The Basics of Maintaining Your Chainsaw


Spring is on the way—prime time for property cleanup. Is your chainsaw ready?

If you don’t want to be stuck clearing winter’s downed tree limbs and other debris without the right equipment in your hands, now’s the time to show your chainsaw a little love, or shop for a new one at PowerPro Equipment!

Get ready to learn more about changing out chains, replacing old gasoline, and performing regular preventative maintenance on your trusty machine in today’s post.

When and How to Sharpen Your Chainsaw’s Chain

Making sure your chainsaw is suitably sharp before each cutting job is common sense. Not only does it increase sawing efficiency, but it also reduces the potential for a trip to the emergency room. Remember: sharp chains prevent dangerous kickbacks.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you necessarily need to sharpen your chain before each use—that’s overkill, and can actually cause different problems and hazards. Over-sharpened chain teeth can bite too deeply into wood, which may cause your chainsaw to stall or pull you off balance as you’re working.

Chainsaw experts (like professional woodsmen and those awesomely talented carvers who turn tree stumps into artwork) suggest that you should sharpen your chain when you have to apply pressure as you’re cutting. A good, sharp chainsaw should really work like the old “hot knife through butter”–you’re just there to guide it without forcing the cut.

Actually sharpening your chain is a more advanced DIY project that requires specialized tools and a bit of experience to get right. It can be very satisfying work, but not all chainsaw owners want to bother with the artistry and precision involved.

For instance, at the very least, you will need to invest in a round file with a file guide to sharpen the chain blades themselves and a flat file with a depth-gauge guide for lowering the depth gauges. A bench vise and good lighting are helpful, as well. And you’ll also need some spare time and patience.

If learning the craft of chain sharpening doesn’t sound appealing (be honest, we know you just want to get out there and cut down trees!), you can visit a professional power equipment service shop or a general sharpening service provider and be back in business quickly and affordably.

How to Replace and Break in a New Chain

After a while, your chainsaw’s chain will reach a point when it can no longer be sharpened. Seeing smoke caused by friction while cutting is a good indicator that the depth gauge has worn down to this point of no return, and that means it’s time to totally replace the chain.

With a fresh chain in hand, it’s important to remember that you can’t just put it on your saw and get to work—there’s a bit of a break-in process involved:

  • First, soak your new chain in bar and chain oil for several hours to lubricate all the pivot points.
  • When your chain is well-oiled, hang it above your soaking pan and let the excess oil drip off.
  • Install and tension the lubricated chain, then run your saw until warm (but don’t cut anything yet).
  • Shut down your saw and re-tension the chain once it’s warm – it will have loosened due to the heat, and you’ll want to be sure the chain is under proper tension before doing any cutting.

Check and Adjust Chain Tension

So, how do you check, adjust, and readjust chain tension during break-in? Consulting your user manual that came with your chainsaw is a good idea here, as the process varies depending on how your particular saw is built. This video from our friends at Husqvarna also provides a good visual:

Here’s a quick overview of the steps (specific to Husqvarna chainsaws like those we sell here at PowerPro):

  1. Safety first — make sure your chainsaw isn’t running or hot!
  2. Disengage the chain brake.
  3. Loosen the bar nuts that hold the clutch cover, using a combination wrench or a chainsaw scrench (a specialized chainsaw-specific screwdriver/wrench tool).
  4. Raise the tip of the bar and stretch the chain while tightening the chain tensioning screw with your scrench or combo wrench.
  5. Tighten the chain until it does not hang slack on the underside of the bar, but can be pulled around freely by hand.
  6. Re-tighten the bar nuts and make sure the bar is secure.

Note that your chain will lose tension over time. That’s why it’s a good idea to check the tension and readjust it each time you fill your chainsaw with gas.

Replacing Old Gasoline

Speaking of refueling, it’s likely that your chainsaw often sits for months at a time in your garage or barn if you’re a casual woodsman like most of us. Let’s face it – unless you own a huge woodland property, you’re probably not sawing more than a few times per year. (Maybe it’s time to take up carving?) Anyway, with less frequent use, gasoline can go bad.

Unless mixed with a fuel stabilizer before being properly stored (in a proper gas can, not in your chainsaw’s gas tank), gasoline will oxidize and lose its ability to run your saw. Most surprising? This can happen within about three months, or even less time for gasolines (like E85) with higher ethanol content. Always run your chainsaw to empty before storing it, and be sure you’re refueling with fresh gas that hasn’t exceeded its shelf life.

Preventative Maintenance: How to Clean a Chainsaw

Ideally, before you put your chainsaw away after each use, you should clear debris from the bar, chain, and surfaces of the saw body. Don’t forget to take a look at the cooling fins and air intake, as well, and remove any material that’s stuck in the slots.

When you have more time, there are a number of other items to add to your periodic chainsaw cleaning checklist. These include:

Clean and Inspect the Bar

To clean, use a thin piece of wood or metal to scoop out any debris from inside the chain track of the bar.

Sometimes your chainsaw’s bar can actually become damaged and require repair or replacement. If a visual inspection suggests that your bar could need attention, get in touch with your local power equipment service center or shop new bars that fit your saw. (Check your manufacturer’s instructions for guidance.)

Check and Clean the Air Filter

Your chainsaw’s air filter keeps sawdust and dirt from entering the engine, clogging the carburetor, and destroying performance. If the filter is made of screening, simply remove debris (blowing it out with an air compressor is a good option) and put it back in place. If it’s paper or another disposable media, buy a new filter regularly. The small cost of a new filter is worth it to protect your chainsaw’s engine!

Check the Flywheel Fins

Make sure nothing is blocking the air from cooling the engine.

Trust Your Chainsaw Maintenance to the Experts at PowerPro

Keeping your chainsaw primed and ready for action can require a lot of effort, and it’s often better to trust this work to the experts. Need help maintaining your chainsaw, or have questions about new tree care equipment and saws? PowerPro Equipment is your one-stop resource. Get in touch with us today or stop by one of our locations throughout Central PA!