The four basic rules of chainsaw chain maintenance

Sunday, February 17, 2019
how to care for a stihl chain

Your chainsaw's chain is vital to a successful cut.

Obvious right?

Just like the barber's blade is a well-honed instrument, your chainsaw chain blade needs to be given the same love and attention so that it stays sharp and cuts the wood just right.

In effect, the chain is the most vital and important part of the saw. It's also the part that needs the most maintenance - the beauty of this though is any user with a little bit of know-how can maintain the chain really well.

A dangerously undermined chain can increase the risks of a safety incident - incorrect sharpening angles, incorrect depth of gauge setting, a poorly tensioned chain and of course a dull and blunt chain can all cause real issues for the operator.

The Four Basic rules of chainsaw chain maintenance


There are four simple rules that will ensure that your chainsaw chain performs up to spec.

The operator should keep the chain:

  1. Properly oiled; 
  2. Correctly tensioned correctly; 
  3. Sharp, cutter angles correctly made; and 
  4. The depth gauge height to consistent and correct. 

Let's work through these now.

A chainsaw chain needs to be properly oiled

The chainsaws guide bar and chain are designed to be constantly supplied with oil. It's just how they work. If they did not get oil, the parts would overheat and seize and not cut properly. They would also suffer friction deterioration.

One should then regularly check that the chain oiling system is supplying oil. We recommend you use oil designed for chains and chain bars - not waste oil from other engines.

Chainsaw oils are designed to stick to the chain, whereas used car part oil has no such properties and is probably filled with impurities and metal that could damage your gear.

chain maintenance tips

A correctly tensioned chain is a safe chain

At best, a loose chain is not cutting properly and at worst, it is likely to fly off the chain bar - causing you to lose time putting it back on and also run the risk of injury to hands or legs (unless you are wearing safety gloves or chaps!)

A loose chain also increases the potential chance of a kick back from happening. And no one wants a kickback blade to the face. 

An incorrectly tensioned chain will also place more pressure on the sprocket, causing it to wear.

A properly tensioned chain is one that has been adjusted to that it is touching the whole way around the guide bar. It should feel like a snug fit but still be easily pulled forwards from the chainsaw body towards the guide bar tip.

Some tension tips:

  • Tension the chain prior to each session. Tension the chain often, or at each occasion of refueling.
  • Never tension your chain right after cutting wood.
  • A chain tensioned while hot can cool and then shrink, causing tension to be too tight which will break shit.
  • Let the chain cool first before doing anything.
  • It's a smart idea to wear protective gloves, especially if you have diligently sharpened your chain or it's a brand new chain - those things are factory sharp!

Here's a handy video which demonstrates how to correctly tension the saw:


A sharp cutter makes a sharp cut

It just seems so sensible to ensure that your chains cutters are well maintained - damage free and sharp.

The basic rule is that you sharpen inline with the manufacturer's recommendations for your chain.

At the most basic level, you simply need a round file with a handle and also file guide to sharpen the chain.

Your goal when caring for your chain is for the cutters to be kept at an equal length and shape for the life of the chain.

It's best practice to use a file guide to ensure the file is held at the proper depth and angle.

Here's our guide to sharpening a chain. The basic method is to file from the inside out with firm and smooth strokes of the file. This should be done in conjunction with a file guide to maintaining the correct angle.

Complete one side of the chain and then swap over. If they are damaged, file and repaired as necessary. If you have had to make a replacement cutter then you need to ensure the cutter is the same length as the rest of the chain else it will lead to a less efficient cutting rate.

Check out this video tutorial which shows how to sharpen the chain:


The correct depth gauge setting 


This is a part of chain maintenance that is easy to overlook or ignore but as always, doing it right will mean a good and safe cut.

The depth gauge controls the thickness of the chip the cutter will remove from your wood target.

The basic tools required for this task are a flat file and the correct depth gauge tool as recommended by the manufacturer of your device.

To ensure the correct gauge once places the depth gauge tool in position over the cutter.  The excess is filed off from the inside of the cutter outwards.

It's good practice to check the depth gauges after 4 or 5 sharpenings.

Another really important component of chainsaw maintenance is ensuring you keep the chain and bar well oiled.

Bonus tip: Consider using the famous White Ox logging gloves as you work.

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