A Guide to Chainsaw Maintenance

by | Feb 18, 2019 | Featured Slider, Features, Kit, Latest

Making sure tools are safe and fit for purpose is essential. Paul George has some handy guidance to get the job done.

Chainsaws are highly powerful tools for carrying out some seriously tough jobs. Whether you are managing woodland or dismantling a dangerous tree, a chainsaw is one of the essential tools you can’t do without.

A chainsaw that is badly maintained, however, or running a blunt chain, is not only going to be less efficient, it’s also going to be dangerous. If you have to exert more force on the saw when cutting, or the saw isn’t slicing smoothly into the wood, then it’s likely that it needs some attention.

A blunt chain is more inclined to catch or kick back and if you have to apply more pressure, this increases the likelihood of the bar slipping and an accident ensuing. Maintaining your chainsaw, therefore, will not only make your work easier, it will help to ensure your safety.

Basic Maintenance

The basic maintenance of a chainsaw means ensuring that all parts are running smoothly and that it has been properly lubricated. Your saw should regularly be serviced, and worn or damaged parts replaced.

The chainsaw’s chain is the principle wearing component of the saw and therefore requires the most attention.

Chains can be sharpened, but once they become too badly worn, they need to be replaced. This will extend the life of the saw and will be far more cost-effective than having to replace the whole thing.

You should inspect the chain thoroughly. If you find any teeth that are chipped or bent then the machine could be dangerous to use and the chain should be replaced. If the teeth are worn unevenly, you may be able to have the teeth evenly reground by a dealer with professional sharpening machinery.

A chain can be sharpened multiple times before it needs replacing. Chains usually carry a mark on the teeth showing the minimum usable depth. If your chain has already been sharpened down to this mark then will you need to replace it.

Sharpening Tools

Some people will opt to get their chains professionally sharpened, however you can do it yourself with the right sharpening tools. Sharpening a chain isn’t difficult but you do need to make sure you have the right tools to do the job. Chains come in various different sizes and it’s essential to have the correct size files and guides to suit your specific chain.

Check the owner’s manual to determine the size of the teeth. Some brands also have an identification number stamped onto the chain itself which can help you to identify it correctly. Armed with this information, you can buy the correct sized file, 4mm, 4.8mm and 5.2mm being the most common sizes.

You will also need to get a file guide. This ensures that you work to a uniform depth when sharpening each cutting tooth. You’ll need a clamp too, this holds the saw in place so that you can work on it safely, a depth gauge – these are sometimes incorporated with the file guide – and a flat file.


Now that you have assembled all the tools, you can start on the sharpening process.

  • Secure the saw in place with your clamp and you are ready to start work. Some chains will have a ‘lead cutter’; this is usually shorter than the other teeth and is where you should start filing. If all your saw’s teeth are the same length, you can start anywhere you like, but it’s a good idea to mark your starting point with a scratch or a blob of paint so that you know when you’ve reached the end.
  • The cutting tooth is the notch at the front of the flat chain link. Position the file in the tooth then mount the file guide to be sure that you have it at the correct angle, both horizontally and vertically.
  • When you start filing, count the number of strokes you make and ensure you make the same number on each cutter. File steadily and push from the short side of the angle. File every other tooth so that you are only working on those that are angled the same way. After every five or six teeth, you’ll need to move the chain. Wear gloves to ensure you can do this safely.
  • When you get back to your starting point or lead cutter, turn the saw around and repeat the process, working on the cutters that are angled the opposite way. You can use a calliper to check that the flat top of each of the cutters is the same. This ensures that the saw will bite equally into the wood.
  • When you have finished filing, use your depth gauge to check the ‘rakers’. These are the links between the cutter and have a hooked shape. Position the depth gauge on the cutter, if the raker is too high, you will need to use your flat file to reduce it in height.

Once you have finished sharpening, you should check the tension of the chain. This needs to be done regularly anyway as newer chains will inevitably stretch with use.

Dos and Don’ts

To ensure that you do the job properly and safely, here are some reminders as to the key points:


  • Replace damaged chains, they are unsafe.
  • Secure the saw with a clamp or fix the blade in a vice before starting work.
  • Count the file strokes to ensure you remove an equal amount of material from each tooth.
  • Check the chain tension after you have finished.


  • Use a standard rat-tail file, the coarse teeth and tapering body will damage the saw’s teeth.
  • Try to correct a saw where the cutters are uneven by filing. Take it to a professional to have the teeth reground.

For more information on working with chainsaws, the HSE advice is all published online.

About the Author: Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, and has worked in the arborist industry for 14 years. Landmark Trading are one the UK’s leading suppliers of arborist equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter, Facebook or call Landmark Trading on 01780 482231.