How to maintain a chainsaw

Tuesday, March 10, 2020
A good chainsaw is the keys to the castle. 

By cutting down trees, removing fallen branches and preparing firewood to warm your family, you are the King of your Castle!

Any good king knows he's only as good as his loyal subjects, in this case being a chainsaw that turns on when you need it to!

Good maintenance of a chainsaw will result in a loyal tool that will serve your wood cutting needs for many years.

Your first port of call is from the manufacturer's operation manual that came with your chainsaw. If you do not have a copy, google for the PDF of it. Those who made your saw, know it best. So if they say do this, you do it.

But onwards, you can do what you like.

chainsaw maintenance

Basic tips on how to properly maintain a chainsaw

To start, there are three key points on the checklist:

  • Before you use the chainsaw, ensure that the bar and chain oil is full. A chain with no oil will quickly become unsuitable for proper cutting and it will also begin to degrade. 
  • The chain must be kept sharp. A sharp chain will obviously cut through wood better than a blunt chain but importantly a sharp chain also helps to reduce the risk of an accident occurring or the chain getting stuck in a log. 
  • Cleaning your chainsaw of wood debris after each use will help keep the engine in top shape and reduce the chance of blockage say from the oil release.

Adding bar and chain oil

For the chain to work properly, chainsaw bars should be kept well lubricated. A good oil will penetrate into chain links ensuring they function well.

To add oil, simply add it to the machine where it is clearly marked for the chain oil. Do not overfill as this is just a waste of oil.

A well-oiled chain will also work to help prevent rust from developing on the chain. It will also help resist the build-up of unwanted deposits such as pitch, sap or gum.

One should always use oil that has been properly designed for chains. They contain what is referred to as a "high-tack" additive that prevents it from flying off the chain as it travels around the tip. Other oils do not have this property so they will quickly disappear off the chain which is just a waste of oil and time.

That said, there is a big environmental movement to use specially curated vegetable oils as bar and chain oil. This is so that the 'traditional oils' are not left behind in the forest after tree culling (the chain oil is lost in the sawdust). A common complaint about users of vegetable oil is that chains can become gunked up pretty quickly due to the nature of the oil.

Keeping the chain sharp is a must for good cutting (dur!)

A sharp chain is pretty much a must when it comes to chainsaw maintenance. You can sharpen the chain yourself or get a professional to do it for you, it's a service many chainsaw agents are happy to provide.

Here are some sharpening tips:
  • Ensure that you use a file that is the proper size. The owner's manual will tell you what is the correct size to use. If you have lost your manual, google it, most popular brands will have them on their respective websites. 
  • When filing, do so at the correct angle. Chains are designed to operate in a specific manner, so deviating from the correct angle means they will not perform as intended. You can use a file gauge to hold the file in the correct position if need be, but a practiced hand can do the job quite well. 
  • Use the same number of filing strokes on each tooth. This will ensure a consistent sawing action. 
  • Avoid filing the depth gauge too much. If this occurs the saw will bite too deeply into the wood running the risk of a stall or dragging you off balance (which is a safety issue, especially depending on your stance elevation). Again, the use of a file gauge will help prevent this from occurring. 
  • A great trick is to place the blade inside a vice so it's held steady when filing. You can also use a stump vice:

Keeping the air filter regularly cleaned

You've no doubt changed or cleaned the filter in a vacuum cleaner or your lawn mower before, so why wouldn't you do the same for your chainsaw, especially as it's an item that relies on oxygen as part of the combustion process?

Other than the air filter, there's no much standing between the engine and dirt and sawdust and other debris. Get any of that in the internal workings of your saw then the carburetor will have some issues such as poor starting and generally poor running.

Many modern saws have a screen as opposed to a foam or paper filter. A handy way to clean them out is to use an air compressor to force out any debris and dirt. Else, you can do the classic trick of tapping the filter on the end of your workbench or similar and force the debris out.

If you do have a foam or paper filter, then consider regularly replacing it, especially if you use the saw often.

Simple guide-bar groove maintenance

The channel that guides the chain along the bar can become easily become clogged with sawdust and whatnot. You can remove the drive-case cover, chain, and bar, then clean the groove with a small screwdriver, a thin piece of wood or a piece of wire.

You can force out dirt and debris with a blast from a can of CRC or WD40 or a can of compressed air.

Experts will file any nicks flat in a manner perpendicular to the bar's flanks.

Also, if your bar has a sprocket, check it regularly to keep it free of wood chips and debris.

Keeping oil ports clog free

There is not so much annoying when using a chainsaw and the oil port gets clogged. This means your chain isn't getting the oil it needs. You can usually tell when this has happened as the wood you're chopping might start to smoke due to the friction!

A handy tip is to clean the port(s) out with a small wire or pipe cleaner when you have the bar off the saw.

A properly tensioned chain saves you pain

When using a chainsaw, it is best practice to ensure the chain has the proper tension. A loose chain is not going to be cutting well and is more likely to come flying off which as we all know is just a pain in the ass when you're in the middle of chopping up some wood.

So don't let the chain sag.

An overtightened chain can also be an issue too.

A chain that is too tight can overheat, causing the oil to overheat and burn off.

If you can't advance the chain forward manually with your hand (wear a glove for safety), then loosen the tension slightly.

Here's a handy video tutorial on how to tighten your chain:

If you have used your chainsaw and it's heated the chain up quite nicely, you should be warned that if you tighten that chain too much, when it cools the chain will probably be too tight.

Also, remember to loosen those nuts before you turn the tension screw!

Spark plug maintenance for strong ignition and combustion

Start Me Up is not just a song by the Rolling Stones, it is a wish from every man or woman who's ever tried to start a chainsaw they haven't used in a few months.

While you're not going to start a chainsaw, first time, every time, a well-maintained spark plug will go some way to helping you easily start one.

To clean a spark plug, use a plug or socket wrench to remove the plug. A handy method is to take a wire-brush to it. Either way, clear off any gunk or rust so it makes good contact. If the external body of the plug itself is rusted, it may still work fine but know you really should replace it.

When replacing a spark plug, check the manual to make sure you are installing the correct kind and that it is gapped properly.

Plugs should be tightened but not firmly, just say 'moderately'. Older models which use breaker points can be tricky so you may wish to get your model serviced.

Only use a chainsaw that has a working chain break

Chainsaw safety is paramount when using these devices.

If you want to see the horrors of what can happen when things go wrong, I dare you to Google "chainsaw facial accidents". It ain't pretty and at absolute worst, you can die from a kickback.

This is why modern-day chainsaws will come with a chain break. In some countries, it's even the law for both new and used chainsaws. By placing the requirement on used chainsaws, it effectively will remove unsafe chainsaws from the secondary market over time which improves overall safety outcomes across the population of chainsaw users.

So to avoid getting your nose carved in two (and worse) there a couple of things you can do. The first is to always use appropriate safety gear when actively using a chainsaw and the second is to maintain the chain brake properly by checking that it works.

Here's how to do it:
  • Place your chainsaw on a sturdy and stable surface
  • Release the chain brake and engage the throttle
  • Activate the chain brake by pushing your left wrist against the kickback protection without releasing the handle, the chain should immediately cease rotating.
If that occurs, you know the brake is working properly. If it does not, repeat the steps again. If you have a failure, get the unit serviced before your next session with the saw.

It's important to not be cavalier about the chain break.

Yes, they can reduce the likely hood of an injury but avoiding behaviors that can cause kickback in the first place is your best means of keeping safe when cutting wood.

Kickbacks are why I bought this face protector to use when chopping wood.

When mixing petrol and oil, follow the recommended ratio

When using a two-stroke chainsaw, you'll need to add engine oil to petrol.

It pays to follow the directions as instructed. Scientists and many years of experience show that if you guess, you'll have an underperforming engine, one which you will have stressed out.

This is to say, if the ratio of fuel to oil is 50:1, then that's what you should do.

You can get mixing bottles that have the ratios marked on the side. Fill the petrol first, then slowly add the oil until you have the correct mix. Give the bottle a good shake and then add to the chainsaw.

The fuel mixture will begin to degrade quickly, it's often recommended you do not use any leftover mix that's older than one month.

If your machine hasn't been used in three months or so, you may have difficulty getting in started due to fuel degradation. If this is the case, we suggest you ditch the fuel and start afresh.

If' you manage to get too much fuel into the engine before it ignites, you've 'flooded it'. You can let the fuel evaporate with time or you could try this method to start a flooded chainsaw.

Hey, after you've done the hard work, kick back with some Darth Vader quotes from Star Wars
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