Chainsaw, Homestead

Basic Chainsaw Maintenance

 Chainsaws are a great piece of equipment and generally range from small, lightweight saws to very heavy duty saws.  Select a saw that reflects your experience, what you plan to use it for (once in awhile to clean up around the yard or more regular use, such as firewood for your primary source of heating fuel), and the length of the bar you will need.  Your local hardware store can help you to determine which will be the right saw for you.

Once you have your saw, it’s important to properly maintain it.  Not only will maintaining ensure a longer life of the saw, but it will make using the saw more enjoyable and productive.

Each Use:

Make sure the saw is sharp.  

Chain Saw Tooth.jpg

Teeth should have a sharp point.  If the point is blunted, use a file to take back the tooth to where the point is no longer dull.  Count the number of file strokes it took to get to this point and remember this number.  Use a guide to ensure you maintain the same angle on each tooth.  Teeth typically have a few imprinted lines to help ensure you are at the correct angle and are taking the same amount off of each tooth.  Make sure when filing the teeth, you pay attention to the tooth you start with and count the number of strokes you do.  Repeat the same number of strokes for each tooth.  File each tooth in the same direction (every other tooth).  Once you complete all teeth that go in one direction, turn the saw around and repeat the same process on the other teeth.  It is very important that you keep the angle identical on both sides and that you use the same number of file strokes.  If you do not, your saw will not cut straight down and may cause the saw to bind in the wood when cutting larger logs.  During the course of a day of cutting, you should touch up the teeth every tank of gas or two.

Check the rakers to ensure they are slightly lower than the tip of the tooth. 

Use a flat file to remove the high point of the rakers.  Rakers usually have lines printed to help you to gauge your depth.  Guides are also available that can sit over the raker to help you take the raker down to the proper height.  Rakers that are too high will prevent the correct bite.  Be sure not to file these too low either as taking the rakers all the way down can cause your saw to bog down from taking too big of a bite and be unable to cut as well.  “Safety chains” have an additional “backward” raker that will need to be filed also.

Remove the cover on the back of the saw (make sure the choke is closed so no dust gets into the carburetor), and ensure the air filter is cleaned.  

Air Filter (2)

These can typically be removed and tapped on the workbench to clean or can be carefully blown out with an air compressor.  Air filters usually have a hairlike surface.  Do not remove this surface as it helps to filter fine particles.

Every other use:

Remove the chain and ensure that the oiler on the bar is free from gunk.

You may need to blow this out with an air compressor.  

Evaluate the tip of the bar.  

Ensure that the guide at the tip of the bar moves freely.  An air compressor pointed down the ridge of the bar can help to clean out the tip also.  

Feel along the edge of the bar.  

Burr on Bar.jpg

Damage to the bar can cause the chain to jump off or will cause unnecessary wear on the rivets of the chain and result in the chain breaking.  There should not be any rough edge or metal burrs on the top or bottom of the bar.  If there is, use a flat file to smooth this flat.  Occasionally, you may notice the center of the ridge in which the chain rides is lower than the outside.  Chain Track.JPG

This surface should be flat.  Use a flat file to smooth this as well.  Be sure to keep a 90-degree angle to the top of the bar.  Stroke the file at an angle to the bar. Beware of discoloration of the bar. Burnt Bar.jpg

 It might be burnt from “pinching” the bar in a cut or running the chain too tight or from the oiler getting plugged.  A burnt bar can weaken the bar.  Be sure to pay special attention to this spot for visible damage.  When putting the bar back on the saw, flip the bar upside down.  This will ensure you are using both sides evenly.

Before replacing the bar, use your “scrench” to clean out sawdust and grease from under the cover.  

An air compressor can help clean this area out as well.  Focus on the oiler to be sure that is free of gunk.

When replacing the bar, ensure your chain tightness is correct. 

This is as important as a sharp chain.  A saw with a tight chain will burn the bar and not cut as well.  When a chain cuts wood, each tooth begins with the raker which tips up then allows the tip of the tooth to bite into the wood and then subsequently tips back down and returns to the bar.  If the chain is too tight, the tooth cannot bite and the saw will seem dull.  The chips from the cut will look like dust.  The chain will stop abruptly when removing your finger from the throttle.  When placing the chain on the bar, be sure that the points of the chain around pointing away from the engine of the saw (it is possible to put a chain on backward).  Place the guard over the base of the chain and bar, replace the nuts.  Begin to tighten the nuts.  Going back and forth between the two before tightening down all the way.  As you replace the nuts, you can hold the bar up to ensure it is seated properly.  You will notice that the chain will get tighter as you tighten the nuts.  You will need to adjust chain tension before tightening the nuts all the way down.  You may need to use the scrench placed on the back side of the tooth to roll the chain forward.  Using your fingers, lift up on the chain.  You should be able to easily lift up at least 2 teeth entirely out of the ridge in the bar.

Chain Tension.JPG

 This will help you to be sure the chain isn’t too tight.  After cutting for 10 minutes or so, reevaluate chain tightness.  You will also want to be sure that the chain is not too loose.  Cutting in brush or cutting limbs can cause the chain to come off if it is not tight enough.  

Wonder how your saw is cutting?

Try cutting one-inch rounds from a 12 inch or so log, and let the weight of the saw pull through the wood.

Is it straight?  What do your chips look like?  Are they chips or sawdust?

If they are dust, check your chain.

  • Is it on the right way,
  • have you filed past any damage on the tip of the tooth,
  • are your rakers too high,
  • is your chain too tight?


Basic Chainsaw Maintenance



  • File Saw Teeth, same number of strokes on each tooth
  • File Rakers to stay below tooth tip height, same number of strokes on each raker
  • Clean Air Filter
  • Blow out Chain Track on Bar
  • Clean rollers at tip of Bar
  • Clean Oiler holes on the Bar
  • Feel Edges of Bar for burs and file smooth
  • Look at top edge of bar and file flat if concave
  • Set Chain Tension correctly


And finally, please be sure to always wear safety equipment.  Steel toe boots and chaps are critical, especially when we are not using a saw regularly.  Chaps may seem bulky or uncomfortable but can save you when you’re tired and make a mistake.  Safety glasses and hearing protection are also very important.


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