting again as nothing happened.

Chainsaw maintenance is non-negotiable. One of the benefits of sharpness maintenance is the prolonging of the useful life of the saw, and that’s because the quick and efficient style of cutting a chainsaw is known for preserving its sprocket, engine, and guide bar. 

Now that you have the incentive to keep yours running well, it’s time to learn how to do so.

What You Need

BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Chainsaw

As you read through this guide, you are going to see some references to various tools. Maybe you are the type of person who wants to get the required items before you read the instructions. If so, the following are the requirements to sharpen your chainsaw based on the instructions provided below:

  • You need a chainsaw sharpening kit that includes a cylindrical (round) file, a flat file, a handle, and a guide. it’s important to know what cylindrical file size to ask for, which is information manufacturers tend to provide on the box or in the manual.
  • Note that you can alternatively use a rotary sharpener rather than a cylindrical file, but the details of using one effectively are beyond the scope of this guide.
  • Heavy-duty gloves are required to help you prevent accidental injury.

Choosing a File Size

Your file is the primary tool in this whole sharpening equation. Some professionals tend to opt for the typical square or rectangular-shaped files that are used for knives. However, it would be in your best interest to use cylindrical files, which are specially intended for chainsaws.

When you go to your local hardware store, you will likely notice that there are three file size options for you to choose from. Going from most minor to largest, these are 5/32, 3/16, and 7/32. Again, refer to the information provided by your manufacturer to understand what your file size requirements are.

EGO Power+ CS1604 16-Inch 56-Volt Lithium-ion Cordless Chainsaw

Check your guide bar as well, as manufacturers tend to place chain specifics there. You can kill two birds with one stone and grab a replacement chain based on the specifics you see.

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Disconnect the Power

This one is a no-brainer. Under no circumstances should you ever work on electrical appliances while they are plugged in. You could even expand this to just about any machinery with a power source.

Before working on electrical components in a car, disconnecting the battery is advised. Similarly, if you were working on electric wiring in a house, you may want to disable the circuit breaker or fuse box first. 

So, before you start doing anything on your chainsaw, ensure that its power source is disconnected. Never rule out the possibility of the saw creating unexpectedly. You know how powerful they can be, which means you can imagine the potential for injury.

If your saw is electrical, plug it out or remove its battery. If it runs on gas, make sure the engine is completely stopped before any work begins.

File and Guide Setup

While you can purchase the chainsaw file independently, you may opt for the whole sharpening kit instead. That way, you are guaranteed to have a file handle and a guide. Both are crucial in the mix, and they allow you to carry out your sharpening efficiently.

Greenworks 14.5 Amp 18-Inch Corded Chainsaw 20332-1

Wear heavy-duty gloves, as you can still be hurt by a chainsaw that’s off. Your sharpening kit will help you assemble your guide, file, and handle based on provided instructions.

The setup will help you move the file correctly and hold it at the proper depth in the chainsaw teeth when you are finished. The angles can be confusing, so that you can look at the teeth on the chain for additional guidance. Each one features a small line near the bottom that shows you the recommended angle for the chain you have.

Adjust Chain Tension

Adjusting the chain’s tension is one of the most important steps here. If it’s too loose, teeth can begin to inch backward when there is pressure applied to the cutting edge. When the tension is right, you should be able to pull the chain away from the bar just about enough to see the drive teeth in the rail.

Therefore, if they are visible without the chain being pulled away, the tension is incorrect. You can do a simple test to check for yourself. Hold on to the chain in the center area of the top of the bar. Pull it and quickly release it. If it’s slack, then tighten it a bit. If it snaps back into place, then your tension is correct.

Oregon CS1500 18-inch 15 Amp, Self-Sharpening Corded Electric Chainsaw

To adjust this, loosen the retaining nuts holding the guide bar, raise the bar, then turn the tensioning screw. The screws are typically on the side or front of the chainsaw buddy. Once the adjustment is complete, tighten the nuts again.

You should also check your tension every time you use the saw for best results instead of waiting until maintenance time to adjust.

Secure Your Bar

Secure the saw in a bench vise if you are in the shop or at home. On the job site, a stump vise can be used. You want a consistent level of sharpness across all the teeth and keeping the saw in place is conducive to this.

You don’t get unlimited tries to do this since blades wear down after the chain has been filed several times. Should things get too small to file, you’re going to have to replace the whole chain. If you find yourself in that position, there’s nothing to worry about once you follow these steps:

  • Release your chain brake and remove the guide bar plate holding screws.
  • Now that the chain is slack, you can easily remove it.
  • Position the chain to be installed properly ensuring that the drive links engage with the sprockets after placement on the clutch drum.
Sun Joe SWJ807E 10 inch 8.0 Amp Electric Convertible Pole Chain Saw
  • Once you verified that the chain’s direction is the same as before, work the rest of the chain around the nose.
  • Replace the plates by pulling the guide bar away from the chainsaw.
  • Tighten the tension screw until the middle of the chain can only be lifted about half an inch, then tighten the guide bar plate.
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Sharpen The First Side

You want to work with that clean chain here, so tidy things up with a wire brush before you start if it’s dirty. 

Start by marking the tooth at which you started so you know where you are supposed to stop. You want to file from inside to outside. If you forget, the tip of the file should never be pointing in the direction of the engine.

Your file must create a 90-degree angle to the guide bar’s flat sides. Using the chain’s straight line as a guide, move the file to 30 degrees. Both angles need to be held throughout your stroke, as variance can round the edges. 

Sharpen a Chainsaw
Chainsaw maintenance is non-negotiable. One of the benefits of sharpness maintenance is the prolonging of the useful life of the saw, and that's because the quick and efficient style of cutting a chainsaw is known for preserving its sprocket, engine, and guide bar. 

You are supposed to be filing every other tooth, and after doing a couple, you want to release the chain break and move the chain forward to continue. Stop sharpening each tooth when you can feel a burr on the other side of the tooth’s edge or if you can see one.

Directional Reverse

When you have gotten back to the starting tooth, you want to reverse the saw in the vise and tackle the outstanding teeth using the same inside-out filing direction.

It’s essential to apply your pressure proportionately and when needed. Cutting only occurs during your push stroke, which means there is no need to apply pressure during the corresponding pull stroke. Should you apply pressure during the latter, you reduce the useful life of your file.

Depth Gauge Filing

The depth gauges are what you call the rounded protrusions that precede each tooth. Some people, each of these a raker. They are responsible for setting the depth of the cut that their corresponding teeth make into the wood.

DEWALT 20V MAX XR Chainsaw Kit

Should they be too tall, the cutter doesn’t go very far into the wood. On the flip side, when they are too short, you risk having the blade goes so far into the wood that you can stall and damage your engine.

Your sharpening kit includes a depth gauge tool along with the file. All you need to do is adequately place the jig under the chain, leaving a single raker showing. If the exposed raker protrudes above the tool, use the flat file to shorten it. Do this from the same side that sharpening would take place. However, should the file skate across the raker, it means filing from the other side is required.

There is no need to worry about adjusting your depth gauge every time you sharpen your saw, but you should use the depth tool to check your status every time you’re about to do some cutting.

Final Remarks

Now, you have all the information you need to sharpen your chainsaw safely and effectively, which means ensuring that its useful life is as long as possible. Carry out this activity as soon as you notice symptoms of a dull saw. Doing so allows you to save yourself the time and money required to have a repair shop take care of your unit.

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s written by Itamar Ben-Dor, who has 25 years of experience in renovations, carpentry, locks, creation, landscaping, painting, furniture construction, and furniture renovation, works with concrete, plumbing, door repair, and more.

Itamar Ben-Dor has been in the home improvement business for over 25 years. Itamar Ben-Dor is a jack of all trades. He's worked in the renovation field for years, doing everything from locksmithing to carpentry. He's a small repairs specialist. But his true passion lies in furniture construction and renovation - he loves seeing old pieces come back to life with some new woodwork or a fresh coat of paint.

He has taken courses on many topics in these fields at professional colleges in Israel. Over the years, Itamar has also become quite skilled in gardening, carpentry, and renovations. He's worked on projects of all sizes, from massive renovations to small repairs. No job is too big or too small for him!

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Itamar Ben Dor
Itamar Ben Dor

My father is a practical engineer, and as a hobby he was also involved in construction, renovations, carpentry and woodwork at home; So there was always tools, saws, drills and more at home. Already I was a little kid Dad and I would renovate the house. Once we built a shed for garden tools, once we did flooring for the garden, once we renovated the bathroom and that’s the way it is. Long before there was an internet, directories and plans. We would build things, kitchen cabinets, install electrical appliances, do flooring, pour concrete and more ... I in this blog want to pass on to you the experience I have gained over the last 20 plus-minus years since I was a child to this day and give you information about the best tools, project plans, guides and more.