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How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Chainsaws are powerful tools that make quick work of cutting tasks. Over time, the cutting teeth, known as cutters, can dull due to contact with dirt, rocks, and other hard materials. This can make the chainsaw work harder and less efficiently. To maintain your chainsaw's performance, you need to sharpen it regularly. This guide will walk you through the steps to properly sharpen your chainsaw.

Understanding the Chainsaw


Before you begin, it's essential to understand the basic parts of the chainsaw chain:

  • Cutters: These are the teeth that do the actual cutting. They alternate between left and right along the chain.
  • Depth gauges: These are the protrusions in front of each cutter, controlling the amount of wood that the cutter removes with each pass.

Both parts need attention while sharpening. The cutters cut the wood, and the depth gauges determine the depth of the cut.

Tools Required

You will need the following tools to sharpen your chainsaw:

  • A round file that matches the cutter’s diameter, commonly 5/32", 3/16", or 7/32"
  • A flat file
  • A file guide to help you maintain the correct angle
  • A depth gauge guide for adjusting the height of the depth gauges
  • A chainsaw wrench
  • A sturdy vise or clamps to hold the chainsaw
  • Safety equipment: gloves and safety glasses

You can also buy chainsaw sharpening kits that include most of these items.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw: Safely in 5 Steps

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

1. Safety First

Working with a chainsaw, even when not running, can be hazardous. Therefore, safety precautions are critical. Always wear protective gear, including gloves and safety glasses, during the sharpening process. Ensure the chainsaw is off and disconnected from any power source. If it uses a battery, remove it.

2. Preparing the Chainsaw

Secure the chainsaw in a vise or with clamps on a sturdy table. This ensures the chainsaw remains stable while you're working on it. The bar should be secured, but the chain needs to move freely.

3. Filing the Cutters

  • Identify the lead cutter: The lead cutter is the cutter that is most worn or filed. This cutter will be your reference point for all other cutters. If you can't identify it, just choose one and mark it with a marker. This is where you'll start and finish the sharpening process.
  • Position the file: Place the round file in the notch on the front of the cutter. The file guide should rest on the cutter’s top. The file should align with the factory-ground angle marked on the top of the cutter, typically around 30 or 35 degrees.
  • Sharpen the cutter: Apply firm, steady pressure and push the file across the face of the cutter, following the angle. Use a smooth, even stroke. Only file in one direction - away from you. Lift the file away on the return stroke to avoid dulling the file.
  • Repeat the process: After a few strokes, the cutter’s edge should look shiny and sharp. Move the chain along and repeat the process with the next cutter of the same direction. Skip the cutters that face the opposite direction.
  • Sharpen the cutters on the other side: Once you've filed all the cutters in one direction, turn the chainsaw around and repeat the process with the cutters facing the other direction.

4. Adjusting the Depth Gauges

After several sharpenings, the depth gauges may need to be adjusted. The depth gauges control how deep each cutter bites into the wood. If they're too high relative to the cutters, the chainsaw will cut slowly. If they're too low, the chainsaw could become unstable and dangerous.

  • Check the depth gauges: Place the depth gauge tool (it looks like a flat, metal ruler) across the chain. The depth gauge should fit snugly under the tool. If the depth gauge protrudes above the tool, it needs to be filed down.
  • File the depth gauges: Use the flat file to file down the depth gauges that are too high. File only enough to make the gauge level with the tool. Be careful not to file into the cutting teeth.
  • Check all depth gauges: Repeat the process for each cutter, checking and adjusting each depth gauge.

5. Post-Sharpening Steps

After sharpening the cutters and adjusting the depth gauges, give the chainsaw a thorough cleaning. Remove any filings from the chain and bar with a brush or compressed air. Apply oil to the chain and test the chainsaw on a piece of scrap wood. The chainsaw should cut easily without forcing it. If it doesn't, the chain may still be dull, or the depth gauges may need further adjustment.

Maintaining Your Chainsaw

Regular maintenance will extend the life of your chainsawand keep it running efficiently. Here are some tips:

  • Regular sharpening: Sharpen your chainsaw regularly. How often depends on usage, but a good rule of thumb is to sharpen it after every few hours of operation, or when it's not cutting as efficiently as it should.
  • Proper storage: Store your chainsaw in a dry, clean place to prevent rust and keep it in good condition. It's also a good idea to drain the fuel if you won't be using it for a while.
  • Regular inspection and repair: Regularly inspect your chainsaw for any signs of damage or wear. If you notice anything unusual, such as a cracked chain or a malfunctioning safety feature, get it repaired immediately.
  • Proper cleaning: Clean your chainsaw after each use to remove any wood chips, dirt, or sawdust. This will help prevent buildup that could dull your chain or clog your chainsaw.
  • Regular oiling: Regularly oil your chainsaw to keep it running smoothly. This includes the bar and chain oil, which lubricates the chain as it moves around the bar, and the engine oil (for gas-powered chainsaws) which keeps the engine running smoothly.


Sharpening a chainsaw may seem like a daunting task, but with a bit of practice and patience, it's something any chainsaw owner can do. Not only will it save you time and money, but it will also make your chainsaw safer and more efficient to use. Just remember to always follow safety guidelines when handling your chainsaw, even when it's not running. The sharper the tool, the safer and more effective it is. Happy cutting!

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