Chainsaw chains are designed to cut through hard materials quickly. This makes them very effective cutting tools but also potentially dangerous to the person operating the chainsaw.
#1 Check If the Chain Is Dull or Damaged
A dull chain will not cut fast or at all, and a damaged chain can be very dangerous to the operator. If you have to press very hard on the chainsaw to make a cut, or it produces a burning smoke smell, the chain is likely dull. Other signs of a dull chain are if the cut tends to lean in one direction instead of cutting straight down, or if the chainsaw shakes, jolts, or causes kickback.
Also, make sure to look for any chipped, damaged, or broken links in the chain. If there are any damaged or missing parts, then it is best to repair or replace it.
#2 Set The Right Chain Cut Direction
Make sure the chain cut direction is right when you inspect or replace the chain. If it is in the wrong direction, the chainsaw will not cut the material very well and will likely just spin and spin causing the chain to dull. The key thing to remember is that the chain guide links should be ahead of the cutters and the cutters should be aimed forward.
#3 Determine If the Chain Needs To Be Sharpened or Replaced
If there are no damaged links in the chain, then sharpening it will likely suffice. A chainsaw chain can handle being sharpened around 10 times, depending on how much of it is taken off each time you sharpen it.
There may be markings on the chain that detail how much chain material can be removed from each cutting link. At some point at around a dozen sharpenings, the chain will have to be replaced. You can sharpen a chain using a file or a portable electric or professional-grade chain sharpening machine.
#4 Cut Only Materials Your Chain Is Designed For
For regular home use chainsaws, this is usually wood, particleboard, and perhaps thin roofing material only. However, some chains are designed for cutting plastic, metal, and even concrete. If you decide to cut more than just tree branches and firewood, you will have to check with your chain’s specifications to see if it can handle cutting additional types of materials.
#5 Keep the Chain Lubricated
Chain lubrication is important to keep the chain cool and minimize friction. Most chainsaws are self-lubricating and only need the inner reservoir filled with chain oil. The cap on the reservoir will likely be on the outside area of the chainsaw’s housing, but this depends on the brand and type of chainsaw.
You can find out where the oil reservoir is by looking in your chainsaw owner’s manual. You can usually get away with adding chain oil at the same time you refuel your chainsaw.
#6 Maintain the Right Chainsaw Chain Tension
Maintaining the proper chainsaw chain tension is important for safety as well as the longevity of the chain. Adjusting the tension is easy to do. The chain will need tightening when it no longer sits flush against the guide bar. You can do a quick snap test using your fingers to pull the chain off the bar.
A good distance between the two is 1.25mm when the saw has had time to cool down. A hot chain will expand slightly more off the bar than when it is cool.
#7 Plan Your Cutting Strategy Beforehand
Make sure to practice your cuts and body positioning before using the chainsaw. It is important to maintain a strong stance and stay balanced at all times. When cutting, do not overreach outward from your center of gravity or cut above shoulder level.
Be aware of your available field of movement and any large obstacles nearby you will have to step around or avoid.
Make sure your feet are firmly planted and the standing surface is stable and secure before you proceed to cut. This means you should avoid standing on ladders, scaffolds, or in trees when using a chainsaw.
When holding the chainsaw, do so with both hands and keep a tight grip on the top and rear handles.
When carrying a chainsaw, the chain can still be dangerous as it can spike your hands and legs if you bump into it or drop it. If the motor is running, a quick slip of the fingers could start the chain spinning which could lead to injury if you are not careful.
When cutting, chainsaw kickback is always a possibility, so try to stay out of the kickback zone as much as possible.
#8 Always Wear Proper Chainsaw Safety Gear
Consider wearing latex or work gloves when handling a greasy chain and do not touch your normal clothing afterward without making sure your hands are clean of oil and grime. Chainsaw chains, even dull ones, can still be sharp, so wearing work gloves can also help keep your fingers and hands from being cut.
When operating a chainsaw, always wear proper PPE including steel toe boots, jeans, and if possible, chainsaw safety chaps to protect your legs. Even if the saw itself does not present a danger, falling or flying shards or debris when cutting could cause serious injury. Also always wear safety glasses or goggles along with work gloves when using and handling a chainsaw.
#9 Follow Your Chainsaw’s Instructions and Safety Recommendations
There are certain types of chainsaws that have different safety requirements than other types. Your chainsaw’s owner’s manual will have safety instructions provided which you can use to stay safe. Before embarking on using your new chainsaw, always review these recommendations and really take them in.
#10 Take a Chainsaw Safety Course
Following your chainsaw owner’s manual safety recommendations is important. However, many people learn best by watching others show them how to do the task. Consider taking a chainsaw safety course that covers all the best practices for operating chainsaws. There may be details provided that you would not think of which could keep you safe when cutting.
For more information see our post Chainsaw Safety Qualifications.
#11 Have Access To a Fire Extinguisher
You should never operate or work on your chainsaw without any kind of fire extinguisher nearby. The reason that this is so important is that chainsaw fuel or sparks from hitting metal can start a fire.
By following these chainsaw chain safety tips, you will be able to enjoy hours of enjoyment with your chainsaw, while ensuring that you are not putting yourself or others at risk.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.