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How to Use and Maintain a Chainsaw

A chainsaw is a great tool. But it takes knowledge and practice to use it confidently and safely.

Tools & Materials

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How to Start a Chainsaw

Chainsaw Safety Gear.

Before operating your saw, read the owner's manual to understand all the controls and safety features. Always follow the safety recommendations. You'll need protective clothing:

  • Hard hat
  • Ear protection
  • Eye protection
  • Long pants (chaps are a good idea)
  • Work gloves
  • Steel-toed boots

See Chainsaw Safety for more tips and instructions.

Good to Know

Some hard hats include built-in hearing protection and a face shield.

Step 1

Engaging the Chain Brake.

To start a chainsaw with a cold engine, place it on flat ground. Push the chain brake forward until it engages.

Good to Know

Electric chainsaws start with the pull of a trigger. Corded models require a suitable extension cord. Follow the device manufacturer's instructions for selecting compatible extension cords and see Power Cord Safety Tips. Be mindful of the cord's location as you cut.

Step 2

Adjusting the Choke.

Pull the start / choke control out to the ON position. Push the decompression valve — if you have one — and press the primer bulb about 6 times.

Step 3

Starting a Chainsaw.

Always hold the front handle with your left hand and put your right foot on the rear handle. Pull the starting handle with your right hand until the saw fires.

Step 4

Activating the Throttle.

Push the choke in and pull again. When the saw starts, squeeze the throttle quickly to disengage the high idle. To stop the saw, just turn off the ignition switch.

Using a Chainsaw

Cutting with a Chainsaw.

To make a cut, hold the front handle with your left hand — thumb wrapped underneath — and grab the rear handle with your right hand. Get in position — legs apart for stability — and pull back the chain brake to disengage it. Then squeeze the throttle. The saw cuts best when the engine is at full throttle.

  • Make your cuts away from the bar tip. Cutting with the upper portion of the tip could cause kickback, which can be dangerous and may engage the chain brake. If it does engage, just pull back to unlock.
  • It's good practice to cut at waist level — never above shoulder height.
  • Avoid cutting too close to the ground where the blade could dig in and kick back.
  • Try to cut from the side of the saw — never while hovering over the work area. A kickback in this position could be especially dangerous.
  • You can cut downward with the bottom of the bar — known as cutting with a pulling chain since the chain pulls the saw out from you — or upward with the top of the bar — known as cutting with a pushing chain, since the chain pushes the saw toward you.

Keep others at least 15 feet away when you are using the saw. When felling trees, increase this distance to at least double the height of the tree.

General Maintenance

Adjusting the Chain Tension.

Your saw must be properly maintained to operate safely. Your manual lists the maintenance items and when to do them.

  • Every time you use the saw, check the chain tension and adjust as necessary.
  • Regularly inspect the bar and clean it.
  • Check the air filter — clean and replace it when necessary.
  • Inspect the operation of throttle lockout, the chain brake, the chain catcher and the oiler.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions for mixing fuel or use an appropriate premixed fuel. Read Fueling Outdoor Power Equipment for tips on keeping your gas-powered equipment running smoothly.

Turn the saw off before performing maintenance, checks or adjustments. Disconnect the spark plug on a gas-powered saw and disconnect an electric saw from the power source. Testing the chain brake and chain lubrication are exceptions — the saw must be running for these procedures.

How to Sharpen and Maintain the Chain

Keep the chain sharp. Check the saw or chain manufacturer's instructions on how to sharpen a chainsaw. Some chains require a specific sharpening device and should not be sharpened manually. Some manufacturers recommend having the chain and depth gauges on their saws sharpened and filed by a professional. If you can sharpen the chain manually, it's not hard to do with a filing kit.


Wear heavy work gloves when handling the chain.

Step 1

Using a Vise to Hold the Chainsaw.

Secure the bar in a vise. Activate the brake to lock the chain.

Step 2

Sharpening the Chain Teeth.

Sharpen the cutting teeth. Place the gauge with arrows pointing toward the bar nose. Using a round file, file every other tooth at right angles to the rollers with a pushing stroke. Release the brake to access the teeth, and then re-engage it.

Step 3

When you've gone around the chain, turn the saw around and file the other teeth.

Step 4

Using a Depth Guide.

When the teeth are done, file the depth gauges with a flat file. Place the guide over the teeth using the hard or soft wood positions — depending on wood you're cutting. File until the file contacts the depth guide.

Good to Know

The chain's depth gauges control how deeply the saw cuts. Typically, about every third time you sharpen the chain, you should file the depth gauges. Use the specified depth gauge tool for your chain.

Step 5

Guide Line on Chainsaw Tooth.

If, over time, the chain has been sharpened back to the angled guide line on the teeth, it should be replaced.

Maintenance Tool Kit

Chainsaw Manual, All-In-One Tool and Sharpening Kit.

Consider assembling a tool kit with maintenance essentials:

  • Wrenches and screwdrivers or an all-in-one tool
  • A round file and file gauge
  • A flat file and depth gauge tool
  • Cleaning cloths
  • Your saw documentation

Never cut with the tip of the saw and be aware that the upper part of the saw tip is the area most prone to causing the chainsaw to kick up and back toward you.