How to Use a Chainsaw (Sharpening, Repair, and Safety Tips)

A chainsaw can be used to process wood from storm damaged trees, dead trees, green waste dumps, etc. The portability and speed of a chainsaw can make cutting logs very easy.

Chainsaw sharpening, repair, and safety tips.  Includes information on bar oil, tension, gauge, pitch and how to sharpen a chainsaw.

Below are 13 helpful tips on chainsaw sharpening, repair, and safety.

1. Follow the 5-foot radius rule.

When working with chain saws a good rule of thumb is to not allow anyone helping within a 5-foot radius when starting or cutting. Helpers should also wear appropriate hearing and eye protection. Helpers should not hold wood while it is being cut.

2. Make sure your chain saw is properly equipped with a chain catcher, a front hand guard, and a chain brake.

The chain catcher is a guard which is designed to protect the operator if a chain should break or derail. The front hand guard and chain brake are typically integrated together. They are designed to stop the chain in fractions of a second. The chain brake can be either manually activated or can be activated by the inertia of a kickback force.

3. Be careful when operating a chainsaw.

On the average, 28,000 injuries and deaths occur annually in the U.S. This makes chainsaws one of the most dangerous hand tools which can be purchased. Unfortunately, this figure is just the “reported” accidents. So be extra carefully when operating a chainsaw. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.

Cutting a log with an electric chainsaw.
Cutting a log with an electric chainsaw.

4. Beware of kickback.

Kickback is one of the common causes of chainsaw accidents. It occurs when the tip of the bar touches an object. This causes the bar to quickly kick up and back towards the operator. By placing the thumb around the top handle AND operating the chainsaw at a high throttle setting kickback can be reduced.

5. Be extra careful when cutting wood on top of a pile.

The probability of a chainsaw kickback increases when cutting wood on a pile. This is because it is more difficult to know where the tip of the bar is located. The tip of the bar might hit a hidden log causing the saw to jump.

6. Make sure the tension on your chainsaw blade is adjusted correctly.

A correctly tensioned chainsaw blade 1) moves freely around the bar without resistance, 2) makes solid contact with the bottom of the bar rail, and 3) snaps back into its original position if the chain is pulled down from the bar and released. If the drive tabs on the bottom come out of the bar groove, then the chain is too loose. Adjustments to the tension on a chainsaw should be performed when the chain has cooled. If the tension is set when the chain is hot, then the chain will most likely be too tight once the chain has cooled.

7. Know the signs of a dull chain.

A chain might be getting dull when sawdust and smoke are created when cutting rather than large chips. Similarly, a dull chain will heat up, causing the chain to stretch and loosen. Likewise, if your chainsaw pulls to one side while cutting, it might be time to sharpen the chain. Another indication the chain is getting dull is when you find yourself pushing on the saw rather than the saw self-feeding into the wood.

8. Know how to sharpen a chainsaw.

I have found the easiest and quickest way to sharpen my chains is using a rotary tool (Dremel). This allows me to sharpen a chain without first having to remove it from the chainsaw. To sharpen a chain, I first insert either an abrasive or diamond sharpening stone into the Dremel. I then run the sharpening stone back and forth making contact with the teeth. While doing this, I try to maintain the 25-30 degree angle on the teeth. Personally, I sharpen all the teeth pointing in one direction. I then rotate the chainsaw 180 degrees and sharpen the remaining teeth. I always try to take the same number of passes on each teeth.

Sharpening a chainsaw blade with a Dremel rotary tool.
Sharpening a chainsaw blade with a Dremel rotary tool.

See Sharpening Systems for more information on sharpening tools.

9. Consider using vegetable oil-based lubricants for the bar and chain.

While traditional bar and chains oils were petroleum-based, some newer alternatives use vegetable oil-based lubricants. The vegetable oils are bio-degradable and have fewer environmental drawbacks.

Ripping a log with a gas powered Stihl chainsaw.
Ripping a log with a gas powered chainsaw.

10. Avoid using regular motor oil.

Most chainsaw operating manuals, do not recommend using regular motor oil because it is missing the “high-tack” additive that helps ensures the oil does not sling off the chain.

11. Understand that oil is mixed with the gas on 2-cycle gas chainsaws to lubricate the engine.

The “oil reservoir” only lubricates the bar and chain.

12. Remove all the fuel in the chainsaw before storing it for several months.

It is also recommended to purge all the fuel from the engine, by allowing the chainsaw to idle until all the fuel in the system has been used up. Otherwise, the 2-cycle fuel can turn to lacquer and clogs the ports in the carburetor.

13. Realize a bandsaw will typically yield more lumber than a chainsaw.

If trying to maximize the yield from a given log, a chainsaw may not be your best approach. A band saw will typically yield up to one third more lumber from a given log than from using a chainsaw. Many band sawmills have a 1/8” (3mm) thick kerf. This is half the width of typical chainsaw.

14. Know how to determine the pitch of a chain.

When purchasing a new chain, you need to know: A) the number of drive lengths, B) the thickness of the drive links (i.e., gauge), and C) the pitch of your chain. The pitch describes how close together links are on the chain. The pitch is equal to the distance between any 3 rivets divided by two. Assuming the value of “X” in the image below is 3/4”, then the “pitch” of the chain illustrated would be 3/8”.

Pitch, gauge, of a chainsaw
X = Pitch of the chainsaw

Woodworkers and Woodturners.

Many woodworkers and woodturners quickly realize that buying dimensional lumber or turning blanks can be very expensive. Furthermore, many retailers rarely stock hardwood over 2” in thickness which limits the types of project that can be created from a solid piece of wood. As a result, sooner or later, you may find yourself using a chainsaw. If so, you might find a chainsaw provides you a lot of satisfaction, allowing you to create a final product from start to finish from a fallen log.

Chainsaw types include: Echo, Husqvarna, Stihl, Craftsman, Kobalt, Black and Decker, Worx, Homelite, and Poulan Pro.

 

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