How to Care for your Chainsaw

How to Care for your Chainsaw

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

192 guides

In order to use it safely, a chainsaw must be well maintained. For the chain, proper tension, lubrication, and sharpening are vital. As far as the engine is concerned, things like break downs, gummed up sparking plugs, engine misfires, and a clogged filters can occur if the chainsaw is not cared for properly.

Important features

  • Sharpening the chain
  • Adjusting the chain
  • Carburetor adjustment
  • Lubrication
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Chain Maintentance

In order to appreciate just how important chain maintenance is, picture it breaking while in use and hurtling through space at a high rate of speed. Steel teeth that are designed to slice wood versus soft, tender skin. Now you understand why a regular and meticuclous inspection of the chain is recommended. Using a chainsaw safely, in addition to the standard safety equipment and personal protection, means having a well greased, taught, and sharpened chain.

How to adjust the chain tension


Check the tension before use, every time! It mustn’t be too slack nor too tight. If it is too tight, it breaks and if it is too loose, it comes off! The tension is adjusted via the screw that is located between the two nuts on the face of the guide bar.  This can usually be done with a flat head screwdriver.Begin by loosening the two nuts and then tightening the screw located between these same nuts just enough so that the space between the chain and bottom of the guide bar is reduced to a minimum.  The chain on top of the bar must be able to be lifted but not reveal more than three teeth.

How to sharpen the chain

In order to sharpen the chain, it's necessary to have a file depth gauge that allows for the file to fit in between the gouges on the chain. Then proceed to the following step:

  • Secure the chainsaw.  It is much easier to sharpen the chain by securing the chainsaw by the guide bar with a vice; 
  • Begin by finding the link that has the most worn of the cutting teeth in order to gauge how much filing is necessary and engage the chain brake to immobilize the chain.  Mark this first link with a felt tip pen;
  • Position the file depth gauge on the chain at the marked link so that the arrows point towards the nose of the bar.  File at a right angle to the chainsaw rollers;
  • Sharpening is completed by filing each gouge with several smooth, even, pushing strokes for the entirety of chain.
  • Once all of the chain is sharpened on the first side, disengage the brake so that the chain may advance and turn the chainsaw around in order to continue with the other side as the chain is made up of alternating gouges facing in opposite directions. The same process is then repeated - secure the chainsaw,  position the file depth gauge, choose the most worn link, etc.

How to check the lubrication of the chain


First, you must start by checking the level of oil in the chain oil reservoir.  
Then, in order to know if it is well greased, start the chainsaw and stand in front of a piece of cardboard.  If the chain is well oiled you will be able to see oil splatters on the cardboard while the chainsaw is running. The guide bar and the head of the bar must be lubricated without any debris that could jam and dislodge the chain.

Cleaning the guide bar

A simple and easy method for cleaning the guide bar is done by loosening the chain and blowing out the inside of the of the track with the help of an air compressor. Debris should be blown away from the chainsaw and the chain should be tightened again after cleaning.

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Engine maintenance

This pertains to fuel engines only, not to electric motors.  A two stroke engine is comprised of four major parts: piston/cylinder assembly, carburetor, ignition and choke. Maintenance of the engine essentially concerns the combustion chamber and the carburetor.


How to clean the sparking plug

Sparking plugs (Spark plugs or plugs) are screwed into the cylinder head of the cylinder/piston assembly. They ignite the gasoline/air mixture in the combustion chamber after it has passed through the carburetor.  Spark plugs have an electrode at one end that allows for enough electricity to light a spark that passes through the insulator and into the valve which fires the piston. This electrode can clog and it is necessary to clean it with a wire brush as well as checking the plug gap which should be about 1mm.
In order to remove the plug, disconnect the anti-interference and use a ratchet and spark plug socket wrench.  Clean the plug gap and the electrode, blow away any residue left after brushing, and replace the spark plug by hand before tightening it with the socket wrench.  Spark plugs are items that wear out and need to be replaced periodically.  All cleaning should be done after the chainsaw has rested for a period time as spark plugs heat up during use.

How to refuel

A two stroke engine requires an oil/petrol mixture rather than its four stroke engine counterpart where lubrication and fuel are kept separate. The mixture is expressed by percentage (for instance 2% or 4%) and may be measured with the cap that comes with the oil canister. In order to obtain a 2% mixture, mix 2cl of oil to one litre of petrol. It is important that the fuel is thoroughly mixed before adding it to the tank of the chainsaw.  Please refer to the safety precautions of the manufacturer for storing the fuel.

How to clean filters

The vents of a chainsaw must be clean to ensure proper ventilation. The carburetor needs air that flows through the air filter and it must be cleaned periodically. Dust may best be removed by using a canister of compressed air or by hand. Sometimes even just tapping on the filters and then blowing on them is sufficient. The filters are removed from the carburetor for cleaning purposes because debris can sometimes gum up the intake valve. If the engine is still not firing properly after cleaning the air filter, then cleaning the intake valve located at the carburetor float bowl might be in order.

The fuel filter must also be cleaned in order for it to continue filtering effectively and keep the combustion chamber free of impurities that would otherwise clog the intake valve.

Idle Speed Screws and Throttle Stop Screws


The idle speed screw controls the speed of the chainsaw engine to keep it running while it is at rest. If it is idling at too high of a speed, the chainsaw will will burn too much fuel, overheat and freeze the engine.  If it is adjusted to low the engine will stall.  Adjusting the speed is just a matter of turning the idle screw clockwise or counter clockwise until it sounds like it is running at the right speed.

The throttle stop screw keeps the engine running smoothly at high and low speeds.  Generally, this screw, near the engine, is turned towards the letter L for Low to allow the engine to run at low speed and conversely the screw is turned towards the letter H for High to run at high speeds. 
First both screws must be gently screwed onto their seats completely and then each one loosened with one and a half turns. Then, start the chainsaw and with the choke screw positioned towards L, begin turning it towards H until the engine revs up enough so that it sounds like the rpm has reached at its maximum. To keep your engine running smoothly, never run it at full speed as it risks freezing the engine. Once maximum rpm is reached, back off slightly on the choke screw. The screw on the low setting will keep the engine running without stalling. In order to adjust it, with the chainsaw resting at the low idle speed, begin to rev the engine up to its maximum. If it stalls out, the screw must be loosened as the engine was flooded.

Fuel tank

In addition to the the filter that keeps the carburation chamber free of impurities between the fuel tank and the carburetor, it is also recommended to empty the fuel tank of the chainsaw in case of infrequent use in order to avoid deposits forming in the tank.

The majority of chainsaws have two stroke engines, however some engines are 4 stroke which are designated for professional use.  Periodically changing the engine oil is advised as a way of monitoring the level of oil.

Wintering or Storing

The wintering of a chainsaw consists of a complete maintenance:

  • Sharpening the chain as required;
  • Cleaningsprockets, guide bar and crank case;
  • Emptying the tank and cleaning the fuel filter;
  • Cleaning spark plugs;
  • Protecting guide bar with its housing.
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Precautions before use


Due to numerous accidents, before using:

  • Check the general appearance of the chain saw and test the safety devices including the chain brake;
  • Make sure that there are not any screws that might have come loose from vibration during use ;
  • Asses the tautness of the chain and the cleanliness of the guide bar;
  • Check fuel levels, especially the chain oil;
  • Wear ear protection, safety glasses and work gloves. Specific clothing such as safety chaps are also designed for wearing when using a chainsaw.
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More information

In order to properly clean and maintain your long-serving tools, or taking care of a brand new toy, follow our guide, tips and editor's advice.  

And to work safely:

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter, 192 guides

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check.Advise Mister everybody in the DIY shop? Check.Redo the bathroom plumbing? Check.Fit together, build the walls, paint a partition, throw my hammer in a rage thinking that it will fix the problem? Check. The DIY motto ? Learning is better than delegating… well, it's also a question about your wallet! The satisfaction? The beer at the end of the job! What do the best have in common? The influence of Gyro Gearloose, Mac Gyver and Carol Smiley depending on your generation, a good dose of curiosity, a average hand-eye coordination and a taste for risks… and if it doesn't work, try again! Advise you? I'll do my best!

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