How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

A dulled chainsaw is not just a compromised tool, it represents a safety risk to users. For a chainsaw that is used regularly, sharpening is necessary to keep it in full working order. While sharpening can be done by a professional, tools are available to expertly sharpen a chainsaw yourself.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the importance of chainsaw sharpening, and the best techniques to do so. Sims Garden Machinery sells a huge selection of chainsaws, from brands like STIHL and Husqvarna.

Why You Need to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Chainsaws are designed to easily carve through wood, and can be used throughout professional and home gardening projects. The sharp teeth of a chainsaw are the key to clean, consistent cuts. Over time, a chainsaw can become dulled. This can cause several issues, the key one being reduced cutting power, requiring pressure to cut through wood.

There are also safety issues associated with dulled chainsaws, with higher risks of kickback while cutting. This is due to the dulled chain catching in material and knocking the bar back towards you. Keeping your chainsaw blade sharp is vital for it to function correctly.

While correct use will still result in degradation over time, improper use will hasten the dulling. Hitting materials like metal or rock will cause issues, as will storing your chainsaw in an unsuitable environment, or insubstantially lubricating it. To reduce the need to sharpen a chainsaw, ensure you are using and storing it correctly.

How Often Should You Sharpen a Chainsaw?

There are a few signs during use that your chainsaw is in need of sharpening:

  • Requiring Pressure to Cut: If you need to apply pressure to cut through wood this is a sign that your chainsaw blade has become dull.
  • Fine Sawdust: A great test of a chainsaw’s sharpness is to check the sawdust produced from cuts. A sharp chainsaw will produce coarse wood chips, whilst a dulled model will produce much finer dust.
  • Smoke: If your chainsaw is properly oiled, with the correct chain tension, and still produces smoke. This can be another sign that sharpening is needed.
  • Uneven Cuts: This can be a sign that your chainsaw has dulled teeth on one side, or that the cutting teeth are unevenly sharpened.

The frequency with which you will need to sharpen a chainsaw blade will be heavily reliant on the amount you use it, and the care with which you treat it. A chainsaw blade can last for around 5 years of regular use, or much longer for occasional use. A good rule of thumb is that the chain can be sharpened around 10 times before needing to be replaced.

Each time you sharpen a chainsaw blade, you will be filing away some of the metal, meaning that over time you will run out of usable metal to sharpen. Due to this, you should avoid sharpening until you see a dip in performance, or finer sawdust from cuts. You should also check the blade after use, to make sure it is in a good condition, with no damaged teeth.

You will see your chainsaw teeth decrease in length over time, giving you a visual estimation of how many more times you can sharpen them before needing to buy a replacement.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Using a File

To sharpen a chainsaw accurately you will need to buy some equipment. You’ll need to sharpen both the cutters and the depth gauges (sometimes called rakers) throughout. The cutter is the larger flat tooth with the overhang, while the depth gauge is the smaller curved tooth, that looks a little like a shark’s fin. Before you start sharpening, it’s important to procure the correct tools for your chainsaw, using chainsaw files that are the correct size, and using a file holder at the proper angle for your cutters.

What You Need to Sharpen a Chainsaw

  • Vice or Tabletop Clamp. You’ll need something to hold your chainsaw bar firmly in place during sharpening. A vice or a tabletop clamp will be suitable.
  • Screwdriver: You’ll need a screwdriver capable of tightening and loosening the tension screw on your chainsaw. This will essentially lock the chain in place, allowing you to safely sharpen it.
  • Marker Pen: Used to mark the starting point for sharpening.
  • Round File: You’ll need a round file to the exact size of the teeth on your chainsaw. These sizes differ based on designs and you should look within the instruction manual or through the internet for a file guide on your model. The common sizes of chainsaw cutting teeth are 4.8mm, 4.0mm, and 5.6mm. While most chainsaw blades will have curved teeth, some options, like full-chisel chains, have square-cornered teeth for aggressive cutting. You will need to check for a suitable file in these cases.
  • File Holder: These are normally designed to work at all angles used in chainsaw chains, but it might be worth checking in advance if unsure. They will hold the file in the right position, allowing careful sharpening.
  • Chainsaw Depth Gauge Guide: These will come in different heights, and you will need to buy one for the height specified within the manual of your chainsaw.
  • Flat file

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Cutter

  1. Firstly you’ll need to clamp your chainsaw bar in place using a vice or tabletop clamp. While you can technically sharpen without a vice, it will make the job more difficult to complete accurately. Keeping your chainsaw in place will allow you to ensure long-lasting performance.
  2. Use a screwdriver to tighten the tension adjusting screw on your chainsaw. Some newer chainsaws will have a dial instead of a screw. If you can’t find your tension screw, check the manual. It should be at the bottom of the bar. Tighten the chain so it fully hugs the bar, but can still be moved under pressure. This will help avoid the chain slipping during sharpening.
  3. Use a marker pen to mark the first cutting tooth that you will be working on. This allows you to determine when you have sharpened the whole chain.
  4. Correctly angle your file holder and file for the first tooth. While some cutters will have a line marked on them for the filing angle, others may not. In any case, you should check the manual to find the relevant angle for your chain. Normally this will be 25° or 30°. File holders will typically have a slot to insert your round file, and lines marked into them to let you use a specific angle.
  5. File the first cutter. You should be looking to push the file in long strokes, end to end. Do not file when pulling back to the start, only when pushing away from you. Depending on the dullness of your cutters, you’ll need to file each one between 3 and 10 times, checking the sharpness to ensure it is adequate. You should be filing each cutter the same amount of times in order to get a consistent cut. If you find any shavings of metal caught in the file or holder, tap it loose before continuing.
  6. File every 2nd cutter. As cutters alternate left and right across the chain, you should file each angle first, meaning you should skip every other cutter as you work your way around. Pull the chain around as you work to file on the flat surface.
  7. Rotate your chainsaw and repeat. You should remove your chainsaw from the vice and turn it upside down before tightening again. This will allow you to file with the same angle across the other direction of cutters. You should use the permanent marker to note the first cutter you sharpen once more.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Depth Gauge

  1. Clamp, tighten, and mark your chainsaw. Either repeat your steps from sharpening the cutters, or do this at the same time. You’ll want your chainsaw bar to be firmly clamped, the chain to be tightened, and the first tooth you work on to be marked (you can’t oversharpen the depth gauge but this allows you to determine when you are finished).
  2. Use the depth gauge guide to find any overlong depth gauges. These tools should simply slide along a chainsaw chain, stopping at any depth gauges that are too long. You should see the end of the depth gauge poking out, or be able to feel it.
  3. Use the flat file to level the depth gauge. For each depth gauge that is identified as too high, simply use the flat file to level it to the guide. Try not to file away the guide, as this will make it ineffective.
  4. Continue this process over the whole chainsaw. You won’t need to turn it over like the cutters.
  5. Loosen the chain. You’ll need to loosen the chain after you’ve properly sharpened it to make it usable.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw With a Dremel

Another option is to use a Dremel sharpening kit for your chainsaw blade. These tools can be used alongside a Dremel rotary tool. Much like the file holder, the kit comes with an angle attachment to allow you to accurately sharpen each cutter. It comes with different attachments to fit the different diameters needed. A tool for adjusting depth gauges is also included in the kit. This method can offer a different way to sharpen the chain on a chainsaw.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw With a Grinder

It is possible to use an angle grinder to sharpen a chainsaw, though this isn’t really advised. Simply use the angle grinder against the cutters, alternating angles for each tooth, and sharpen them. But the lack of specific measurement, and the dangers of breaking other parts of the chain like the drive links mean that this is not the recommended method for long term chainsaw stability. Electric chainsaw sharpeners are also available, which use grinding wheels to sharpen the chains.

Chainsaw chain sharpener. Chainsaw accessories and tools.

Our Fantastic Selection of Chainsaws and Accessories

If you’re looking for a new chainsaw, Sims Garden Machinery stocks a fantastic range. We have handheld chainsaws, with both petrol and electric chainsaws available, perfect for commercial and residential work. We also stock pole pruners and long reach chainsaws, for specific gardening work. Alongside our chainsaws, we stock accessories like chainsaw bars and chainsaw chains. All of our products can be delivered across the UK, with a member of our team assembling and demonstrating your products to you. We can give you expert advice on any of our product range, simply contact our team with any questions you have.

If you’re looking for a professional chainsaw sharpening service, our expert team can also assist you. Alongside our wide showroom of garden machinery, Sims Garden Machinery can precision sharpen chainsaws from our Stratford Upon Avon HQ.

Browse our range of quality chainsaws today.

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