Getting Your Chainsaw Chain Tension Just Right [Easy Guide]

Something every chainsaw owner should know is how to properly set the chainsaw chain tension on their saw. Getting it wrong could lead to a dangerous situation.

Adjusting chain tension is easy enough on most chainsaws and should be part of your checklist before you operate your chainsaw.

A properly adjusted chain will give you a clean cut and ensure that your chainsaw operates to the best of its ability. It will also keep you safe and avoid any possible injuries from a rouge chainsaw chain.

Why Proper Chainsaw Chain Tension Matters

Proper chainsaw chain tension is everything. A chain that is too tight will refuse to move or cut while a chain that is too loose can easily come off the bar and severely damage your saw or injure you.

You should always keep an eye on your chainsaw chain’s tension and ensure that it is set properly.

How To Set The Proper Chain Tension Step By Step

Luckily, setting chainsaw chain tension is super easy and takes no time at all. Do it once or twice and you’ll remember how to properly set your chainsaw chain tension for life.

The Proper Chain Tension Step By Step

Caution: The Chain Is Super Sharp

This should go without saying but always wear a pair of gloves or exercise extreme caution when working with your chainsaw chain.

The chain has tens of teeth that are made to quickly cut through wood and your fingers won’t stand a chance.

1. Find The Adjustment Screw

The first thing you need to do is identify where your screw is. The adjustment screw can be in different places depending on which model of chainsaw you are using.

Your screw will either be located on the outside of the saw on the bar cover near the bar nuts or on the front of the saw between the guide bar and the rest of the body of the chainsaw.

2. Loosen The Bar Nuts That Hold The Bar On

On the side of almost all chainsaws, there are screws that hold a cover panel for the chainsaw bar onto the saw. Take a wrench and loosen these nuts until the guide bar is loose.

It should only take a turn or two of each bar nut. Don’t take the nuts off completely, you just want to be able to move the bar up or down by approximately a 1/2″.

3. Adjust The Chain Tensioning Screw

Now that you’ve loosened the bar nuts, you can adjust the tension of the chain. But before you start, it’s important to disengage the chain brake and hold the guide bar up from the tip while you tighten the chain.

Here’s why:

When you’re out cutting a log with your chainsaw, the guide bar will be forced upwards a small amount. No matter how tight your bar nuts are, your chainsaw’s guide bar will move upwards.

This upwards movement will affect your chain tension. You can even see the change yourself if you examine the bottom of the chain while the bar is loose compared to when you pull up on the bar tip.

By holding the bar tip up while tightening the chain and retightening the bar nuts, you are anticipating that movement and avoiding sudden changes in chain tension while you cut wood.

Now that you have the guide bar held up and disengaged the brake, tighten the screw until you see the proper chain tension, but don’t let go of it until you’ve tightened the bar nuts.

4. Here’s What The Chain Should Look Like

As you can see, the chainsaw chain should be properly snug against the bar, but not so tight that it is impossible to move by hand.

You don’t want the chain to sag or hang out of the bar groove. That’s a sign that your chain is too loose and you need to tighten your chain’s tension.

The chain should be tight enough to hold itself along the guide bar and if you were to pull it away from the bottom of the bar, it should snap back into place.

5. Retighten The Side Cover Bolts

Once you’ve adjusted your chain to the proper tension, tighten the bar nuts on the side cover while still holding the tip of the guide bar nose up.

And that’s how you adjust chain tension in just a few simple steps. Now that you’ve done it once and seen how simple it is, you can do it again and again on your own.

Just remember to hold that guide bar nose up and to retighten the bar nuts holding the bar when you’re done.

How Often Should You Adjust The Chain Tension

This is sort of a trick question – you should adjust the chain tension as often as you need to!

Adjust The Chain Tension

How often you need to adjust the chain depends on a few different factors such as the chainsaw’s age and how long it’s been used. The easiest way to tell if you need to adjust it is to check the chain before and after you operate the chainsaw.

What Are Some Signs The Chain Is Too Loose Or Too Tight

Before, during, and after operating your chainsaw you should check the tightness of your chain.

Signs The Chain Is Too Loose Or Too Tight

A tight chain or even a loose chain can spell disaster so be sure to always keep an eye on it.

With that being said, there are a few warning signs that you can look out for.

Chain That’s Too Loose

Pull on the chain along the bottom of the bar. Only a few links should pull away from the bar groove.

If the whole chain is hanging off the bottom of the bar or when you let go the chain doesn’t snap back into place along the bar, it’s too loose. The chainsaw chain should be snug along the guide bar.

Chain With Too Much Tension

On the other hand, if you can’t even pull the chain along the bar with gloved hands the chain is too tight.

You should always be able to pull the chain along the bar or pull it just slightly away from the bar with minimal effort.

A chain that is too tight will wear out your sprocket on the inside or bar tip as you operate the saw. Your chain can also snap if it’s too tight or overheat the bar.

What If The Chainsaw Chain Won’t Tighten Anymore

If you’ve tightened your tension screw all the way and your chain is still loose, there are a few things you can try to do to fix it.

Remove A Link

After a chainsaw has been operating for a long time, the chain may stretch. Removing a link is cheaper than buying a completely new chain – as long as the chain has some life left in it.

You’ll need a special tool to remove a chainsaw link and put the chain back together again. Chain-breaking tools can often be found at hardware stores or online chainsaw supply stores.

A chain that is one link shorter will be tighter along the guide bar than a longer chain.

Get A New Chain

If you’ve tightened your adjustment screw all the way, removed some links, and the chain still isn’t properly tensioned, you may need to purchase a new chain.

Getting A New Chainsaw Chain

Your chain is likely stretched or broken beyond repair. Do not try to operate your saw with a loose chainsaw chain.

You are better off purchasing a new one than risking an injury because of improper tension.

Adjustment Screw Stripped

If you’ve stripped your screw, you can more than likely replace it with a new one from the manufacturer.

Search up your model of chainsaw and see if there are spare adjustment screws on their website or if another site offers spare screws.

Final Thoughts

Making sure your chainsaw chain has the proper tension is one of the most important things you can do before you operate your saw.

It’s easy to adjust chain tension and only takes a couple of minutes once you get the hang of it. These few minutes can save you hundreds of dollars in repairs or even serious injuries.

A loose chain can come off the bar and hurt the operator, so take the extra few minutes and make sure you’ll be as safe as possible before operating your saw.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

How do you know if a Chain is too tight on a Chainsaw?

Your chainsaw chain is too tight if you cannot freely pull the chain along the guide bar.

Your chain should be able to pull away from the bar by a few links and snap back into place when you release it.

Wear gloves when handling the chain and pushing it along the guide bar.

Also, be sure that your chain brake is disengaged otherwise you won't be able to move the chain at all.

How do you know if a Chain is too loose on a Chainsaw?

The easiest way to tell if your chain is too loose is to look at the chain on the bottom of the bar. If it is sagging or hanging off the bar, it's too loose.

You should be able to pull a few links of the chain away from the bar and have them snap back against the bar when you let go.

Can you Over-Tighten a Chainsaw Chain?

You can certainly over-tighten the chain on a chainsaw. A chain that is too tight can cause your sprockets to wear out sooner than they should.

Also, too tight of a chain could cause the chainsaw itself to overheat.

An overheated bar or chainsaw is a potential fire hazard and certainly can damage or reduce the lifespan of the chainsaw.

Do Chainsaw Chains stretch?

Chainsaw chains can definitely stretch over time. The chains heat up and spin at thousands of revolutions per minute.

All this force and energy will eventually pull the chain apart and make it longer as time goes on.

You should check the chain tension before and after use to ensure that your chain is properly tensioned.

A loose chainsaw chain can be dangerous and can eventually come off of the bar during operation.