Chainsaw Sharpening – How To Do It Safely

Chainsaw chains inevitable get dull with use, so they will require sharpening at some point. But this could cause some injury to the persona and even the chain. So, how do you sharpen a chainsaw safely? Find out below.

Is Chainsaw Sharpening Safe?

Chainsaw chains can be difficult to sharpen, usually requiring that you have the right tools or equipment to do the job properly. Not only that but if done wrong could cause injury to yourself and others around you.

Some injuries from chainsaw sharpening include:

  • Cuts and punctures to the skin
  • Finger and hand injuries
  • Possible face and eye damage

As with any task using tools, it should be seen as dangerous until skillfully mastered. Also, using proper gloves, eye protection, and patience can make chainsaw sharpening very safe.

How Often Does A Chainsaw Chain Need Sharpening?

Chainsaw chains will need sharpening once they become dull. Using a dull chain can cause damage to the chiansaw and even some safety risks, including:

  • Chainsaw buckling
  • Motor overheating
  • Kickback leading to injury
  • Longer cutting times

When chainsaws need to be sharpened depends on how they are used. If they hit hard objects such as rocks or concrete, or rusts due to poor storage, then they will need sharpening sooner. However, there is no set interval within which all chainsaw chains needs sharpening.

Some professionals recommend sharpening the chain each time the chainsaw needs refueling, while others suggest this is not needed.

Signs Your Chainsaw Needs Sharpening

Generally, a chainsaw chain needs sharpening when:

  • Fine sawdust appears when cutting
  • Cutting requires using extra pressure
  • Cutting takes longer
  • Kickbacks happen

How Long Should A Chainsaw Chain Last?

A chainsaw chain can last as little as a few days to as long as a few decades! This all depends on how it is used and the quality of the chain. If the chain hits rocks, ice, or concrete, it will not last very long and will likely break on the spot.

However, a chain that is used on soft wood, and not very often can last many years before needing replacement. Of course, this means it will need to be sharpened from time to time.

Professional chainsaw operators will need to replace their chains much sooner because of the type and quantity of cutting they do.

Why Does My Chainsaw Chain Dull So Quickly?

Chainsaw chains dull fast because they are designed for fast cutting, not longevity. If you’re looking to get the most out of your chainsaw chain (and spare yourself downtime), you should concentrate on keeping it sharp with a chainsaw sharpener.

Chainsaw chains dull in many ways. They can dull quickly because they cut against wood, dirt and other abrasive elements. They could also be low quality chains made of cheap metal alloy. Generally, chains dull faster based on how they are used, rather than the brand or manufacturing quality.

Sharpening A Chainsaw Manually

A chainsaw can be sharpened manually with the right tools and space. The amount of time that you spend sharpening your chainsaw will depend upon the type of saw and the filing guide that you use.

Sharpening A Chainsaw Using A File

Before starting, the correct file must be chosen to sharpen the chain. Each semi-circular cutting edge of the teeth has a specific diameter and require a round file that matches this number.

Here are the steps to follow the manually sharpen your chainsaw chain:

  1. Cover your workspace with a plastic bag, tarp, or newspaper to protect it from dripping chain oil.
  2. Engage the brake of the chain, and clamp the chainsaw bar in a vice.
  3. The chainsaw guide arrow should be pointed towards the nose of the bar, and the guide should fit between the rivets on the chain.
  4. View the angle stamped on the outer plate of the chainsaw and follow this angle when sharpening.
  5. Do not file too deep or this could damage the side plate of the chain.
  6. Perform even, steady strokes of the file.
  7. File at 30-35 degrees to the bar and make strokes away from your body.
  8. Use the file guide to line up the cutter with the file.
  9. Use a felt tip pen to mark where the sharpening process started.
  10. Make a kerf cut on a block of wood to hold the bar in while you sharpen.
  11. Once 2-3 cutters are sharp and shiny, rotate the chain by releasing the brake to expose more cutters. A burr must be formed on the outside edge of the blade for it to be considered sharp.
  12. Sharpen one complete side of the chain, then turn it around and do the other side.
  13. Sharpen the chain cutters until you reach the pen-marked cutter where you started.
  14. Use the depth guage tool to adjust the chainsaw depth gauge so the newly sharpened cutters can reach the wood.

Using The Chainsaw Depth Guage

The depth guage needs to checked each time the chain is sharpened. Set the depth guage over the tooth and file across the top to decrease the depth. There is a slot on the depth guage tool that the depth guage fin fits through.

If the guage is higher than the slot on the tool, then it needs to be filed down. This can be done very quickly and with a flat file.

Chainsaw Sharpening Tools

Certain tools can be used to sharpen chainsaw chains manually (by hand). Some tools are meant to be used solely for this purpose, while other tools can also be used in conjunction with a chainsaw’s built-in chain sharpening mechanism.

Tools include:

  • Round file
  • File guide
  • Flat file
  • Depth guage
  • Chainsaw sharpening stones (drill-bit form)
  • Dremel
  • Small hand power drill
  • Allen wrenches
  • Screwdrivers
  • Box wrenches

When choosing a round file, make sure its diameter matches that found on the chain.

Sharpening A Chainsaw With A Dremel

A chainsaw can be sharpened using a dremel rotary cutting tool with an attached sharpening stone bit. This will require also using a dremel chainsaw sharpening jig.

Follow the markings on the dremel sharpening jig which who the correct angle to grind the teeth of the chainsaw chain.

Engage the dremel with the sharpening stone bit to the chainsaw blade and carefully grind away metal from each tooth. Always make sure to wear proper eye protection and gloves. Dremels spin at high speed and can quickly cause metal debris to fly through the work space.

Use the Right Dremel Sharpening Stone

Chainsaw blades have certain pitch sizes that refer to the distance between each drive link. The sharpening stone diameter must match this pitch number. Refer to the table below to help guide you:

Chain Pitch Size (inches)Grinding Stone Diameter (inches)Dremel Grinding Stone Color Dremel Part Number
¼ 5/32 Blue453
3/8 7/32 Pink455
3/8 – low profile5/32Blue453
.3253/16 Orange454

Always tighten the chuck before operating your Dremel tool and follow any instructions provided.

Chainsaw Chain Tension Adjustment

Make sure the chainsaw chain has enough tension so that it does not move while you sharpen it. Adjust this tension using the manufacturer’s instructions.

Sharpen the Outside Teeth

Position the chainsaw to your right and with the bar facing you. Sharpen every other tooth on the outside before flipping the saw around to do the other side.

Use 30 Degree Angle Markings

Keep the 30 degree mark on the dremel jig parallel to the chainsaw bar to cut each tooth correctly.

Use Light Pressure For Sharpening

A dremel rotates fast and can sharpen each tooth easily. This only requires a little bit of pressure and a few passes. Be careful not to grind away too much of the chainsaw chain, or it can be damaged.

Use A Felt-Tip Marker

To identify where you started sharpening the chain, run a felt-tip marker over one of the links so you can see it when it comes back around.

Flip the Chain Over And Repeat

Shift the chainsaw to the other side of your body and sharpen the other side of the chain.

Sharpening A Chainsaw With A Grinder

A shop grinder can be used to sharpen a chainsaw chain. An angle grinder is best and can be found at any local or online hardware store. Having the grinder attached to the shop table will give it more stability while you work.

Just follow these steps to sharpen a chainsaw chain with a grinder:

1. Secure the chainsaw in a vise or mount it to an engine stand. The motor needs to be completely cool before proceeding.

2. Make sure the grinder is working properly before starting.

3. Mark a starting point with a felt-tip marker so you do not sharpen it twice.

4. The grinder angle should be set depending on the type of chainsaw you have. The tooth and grinder angle should be the same number.

5. Watch the grinder speed. Going too slow or too fast can damage either the grinder or the chainsaw.

6. Do not use too much pressure, or this could also damage the grinder or chain.

7. Polish up any frayed edges or splinters that are protruding from the chain when you are done sharpening it. You can use a polishing wheel to do this.

Sharpening A Chainsaw Professionally

A chainsaw can be sharpened by a local professional at a tool repair shop. You may also sharpen your chainsaw yourself using the same tools that the professionals use. However, even if you sharpen a chain yourself, having a professional do it from time to time may be a good idea.

Cost To Sharpen A Chainsaw

A chainsaw that is sharpened by a local professional will cost about $25 to be sharpened. Doing it yourself may only cost you a few dollars.

How Long Does It Take To Sharpen A Chainsaw?

Sharpening a chainsaw manually can take some time, up to several hours for a beginner. The chainsaw needs to be firmly held down and the file must move steadily so that the process is not rushed. An experienced person can sharpen a chainsaw in as little as 20-30 minutes.

Chainsaw Chain Sharpening Tips

Here are number of tips you can use to make your sharpening go faster and safer:

  • Follow the chainsaw manufacturer’s instructions on how to handle the chainsaw and chain.
  • Make sure the chainsaw has been shut down and cooled for atleast 30 minutes prior to sharpening.
  • Be careful when handlling the chain as they teeth can easily cause a painful cut to your skin.
  • Wear a pair of work gloves and safety glasses.
  • Use a complete filing kit that has all the needed files and guages.
  • When using a grinder, watch out for flying metal peices that could hurt your eyes.

In Conclusion

Sharpening a chainsaw takes some time, the right tools, and a little bit of patience. However, with practice and a the proper workspace, any chainsaw owner can sharpen their own chainsaw chains. Just make sure to wear PPE and keep safety in mind at all times when handling the chainsaw.

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Nick Klamecki, Author
About Nick Klamecki, Author

Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree 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. Learn more about Nick here or connect with him on LinkedIn | Medium