How Often To Sharpen Chainsaw Chain?

A sharp chainsaw chain is a pleasure to use and a whole lot safer than trying to push through the workpiece with a dull chain.

Regularly sharpening your chainsaw chain will not only make the cutting process easier on the arms but also reduce the overall wear on the chainsaw.

A lot will depend on the type of trees or wood you are dealing with, but a general guide suggests sharpening the teeth after about three hours of cutting.

Of course, cutting dirty wood will reduce that time considerably, and so will the overall condition of the saw.

Here we will go through the best practices to keep your chainsaw cutting efficiently and highlight the telltale issues to be aware of that indicate the sharpness of your chain needs some attention.

This Is How Often You Should Sharpen Your Chainsaw Chain

Guides are only an indicator, but the most trustworthy indicator to sharpen your chainsaw will come from the size and shape of the small chips the teeth produce as they move through the wood.

Sharpen Your Chainsaw Chain

So the next time you fit a new blade to your chainsaw, make a special note of the size and shape of the chips produced.

The chips should be almost as wide as the teeth in the chain and, in ideal conditions, as long as the pitch of the chainsaw chain.

When the chips come off they should be light and feathery with definitive sides and shaped almost like little rectangles of paper-thin pieces of wood.

You will not get this perfection all the time when cutting trees, but it is essential to keep this idea in mind because it will also indicate that you have sharpened the teeth of the chainsaw correctly.

Reasons You Might Need To Sharpen More Often

I find that I reach for my sharpening tool roughly every time I have used two tanks of gas.

There are times, however, when the chain cutters need a touch-up after one tank of gas if I have been cutting some very hard wood.

There are other times when circumstances dictate that you will need to stop cutting and attend to the teeth. For example, those horrible times when the chain struck metal or rock.

You Hit Metal

Hitting a nail or some other piece of metal embedded in a tree will stall your cutting process. The individual chains’ cutters will suffer damage, and I’m afraid few issues will dull the chain quicker than hitting metal.

If you have hit a piece of metal and you will know by the sparks, then you will have to have a close look at the individual teeth to check for damage.

Hitting a stone or rock will have much the same effect on the teeth as striking metal, so it’s best to avoid these items to extend the life expectancy of the chain.

If you were quick to react to hitting metal, it might be that only a few teeth have been damaged, so there are two courses of action to consider.

If the chain is relatively new, it may well be worthwhile to replace the damaged section with a new section of chain.

However, if the chain is already a little worn, you will have to sharpen all the teeth and get them to the same size. This could be a reasonably lengthy filing session, so I suggest sharpening all the teeth with a similar number of strokes and seeing if the chain performance is acceptable.

You Hit Dirt

Cutting around roots is always associated with the risk of getting dirt on the saw chain and, worse still, into the bar groove.

You Hit Dirt

Chains and dirt are a terrible combination, and care should be taken to avoid getting the bar into the dirt.

Be careful when cutting fallen logs, as it is so easy to push the front of the bar into the ground on the other side of the log.

Letting the chain run through dirt will cause rapid wear on the bar, and it is worthwhile to stop cutting if you have got dirt on the chain and clean the bar.

First, you will need to remove the chain from the bar and clean out the groove in the bar and the dirt on the chain. Check carefully around the sprocket area and make sure all the debris has been removed.

It’s Hard To Cut Through Wood

It may be more difficult to cut trees which are very hard, and you will need to exercise a little patience if you come across some tough timber.

If the chainsaw is managing to remove the wood in small chunks and not saw dust, then it is operating efficiently, and you will have to accept that the wood is harder than usual.

If, however, you find that the saw is cutting through familiar wood at a much slower rate and you have to apply additional force then it’s time to check the sharpness of the teeth and the condition of the depth gauges.

Signs You Need To Sharpen Your Chain

Here are some signs that you might need to break out the chainsaw sharpener.

You Start To See Smoke

Chances are that you will smell the wood starting to burn before smoke actually appears.

A dull chainsaw will tend to heat up very quickly because of the additional pressure inevitably applied to try and get the teeth to cut.

Another reason for the chain to get too hot is insufficient lubrication of the bar, either because the chain oil tank is empty, or the lubrication ports are blocked.

No lubrication of the bar is a sure way to result in a dull chainsaw.

Your Chainsaw Starts To Cut Crooked

The nice thing about this problem is that it is easy to fix and it provides a good report on your sharpening technique. The saw pulls to the side that is sharper and it is easy to find out why.

If you sharpen your chainsaw chain by hand, pay attention to applying the same amount of filing to both sides of the chain.

Remember there is a tendency to be more efficient when you are sharpening using your dominant hand so you need to be mindful of that and compensate when sharpening the other side of the chain.

It is also very important to maintain the same angle for both sides of the chain. Pay close attention to the guidelines on the sharpening tool.

You’re Getting Sawdust Instead Of Wood Chips While Cutting

It’s not uncommon to hear complaints about a sharpened chain not cutting properly and simply making sawdust. The problem is often that the depth gauge heights have not been adjusted along with the filing of the teeth.

As the individual teeth are filed to resharpen them, so should every depth gauge be filed to make sure that the correct relationship between the depth gauge and the tooth is maintained.

Make sure that your chainsaw sharpener does not file too much off the depth gauges otherwise you will have an aggressive chain that may be difficult to control, resulting in more kickback.

How Many Times Can A Chainsaw Chain Be Sharpened

The number of times you can sharpen a chainsaw chain depends on a couple of issues.

Once the tooth can no longer be filed without filing the guideline stamp away, then it is time to change chains. You can do some things to maximize the use of the chain.

Make sure the chain’s cutters are always kept sharp.

Keep the chain clean and free of debris.

Ensure that the tension on the chain is correct and the bar is well lubricated.

Avoid the cutting teeth striking metal objects, rocks, and dirt.

Using A Manual File To Sharpen Chainsaw Chain

Manual sharpening has always been my chosen method for keeping my chains sharp.

Manual Chainsaw Sharpener

The Stihl 2 in 1 file holder is a tool that has served me well over the years to sharpen cutters. It holds both the round file for sharpening the teeth and the flat file to dress the depth gauges at the same time.

The file guide makes it easy to keep the right angle to the cutter and the flat file ensures that the depth gauge is correctly filed along with the tooth.

The file guide will keep your file at the proper angle and ensure that your sharpening is even on both sides.

Using An Electric Chainsaw Sharpener

Electric sharpeners are great if you have multiple chains to sharpen or if you need to sharpen cutters that have excessive wear and are extremely dull.

Electric Chainsaw Sharpener

The disadvantage is that out in the field you will have to rely on a manual file to restore a dull chainsaw chain.

If you are averse to using manual files then it makes sense to sharpen extra chains with an electric sharpener and carry a spare chain to make it easy to swap chains in the field.

Tips To Get A Sharp Chain Every Time

Sharpen a chainsaw chain in one direction.

Always stroke towards the sharp side of the tooth with slight pressure in a fluid and smooth action letting the file do the work.

Regularly sharpening your chainsaw chains will minimize the time it takes to resharpen the teeth.

Use a guide to check the height of the depth gauges.

Flip Your Bar For Even Wear

Conventional cutting positions the bar on top of the work piece, which means that the bar will wear more along the bottom edge. To prevent this and promote an even wear of the bar, it is good practice to turn it over from time.

The trouble is though, if you don’t make it a regular switch, it tends to be forgotten, so I turn the bar over after two full tanks of gas have been used. It may be a little too often, but it’s not going to cause any problems, and allows me to keep track of the wear on the bar.

Tips To Maintain A Sharp Chain

Here are some tips to keep your chainsaw blade nice and sharp.

Clean Debris From Chainsaw After Use

The bar chain oil does a fantastic job of lubricating the bar and chain, but it also is an efficient collector of wood chips, dirt, and other debris that will collect on the chainsaw and generally around the sprocket area.

So, when your chainsaw blade is dull, it is also an excellent time to clean out the area around the sprocket and ensure that the bar chain oil ports are clean and open to ensure efficient lubrication of the chain and bar.

Make Sure Chain Tension Is Set Properly

I’m sure everyone has a particular routine about the little steps that go into chainsaw maintenance and sharpening or replacing chains.

Make Sure Chain Tension Is Set Properly

There are, however, some standard procedures that should be adhered to, one of these is the correct tension of the chain.

A chain tensioned too tight is going to accelerate the wear of both the chain and the bar and put a strain on the engine because of the added friction.

A chain tensioned too loosely is dangerous because of the possibility of it coming off the bar and causing some serious damage.

The correct way to tension the chain is to loosen the bar holding nuts enough for the bar to move up and down just a little.

While holding the bar up, tension the chain so that the links at the bottom of the bar are just snug along the bar. Keep holding the bar up and tighten the bar holding nuts.

Remember, the centrifugal force resulting from the chain spinning at 12,000 rpm results in the chain being tensioned at the bar tip and the sprocket, so any incorrect tension of the chain is going to cause wear in those two areas.

How Long Should A Chainsaw Chain Last

Notwithstanding accidents like hitting a nail or a rock, a chainsaw should last many years.

With regular use, the chain should last at least five years. For the more casual operator, the chain could last a decade.

In terms of hours, the chain should last hundreds of cutting hours. The limiting factors are the maintenance of sharp teeth and the amount of metal that is removed every time you sharpen your chainsaw chain.

The chain teeth have a stamp that shows the limit of permissible sharpening, which determines the chainsaw blade’s life span.

Once it is not possible to sharpen your chainsaw chain anymore without going past the stamped line, then I’m afraid your chain needs to be replaced.

Another area to pay attention to is the wear on the tie straps. This is often caused by the tension on the chain being too tight, and the danger is that the rivets may loosen if the tie straps are excessively worn, and that is a very dangerous situation.

Tips An Chain Replacement

When replacing the chain, it is essential to ensure that the new chain has the identical chain pitch. The correct pitch is normally stamped on the bar, and some chains also have the pitch stamped on the links.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your chainsaw cutters sharp is the best way to maintain your chainsaw. A sharp chain is also a much safer tool because less force is required to control the saw.

File guides make it easy to sharpen a chainsaw and prevent uneven cuts due to incorrect filing.

Be aware that harder woods are going to make the teeth dull quickly so be prepared to sharpen a little more often if you encounter tough timber.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Is it better to sharpen or replace a chainsaw chain?

Unless the chain has been severely damaged by hitting a rock or piece of metal there is no need to replace the chain. With the aid of a round file to suit the tooth size and a file guide to keep the angles correct, the chain can be restored to cut efficiently.

How do you know when your chainsaw chain needs sharpening?

The size of the chips coming off the saw are the best indicator of the condition of the teeth. Large rectangular thin pieces of wood coming off the saw are what sharp teeth produce.

How long does it take to sharpen a chain?

Depending on the bar length the time it takes to sharpen your chainsaw chain is remarkably short. I can sharpen my 16 inch bar chain in ten minutes comfortably. While longer bars will take more time and if you have been a little negligent in regular sharpening it will take a little longer.