Difference between chainsaw chains. Tips from a professional. Fast cutting chainsaw chain

Difference between chainsaw chains. Tips from a professional

Finding the right chain for your chainsaw requires at least a basic knowledge of chain characteristics. Chainsaw chains are not as universal as you might think. Chains differ from each other based on specific measurements, chain arrangements, cutter types, and more. Only certain chains will fit your saw. They are making chain shopping a bit more complicated than shopping for other chainsaw accessories.

Difference between chainsaw chains:

In general, chainsaw chains differ in Pitch, Gauge, and Number of drive links. Another parameter is the chain arrangement: Full complement, Full skip, and Semi-skip. And the chisel type: Full chisel, Semi-chisel, and Low profile. Also, the chain material is a factor and includes Chrome, Carbide, and Diamond.

How To Identify Your Chainsaw Chain

Depending on the job you plan to do, specific chainsaw chains can make the work much easier. In this blog post, I will look into these in more detail to help you choose the proper chain. I will also answer some common questions and look at some Specialty Chains

Chain Compatibility Parameters:

The most crucial factor in choosing a chainsaw chain is to ensure that the chain you choose will fit your chainsaw perfectly. It should be compatible with your chainsaw. If it does not match your saw’s settings, the chain will jam up or lock up the guide bar. The key parameters in finding the correct chain for your saw are pitch and gauge:

Chain Pitch:

Pitch can be defined as the distance between two drive links on a chain or the distance between the first and third rivets divided by two. The right pitch is significant because it has to exactly match the teeth spacing on the drive and bar tip sprockets.

Here’s a guide for you to determine the right chain pitch for a job:

  • 1/4 Inch Pitch: Recommended for chainsaws with engines up to 38cc; extremely lightweight, will create clean and smooth cuts.
  • Pixel 3/8 Inch Mini Pitch: Lightweight and low kickback blades. These chains are recommended for battery-powered chainsaws because they need less power.
  • 3/8 Inch Mini Pitch: Recommended for chainsaws with engines up to 45cc. Are often used by woodcutters in high production environments.
  • Pixel.325 Inch Pitch: Suited for chainsaws with engine power between 35cc-55cc. These chains are narrow with low vibrations and kickbacks; not recommended for heavy-duty cutting such as clearing trees.
  • .325 Inch Pitch: This chain can handle a chainsaw with an engine and power anywhere between 35cc-60cc. This chain offers more power at low vibrations.
  • 3/8 Inch Pitch: Suited for high production environments because of its flexibility, strength, and substantial cutting speed with a low weight. A 3/8 inch chain is suited for chainsaws with engine power between 50-100cc.
  • .404 Inch Pitch: These chains are suited for heavy-duty work by professional wood chippers. This chain is suitable for aggressive, high-speed work and is very durable.

Chain Gauge:

Gauge is a measure of the thickness of a chain’s drive links. Gauge counts as a compatibility parameter because the chain’s drive links must fit in the grooves in the drive bar for the chainsaw to run.

The most common chain gauges are 0.043’’ (1.1mm), 0.050’’ (1.3mm), 0.058’’ (1.5mm) and 0.63’’ (1.6mm). Chains with smaller gauges are more common, although chains with thicker links are stronger.

The Number of Drive Links:

Knowing the total number of drive links is significant since a chain’s length is the combination of its pitch and the number of links. A record of the exact number of drive links helps manufacturers keep their chain types in order.

Difference between Chain Arrangements:

The chain arrangement significantly affects a chain’s speed, power, vibrations, and kickback risk. Certain arrangements are better suited for one job than other. Chains are broadly classified into three categories based on chain arrangements:

Full Complement/Standard Chain: smooth cuts

The full complement, also known as the standard chain, features the highest number of cutting teeth. This makes it the best chain for smooth cuts. A full complement chain is a full skip chain only on a larger bar. The standard chain is suited for chainsaws whose guide bar length is up to 24 inches.

The key disadvantage of a full complement chain is that it does not cut as fast as full and semi-skip chains do. Still, it is the best option for builders who want the cleanest finish.

Full-skip Chain: cut larger wood portions at an incredibly fast pace

The full-skip is the most efficient chain arrangement for fast cutting. The full-skip chain features fewer teeth but goes on a larger bar (24 inches or more) than the standard chain arrangement. You might think that a chain with fewer teeth would give less cutting power, but this is not true at all. With their fast operational speed and special teeth arrangement, full-skip chains cut larger wood portions at an incredibly fast pace.

The downside of the full-skip arrangement is that its cuts are not as smooth as the standard chain. So the full-skip arrangement is the best option when cutting firewood and other such jobs, where smoothness and cleanliness of the cut don’t matter too much.

Semi-skip chain: balance between power and efficiency

The semi-skip arrangement is a mid-grade chain arrangement, a compromise between the standard and full-skip arrangements.

The teeth are arranged at points with one or two links between the cutters in the semi-skip arrangement. Professionals use this chain for particular jobs. Although it doesn’t cut as fast as a full-skip chain, it offers a strong balance between power and efficiency with much smoother cuts.

Difference between Chisel Types:

Chisel types significantly affect the type of wood that your chain can cut. The smoothness and cleanliness of a cut will depend on the chisel type. Chains are classified into the following types based on chisel types:

Full Chisel Cutter:

The full-chisel cutters feature square-cornered or sharp teeth that enable them to cut at very high speeds. They are most well suited for cutting hardwoods when the smoothness of the cut is not too important. The full chisel cutter chains are used for cutting down trees and limbs and for cutting firewood.

Though the full chisel cutter is a very powerful chain, there are some downsides to it too. First, it isn’t the most durable chain out there. I do not recommend using it in rough-cutting environments, such as cutting dirty wood. Secondly, this chain type has an increased risk of kickbacks because of the very high operating speeds that it can achieve. And finally, the full chisel cutters don’t make clean cuts and are therefore not the best choice for cutting softwoods.

Semi-chisel Cutter:

The semi-chisel cutters feature teeth with rounded corners. The semi-chisel chains run at slower speeds compared to the full chisel ones. Slower speed generally means cleaner cuts. These chains are more suited for softwoods.

Although semi-chisel cutters do not have the speed of full chisel cutters, they are more durable. These chains can easily handle rough and dirty cutting environments and cut frozen or even dry wood.

Another advantage of semi-chisel chains is that they have a much lower risk of kickbacks, making them much safer than the full chisel cutters.

Low Profile Cutters:

The low profile cutters are also known as “low pro” cutters. I recommend them for beginners, as they are the safest. Low pro cutters also have rounded teeth like the semi-chisel cutters. The standout feature that makes low-profile cutter chains very safe is that they have elements placed between the teeth that prevent kickbacks. These cutters can handle various types of woods like semi-chisel cutters, and they too can’t reach the high speeds of a full chisel cutter.

Low-profile chains generally come in a 3/8” pitch and a.050” gauge to fit bars made specifically for these chains. If your chainsaw bar requires a chain with more than 72 drive links, a low pro cutter chain will not fit on it.

Stihl Green vs Yellow Chain. Which One Is Right For You?

Different Types of Cutter Tips:

Besides chain arrangements and cutter types, the cutter tip material also significantly affects a chain’s cutting ability. Therefore, chains are also differentiated on this basis. These are the most used cutter materials:

Chrome-tipped Cutters:

Chrome-tipped cutters are the most common cutters out there. Both full chisel and semi-chisel chains usually come with chrome-tipped cutters. These cutters are quite resistant to debris, and therefore, stay sharp longer.

Carbide-tipped Cutters:

Carbide-tipped cutters are not as common as chrome-tipped ones, but they are heat resistant and used to cut objects that can quickly dull standard chains.

Carbide-tipped chains are generally more expensive compared to standard chains, but they are more durable. Professionals use carbide chains to cut cement roofs, frozen wood, walls, and waterlogged wood in frozen streams.

Diamond-tipped Cutters:

Diamond-tipped cutters are the least used chain material. They are used for special tasks such as cutting concrete and rocks. These cutters are the strongest and most expensive and can only be used with saws and bars designed to cut concrete and rocks.

Specialty Chains:

In addition to the common types of chains, certain special chains for particular jobs have been designed over the years. These chains are called specialty chains. Ripping chains and narrow kerf chains are the most popular specialty chains.

Ripping Chain:

The ripping chain is a common specialty chain used for milling logs into planks.

The first difference between a ripping chain and a standard chain is that a ripping chain’s cutters are cut at a lower angle (10 degrees) than those of the standard one (30 degrees). The second difference is that a ripping chain cuts along the wood’s grain instead of cutting against it. These traits make a ripping chain exceptional for removing smaller chunks of wood and the best option for creating fine cuts and smooth planks.

Narrow Kerf Chain:

Just as a low pro chain features smaller cutters compared to a standard chain, a narrow kerf chain features narrower cutters. Therefore, a narrow kerf chain is best for jobs where thinner, narrower cuts are desired.

Because of thinner cuts, a narrow kerf chain removes much less wood compared to a standard chain. The main benefit of a narrow kerf cutter is that the cuts become faster and require less power since you are cutting through less wood. A narrow kerf chain is generally considered the best chain option for battery-powered chainsaws. The battery will last longer with them.

What does 73 mean on a chainsaw chain?

Chainsaw chains have numbers such as “73” written on them. These numbers are a code for the chain’s pitch and gauge. Each number corresponds to a different pitch and gauge arrangement. 73 corresponds to a 3/8 inch pitch with a 0.058 gauge.

What is the difference between.325 and 3/8 chains?

.325 and 3/8 are chains with two different chain pitches. Both chains have their own use case, as explained earlier. Usually, the.325 inch chains are used with lower power chainsaws than the 3/8 inch chains.

How do I identify my chainsaw chain?

You can identify your chainsaw chain based on its measurements such as pitch and gauge, chain arrangement, tip material. When looking for a replacement chain, you should first identify your chainsaw chain because only a particular chain will go on your chainsaw.

What is the most aggressive chainsaw chain/ what is the fastest chainsaw chain?

In general, an aggressive chainsaw chain is a fast chain. Aggressive and fastest for a chainsaw chain is essentially the same. An aggressive chainsaw cuts very fast. Usually, a square, full chisel chain is considered to be the quickest/most aggressive chain. The most aggressive chain pitch is.404 inches.

Which chainsaw chain is the best?

There is no single or definite answer to what chainsaw chain is the best. It all depends on the job you are doing and which chainsaw you are using. The best chain would be the one that is best suited to the job at hand and works well with your chainsaw. In this blog post, I try to help you find the best chainsaw chain for your job.

How Many Times Can You Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain? Full Guide

A chain is a critical part of operating any chainsaw. This component must be sharp to ensure efficient, smooth, and fast cutting. Many users wonder how many times they can sharpen their chains. Many think a chain needs to be replaced once it is dull.

However, this part can be sharpened several times and be as good as new. Sharpening the cutting chain is a cornerstone of proper saw maintenance. If you wonder how many times you can sharpen a chainsaw chain, keep reading this blog post. We will explain everything related to this question.

How Chainsaw Chain Works?

A chain is often believed to be the part doing all the cutting. However, this is not true. A chain is only responsible for removing the cut materials.

The sharp series of teeth and the chainsaw blade are the actual cutters. To understand how the chain works, you will need to know the basics of the chain anatomy.

1. Drive links

They are also known as chainsaw drives. These are responsible for making the chain revolve around the bar. These drives come in different numbers. Typically, the number is determined by the length of the chain bar.

2. Tie straps

Sometimes, these are called ratchet straps. These are tiny metal plates. They are generally responsible for holding and connecting the drive links.

3. Cutters

These are the teeth that do all of the cutting. The most crucial component of a chain is the cutter.

4. Rivets

They have a similar task to the straps. They connect and fasten the cutters and the links tightly without leaving the slightest space.

5. The Guide

It is another critical component of the chain. It does not participate in the cutting process, but it does participate in guiding the cutters to the targeted pieces of wood. It is located right in front of the cutters. It is usually made of stainless steel.

How the Chainsaw Chain Works

When all these components are intact and do not have excessive wear, the chain can efficiently perform its task. But before operating the chain, you must ensure the proper chain tension. This means that the chain is adequately tightened.

If all these elements on your checklist are alright, you can start on the saw and disengage the chain brake. You will see the cutter/teeth continuously spinning around the chainsaw bar. Each tooth will cut a piece of wood, and the chain will keep it away from the saw’s body.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain

The most straightforward way to sharpen a cutting chain is by using a file. This tool is simple and fast for performing this task. The file you are using must have a matching size to your chain’s size. For instance, your chosen file must be 5/32 inches if you have a low-profile chain.

Ensure the chain is properly tensioned, and the saw is placed upside down and held correctly by a tabletop stump vise. Start with the shortest one of the chain teeth and mark it with a market to know the starting point. Correct positioning of the file must be inside the cutter or tooth notch.

It is recommended to check the user manual to double-check the chainsaw sharpening angle chart for the correct file placement. Once you are done positioning, you can easily slide the file to sharpen each tooth. Remember that this must be done quickly and three or four times until the tooth is even and sharpened.

Factors that Affect the Lifespan of a Chainsaw Chain

Chainsaw chains are built to last for a few years. Typically, you can’t expect them to last for decades. However, proper maintenance and responsible use positively affect the lifespan. For instance, the lifespan will typically be shorter if you are a heavy chainsaw user.

Still, the good news is that you do not have to replace a chain once the blades go dull. You can sharpen the chain many times before the need for a spare chain comes. Here is an overview of the factors that can shorten a chain’s

1. Type of Wood

Cutting thick and tough tree logs will place more stress on the chain. Softer wood from trees like cedar and pine is less demanding. So, thick wood will make you sharpen and replace the chain faster than usual. It is always better to use the chain on softwood.

2. Cutting other Materials

Chainsaws are designed to cut wood. However, some owners may believe it can cut ice, plastic, or other materials. This is another way to place more stress on the blades. Getting in contact with rocks or other unexpected metal objects will weaken the chain and may even break its teeth. It is not safe for the user.

3. Lack of Proper Lubrication

Using adequate chain oil is mandatory for maintaining any chain. Keeping the chain’s oil reservoir filled with the recommended fluid can improve the chain’s performance. It can also make it more resistant to normal wear and tear. over, improper lubrication makes a chain saw overheat and emit black smoke.

Improper Sharpening

Using the right chainsaw sharpening tools that match the size of the chain is essential for increased lifespan. Also, finding the correct sharpening angle saves you much time and effort. But you should aim for a 30- or 35-degree angle to get the proper angle.

However, it would help if you did not leave things until they get dull. You will need to sharpen the chain before it turns dull.

How to Determine when it is Time to Replace a Chainsaw Chain

When your chain is no longer functioning properly, there will be many signs to warn you. Once you spot one or more of these signs, consider getting a new chain.

The Need to Apply Force to the Chain to Cut Wood

Chains are made to pull smoothly into the wood. So, when you find difficulty in this process, the chain becomes faulty.

Spotting Black Smoke

If your saw emits excessive smoke, there would be many reasons. However, you should suspect the chain’s lifespan if everything is properly maintained. This smoky situation affects the efficiency of cutting and your safety.

3. Curved cutting

A chain in perfect condition will cut fast and sharply. If your saw cuts otherwise, you must consider a new chain. One or more dull teeth could be the reason for uneven cutting.

You can try sharpening, but replacing is more efficient in this case. This is more suitable if you have used the same chain for a long time.

Despite the seriousness of these signs, they can be easily avoided. If you regularly inspect the components of your chainsaw, you will easily spot the slightest change in the chain or any other part. So always watch your chainsaw, especially after operating for longer hours.

How Many Times Can a Chainsaw Chain Be Sharpened?

Cutting chains can be sharpened around 8–10 times. That said, you can’t exceed 10 times of sharpening, no matter what. You will need a replacement by then. The frequency of sharpening depends on the type of user you are.

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If you are a heavy user, you should get your chain replaced every 4 or 5 years. A chain can last a decade if you are not a heavy user.

The frequency of sharpening depends on the factors that closely affect the lifespan of a chain. This includes the nature of the wood you cut, getting in contact with rough substances, and taking proper care of the chain.


Cutting chains with gas or electric chainsaws is durable. They can last for many years when given proper care and regular maintenance. Sharpening is the most crucial part of the maintenance process for chains.

You can sharpen the chain about 8 or 10 times before getting a replacement. However, it would help if you watched the chain to observe the earliest signs of tooth dullness.

over, pulling the user’s manual to see the instructions related to sharpening techniques and frequency is always recommended. You can rely on it to find the right file placing angles too.

How to Pick The Best Chainsaw Chain for Hardwood, Softwood Firewood

When you’re running a chainsaw, you want to keep working until the job is done. If you’re constantly pausing to sharpen your chainsaw chain, chances are you’re not using the right chain for the job. And that’s not only stupid, it’s dangerous. This article will teach you how to pick the best chainsaw chain for hardwood, softwood, or mixed firewood cutting.

Or maybe your old saw chain has been sharpened many times over, and it’s just not cuttin’ it anymore.

Or maybe you’re a total noob with a chainsaw, and you haven’t been sharpening your saw chain at all. You’re just gonna take the easy way out and replace that dull chainsaw blade instead of sharpening it up with a file. (Helpful hint: don’t! You must own a chainsaw sharpening file, and watch this video to see how quick and easy it is to maintain your equipment).

Either way, you need to know how to choose the best chainsaw chain for the type of wood you’ll be cutting: whether hardwood, softwood, or a mix of both for your firewood runs. You might be wondering: Does it matter what kind of chainsaw chain I get? The answer is yes.

Running the wrong saw chain is dangerous, it makes your saw ineffective, it’s more time consuming, and you’ll waste time and money on chain oil, fuel, and sharpening.

In this article I’ll teach you how to pick the best chainsaw chain for hardwood, softwood, and general mixed firewood duty. This will give you more time running the saw, less time sharpening, and will make you more productive with less effort. It might even save your life.

Should I replace my chainsaw chain?

There are two reasons why you’ll need to replace a chainsaw chain:

  • Switching wood type and/or cutting style. If you’re setup to fall and buck softwoods like pine trees, but now your job is to setup an Alaskan mill to rip seasoned white oak hardwood, it’s a very good idea to replace the saw chain with the best chainsaw chain for hardwood.
  • Or, your saw chain cannot be resharpened any more because it’s worn down to the service marks on the chain.

Generally it’s a good idea to replace your saw chain when you’re within 1mm of the service marks. If you cut it down any closer, you’ll be working with cutting teeth that resemble the teeth of a meth addict. And what happens to meth addict’s teeth? They fall out! The last thing you want is a tiny metal cutting tooth that becomes shrapnel when that tiny nub hits an embedded piece of gravel in the stump.

Why use the right chain for the job?

Chainsaw chains are not one size fits all. Saw chains are specialized parts that have been designed and engineered for very specific applications. Using the best chainsaw chain for hardwood crosscutting, when you’re actually ripping cedar blocks is no bueno.

Using the wrong chainsaw chain can result in:

  • Risk of kickback injury (chainsaw to the face!)
  • Difficult cutting (using more of your body’s effort to push, where the chainsaw should be doing the work for you)
  • Overworking your chainsaw engine
  • Increase wear and tear on consumable parts and bar oil
  • Wasting your time constantly resharpening
  • Reducing the life of the chain (costs you more money)
  • Damage to the bar
  • Wasting fuel

Using the right chainsaw chain will:

  • Make your saw engine last longer with less maintenance
  • Require less frequent resharpening
  • Extend the life of your chain
  • Minimize the risk of kickback and serious injury
  • Use less fuel
  • Make cutting easier for you, as the saw will be doing the work
  • Allow you to make more cuts in less time

So now you know why you need the right chain for the job. Now we dive into how to determine which chain is right for you.

How to Pick The Best Chainsaw Chain for Hardwood, Softwood or mixed Firewood

When you go down the rabbit-hole of saw chain options, you can become quickly overwhelmed by the choices out there. Do I need full chisel or half? How do I know the gauge I need? Is carbide tipped always the best? Which brand of chainsaw chain makes the best stuff?

Rest easy little guy, because chainsaw chain selection comes down to three simple factors:

Your Chainsaw. Check for fitment using factors like bar size and engine displacement.

Your Use. What are you cutting? Hardwood, softwood firewood, chainsaw carving, crosscutting, felling, ripping, etc…

Your Level of Experience. Are you a novice homeowner with his first gas powered chainsaw, or are you a pro? Be honest with yourself, because kickback is a serious risk, and nobody looks good after taking a chainsaw to the face.

The basics of saw chain replacement

There are three technical factors you need to know before you choose a new saw chain, whether it’s for hardwood, softwood, or mixed firewood. These three factors are absolutely essential to get right, and they are: pitch, gauge, and the number of drive links. Once you know these factors, you can base your choice on other preferences.


Pitch is defined as the average distance between two rivets on the chainsaw chain. The guide bar will usually tell you the pitch you’re looking for, or it may be printed on the master link of your old chain. Keep your eyes peeled for one of these measurements: 1/4″.325″, 3/8″ or.404″. If you cannot locate the pitch value of your chain, refer to your chainsaw manual, or take it into a dealer to get their help.


The gauge measures how thick the drive links are. If you get a chain with the wrong gauge (thickness),, then it will not fit correctly into the bar, causing at best excessive wear, and at worst, a serious or fatal injury. Again, look on the bar to find the gauge. It will be one of these values:.043″.050″.058″, or.063″.


Your saw chain’s length will be determined by pitch and the number of drive links. I always recommend counting the number of drive links to ensure you are getting the correct replacement chain. It is not sufficient to just look for a replacement chain for an 18″ bar- you need to know the pitch and the number of drive links to ensure you are getting the correct fitment.

Once you’ve got the pitch, gauge, and drive link number in hand, you are ready to begin looking for the right chainsaw chain for the wood you’re cutting.

Safety Note: Kickback

Before we get into the ins and outs of chainsaw chain replacement to help you choose the right chain for whatever wood you are cutting, it is important to discuss kickback. Kickback is the most common cause of chainsaw injuries. It happens when the either the nose of the chainsaw bar is in contact with wood, or when the chainsaw is pinched in a cut. Kickback happens in a split second, and it results in the chainsaw chain (blade) rising up quickly toward your face. Taking a chainsaw to the face (or body, arms, or legs) is going to ruin your day, week, year, or life.

What does this have to do with saw chains? Well, different types of saw chains have a different risk of kickback. To make this simple, ANSI (the National Institute of Safety) has created a color-coded system to help you choose the correct saw chain. In a nutshell, choose the green label (low kickback risk) saw chain unless you are a professional arborist, logger, or a very experienced user. The downside of a low kickback saw chain is that it is harder to sharpen (it takes longer). But the benefits outweigh the risks if you are a novice or low-experience chainsaw user. Really, don’t risk your safety!

For the next part of the article, describe the characteristics of best chain type for hardwood, softwood, and mixed, as well as for milling.

In the following section, I will provide my recommendations for the best saw chain for each type of wood you’re cutting.

Sawchains for Hardwood

If you’re using a chainsaw to drop or buck hardwood trees (like oak, maple, hickory, birch, or cherry), then you want a saw chain with semi-chisel cutters. This means the corner of the cutter is rounded. This configuration helps the cutter stay sharp for longer. A full-chisel chain sounds like it might stay sharper longer, but the opposite is the case. If you’re cutting frozen wood, hardwood, or dirty wood (with soil and rocks embedded), a full-chisel chain will lose sharpness fast.

I typically recommend OREGON saw chains. They have a great reputation as an American manufacturer, and they have been in the game for a long time. For hardwood cross cutting, the Oregon semi-chisel saw chain is a good bet. Make sure you get the correct size for your saw!

Sawchains for Softwood

The type of cutter you should look for when shopping for a sawchain for softwoods (like pine, fir, spruce, etc.) is a full-chisel cutter. A full-chisel cutter has a sharp edge, and it will rip through softwoods with speed and efficiency assuming the wood is clean. If you encounter soil or sand with a full-chisel cutter, you are going to have a dull saw very quickly. Typically I only recommend full-chisel cutters if you’re going to be exclusively sawing softwoods- they dull too quickly if you encounter any sort of hardness.

That said, again I recommend OREGON brand saw chains. For softwood firewood cutting, a safe bet is an Oregon full-chisel cutter saw chain. Again, make sure you are purchasing the correct fitment, or you will be wasting your money and endangering your life.

Sawchains for General Use

If you are cutting mixed firewood, like most of us typically are, then you should be using a semi-chisel cutter. Yes, this is the same as I recommended for hardwood use! This may result in slower cuts through softwoods, but it gives you much more versatility if you’re bucking in dirty conditions, with all different types of wood. Here is the link again for an Oregon semi-chisel saw chain.

A Word on Manufacturers

To put it bluntly, you should only buy American-made saw chains. The cheap chains you’ll see online are most likely made in China. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is true in this regard, and in my opinion it would be stupid to compromise on safety when you’re running a chainsaw. Chinese manufacturing standards have improved in the past 10 years, but the quality is simply not there right now. Best case scenario with a Chinese saw chain is you’ve saved yourself 10. Worst case scenario is the chain breaks and you incur a serious injury. But the most likely scenario is you get a chain with irregular tolerances, causing premature wear on your chainsaw and guide bar, and you’re resharpening a weaker steel cutter head more frequently.

There are really just three manufacturers you should ever consider buying from: Oregon, Carlton, and STIHL.

If you found this article useful, check out our STIHL vs. Husqvarna chainsaw showdown.

Sharpen Your Chainsaw: Three “Tried-and-True” Methods

The chainsaw is arguably the greatest time and labor-saving power tool ever invented, especially when compared to its predecessor, the axe. But even the largest, most powerful chainsaw won’t cut with a dull saw chain. The good news is that unlike most other power cutting tools, you can sharpen a chainsaw to like-new condition in just a few minutes.

Here, I’ll discuss three do-it-yourself options for sharpening a chainsaw, starting with the simplest method: using a file. Then, for those looking for a faster, easier way, I’ll show two power tools specifically designed for chainsaw sharpening.

However, before getting into specific sharpening techniques, let’s take a quick look at how you can tell if your chainsaw is dull.

Signs of a Dull Chain

Chainsaws are so powerful and cut so aggressively that it’s not always obvious when the saw chain needs sharpening. A sharp chainsaw cuts smoothly and quickly with little effort. The first sign of dulling is when the saw cuts noticeably slower. The next indication is when you must apply excessive pressure to force the saw through the cut. As the chain continues to get duller, the more slowly it cuts and the more pressure you must apply. That not only puts undue stress on the saw motor, but it could cause the saw to kick back toward the user.

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Here’s another telltale sign that your chainsaw needs sharpening: Examine the wood being expelled by the saw. A sharp chainsaw sprays out thin shavings. A dull saw spews out fine wood dust.

In ideal conditions, a chainsaw can remain sharp for four to six hours, even longer in some cases. However, it can become dull in less than 10 minutes when cutting dirt-covered logs or wood that’s extremely hard or dry. When slicing up a felled tree, be careful not to let the tip of the bar hit the ground. Nothing dulls a chainsaw faster than sawing into dirt and rocks. And if you notice that the saw chain has cutting teeth that are badly nicked, bent or missing, replace it with a brand new saw chain.

Now let’s talk about how to sharpen a dull saw chain.

Method 1. Sharpen your chain with a hand file

Look closely at the saw chain, and you’ll see a series of teeth with sharpened semicircular cutting edges. The diameter of the edges varies from one saw to the next, but is typically 5/32 inch, 3/16 in. or 7/32 in. To sharpen these curved edges, use an appropriate diameter round file. Also, notice that the tops of the cutting teeth are ground at alternating angles, meaning one tooth angles to the left, the next to the right.

In between each cutting tooth is a flat piece of metal that’s shaped somewhat like a shark’s dorsal fin. These pieces called, rakers, are slightly shorter in height than the cutting teeth. Rakers don’t require sharpening; their purpose is to act as depth gauges to control how deeply the teeth cut into the wood. Without rakers, the teeth would cut much too aggressively for the saw motor—and user—to handle.

As mentioned above, you can sharpen the saw chain with a round file, but to ensure consistent, accurate results, mount the file in a sharpening guide. The guide serves two purposes: It provides a flat surface for resting the file on the saw chain, and it controls the depth that the file can cut. Stamped into the top surface of the guide are angled lines that correspond to the pitch—or cutting angle—of the saw chain teeth. Sharpening guides are sold at most home-improvement stores for about 10; a two-pack of round files will cost another 7 or so.

Round file shown installed in a sharpening guide.

Before sharpening, you need two specifications: the diameter of the semi-circular cutting edges on the saw chain, and the pitch—or rake angle—of those cutting edges. Both pieces of information are available in the chainsaw owner’s manual or by the manufacturer of the saw chain. Select a round file that matches the diameter of the semi-circular edges on the cutting teeth. Important: Be sure to use a round file, not a rat-tail file, which tapers across its length.

Once you’re ready to get started, follow these steps:

  • Loosen the thumbscrews on the sharpening guide and slide the round file beneath the two metal hold-down clamps. Tighten the screws to secure the file in the guide.
  • Engage the chain brake and clamp the chainsaw’s steel bar in a vise. Use an indelible marker to mark the first cutting tooth to be sharpened. This will act as a visual reminder to let you know where you started sharpening.
  • Set the sharpening guide on top of the saw chain with the file resting against one of the semi-circular cutting edges. Adjust the guide until the angled lines stamped onto the top of the guide are parallel with the saw’s steel bar.
  • Now, while maintaining that angle, push the file forward across the cutting tooth.
  • Repeat five or six more times, using slow, steady strokes. Keep count of how many strokes you make across the first tooth, and make the same number of filing strokes across all the other teeth. When properly sharpened, the entire curved cutting edge of the tooth should be clean and shiny.
  • After sharpening the first tooth, skip the next one, and file the tooth after that. Remember, the sharpening angle on the saw teeth alternate to the left and right. Therefore, it’s best to sharpen every other tooth, so you won’t have to keep changing the filing angle back and forth.
  • Continue in this manner, filing every other tooth, until you’ve worked your way back to the starting point on the saw chain.
  • Now, move around to the other side of the bar, and start filing the teeth that you skipped on the first go-around.

File sharpening may feel awkward at first, but you’ll get comfortable after awhile. Once you’ve perfected this technique, you’ll be able to sharpen a chainsaw in less than 15 minutes.

Note that after the saw chain has been sharpened several times, the cutting teeth will eventually be at the same height or lower than the rakers. When that happens, the rakers will prevent the cutting teeth from reaching the wood. To regain a cutting edge, use a flat file with sharpening guide to file down the height of each raker.

This sharpening kit includes a handle, two guides, assorted round files and a flat file.

Method 2. Use a portable power sharpener

A cordless rotary tool fitted with a cylindrical grinding stone and sharpening guide provides a quick way to sharpen chainsaws.

Filing is fine, but power sharpening is quicker and much more fun. There are two types of portable power tools that make quick work of chainsaw sharpening. The first is a rotary tool, commonly called a Dremel tool, which accepts a chainsaw sharpening accessory. The accessory kit includes a cylindrical grinding stone and an alignment guide that clamps onto the tool. Note that rotary tools are available in both corded electric and cordless versions.

The second portable power tool option is an electric grinder that’s specifically designed to do just one thing: sharpen chainsaws, which it does it very quickly and very well. The tool comes in kit form with various-size grinding stones and a metal sharpening guide that mounts onto the nose of the tool.

This portable electric grinder is specifically designed for sharpening chainsaws. It includes three sizes of grinding stones to fit virtually any saw chain.

The rotary tool and the dedicated chainsaw sharpener both do an excellent job of sharpening saw chain. If you already own a rotary tool, then consider getting the sharpening accessory kit, which can also be used to sharpen lawnmower blades, grass shears, axes and other tools. Otherwise, the dedicated grinder is a Smart investment, especially if you frequently sharpen your chainsaw.

Method 3. Use a benchtop sharpener

Get consistent, professional results with a benchtop chainsaw sharpener.

If you use a chainsaw year-round, or if you own more than one chainsaw, then you can save a significant amount of time and energy by sharpening the saw chains with a bench-mounted sharpener. This style sharpener delivers most accurate, consistent results.

The tool operates a bit like a power miter saw, only instead of a woodcutting blade, it’s equipped with a 4½-in.-diameter grinding wheel. The wheel tilts up to 35 degrees left and right to accommodate the most common saw-chain cutting angles. Here’s how to file with one:

  • Start by clamping or screwing the tool to your workbench.
  • Next, remove the saw chain from the saw and set it into the tool’s vice.
  • Adjust the grinder to the proper angle.
  • Squeeze the trigger and pull down on the upper handle until the spinning wheel contacts the cutting tooth on the saw chain. It only takes two or three seconds to sharpen the tooth.
  • Release the clamp, reposition the saw chain and repeat.
  • As with filing, sharpen every other tooth, then readjust the grinding angle and sharpen the remaining alternate-angle teeth.

A benchtop sharpener is certainly the quickest, most accurate way to sharpen a saw chain, but just as importantly it makes it nearly impossible to ruin a saw chain by grinding away too much material.

Regardless of which tool or technique you use, keep the saw chain sharp and your chainsaw will last longer, perform better and cut quicker and more safely.

About the author: DIY expert Joseph Truini writes for The Home Depot. He has also written several home improvement books. Joseph share his knowledge and experience on everything from how to use an electric chainsaw sharpener to building a composter.