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Chain Saw Maintenance

Chain Saw on Workbench.

When you've finished work with a chain saw, it's worth spending a little time on maintenance to make sure the saw is functioning properly, is safe and is ready to go the next time you need it.

Maintaining a Chain Saw

Maintenance requirements for your chain saw will depend on the model and how much you use the saw. Always follow the manufacturer's maintenance instructions and schedules for your specific saw. The information below outlines some common, general maintenance procedures.

Turn the saw off before performing maintenance, checks or adjustments. In addition, disconnect the spark plug on a gas-powered saw and disconnect an electric saw from the power source.
Wear heavy work gloves when handling a chain saw chain.

Adjusting Chain Tension

Check the tension of your cutting chain regularly, checking a new chain more frequently. The chain will stretch with use and require adjustment periodically. A chain that is too tight can bind, overheat and wear out the bar. A chain that is too loose can come off of the bar.

  • Allow time for the chain and bar to cool down before adjusting chain tension.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions for checking and maintaining proper chain tension.
  • Tensioning methods differ by chain saw model, but in general the chain should not sag at the bottom of the bar and you should be able to move the chain easily around the bar by hand.

Sharpening the Chain

Sharpening the chain is an important part of maintaining the saw. When the saw creates sawdust rather than wood chips, produces a burnt wood smell, cuts crooked or requires you to press down hard to cut, it's time to sharpen the chain. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for your saw, using the specified round file and file guide for your chain. Here's the basic process for sharpening the chain:

  1. Make sure the chain tension is correct.
  2. Fix the saw in place with to hold it steady and free both of your hands. Some manufactures suggest securing the saw by clamping the bar (but not the chain) in a vise.
  3. Lock the chain by activating the chain brake.
  4. Using the file guide, file every second cutting tooth with an even, pushing stroke, from the inside of the tooth to the outside.
  5. Turn the saw around and file the rest of the cutting teeth. Make sure to file all teeth to an equal length.
  6. Clean the saw's bar to remove any filings.
Before you attempt to sharpen your chain, check your saw and chain documentation. Some chains require a specific sharpening device and should not be sharpened manually. Some manufacturers recommend having the chains on their saws sharpened by a professional.

Filing the Depth Gauges

Filing Depth Gauges.

The difference in height between the chain's depth gauges and the top of the teeth regulates how much material the saw will cut with each pass of the cutting teeth. It's important to keep the gauges at the correct height to prevent the cutting teeth from cutting too deeply or not deeply enough into the wood.

Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how often to check and file your chain's depth gauges. Typically, with normal wear, about every third time you file the cutting teeth, you should file the depth gauges. Use the specified depth gauge tool for your chain. See the manual for specific steps, but here's a general overview:

  1. Make sure the chain tension is correct.
  2. Secure the saw and chain as you did when filing the cutting teeth.
  3. Hold the depth gauge tool steady with one hand.
  4. Select "hard" or "soft" on the depth gauge tool, depending on which type of wood you normally saw and place the tool over the chain.
  5. Hold the flat file in your other hand, and file the depth gauge until the file contacts the depth gauge tool.
  6. Continue to file the remaining depth gauges.
  7. Clean the saw's bar to remove any filings.
Depth gauges on some chains should not be filed manually. Some manufacturers recommend having the chains on their saws filed by a professional. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for adjusting the depth gauges on your specific chain.

Replacing the Chain

After a number of sharpenings, when the longest part of the cutting tooth is less than 4 millimeters, you should replace the chain. Also replace the chain if you find any cracks in your existing chain.

  1. Remove the bar and put the new chain in place.
  2. Adjust the chain tension.
  3. Check the tension on a new chain frequently as you begin using it.

Other Maintenance Items

There are other maintenance procedures to follow on a chain saw. These vary by model, but common tasks include:

  • Cleaning the bar and inspecting it for wear and bending.
  • Checking that the throttle control and throttle lockout function correctly.
  • Checking the chain brake function.
  • Verifying that the chain does not rotate when the saw is idling.
  • Inspecting the chain catcher.
  • Cleaning or replacing the air filter as needed.
  • Confirming proper operation of the oiler.

Maintenance Tool Kit

Consider assembling a tool kit with the essentials you'll use for maintenance:

  • Wrenches and screwdrivers that fit the fasteners and adjustment screws on the saw
  • A flat file and depth gauge tool appropriate for your chain
  • A round file and file gauge appropriate for your chain
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Your saw's manuals and documentation