How To Hand Sharpen Chainsaw

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Are you a chainsaw user, and you are looking to sharpen your chainsaw with your hand, but don’t know how it is done? If yes, then you are certainly in the right place at the right time.

Hand sharpening chainsaw involves starting with the teeth of your chainsaw chain. After that, you need to move over to the next part, which will be to sharpen the rakers. To give perfection to your sharpening, you will have to sharpen the bar of your chainsaw to remove the burr. The duration of time between two sharpening will depend on how frequently you use your chainsaw. On average, a chainsaw blade retains its sharpness for around 3 hours of cutting. Look for signs like severe dents in the chain, uneven cuts, and smoke to know that it is time to hand sharpen your chainsaw.

In this article, you will get to learn all about sharpening the chainsaw, how to prep your chainsaw for sharpening, how to hand sharpen chainsaw, when to sharpen a chainsaw, how to maintain a sharpened chainsaw, and more. Continue reading to get all the answers that you are looking for.

Sharpening a Dull Chainsaw

Do you find sharpening your chainsaw manually a difficult process? Don’t worry, it is easier than you think once you know the right steps. Once you learn properly about sharpening chainsaws manually, then you’ll start thinking of it as the easiest thing to do. If you aren’t used to handling chainsaws or you’re a beginner, then you will need to follow the directions carefully. Moreover, check for all the aspects of the chainsaw and its chain.

There are many reasons why a chainsaw might get dull quickly. Some of the common ways include overusing, having steep angled cutting teeth, cutting through rough wood, or working with difficult wood like ironwood, hickory, and black oak.

Simply sharpening the chainsaw teeth and rakers will not be enough. It might work, but you will also need to check for the bar to get perfect sharpening. By completing the steps mentioned below, you will get a perfectly sharpened chainsaw.

When To Sharpen a Chainsaw

Most chainsaw users get worried at some point about the chainsaw slowing down. Sometimes, you might notice that your chainsaw is producing fine dust of wood when cutting wood. If your chainsaw produces fine dust waste instead of large and unified wood chunks, it is a sign that you need to sharpen your chainsaw chain using a sharpener.

You have to be careful about signs that your chainsaw is in need of sharpening. Signs like slow cutting, heating while cutting, and needing more force to cut should be considered. All these signs will tell you that it is time to sharpen the chainsaw chain. You should not neglect these signs otherwise it could prove to be dangerous or result in serious injuries.

How To Hand Sharpen Chainsaw

While there are multiple methods to sharpen a chainsaw, this step-by-step guide will help you know how to hand sharpen chainsaw using a round file or a file guide with the blade still attached to the chainsaw.

Step 1: Select the appropriate tools

If you are sharpening your chainsaw manually, there are a few different types of files that you can use. These include a round file, a flat file, a file guide, and a depth gauge. You can either buy these tools separately or look to buy a chainsaw sharpening kit to sharpen the blade properly. Before you sharpen the chain, it will be helpful to understand the different uses of these tools.

Round file

A round file can be used for sharpening the cutting edge of the chainsaw blade. The round file’s diameter should match the diameter of the cutter. Some of the common chainsaw diameters are 7/32, 3/16, and 5/32 inches. You’ll be able to find the specific measurements by checking the owner’s manual or by referring to the stamped chain identification number on the drive link.

Flat file

A flat file should be used for sharpening the depth of each tooth in the chainsaw chain.

File guide

 A file guide can be used as an alternative to a round file. It can be placed over each tooth of the chainsaw chain with an angle guide for ensuring that the pitch is being filed evenly. Many chainsaw users prefer this option to the round file, as it’ll take the guesswork out of determining the proper angle. The majority of chainsaws follow the 30-degree marking, but you should check the owner’s manual for setting it at the appropriate angle. 

Depth gauge guide

The depth gauge can be used in conjunction with the flat file and be set over each depth gauge to check the height. This way, you can guarantee that they are being filed to the same depth measure each time.

Step 2: Prepare the chainsaw

Before you sharpen your chainsaw, there are a few preparations to carry out so that you can make sure that you have a safe and successful project. You must wear the appropriate safety gear like safety gloves, heavy-duty work gloves, and more when you are adjusting the chainsaw blade and sharpening it.

Disconnect the power

If you are sharpening a battery chainsaw, make sure that you disconnect it from any power source to avoid injury. If you are sharpening a battery-powered chainsaw, you must disconnect the battery to prevent it from turning on accidentally. In case it is a gas-powered chainsaw, make sure that the chainsaw is not running before you start sharpening it.

Clean the chainsaw

Remove any debris, dust, or oil from your chainsaw before you begin the project. Now, wipe down the chain and housing with an old rag and warm water. Then, use a wire brush for removing any sawdust from the teeth. If your chainsaw is soiled with oil or has built-up debris, you might have to use mineral spirits or compressed air for cleaning it properly.

Step 3: Set the right chain tension

The chain should be set to a specific tension if you want to get the best performance from your chainsaw. A chain that is too loose could result in kickback or fall off the guide bar when you are cutting. While wearing work gloves, you should ensure that the chain is tight before you start sharpening. Test this by pulling the chain from the guide bar enough to see the tips of the teeth. Then, you should allow it to snap back into place.

If it snaps back into place without any slack, it means that the chain is properly tensioned. If there is any slack when you let go of the chain, it will have to be adjusted.

To set proper tension, you should adjust the screw on the front or on the side of the chainsaw. Now, turn the screw clockwise for increasing the tension and counterclockwise for loosening the tension. If your saw has nuts on the side, you should loosen them first before you adjust the tension. After that, tighten them again once you’ve got proper tension. Now, you should test the chain to check if it is snapping back into position once released before you move on to the next step.

Step 4: Secure the chainsaw

Keeping the chainsaw stable will help you sharpen the chainsaw properly. Now, place the chainsaw in a bench vise while having the clamps secure the guide bar. Now, release the chain brake such that you can rotate the chain freely while still having the clamps attached.

Step 5: Identify the shortest tooth and start sharpening the first side

person sharpening the chainsaw chain

To avoid sharpening the same teeth multiple times, you should look for the shortest blade and then mark it using a permanent marker. This will help you keep track of the teeth when sharpening. If the teeth are of the same length, you can start off with any of the blades, but you should still mark the first tooth from which you want to sharpen.

Using the file guide, you should file the first market tooth from the inside to the outside at a 30° angle, unless otherwise stated by the owner’s manual. Now, hold the file in your hands at a 90° angle parallel to the ground. The file glide should always be facing away from the body of your chainsaw to ensure that you are working in the proper direction.

Slide the chain tooth through the file guide. You should only apply pressure on the stroke, pushing outward and not inward. This way, you can avoid ruining the sharp edges. You must file each tooth 5–6 times, or until the face of the cutting edge becomes shiny silver.

Moving in the same direction, you must file each tooth until you have reached the marked tooth. Remember to use the same number of strokes each time so that you can maintain consistency. Make sure that you knock off shavings from the file regularly as you are working along the chainsaw’s chain.

Step 6: Sharpen the other side of the chainsaw

Once you have sharpened the first side of the chain, you must reverse the chainsaw in the bench vise and start working in the other direction using either a round file or a file guide. You must keep filing each tooth outward and apply pressure only on the push stroke. Remember that you maintain the same amount of strokes along every tooth.

Step 7: Check the file and depth gauge

For properly sharpening the chainsaw blade, it’ll be important to always check the depth gauge, sometimes also referred to as the raker. The depth gauge will control how deep the chainsaw blade cuts into the wood. You likely won’t have to file the depth gauges each time you sharpen the chainsaw.

To check if it is time to file the depth gauges, you should place the depth gauge tool over the chain such that the rakers are exposed. In case the raker is higher than the top of the depth gauge tool, you’ll have to file it down with the flat file. Using the same motion as you would with a file guide, you should file each raker until it is sitting level with the depth gauge jig. 

If the file is pulsing or shaking as you’re filing, you should switch sides of the chainsaw and then start filing in the other direction. Once you have completed this step, you’ll be left with a sharp chain ready to take on your next project.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw by hand with a file

Tips To Keep In Mind When Sharpening the Chainsaw

First, it’ll be helpful if you have a general idea of when it is the right time to sharpen the chainsaw. It would be best to have your chainsaw sharp and ready for use, instead of scrambling to sharpen the chain in a time of need. While there is no hard and fast rule, there are a few key indicators to keep in mind when sharpening your chainsaw.

  • If your chainsaw is rarely used, you need to sharpen it once every year, preferably in the spring for regular upkeep 
  • In case you use your chainsaw regularly, a general guideline would be to sharpen the chainsaw after every 3 hours of use
  • Noticing a change in quality when you’re cutting or needing to use more force when cutting will be another good indicator 
  • If you notice dust coming out when cutting instead of wooden chips, this will indicate that the cutters are dull 
  • If your chainsaw pulls to one side or the other while cutting, it may be a sign of uneven cutting teeth or having a dull chain
  • If your chainsaw has been stored in a wet, moist area, the chainsaw might not operate effectively and have to be sharpened 

You must keep in mind that if the chainsaw blade is dull from normal wear and tear, then it’ll likely be a DIY project. However, if the chainsaw blade has been damaged or nicked due to contact with dirt, rocks, or other foreign objects outside of wood, it’ll be best to get it evaluated by a professional. Further, it will also help you know if you need to purchase a replacement chain.

How To Maintain the Chainsaw Blade After Sharpening

Whether you use your chainsaw rarely for cutting firewood or you have to regularly go to forested areas on the properties, different chainsaws will operate differently and have different maintenance requirements. You should study the owner’s manual that came with your chainsaw to understand the needs and requirements of your specific chainsaw model.

It is almost inevitably true that each part of your chainsaw either needs or would benefit from lubrication using a petroleum-based bar and chain oil. This involves pouring the lubricating oil into the chainsaw’s chain oil reservoir, where the oil gets dispersed gradually to help keep the chainsaw functioning properly while you are working.

  • Inspect the motor and chain occasionally, adding lubrication when needed.
  • Check the guide bar, which is responsible for holding the chain in place. It could get twisted or bent during regular use.
  • Check on a regular basis that there is a sufficient quantity of oil present in the chainsaw’s reservoir.
  • Avoid any problems by ensuring the integrity of the guide bar before you start your chainsaw each and every time. Even when you are working, it’ll be wise to occasionally spot-check the crucial part of a chainsaw.


How tight should a chainsaw chain be?

To check the tension of your chainsaw chain, you should pull one or two links of the chain from the underside of the bar. Then, release the chain and it needs to snap back into place. In case the chain is too tight, then you will not be able to pull the chain away from the bar. If the chain is too loose, then it will remain slack. Loosen or tighten the chainsaw with the tensioning screws located on the side or front of the chainsaw.

How long should the chainsaw blade stay sharp?

The duration of time between sharpenings will depend on how frequently you are using the chainsaw. A chainsaw might only have to be sharpened once a year if it is rarely used. Meanwhile, if you use the chainsaw frequently, you will have to sharpen it regularly to make sure that the blade does not get too dull. On average, a chainsaw blade can retain its sharpness for around 3 hours of cutting through wood.

How often can you flip the bar on your chainsaw?

Depending on how frequently the chainsaw is used, you can look to flip the bar at the end of each use while cleaning up, or you can keep the guide bar in the same position until it is time to replace the chainsaw blade. As long as the bar is flipped semi-regularly to even out the wear and tear of the chainsaw, the frequency with which it is flipped will not be important.

How to sharpen the chainsaw blade with a hand file?

To sharpen the chainsaw blade with a hand file, you’ll need to have a good round and flat filter. You will have to sharpen both teeth and rakers evenly. This entire process of sharpening should be done safely and carefully. Proper safety tips and precautions need to be followed, or you might end up creating new problems. The position, angle, and number of strokes of the file should be kept in mind too.

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Hi, I'm Mike - but my friends call me Backyard Mike. I'm the founder of this website, and I'm addicted to outdoor power tools. I love to work with wood and share my knowledge here on this website with you. You can find more about me here.