How To Sharpen A Chainsaw: Beginner’s Guide

how to sharpen a chainsawThinking about how to sharpen a chainsaw may feel overwhelming and a little scary. But sharpening a chainsaw is not dangerous at all. It is not even expensive. You can always sharpen your chainsaw at home with a few simple tools. And it will only take you about 10 or 15 minutes. All you need is some determination and a good file.

Why should you sharpen your chainsaw? This question really answers itself. Why would you sharpen a dull knife? Why would you put air in a tire that is flat? A sharp chainsaw will keep you cutting smoothly and keep you working at top performance. If you don’t sharpen your chainsaw when it gets dull, your chainsaw can become dangerous and ineffective.

In today’s guide, I will tell you about what tools you need to sharpen your chainsaw, how to know if your chainsaw needs to be sharpened, and two easy strategies to sharpen your chainsaw at home. You can do it by hand, or you can do it with a rotary attachment.

Is My Chainsaw Dull?

The best way to tell if your chainsaw has gotten dull is by how much force you must use when cutting wood. A sharp chainsaw will slice through wood without you needing to push on it. If you are having to force the tool to get it to cut the wood, you have a dull chainsaw. It is time to take the bar and chain off and sharpen up your chain.

Another good way to tell is if the chainsaw is spitting out dust rather than thick sawdust. What I mean is that a normal functioning chainsaw will create flaky sawdust, and a dull chainsaw will create sand-like dust. If that is happening, it is time to sharpen the chain. If your chain is too dull, you are much more likely to hurt yourself or hurt someone else while operating the machine.

What You Need to Sharpen Your Chainsaw

chain filesWhen I talk about sharpening a chainsaw, what I really mean is sharpening the cutters on the chain. These sharp metal points are what eat through the wood so that you can cut trees and lumber. When these cutters get dull, it’s like trying to cut down a tree using a hammer. It is just not going to work. All you need to sharpen your chain is a good file and some patience.

Before you start sharpening, it is important to know the two different parts of the chain that must be sharp. There is the front cutter and the depth gauge. All these pieces must be equally sharp to make quick work of cutting wood.

The cutter can be sharpened easily using a file, while the depth gauge, which is the shortfin in front of the cutter, can be sharpened properly with a flat-file.

If your cutters are dulled from cutting through wood, this is an easy thing to do by hand. But if you have been hitting too many rocks or other hard objects, you may just need to buy a new chain. Sometimes rocks can twist and nick your chain cutters the point where sharpening will do no good.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

sharpening chainsawWith your chainsaw properly secured and the engine off, you can begin to sharpen. What you want to do is place your file at roughly a 30 or 35-degree angle in front of the cutter. There are a lot of cutters on the chainsaw, so this could take about 15 minutes, or maybe 30 if it is your first time. It is important to use the exact same number of strokes on each file, roughly six or seven, or until there is a nice burr on the outer edge of the cutter. This will encourage congruency.

With your file at a 30-degree angle and touching the cutter, begin to make strokes away from your body. It is the same as sharpening a knife. Continue to sharpen each tooth of the chain until you reach the point where you need to advance the chain. This generally happens after about 6 cutters.

To make this whole process easier, I recommend biting your chainsaw into a block of wood so that it stays still. There is no need to use a vice. You can easily advance the chain bit by bit while wearing a pair of thick gloves. Continue the course until every cutter has been filed nicely and has a burr at the end. Your chain will now be sharp.

You can do the same to each depth gauge, making sure they are all the same level, slightly shorter than the cutter below them. I suggest filing with a flat file (they don’t need to be sharp, just the right height) so that they are all just a hair shorter than the tip of each cutter.

Power Sharpening

Obviously, you don’t need to sharpen your chainsaw by hand. You can use a power tool to do it. But you will need to purchase an actual chainsaw chain sharpener, which you will then have to hook to a rotary tool. A good chainsaw sharpener should come with three grinding wheels in the most common diameters and a guide.

You then want to place the grinding wheel close to the cutter and sharpen it just the same as you would by hand. It may take some getting used to, but this will definitely quicken the process. I recommend a count to about four. This should be enough to effectively sharpen the cutter. Make sure you count the same with each cutter as you go by them.

You will see how to use the guide once you have hooked it onto the rotary tool. The guide will control the depth and the angle of your cutter if you line up the measurements. Once you have figured out how to use this tool, you can also use it to sharpen your lawnmower, which is pretty handy.

Randy Peterson Cutter Life

Randy Peterson

Randy is a chainsaw enthusiast and an experienced lumberjack. He'll most likely be found cutting, chopping, and trimming trees, usually working with a wide variety of tools. Randy likes the outdoors and socializing with friends.