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10 Steps to a Sharper and Safer Chainsaw

10 Steps to a Sharper and Safer Chainsaw

Like visiting your relatives on vacation, you've been putting off sharpening your chainsaw for weeks now.

Yesterday, you almost ripped apart your knee cap because you were completely exhausted from cutting wood.

You spent all your energy trying to push that dull chainsaw into each cut and you accidently lost control.

It's time to play it safe. Let's sharpen your chainsaw.


Before we dive in, let's set a couple ground rules for sharpening your chain manually.

First, always wear protective safety gear when sharpening your chainsaw. This includes safety goggles and leather gloves.

Second, unhook the spark plug wire from the spark plug to prevent accidental start up.

Tools You Will Need

For basic, yet proper chainsaw sharpening, use a chainsaw filing kit. Read your chainsaw's owner's manual to determine the size of your chain. Each filing kit contains files that correspond to a specific chain size.

Most chainsaw filing kits include a:

  • Round file for sharpening the curved areas of the cutting teeth.
  • Flat file for sharpening the depth gauges.
  • Filing guide to ensure the round file sharpens at the proper angles.
  • Depth gauge tool to set the height of the depth gauges to be filed.

Some filing kits provide a filing guide/depth gauge combination tool.

Using a vice is recommended to hold the chainsaw in place when you are sharpening.

Step-By-Step Sharpening

1. If your chainsaw’s chain isn't clean, clean it. This makes sharpening easier and more precise.

2. Slap the chainsaw in a vice. Make sure the chain is tensioned and clamp the bar between a vice or any tool that will hold it strongly in place.

3. Rotate the chain to locate the leading cutter (the shortest cutter on the chain). Starting with the shortest cutter allows you to determine how much to file the rest of the cutters so that all the teeth are nearly the same length.

4. Lock the chain brake, which prevents the chain from moving when applying the filing strokes.

5. Standing on one side of the chain, you will see cutters that face you to the inside and cutters that face away from you. File the inside facing cutters first. Every other cutting tooth is inside-facing. You will get to the other cutters when you move to the opposite side or turn the saw around.

Inside and Outside Facing Teeth Inside and Outside Facing Teeth on Chain

6. There are 3 angles to consider when filing each cutter. The top plate, side plate, and the cutting angle. Your file guide will have markings that help you match the correct cutting angle to the surfaces with the round file.

Cutting Angles Cutting Angles

7. Using both hands, place the file and file guide on the cutter and use smooth even strokes, pushing away from your body. Only file in that one direction, inside to out. Sharpen each cutter by rotating the bar until you’ve filed all the inside facing cutters. Then flip the bar around and sharpen the remaining cutters you skipped over.

8. Now that the cutters are done, let's sharpen the depth gauges. Depth gauges are the curved hook shaped part of the cutting teeth. The depth gauge determines the size of the wood chunk that is cut by the cutter. Use the flat file with the depth gauge guide to file down the depth gauge to the correct height, making sure it's slightly shorter than the height of the cutters.

Chainsaw Cutter Diagram Chainsaw Cutter Diagram

9. Double check that you've sharpened each cutter and depth gauge. You should see a clean thin chrome edge on the cutting teeth.

10. Last, but not least, re-tension the chain to its proper operating tension.

There you have it, 10 steps to a sharper, safer chainsaw. When the chain cutters are worn to about 4mm in length, it's time to get a replacement chain. Over-worn cutters have the risk of breaking off while operating.

Conclusion & Thoughts

Even if you're a very precise person, this sharpening process can be done in under 30 minutes.

Remember, to check your chainsaw's owner's manual for all sizes, measurements, and angles for your chain. You may also contact the manufacturer or a local dealer.

Be sure to review additional chainsaw maintenance tips.

If you have any comments or feedback, please let us know. E-mail us at [email protected].

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