Learning how to sharpen a chainsaw is essential to getting your season started right and saving yourself some money in the process. Why pay $20 for a new chain when you can sharpen your chainsaw yourself? A sharp chainsaw is a safe chainsaw, as it’s less likely to kick back on you during operation. It’s also more efficient and less tiring to use.
Here is everything you need to know about how to sharpen a chainsaw boiled down to three basic steps.
1. Gather Your Tools
A chainsaw chain is divided into three parts: the chain; cutters, which are the teeth on the left and right side of the chain; and depth guides, which control the depth at which the cutters penetrate wood.
Wondering how to sharpen a chainsaw without having to take it in for service? You’ll first need a pair of files: a round file, the size of which depends on the pitch of the chain (either a 5/32-inch file, a 3/16-inch file, or a 7/32-inch file), and a 6-inch flat file. You’ll also want to pick up a file guide that will keep the file in place while you’re using it on the cutters, as well as a second file guide for use with the depth guides. Finally, grab a pair of heavy duty gloves to protect your hands from both the blades and any metal burrs.
2. Start with the Cutter
Begin by cutting a slot into a piece of scrap wood or a stump to stabilize the chainsaw. Slide the round file into its file guide, position the guide on top of the chain and pull the file at a roughly 30 to 35 degree angle away from your body, only moving in a single direction. Move from one set of cutters to the next, skipping one each time — the guide will make sure the file stays at the correct depth. Once you’ve done all of one side, you can move to the opposite side of the chain and do the second set of cutters using the same technique.
3. Tackle the Guides
Learning how to sharpen a chainsaw also means keeping the guides at the right depth. Over time, cutters could become worn to the point where they sit below the guides, which means your saw won’t bite properly. Position your depth gauge file guide on top of the teeth and verify whether the guide sticks up over the guide ledge. If it does, that means it’s sticking up over the cutters, too. You’ll have to use your flat file to grind it back down to even with the depth gauge. Repeat this process for every guide on your saw.
You can sharpen a chainsaw’s cutters roughly 10 times using the above method. After that, it’s probably a good idea to replace the chain entirely. If you run into any trouble, or if your chain seems beaten up or otherwise abused, find a pro and ask if the chain should be changed before being used again. To prolong its use, however, keep it properly lubricated and sharpened to operational specifications, located in your user manual.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.