How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain Step-by-Step

A man using a chainsaw to saw into an upright log.
Image by Petra Blume.

A dulled edge on your chainsaw doesn’t just reduce the quality of your cuts, is also a major safety risk. Dull blades has an increased chance of catching, slipping, or kicking back at you. Keeping your blade sharp is an essential part of chainsaw safety.

In this article guide you will learn how to sharpen a chainsaw with a file or an electric chainsaw sharpener.

Why Sharpen Your Own Chainsaw Chain?

A surprising common mistake that some new and inexperienced chainsaw owners make is replacing their chain every time it dulls. Of course its a mistake that gets increasingly expensive over time.

What’s more common is paying to have your chain sharpened for you. This is a perfectly fine way to do it for the average homeowner who doesn’t use their saw often. For anyone who needs their saw frequently though you run into the problem of a high cost over time again, not to mention the inconvenience of driving to the store to have it done.

Instead, by using a chainsaw sharpener you can keep your cut quality consistent while extending the life of your blade. Chainsaw sharpeners can be either electric or manual and both offer unique benefits.

If you’re looking to buy a chainsaw sharpener then be sure to check our top 5 best chainsaw sharpener list.

How to Tell When Your Chainsaw Blade Needs Sharpening

A dulled chainsaw blade can be a major safety risk that increases the risk of your blade catching, slipping, or bouncing. To reduce the chance of the chainsaw kicking back its important to be able to identify a dull blade.

The first sign that your blade is dulling is that the chainsaw is creating more sawdust than chips. A sharp chain will create coarse strands of wood rather than fine sawdust.

If your chain has dulled, you will also notice that it is becoming more difficult to use. With a sharp chain, a blade cuts without the need to apply much force. In contrast, a dulled chain will need pressure applied and may rattle or bounce while cutting. If you find that you’re forcing the saw to make a cut, then your blade needs sharpening.

Before sharpening

Before you are ready to sharpen your chain, you need to find out the specifications of your blade. What you need to know is the pitch, gauge, and tooth angle of your saw’s blade. You can easily find this information in your saw’s owner manual or online.

Examine your chain to find the most worn down tooth. Each tooth of the chain will need to be ground down to the same point to keep the blade uniform.

While you are checking the chain you should also look for any visible signs of damage it may have. If you see any visible chips or breaks in the chain then stop, that chain needs to be replaced not sharpened.

How to Use an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener

Preparation

Find a stable surface you can use to set up your sharpener on. Working on a stable surface will help with maintaining uniform sharpening. Using a bench-mounted sharpener is one way to be sure this is never an issue.

Adjust the sharpener

With the information that you gathered earlier, you are going to adjust the angle of the grinder. This controls the angle that the sharpening stone will meet the blade of the tooth.

Next, adjust the grinding depth of that the sharpener will go into the chain to take off as little of the blade as possible in order to make the chain uniform.

Sharpening

Before locking your chain into place mark your starting point so that you can tell where you began the sharpening process. Then set the chain onto the track and lock it into place.

When you sharpening you want to skip every other tooth of the chain working with the grain of the blade. Think of it as sharpening only the odd-numbered teeth of the chain.

While sharpening remembers to lightly apply the wheel to the tooth to sharpen the blade. Using too much pressure while doing this will heat the blade and wear it down more than you need.

After you have gone through the chain sharpening every other tooth it is time to sharpen those even teeth. Adjust the angle of the sharpener to the negative value of the angle you just used, for example, if you had been sharpening at 30 degrees adjust the sharpener to negative 30 degrees.

Now go through and sharpen the even-numbered teeth you had skipped over before. Make sure you remember to skip the odd-numbered teeth this time around.

How to Manually Sharpen a Chainsaw with files

Preparation

First, you will need to secure the bar of the chainsaw using either a clamp or a vise. Securing the bar will keep the saw from shifting while it is being sharpened making the process easier and the results more consistent. Next, tighten your chain to the point that it is tight but you are still able to move it around the saw. Another option is to remove the chain from the saw and secure it in the vise instead.

Identify the most worn down tooth on the chain. You will need to file each other tooth to the same point to keep your chain uniform. Before starting the sharpening process mark the point that you are starting at. Do this to keep track of how far along you are sharpening so you will not sharpen the same section twice.

Using the info which you gathered earlier select the correct size round file for your chain. You can check that your file is the correct size by setting

If you need to set your guide or file holder then adjust it to the tooth angle of your saw. Some blades also have guidelines etched into their cutters to assist in finding the angle to file at.

Sharpening the Cutters

A close up shot of a round file being used to sharpen the cutters on a chain.

Slide your file along the blade of the first tooth you had marked. Make sure you hold the file in a way that it stays level while doing so. the file across the face of the cutter. Push the file along with the tooth in one fluid motion being mindful to not apply too much pressure. After each pass lifts the file and resets it, do not pull the file backward.

It should not take many passes to sharpen the blade. Take note of how many times you filed the first cutter and file each other tooth the same amount of time. This will keep the blades of the chainstay uniform.

After you sharpen your starting tooth, rotate the chain forward. Sharpen every other tooth from your starting point. Think of these as the odd-numbered teeth of the chain. This is important because of the cutters on the chain alternate directions.

As you move from one tooth to the next check your file to see if it is building up metal shavings. If you notice that it is then clear the file by tapping it on a solid surface before continuing.

After you have finished turn the saw or chain around and begin work on the cutters you have not yet filed. You can also move around to the other side of the saw or face your file at the altered angle if you are unable to turn it. File these blades the same way you had filed the others, keeping to the same number and remembering to alternate. Filing one side of the chain more than the other risks throwing off the balance of the chain so consistency is important.

Filing the Rakers

Using a guide to file down the rakers on a chain while wearing safety gloves.

The rakers are the part of the chain which protrude between the teeth. Also sometimes called drags they are responsible for keeping the depth of a cut consistent.

Setting the depth gauge

A depth gauge is a tool that judges the height to file the rakers. To set the depth gauge to place it over the starting point of your chain and push it forward to press against a raker.

Leveling the rakers

Any part of the raker that sits higher than the depth gauge will need to be filed down. You can check this by eyeballing it or feeling for any bumps above the gauge. Use a flat

Use a flat bastard cut mill file running it along the top of the raker to level it with the depth gauge. Be mindful not to file the depth gauge itself to avoid inconsistency. After filing it down use your file to lightly smooth the edges of the raker while not lowering the height further.

Continue moving the gauge along the entirety of the chain and filing any rakers you find which need it. Check your file occasionally between rakers to clear any buildup of metal shavings. When every raker has been filed down to the same height you’ve finished.

Finally, when you have finished the sharpening process loosen your chain back to a usable tension.

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