How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain
There are many reasons why everyone should have a chainsaw around their home and on their farm. One of those reasons is because chainsaws are a good companion when trimming branches. They allow you to efficiently and quickly trim branches, trim heavy and dense bushes and take down trees as required. A chainsaw is an indispensable time saving tool that makes life so much easier than using manual saws, axes and other cutting devices.
As we all know ‘nothing lasts forever’ and when something is new it is generally at its peak performance level and then wear and tear from its existence and use will over time gradually effect how it functions in terms of its efficiency and predictability. This transfers over to chainsaws too.
Wear and tear will set in over time, some wear and tear is acceptable and can be ignored superficial things like scratches to plastic casings, branding stickers falling off and other minor irritants. However when it comes to the chainsaws chain this is one aspect that cannot be ignored for two main reasons the first being the safety aspect of using a dull chain and the second being the extra time and effort used up in trying to cut with a blunt chainsaw chain.
For this reason, every chainsaw owner wants a sharp chainsaw chain that will make the work easier, while also making the task of cutting wood safer.
There are several reasons why a chainsaw may not perform as needed. The most common cause of a chainsaw that won’t cut properly is a dull cutting chain. For this reason if you want it to perform properly, it is important to try to sharpen it or even replace it with a new sharp cutting chain, which will generally be after it the chain has been repeatedly sharpened and used over time.
Advantages of a Sharp Chainsaw Chain
If you are an expert or indeed have some experience in gardening or forestry you will probably understand the dangers of working with a dull chainsaw chain. They are slow and at the same time dangerous to use. A dull chainsaw chain will in many cases cause burning and buckling while you are sawing through wood and even the lightest branch can become a chore to cut through. What this means is that it’s likely to take a long time to cut through wood with a dull chainsaw chain, and this is something you will be guaranteed to encounter if you use your saw for any length of time.
Having a sharp chainsaw chain saves a lot of effort and also cuts down on the wear and tear of your equipment, and reduces the strain experienced by your saw while in use. A sharp chain also makes using a chainsaw safer. The other thing that people mightn’t necessarily realize is that a dull chainsaw chain will not cut straight. A sharp chainsaw will make the work involved more efficient which allows the operator an easier task of cutting wood getting more done in less time.
A sharp chainsaw chain will certainly lead to happier chainsaw operation. The person will conserve more energy, will be safer and will have a much better cutting experience than someone struggling with a dull chainsaw chain.
Owning a Chainsaw Chain Sharpener will allow you to always keep your chainsaw working perfectly and to the optimum performance level. It will ensure that you and your chainsaw can get back to work whenever the saws chain is losing its cutting ability and becoming blunt or when it cannot cut through wood anymore.
If the machine has a sharp cutting end, it is likely to make the work easier and not as tiring. Research shows that many accidents occur when the operator is tired and begins to lose concentration on the task at hand. A sharp blade will ensure that you don’t get tired easily and will enable you to keep your mind more focused on what you are doing.
How Often Should the Chain Be Filed?
Well like everything in life this can be rather subjective. The reality of the matter is that the saw chain’s sharpness diminishes with time depending on the type and amount of tasks being carried out. There are several other things that determine the time it can take, before the need to sharpen your chainsaw arises. One of them is cutting into and through objects that reduce the teeth’s sharpness, and can damage the chains cutting tips, such as soil, rock, nails, wires and many more items.
The other thing is the type of tree that you are, or indeed have been dealing with. There are some trees that are harder than others, essentially categorized as hardwoods. What this means is that when dealing with harder woods like oak, beech, birch, cherry, ash etc. you will need to keep checking the sharpness of the chain and may find yourself sharpening your chain more regularly.
If a chain cuts through and hits a hard rock, nail or any other metallic material, these hard items will dull and damage the cutting tips on your chain and you will need to check and sharpen it immediately. There are those people who prefer sharpening a chainsaw every time they go through a refueling cycle with their machine. That is when they are using a gas-powered chainsaw. When using an electric powered chainsaw or even a rechargeable battery powered chainsaw, you also need to be cautious and determine the appropriate time of the day that you will stop to sharpen the teeth, perhaps after every battery change or chain bar oil top up.
It is worth noting that recent developments in chain manufacturing and design for certain rechargeable chainsaws now means that you can sharpen your chainsaw chain automatically from onboard the chainsaw. You simply depress a lever much like how the chain brake works and while the chain is spinning it will self-sharpen itself. This brilliant little advancement will remove the headaches and time from sharpening a chainsaw chain.
There is no single theory that has been developed to determine the time that you are supposed to sharpen your chainsaw. Because there are too many variables involved, the type of wood being cut, the amount of time the chain has been used, the tension of the chain, contact with grit, sand, soil, the quality of the chain and so on.
Just bear in mind that the sharper a chainsaws teeth are, the more efficient and productive your machine will be. It is recommend to get into the habit of sharpening your chain on a regular basis. In fact it is better to sharpen, little and often rather than waiting for too long to file the whole chain back when it is completely blunt.
The best answer to the above question how often should a chainsaw chain be filed is essentially this. You will know it’s time to sharpen your chainsaw chain when you have to apply pressure to make it perform better. You may find yourself forcing the chain to cut rather than noticing the chain cutting using its own free will.
Remember it’s not recommended to wait until the chain is completely dull to start gathering tools to go about sharpening it. There are several signs that you can watch out for. The symptoms and signs below are a clear indication that your machine is getting dull.
- You are likely to notice that the machine doesn’t pull itself into the wood as it once did. You find yourself having to apply an extra effort in order for it to cut. When you notice that the machine needs you to apply pressure to it in order for it to cut, just switch the machine off assuming you are not in the middle of cutting a large tree and sharpen the cutting edge.
- As was mentioned earlier, a dull chainsaw cannot cut through wood straight. What this means is that if you notice that the cutting mark is moving zigzag or sideways, then it’s time to make your machine chain sharper.
- The other thing that you are likely to notice is that the machine ‘’rattles’’ and ‘’bounces’’ during the cutting process. For this reason, it can become difficult to attain a precise positioning. This can however also be as a result of a chain that needs tensioning.
- If you notice that the machine is running in one direction causing a crooked cut, it is an indication that some cutting teeth are sharp while some are not.
- Smoke is also likely to crop up even though the chain is well lubricated and the chain tension is also good, and is a sure sign of dull or damaged chain teeth.
- The machine is also likely to create fine sawdust instead of coarse strands when you are cutting vertically.
Watch for the above signs and if you notice them, be prepared to settle down for a little while to sharpen your machine before you continue with your next task. The good news however is that spending a few minutes sharpening a chainsaw chain is going to save you a whole lot of energy, stress, money and time in the long run.
Tools Needed to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain
Most of the manufactures offer proprietary sharpening tools that are specific to their brands. If you purchase a chainsaw new most manufacturers will include the chainsaw files that specifically suit the chain supplied with the saw, in order to sharpen the chain.
However, there are also those manufacturers that leave the work in your hands. What this means is that you may have to go and look for that specific sharpening tool needed to perform the task. This can especially be the case if you have lost the original files that came with the saw or you have upgraded your cutting bar and chain to a different length and now need to source the correct chain file for the new chain fitted.
Either way here are some of the standard manual tools that you can use in order to sharpen a chainsaw chain. We say manual because these are the most basic form of tools used to sharpen a chainsaw chain. There are other ways to sharpen a chainsaw chain that involve powered methods for grinding and sharpening, but in this instance we will describe the method for sharpening a chainsaw chain by hand.
The good thing is that you can sharpen the cutting teeth of the chain with a round file of your own. One thing that you need to keep in mind though is that not all chainsaw chains are the same. This means that you need to be familiar with different types of chainsaw chains available before selecting a round file to perform the task at hand. You have to consider the chain pitch as well as other parameters before selecting the right round file. Using an over or undersized round file will destroy a chain so it is very important to select the right file based off the manufactures spec for the chain that needs to be sharpened. On the more expensive chains the relevant information will be stamped into the chain so ordering the correct size file becomes a little easier.
One tip we recommend is to retain the box or package a new chain arrives in. This will save you a lot of time and hassle further down the line when it comes to ordering files and indeed complete replacement chains. It will simply be a matter of referencing the box or package and searching for the relevant tool or chain.
This is another tool that is very important in the chainsaw chain sharpening process. You will need to determine the right size for the specific teeth. There are also several other tools that you will need to complete the chainsaw sharpening process.
They include a File gauge and a Stump vise. All of these tools are equally important and so you should have them ready to go and with you when you are in the garden or in the forest trimming and cutting trees.
Now that you understand the basic tools you need to sharpen a chainsaw chain let’s move on to the process of actually sharpening your chainsaw chain. We are assuming at this point you don’t have an automatic self-sharpening battery chainsaw and instead have a standard chainsaw chain that needs sharpening.
Step by Step Guide on How to Sharpen a Chainsaw
Having a sharp blade on your chainsaw saves you a lot of money. For those starting out and indeed even for those a little more seasoned, the process of maintaining and sharpening a chainsaw chain can be overwhelming and tedious in equal measure. However, if you use the below guidelines, you will be able to go about it with ease, because after all it is simply a process from start to finish.
If you follow our ten step process then the task of sharpening a chainsaw chain will become a lot more enjoyable and rewarding. Remember for those of you short on patients this is a case of slow and steady wins the race. Set aside a little time and don’t rush the process. Rushing through this method will only impact on the end result and you will only end up with a semi sharp chain that provides average cutting results.
Ok so let’s move on to the actual chainsaw chain sharpening process. Here we will include some useful videos for you to see firsthand how to sharpen a chainsaw chain manually. This is one of those occasions where a video is far more beneficial at describing the process than mere words can be. With the videos you will be guided through the whole process and will be able to better understand the process involved. Here’s a great video from the crazyrussianhacker youtube channel on the process of sharpening a chainsaw chain. Although the video demonstrates the effects of a dull chainsaw chain on a gasoline powered chainsaw the same effects will be seen with rechargeable chainsaws and indeed corded electric chainsaws too.
Of course remember to use suitable PPE equipment when carrying out the steps below. Some of the most relevant ones will be chemical resistant nitrile gloves to protect hands from grease and cleaning agent, goggles or safety glasses to protect the eyes and a face mask to prevent particles of metal entering the mouth throat and lungs.
Ok with that being said here is the easy to follow ten step process to follow that will enable you to get your chainsaw working at its optimum efficiency once more;
The first step is to determine the Gauge of your chainsaws chain. This step is especially important when buying a rotary grindstone or chainsaw file that matches your chain tooth. You should use the markings on the chain to determine the different sizes of the teeth and consequently get the right size of the file to use. The typical sizes on the chainsaw includes: 3/16, 5/32 7/32 of an inch in diameter. After you have decided on the perfect file to use for specific teeth diameter, then move to step two, but only after you have the relevant gloves, goggles and face mask.
Clean the chain thoroughly before you proceed. The main reason for this is to ensure that there are no particles and other types of dirt that would otherwise destroy the file you are about to use. You can use mineral spirits or even a commercial degreasing spray detergent or any other functional cleaning chemical to remove the dirt and the oil from the chain. But, do not get excess cleaning agent on the engine or other parts of the chainsaw. Some of these detergents can damage the plastic housing or even other parts of the machine. Always wear appropriate safety gear when using cleaning agents and performing maintenance tasks.
Inspect the chain link by link and look out for damaged or overly worn teeth. The reason for a lot of malfunctioning machines can be a damaged link or a broken tooth. For this reason, you need to check for these before you proceed with the next task. The flat surface at the top of the cutting teeth should be at least ¼ inch in length. If you notice that this is not the case, then take appropriate action. There is risk that if it is shorter than 0.6 cm or a quarter an inch, it will break while in motion.
Place the saw on a solid surface but not on a slippery metallic surface or on a hard rock. Ensure that the saw is stable and the blade is straight up. It should be supported in the right way ideally with a stump vise to encourage safe and accurate filing. The other thing is that you should ensure that the chain is left to rotate freely.
Locate and mark one of the cutting teeth as your starting point. If possible, the leading cutter should be your reference point. The leading cutter is the shortest cutter on the chain and is easy to spot. However, if your machines chain doesn’t have a leading cutter, then you can start anywhere you like but ensure you mark your start point using a marker or a dot of paint. The rule of thumb here is to ensure that every cutter is filed precisely and maintained at its respective size/ length. This is what enables each of teeth to slice away the same size of the wood, leading to a consistent overall cut. Ensure that all the teeth are sharpened the right way and none of them are overlooked during the process.
Get the file into the notch on the front of the cutter. The most important part of the cutter is the angled ‘’tooth’’ on the front of the flat surface. This is what slices the wood when the machine is in motion. Ensure that the curve of the file matches the curve of the surface to avoid damaging or distorting the sharp edge of the chain. The other thing is that the top 20-25 percent of the file diameter should be on top of the tooth.
The other thing that you should be aware of is the angle that the chainsaw tooth was ground or filed at from the factory. You must hold the file at the same angle that the tooth was filed at to begin with. If you are having trouble determining this, just try and gauge an angle between 25-30 degrees to begin with. There are some chains that have a flatter angle but most of them will fall somewhere between 25-30 degrees. It doesn’t matter the type of the chain involved, just ensure that the angle that the tooth was filed at matches the angle of the file while filing. Some of the more expensive chains have witness markers as a visual aid to gauge the angle to file.
Slice the file across the face of the cutter. This is the most important task in the filing process and you should do it using a moderate twisting motion in order to discharge filings that are removed. Although there is no theory as to which direction you are supposed to push the file, the best is from the short side of the angle to the longer point. This direction is preferred because it will leave a smoother cutting surface.
Chainsaw teeth are angled in different directions one after another. Once you have sharpened the teeth in one direction reverse sides and proceed around the unfiled teeth angled in the other direction. Ensure you keep an eye on the length of each flat top of the cutter. You can use calipers to measure and ensure equality across the teeth although this step can be skipped if time is precious.
Next check the clearance of the depth gauge. They are supposed to clear each cutting edge about 1/10 of an inch lower than the cutter. The main reason for this is to ensure that the amount of wood that the cutter removes on each pass is even. After this, file any depth gauge that interferes with the teeth. You can use a flat mill bastard file.
The last step here is to oil your chain, check your battery or fuel level, start your machine and get back to work.
So now that you understand the process involved in sharpening a chainsaw chain you will be much better equipped to carry out this task into the future. Much like riding a bike it might be slightly trick the first time getting settled and set up but then when you get the hang of it there will be no stopping you. If the thoughts of sharpening your own chainsaw isn’t sounding that appealing there are local services that will carry out the chainsaw sharpening operation for you. You can either leave in the complete chainsaw with the saw on the bar or take the chain off and leave it with them. They will in many cases use professional power grinders and industrial tools that will leave your chain very close to the condition it left the factory in. If you have lots of money to spare and are looking for an easy answer another option for you is to simply purchase a new chain each time the existing chain becomes dull. This is of course not the most economical method however one benefit is you will be guaranteed to be using a chain free from defects which does provide a greater level of safety each time the saw is used.
We hope you enjoyed this article and guide on how to sharpen a chainsaw chain. Hopefully you found this content useful, especially if you are just starting out and wondering how to make your chainsaw sharp again for the first time. If you think someone will benefit from this content and indeed the site overall please spread the word. Also we would love to hear your thoughts on all things relating to chainsaws and especially rechargeable chainsaws. Please feel free to leave a comment or post a question if you are considering using a rehargeable chainsaw or indeed outline your thoughts and experiences of using these battery powered chainsaws!
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Thanks Folks and Happy Cutting!