Chainsaw Maintenance — How to keep your chainsaw running smoothly.
What do you need to do to keep your chainsaw running smoothly? how do you maintain your chainsaw? What do you do if the chain won’t stop? If you are grappling with these questions, this is the perfect generalized guide for you. It is not brand specific, although we based the content on maintenance guides and schedules suggested by manufacturers.
The Art of Chainsaw Maintenance
The maintenance procedures we recommend here will keep your machine in good running order and extend its serviceable life. Because not all machines are equal, our guidelines may not match your machine. Therefore, we urge you to compare it to the maintenance procedures recommended by the manufacturer. An authorized service workshop should carry out the more extensive work not covered here.
VIDEO | Chainsaw Maintenance from Husqvarna
By doing regular maintenance on your chainsaw you will not only have a machine that works better, but it will also be safer, last longer, and you will save money. If you own a gas chainsaw then you’ll just have to accept that maintenance will be a part of your life. I always remind readers, if you don’t want to do maintenance or you’re not fond of caring for machines, then buy an electric chainsaw, preferably battery. Some people love caring for their chainsaw in the same way that people love taking care of their car or truck. Just be honest with yourself as to whether of not you’ll do what is required to maintain a safe chainsaw. At the end of the day, it’s about safety, not a shiny plastic shine.
You’ll have to regularly check to ensure your chainsaw is safe and in good running order; and that your chain is sharp. It is my experience that using a checklist is best to ensure I don’t forget or neglect something. I always tend to “forget” things I should have done, it’s if my mind just focuses on the job, ignoring the maintenance tasks. Therefore, I share this list with you. I recommend buying the book: Chainsaw Manual for Homeowners by Brian J. Ruth — this is the bible of chainsaw maintenance. If you want a step-by-step guide and/or you’re new to chainsaws, then do yourself a favor and buy this book.
I tailored the maintenance checklist to someone who uses the chainsaw daily. If you use your chainsaw less often, you may adjust the weekly and monthly schedules to suit you.
Chainsaw Maintenance Checklist
- Clean the outside of the machine. Remove the covers and clean them, then set them aside.
- Operate the choke lever to close the choke butterfly valve, it will keep the dirt out of the carburetor when you clean the filter. Use a shop blower to clean the machine.
- Clean the chain brake band and ensure it operates safely. You will test it again before you use the machine.
- Remove the chain, bar and clutch cover
- Make sure the lubrication hole in the bar is clean and open. Clean the lubricant feeder hole that delivers the oil to the bar, make sure it is open.
- Clean the bar groove and inspect it for wear. If the bar has a sprocket tip, lubricate it with the correct bar grease. The tip grease holes are on both sides of the bar. Grease both.
- Every time you sharpen the chain, flip the bar over. It helps them wear evenly.
- Check the saw chain regarding visible cracks in the rivets and links. Make sure the saw chain is not stiff, and check the rivets and links for abnormal wear, replace a worn, stiff chain.
- If you notice that the chain is not sharp, sharpen it and check its tension and condition. If you feel unsure, follow our section “How to sharpen the chain”.
- Check the chain drive sprocket for excessive wear and replace when necessary.
- Make sure that the chain catcher is undamaged and securely in place and replace it when required.
- Remove the air filter and clean it as recommended in your manual, use a clean rag to clean the carburetor air intake port.
- Assemble everything.
- Check the engine, tank and fuel lines for fuel leaks.
- Check that the throttle control and lockout work safely. The throttle lockout must prevent the throttle from working if you do not depress the lockout. When using the throttle control, make sure its action is smooth, and it always returns to the idle position immediately when released.
- Assemble the machine and adjust the chain. You correctly adjusted the chain if you can lift it about 3/8 inch at the top center of the bar. The chain must move freely by hand with no binding.
- Make sure you locked the bar tightly and ensure that all nuts and screws are tight.
- Inspect the underside of the bar to make sure it’s getting sufficient oil and correct any errors.
- If you find that the stop switch sometimes fails you, it’s time to check it. It may need cleaning out.
- Check the starter for wear and clean it, oil the center bearing.
- Check the starter cord for frayed edges. Remove the assembly and check the return spring.
- Check that there is no damage to the vibration damping springs or rubbers and replace if needed.
- Lubricate the clutch drum bearing.
- Clean out the cooling fins on the engine and the impeller, and the cooling slots in the cover, etc.
- Use a piece of wood and clean out the bar grooves and file away burrs from the edges of the bar.
- Clean or replace the muffler spark arrestor screen.
- Clean the carburetor compartment and the air filter. Replace if required.
- Check the chain brake band for wear and replace it when worn down to less than 0.024 inch at the most worn point.
- Check the clutch center, clutch drum and clutch spring for wear and clean all components. Oil the center bearing.
- If you use the chainsaw daily, clean the spark plug and check that the electrode gap is 0.020 inch.
- Clean the outside of the carburetor and check for fuel leaks.
- Check the fuel hose for cracks or other damage and replace a hardened or cracked hose.
- Empty the fuel tank and clean the inside if dust accumulated, especially around the filler area. Clean the filler filter.
- Empty the oil tank and if you feel dust or debris inside, clean the inside by flushing it with mineral spirits.
How to Sharpen the Chain
To keep the chain sharp, some companies recommend that you use a file to sharpen the cutting teeth frequently, even daily. Professional loggers say they wait till the chainsaw slows down somewhat. Filing the chainsaw blades often makes the job easier, but it seems like a waste of time to them. They often use more than one chainsaw and they buy chains in bulk and assemble them. It’s not the same for homeowners that only need a chainsaw for yard maintenance and cutting firewood. The reality is that a chainsaw chain needs sharpening on a consistent basis. Most users tend to sharpen the teeth when the chips become mixed with sawdust.
Oregon is the only brand that makes chainsaws with a built-in sharpening system. For most homeowners, this is actual an ideal design because the average chainsaw user does not know (nor wants to know) how to sharpen a chainsaw chain. A couple Oregon chainsaws to consider are : Oregon CS300 40V (battery-powered) or the Oregon CS1500 (electric).
VIDEO | How to Sharpen A Chainsaw Chain
Sharpening the Cutting Teeth :
- Put the chainsaw bar in a vise or secure it to prevent any movement while working. You will see YouTube movies of guys supporting the chainsaw on a log, but I consider that as roughing it. I recommend that you secure the chainsaw properly so you file safely and without rounding the cutting edge. To ensure that you sharpen every tooth at the correct angle and just enough to hone the edges, you must secure it.
- Engage the chain brake to keep the chain steady.
- Sharpen the cutting teeth first. Position the file depth gauge on the chain so that the arrows on the gauge point towards the chainsaw bar nose.
- File at a right angle to the chainsaw rollers.
- File every other cutting tooth using a smooth and even pushing stroke with a slight upward pressure on the file.
- Turn the saw around to face the opposite direction.
- Finish filing the other cutting teeth using the same motion as before.
Filing the Depth Gauges
As a general guide you should file the depth gauges about every third time you file the cutting teeth. Depth gauges are located between the cutting teeth and determine the depth of the cut. I recommend using : Stihl 2 In 1 Easy File Chainsaw Chain Sharpener (see video below)
OR — Oregon Depth Gauge with Flat File (27742)
How to sharpen overview :
- Put the file gauge over the depth gauge but be sure to use the “hard” or “soft” side depending on the wood you normally saw.
- With the file tip feel for the depth gauge to get a feeling for how much you need to take off.
- Remove the file gauge and file the tip of the depth gauge using one or two strokes and measure again with the file gauge. Never take off more than necessary. Rather be safe than sorry, if you remove too much, the teeth bite deeper and the saw becomes dangerous.
- When you feel satisfied that it’s good, you round the edge of the depth gauge slightly to ensure the chain cuts smoothly.
- Finish filing the other depth gauges using the same procedure.
✓ Learn more by reading our dedicated article on sharpening a chainsaw chain.
General Chainsaw Maintenance Issues
The following paragraphs explain some of the maintenance tasks in more detail.
Fuel tank and fuel lines
Make sure the fuel of your chainsaw is clean and not contaminated with water, dust or debris. Refueling is a task we often neglect because we are in a hurry to get back to the cut. Keep the fuel and two stroke oil in separate sealed containers and only mix enough for the task at hand.
Clean the area around the fuel cap before you refuel and clean the mixing jugs before you use them. Dirt is the main enemy of any internal combustion engine–keep it out. Mixing the oil incorrectly will harm the engine, be careful. Do not store fuel-oil mixes as these mixes may degrade with time and become inefficient.
Inspect the fuel tank, cap, fuel lines and carburetor for fuel leaks and repair it immediately. Fuel leaks are wasteful and could cause a fire or at least contaminate the environment.
VIDEO | Chainsaw Maintenance : Part 1
Never use ethanol fuels (if possible)
Ethanol burns hotter than gasoline. It can cause the engine to overheat, and you will see the effect as worn plug electrodes. Use the recommended octane gasoline without ethanol when possible. If you cannot get ethanol free gasoline, it must contain no more than 10 percent ethanol.
Cooling air intake and cooling system, air filter and carburetor.
- All modern chainsaws have forced air cooling to keep the working temperature as low as possible.
- The cooling configuration comprises air intake fins on the starter cover, an air guide plate, and fins on the flywheel. The assembly blows the cool air over the cooling fins on the cylinder, guided by the cylinder cover.
- Clean the cooling fins on the cylinder and the flywheel fins with a brush once a week. You may find that you need to do it more often in demanding conditions. Dirty or blocked cooling fins will cause the engine to overheat; damaging the piston and cylinder.
Carburetor adjustment screws
Your carburetor will usually have at least two settings; the L-jet to set the idling with, and the H-jet that sets the mixture at working speed. You adjust the idle speed with the supplied T-screw or a screwdriver that fits. With the carburetor adjusted correctly, the engine runs smoothly in every position and picks up speed without hesitating. The engine may four-cycle a little at its maximum speed.
It is important that the chain must not move when the engine is idling. If it creeps at idle, you reduce the idle speed a little till it stops. If you cannot set the carburetor correctly without letting the chain move, it is possible that the clutch needs a service. There must be a safe margin between idling speed and when the chain rotates.
If you set the L-jet too lean, it may cause starting difficulties and poor acceleration. At the other end of the range, if you set the H-jet too lean, the engine will have less power, poor acceleration and could suffer damage to the engine.
VIDEO | Chainsaw Maintenance : Part 1
Starter handle, cord and recoil mechanism
Where the rope enters the recoil starter cover hole there is a metal bushing that wears out. It protects the plastic cover against the friction of the rope and is replaceable. It may wear to a sharp edge that damages the rope. Fully extend the rope and inspect it closest to the saw for fraying.
To replace a cord, you first feed it through the bushing and then into the hole in the recoil pulley. When it exits in the center pull it out and tie a knot close to the end of the rope. Pull the rope out so it seats in the notched area.
Now, wind the pulley against the spring in the direction you will pull it with the rope. When you reach the point where the spring stops you, you let the pulley go back one full turn. Then you thread the rope around the pulley and pull it tight. Feel the spring with your hand by twisting the pulley more. The spring must not bottom out. Slowly let the rope in under spring tension.
Chain oil tank, pump and hole
- Check the bar and chain oil level often. I suggest that you do this before each use. The design of many chainsaws will require that you top up the chain oil when refueling. Always check the oil level and refill.
- Clean out the chain-oil portal when maintaining the guide bar. Sawdust can block delivery of oil to the cutting chain.
- Use the correct grade and type of chain saw oil.
- We recommend that you use special chain oil with good adhesion characteristics as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Never use waste oil to lubricate the chain, it will cause damage to the oil pump, the bar and the chain.
- It is important to use oil of the correct viscosity range to suit the air temperature. In temperatures below 32℉ some oils become too viscous, and can overload the oil pump. This will damage the oil pump components.
- A neglected chainsaw may have badly blocked oil channels that stops oil flow to the bar. As an alternative to stripping the oil pump, you could drain the oil from the oil tank and fill the tank with mineral spirits. Replace the cap to seal the tank and run the engine at low revolutions. It may take a while for the mineral spirits to wash out the old oil and clean the channels. Do not use gasoline, it dissolves all oil and leaves the pump too dry.
Replacing the bar tip sprocket
You need not replace the bar for a worn or damaged bar-tip sprocket. You can replace the bar-tip instead. To do that, support the bar on wood with a hole under the bar-tip rivet. Punch the rivet with a center punch and drill it out with a drill that’s slightly smaller than the shank of a new rivet. Remove the drill immediately when the rivet head becomes loose. Make sure the rivet is centered over the hole in the wood support and punch it out. Replace the bar-tip with a new one and peen the new rivet in place.
Replacing the drive sprocket
Replace a worn or damaged drive sprocket before it damages the chain. To get to the clutch mechanism you need to remove the bar and chain. Then you can remove the drive clutch. You will find more than one type of clutch in different chainsaws. On some you will see only the outside drum and the sprocket. To see the inside you have to remove it. Another type is the other way around and you can see the center shaft and inner clutch disk when you remove the bar.
Chainsaws have a centrifugal clutch inside a drum that expands as the engine speed increases. The clutch pawls contact the inside of the drum and drive it. fitted to the drum is a fixed spur sprocket, or a replaceable rim sprocket.
- The centrifugal mechanism of an inboard clutch is close to the chainsaw body. The drum, sprocket, and chain are on the outside, over the clutch, protecting the clutch mechanism. It is easy to replace the sprocket of an inboard clutch; especially when it is a rim sprocket. You remove the clutch side cover and pry off a circlip. You will also do this during routine maintenance to get to the clutch mechanism.
- The sprocket and the chain of an outboard clutch are behind the clutch drum, close to the chainsaw body. The clutch mechanism fits inside the drum, visible from the outside. Changing the sprocket is a slower process on this clutch. To change the sprocket of an outboard clutch, remove the clutch and the drum, sometimes with a special tool. You also have to remove the spark plug and block off the piston so you can twist off the clutch.
The advantages of the outboard clutch are that it more rapidly and efficiently clears chips from behind the clutch cover. Both versions have a needle bearing on the drive shaft. You must grease the bearing with high quality bearing grease or engine oil at least once a week. If you use the chainsaw seasonally, check it before you use the chainsaw.
In your user manual you will find clear instructions to remove and service the clutch.
Throttle trigger or lockout
Throttle triggers on some models break, and then you will have to replace it. Do not operate a chain saw with a damaged or malfunctioning trigger or lockout. Be sure that the saw chain stops moving when you release the throttle control trigger. How triggers work differs a lot, and getting to them for repairs, even more. It’s almost like no two models are the same, and no manuals show the procedure. I found lots of YouTube videos for a specific make and model, some good, some bad. On some models it is straightforward and the parts are freely available. Costs are low if you do it yourself. If you cannot find the information, it will compel you to ask a dealer how.
Muffler and spark arrestor screen
The purpose of the muffler is to reduce the noise level. It also directs the hot exhaust gases away from the operator. The muffler vibrates a lot and may work loose, check it regularly to ensure it is secure.
The exhaust gases can contain sparks and regulations may require a spark arrestor to prevent fires. If the manufacturer installed a spark arrestor screen in your muffler, clean it at least once a week with a wire brush.
Do not neglect the muffler and the screen, a muffler in poor condition will cause the engine to overheat, loose power, and may lead to serious damage. Replace a damaged screen, do not remove it, and do not puncture it to improve performance, you will gain nothing.
The spark plug works in the heat of things. It wears out and you must attend to it to ensure maximum performance. It deteriorates from normal use and it’s adversely affected by:
- A fuel mixture with an incorrect amount of oil, or even the wrong type, that causes a carbon build-up on the spark plug.
- A dirty air filter enriches the mixture on models that do not have computerized carburetors and cause deposits on the spark plug electrodes.
These conditions may cause power loss, hesitant acceleration and starting difficulties, and the chainsaw may run poorly at idle speed. I recommend that you always check the spark plug first before making any adjustments. Clean it if coated with black deposits or oil and set the electrode gap, usually 0.020 inch, but rather look it up in your manual. A spark plug in good condition is coated with light brown deposits, and the gap is correct.
Major manufacturers recommend replacing the spark plug after 100 operating hours. That’s 20 five-hour workdays. It is a bad idea to replace the spark plug with another type; I recommend that you always use the recommended type. A spark plug that’s too long will damage the piston and one that’s too short will foul up.
How to Store a Chainsaw
Most manufacturers recommend draining the fuel and bar oil when readying the chainsaw for the winter. First you decant all the fuel and chain oil into clean containers and then you run the engine till it stops. It will clear out any fuel in the fuel lines and carburetor. After that you use a clean rag to clean the fuel and oil tanks. Service and clean the chainsaw and store it in a dry, clean environment.
Some users use fuel stabilizers and do not drain the fuel system. They say they can store the chainsaw for 6 months with no problems. It is not what the manufacturers recommend though, but, they also do not recommend using ethanol fuel. I believe it is best to use a fuel stabilizer with ethanol fuels anyway and I still recommend draining the fuel.
When should you take it into an authorized service center?
- When it stops working, the plug is good, the fuel, and the fuel lines are good. It refuses to start, whatever you try.
- When the operator’s manual does not describe the required repairs, you searched the internet and you do not feel comfortable with the recommendations.
- All manufacturers recommend that you take your chain saw to a service center periodically for a major check-up. It depends on how often you use it and its condition but at least once in two years.
- When the service guy you phoned says you should bring it in for repairs.
- When the chainsaw is not as good as it used to be but you see nothing wrong, take it to the experts
- The chain does not stop creeping when you adjust the L-jet and you cleaned and oiled the clutch. The clutch is binding and must be repaired.