How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain

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Being able to properly use a chainsaw can make wood cutting tasks very efficient, and when done correctly can be very safe. However, if the teeth on the chainsaw chain become dull, the saw will not cut correctly or efficiency, and could become dangerous due to the chainsaw kicking back towards the operator. A sharp chain is often safer than a dull one, nonetheless, every chainsaw and chain must be handled carefully as it can easily hurt you if mishandled.

Step 1: How to Tell When to Sharpen a Chain

A chain needs to be sharpened if the shavings cut from the chainsaw become very fine, and almost dust like, or if the saw does not cut straight. The pile of shavings on the left is from a sharp chain, where as the more dust like pieces on the right are cut from a dull saw.

Step 2: Place the Chainsaw Bar With the Chain Attached in a Vice and Then Tighten the Vice.

Make sure to not press the chain in the vice, as it needs to be able to move freely on the bar.

Step 3: Take a Circular File and Hold It Perpendicular to the Bar

The best way to hold the file is hold firmly with 1 hand on the handle, and the other hand lightly resting on the other end of the file.

Step 4: Align the File Parallel to the Alignment Marks on One of the Chain Links.

On each cutting tooth there is a small line on the top of the tooth that is parallel to the cutting edge. It is crucial that you hold the file parallel to the marks in order to create a sharp cutting edge.

Step 5: Place the Circular File in the Notch and Apply a Slight Amount of Pressure Towards the Cutting Edge and Top of the Tooth

It is important to apply pressure on both the back of the tooth and towards the top of the tooth because that is the part that is in cutting contact with the wood.

Step 6: Slowly Push the File From the Inside of the Tooth to the Outside of the Tooth.

Make sure to maintain a constant pressure and speed on the file and keep it parallel to the line that is on each tooth. Repeat this process 2-3 times per tooth.

Step 7: Once You Have Finished Filing the Tooth, Skip the Tooth Behind It and Go on to the Next.

By sharpening every other tooth, you will sharpen all of the teeth facing one way, then once one side has been sharpened, go back through and sharpen the teeth facing the other direction. This will ensure that the same sharpening orientation was used on each tooth.

Step 8: Check Each Tooth to Make Sure It Is Sharp, and That Every Tooth Has Been Sharpened

It is important to inspect each tooth in order to make sure that each one is sharp, and consistent. By being able to see a shiny part on the cutting edge,and no shine on the top of the tooth will ensure that it has been sharpened.

Step 9: Once the Chain Has Been Sharpened, Remove the Bar From the Vice, and You Are Ready to Go and Work More.

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    14 Discussions

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    misterxp

    4 months ago

    A very good instructable and very useful. Unfortunately I don't have the patience and either use and angle grinder or take it to the hardware store. After seeing your instructable I feel I must give it a go! thanks for sharing!!

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    panker123

    4 months ago

    I've always used my Dremel with the chain saw sharpening attachment. Can sharpen a 20-24 inch chain saw in 5 minutes easy with superb results. Don't need a vise. Can do it in the woods with a rechargeable Dremel- very convenient.

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    ShawnS60

    4 months ago on Step 9

    I like this How-to, and all the comments, like the German dude pointing out that there are three different chain saw blade diameters in the EU—make sure you’ve got your millimeters measured correctly before you begin...different chain saw could mean different file size(!) of course those precise engineers have three different sizes! Ha ha! I really did like that one.
    And the old dude (I mean my age) who sharpened next to the vise, but never used the vise to steady his work, & the young woman who never knew you could sharpen those!
    This is really good stuff, isn’t it! I love it when people help one another for no reason. I remember when I was 16 probably (that was my first job where I 1. got a check, and 2. used tools that did not belong to me.
    An older guy, going on about the theme “work smart is better than work hard” showed me how to sharpen the blade on something with s flat file. Couda been a shovel, a straight-blade spade shovel, or old fashioned weed whacker, literally a blade on o shovel handle used to cut weeds on the endless hillsides of our town. The perfect job to teach a child how to endure the heat and work an 8-hour day for small pay.
    That impressed me so much, how easy it was to sharpen a tool, that here I am writing about it 43 years later. My father was pretty busy being a Vietnam Vet that year. Some of the lessons he taught should not be told here. How to sharpen a tool is pretty wholesome.
    Thank you!

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    schaude

    4 months ago

    Thank you all for these good advices!
    In Germany we have five different chainsaw file diameters from 3.2 to 5.5 mm and I got tought how important it is using exactly the right one. Otherways your chain would get even duller. Also the chain file has a file tooth formation that's different from a regular shop file.
    A way to calculate the right file for your chain and also some helping tools are described in the link here..
    google may help you translating it and this may help you. Cheers!
    https://www.stihl.de/saegeketten-schaerfen.aspx#

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    Bill WWPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 4 months ago

    Just realized I have spelled a word incorrectly all my life, and the author misspelled it also. VISE is the clamping tool on the workbench... VICE is a type of crime.

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    Bill WW

    4 months ago

    Nice, thank you. Excellent point about using a vise, with the wood blocks on the vice jaws. I know that properly holding the piece you are working on is a big part of the project - and for safe working. However, I have been sharpening my chainsaw on the bench just inches from the vise - but not using it! DUH!

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    mf70

    4 months ago

    This is as much part of using a chain saw as the wood you're operating
    on. I've "been there" dozens of times. Thanks for the reminder (and the
    idea of doing all of one set at one time).

    Three additional
    points: 1) Make sure you have the correct file for your chain - there
    are at least three sizes. 2) When sharpening, look for a skip link as
    the start point or otherwise mark your starting point, so you don't end
    up going around more than once. 3) Think about over-tightening chain
    tension while you're sharpening- it holds the links straighter -- but
    don't forget to set correct tension before going back to use.

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    Bill WWmf70

    Reply 4 months ago

    "over-tightening chain tension"... yes excellent point.

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    mtmtntop

    4 months ago on Introduction

    someone should add a section on filing down the rakers. I know it has to be done every 3 sharpenings or so but not enough to write the instructable.

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    Bill WWmtmtntop

    Reply 4 months ago

    Yes, the rakers... that is kinda tricky.

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    woodstover.

    4 months ago

    Normally before sharpening, you inspect the teeth, you find the worst one and clean that up first, then the rest of the teeth need to be filed to the same size (otherwise you end up cutting crooked). Also, after filing the teeth, you need to measure the distance between the rakes and the tooth and file the rakes if the distance is too much. Repeated sharpening lowers the tooth height in relation to the rakes and the saw will not cut because the rakes need to be lowered. Add this to the good points from mf70

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    hazenhall

    4 months ago

    FABO J9B ON THIS INS BLE.PHOTOG WAS AWESOME!

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    broomfieldlk

    4 months ago

    I have sharpened many chainsaw chains in the past. These instructions are some of the best that I have ever read. It is very handy to have the pictures - very valuable. I did also appreciate the additional comments from mf70. Great job!