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Chainsaw Chain Sharpening

How to know when it’s time to sharpen your chainsaw chain

Take a look at the waste that is left behind from your chainsaw. Does the wood look more like dust or is it more like wood chips? If the wood waste looks like dust to you then it is time to sharpen the chainsaw chain. Also if you feel yourself trying to force the chainsaw to cut then it is time to sharpen the chain. Sharpening your chainsaw chain is also important for your safety. When the chain begins to dull it can create greater kickback, causing the chain to catch and propel the bar upwards, towards you.

Man sharpening a chainsaw chain
Learn about the different parts of your chainsaw chain and when the best time to sharpen is, with our handy guide from Blain’s Farm & Fleet.

Parts of a Chainsaw Chain

It’s important to know the different parts of a chainsaw chain. The chainsaw chain teeth are known as cutters. Most general use chainsaw chains are “Chisel and semi-chisel”. The difference between these two is full chisel chains have a square corner tooth, making it efficient for cutting “softwood”. The semi – chisel has a rounded corner tooth, which is best used for cutting through hard or dry wood, specifically removing stumps or frozen wood.

Chainsaw Chain Arrangement

  • “Full Complement” chain has a left cutter, drive link, right cutter, drive link arrangement and is used for most applications.
  • “Skip” has a left cutter, drive link, drive link, right cutter arrangement. It has 1/3 fewer cutting teeth and is generally used on long bars (24″+) for added chip clearance or when a bar longer than ideal for a given power head is used. Fewer teeth require less power to operate.
  • “Semi-Skip” alternates, having one or two drive links between pairs of cutters, for performance in between that of full complement and skip arrangements.

Chainsaw Chain Specifications

  • Gauge. The gauge of the chain is the thickness of the drive links, and is dictated by the gauge of the bar on which it is to be run. Usual gauges are .050″ (1.3 mm) – .058″ (1.5 mm) and .063″ (1.6 mm). Chain and bar gauge must match; a chain that is too large will not fit, one that is too small will fall sideways and cut poorly.
  • Pitch. The pitch of the chain is the average distance between two rivets. As the distance between rivets varies, the pitch can be measured by measuring between three rivets and dividing this distance by two. Usual pitches are 0.325″, 3/8″ and 0.404″. 3/4″ is used for harvester applications, and very rarely for handheld cutting. The pitch of the chain must match the drive sprocket, and the nose sprocket (if fitted).
  • Length. A chain loop must be of an appropriate length in order to run safely. This is described by the number of drive links. This number is determined by the length and type of bar, the sprocket size and the overall configuration of the saw. For replacement purposes, simply count the drive links on the old chain.

Sharpening a Chainsaw Using a File

Before you begin sharpening your chainsaw, make sure that you secure it in a vise. Place the file guide over the cutter, laying the round file across the guide within the cutter. Pull the file from inside the cutter to the outside using full strokes. Make sure to sharpen the cutters on one side of the chainsaw chain before going to the next side.

As you sharpen the cutters, the clearance between their cutting elements and the chain’s depth gauges slowly becomes smaller. To offset this reduction, you must also file the depth gauges. Some sharpening guides double as depth-gauge guides and are set for the recommended clearance; if yours doesn’t do double duty, you can use a separate depth-gauge filing guide.
Place the guide over the chain, making sure its top surface rests squarely on the chain’s top plates. Using the 6 in. flat file, stroke from inside the cutter to outside until the depth gauge is flush with the top of the slot. Repeat this sequence until all of the depth gauges are the correct height. Once its chain is sharpened, your chainsaw will be ready for more cutting action. But remember that if you’re doing a lot of work in any one day, you may need to repeat this process a couple of times to keep the chain at its sharpest.


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