How to Sharpen Chainsaw with File

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Do you need to sharpen your chainsaw with a file, but you don’t know how to? If yes, then you are definitely at the right place at the right place.

Sharpening chainsaw with file is simple as long as you know the right method. Sharpening your chainsaw with a file will involve choosing the correct file size, removing the power source, cleaning the chainsaw, setting up the file and guide, setting the chain tension, securing the bar, sharpening one side, reversing the direction, filling the depth gauge, using your chainsaw. When you’re sharpening the chainsaw, remember to maintain the necessary safety measures.

In this guide, you will get to know about sharpening the chainsaw, how to sharpen chainsaw with file, and much more. Stick around to get all the answers that you are looking for.

Time to Sharpen your Chainsaw

Has your chainsaw been cutting slowly? Is the chainsaw burning or smoking as it cuts? Did you accidentally hit metal when cutting through a tree? Did you hit the dirt with the chainsaw when it was running? If your answer was yes, the chain will likely require maintenance.

A sharp chain will cut quickly and in a rather straight line. A properly sharpened chainsaw chain will prolong the life of the engine, sprocket, and guide bar by reducing wear and tear.

A dull chainsaw is also an extremely dangerous chainsaw. Having to force the cuts will put extra strain on not just the saw, but on you too. It’ll also increase the potential for injury as the ability to cut will be reduced, which could cause the operator to use extra force to manipulate the saw. However, you need to refer to the owner’s manual for proper machine and cutting lubricants.

How to Sharpen Chainsaw with File

1. Choose the appropriate file size

Chainsaw chains can be sharpened using special files. While many professional loggers use square files such as the ones to sharpen knives, almost all other chainsaw users use round files for sharpening.

Generally, there are three common sizes of chainsaw files – 5/32, 3/16, and 7/32. Choose the correct size for your chainsaw chain. You can check the owner’s manual or the label on the box to get the correct file size. The specifics for the chain will be printed on the side of most guide bars. Use that information for finding the replacement chain for your chainsaw and get the necessary file information.

2. Clean your chainsaw

Sharpening the chainsaw will also give you the perfect opportunity to clean your chainsaw. After removing the power source, the machine needs to be cleaned of any dust and debris. Chainsaws are generally oily tools. Cutting lubricant will help you with the smooth flow of the chain across the bar. This lubricant will abundantly cover the chain and bar and any dirt that the machine picks up in the course of operation.

It’ll be important to clean the debris and any excess oil off of the chainsaw. Using compressed air, a brush, or a rag will be a great means by which you’ll be able to clear the machine of any debris. If you’re working indoors, you should ensure that you account for the presence of lubricant by placing plastic or rags under the tool before maintenance. Make sure that you’re wiping the motor housing and the handles clear of grease, oil, or grease.

However, you need to keep in mind that you’re following the necessary safety protocols whenever you’re dealing with a chainsaw. Using a chainsaw without proper safety equipment could result in injuries. 

3. Set up the file and guide

A file handle will be a must, while a guide will also be extremely helpful. Fortunately, chainsaw sharpening kits are available in the market, and you’ll get everything that you need.

The sharpening kit will also have instructions on how you should assemble the file, handle, and guide. You need to follow the instructions of the file tools properly. The guide holds the file at the proper depth in the tooth while helping you move the file at the correct angle.

The guide will likely have markings for different angles. You need to follow the 30-degree marks on the guide, as it’ll work for most chainsaws. If you aren’t sure of the proper angle, you should check the chain. Each tooth must have a small line close to the bottom of the cutter, which shows the angle that is best for the particular chain.

4. Set the chain tension

This step will be important when you’re sharpening the chain while it is still on the chainsaw. A chain that is too loose might allow the tooth to rock backward when you’re applying pressure to the cutting edge. Having a properly tensioned chainsaw would also make the chainsaw cut better. You must check it each time the chainsaw is used.

The desired chainsaw for the chain will be when you can pull the chain away from the bar almost enough that you can see the tips of the drive teeth in the rail. The drive teeth shouldn’t be visible if the chain isn’t being pulled away from the bar.

For testing the tension of the chain, you should grasp the chain along the top center of the bar and release it quickly. A properly tensioned chain would snap back into position. If the chain is slack, it’ll have to be set to the proper tension.

You should loosen the guide bar while retaining the nuts. Then, lift the guide bar up and then turn the tensioning screw clockwise. They’re usually located on the front or side of the chainsaw body. Lastly, tighten the retaining nuts after adjusting. The right chain tension will be important to your chainsaw’s operation. It’ll also keep you from having to make a visit to the local tool repair shop.

5. Secure the bar

Once the chain is ready for sharpening, you should secure the chainsaw in a bench vise at home, in the tool shop, or in the stump vise on the job site. Holding the chainsaw in place will be important for achieving consistent results from tooth to tooth.

You will only be able to file a chain a certain number of times before the cutting blades wear down. If they end up becoming too small to file, the chain will have to be replaced with a matching one by following these instructions –

  • Release the chain brake and then remove the nuts or screws that are holding the guide bar plate on the side of the chainsaw 
  • When the plate is removed, slide the bar forward for releasing it from the tensioner
  • It will create slack in the chain before allowing you to remove it easily 
  • Loosen the tension screw on the inside edge of the guide bar slightly to make installing the new chain easier 
  • Threat the new matching chain onto the clutch drum of the chainsaw while ensuring the drive links engage with the sprocket 
  • Then, check the chainsaw chain direction is matching what you removed just now
  • You should carefully thread the remainder of the chain onto the bar 
  • Now, pull the guide bar away from the chainsaw for creating some tension in the chain and replace the plate 
  • Remember not to tighten the nuts or screws all the way as the bar will have to be allowed to move a bit as the chain is adjusted to the correct tension 
  • Keep tightening the tension screw until the chain could be lifted about a half-inch off the bar in the middle
  • Lastly, tighten the guide bar plate 

6. Sharpen one side of the chain

If the chainsaw chain is dirty, you should clean it with a wire brush before you start. Any debris stuck to the teeth could hinder sharpening.

  • Use a lumber crayon or marker to mark the tooth where you’re starting 
  • File the teeth from the inside and towards the outside. The easy way of remembering the correct direction would be where the tip of the file needs to point away from the engine.
  • Now, hold the file at a 90° angle to the flat side of the guide bar. Move it at a 30° angle toward the straight line of the chain. Remember to maintain both angles throughout the stroke. Be careful that you do not vary at the end of the stroke and then round off the edge that you have created.
  • If you’re using a file for sharpening the chainsaw, you must file every other tooth along the chain. After that, reverse direction and start sharpening each tooth in the opposite direction.
  • After you have sharpened a couple of the teeth, you must release the chain brake and then rotate the chain forward to continue sharpening the saw.
  • The tooth will be sharp when there’s a burr that can be seen or felt with your fingernail on the other side of the tooth’s edge. Be careful when you are checking for burrs. Sometimes, they could leave a nasty torn cut on unprotected flesh.
A focus photo of a person's hand sharpening a chainsaw chain with a file

7. Reverse direction

Once the first side of the chainsaw chain is done, you should reverse the chainsaw in the vise and then sharpen the remaining teeth. Remember that you should file from the inside out.

Unlike abrasives, files are tools for cutting. The file will cut away any unwanted metal and leave sharp edges sufficient for cutting down trees and branches. Files only tend to cut on the push stroke. You should not apply pressure on the return or pull strike. Applying pressure on the return could shorten the lifespan of the file used on metal.

8. Fill the depth gauges

The rounded protrusion before each tooth will be a depth gauge. This part of the chainsaw chain is commonly known as a “raker”. They don’t actually do the same job as the raker (removing chips from the cut) but they set the depth of cut that each tooth takes into the wood. In case they are too tall, the cutter will hardly bite into the wood at all. In case they are too short, the cutter could get buried in the wood so deeply that the engine stalls.

Most sharpening kits come with a flat file and a depth gauge tool. You need to set the jig on the chain, which leaks one raker showing. If any part of the raker is protruding above the tool, it needs to be shortened with the flat file. Rakers have to be filed from the same side as they’d be sharpened with a file. If the file has to chatter or skate across the raker, it has to be filed from the other side.

The depth gauges don’t require adjustment after each sharpening, but it’ll be good to check them with the tool each time before using chainsaws.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw by hand with a file


At what angle should I file my chainsaw chain?

You should always hold the file at a right angle or 90-degree to the guide bar. Remember, the file will sharpen only on the forward stroke and then lift the file off the cutter on the backstroke. After that, rotate the file slightly at regular intervals while you are filing to avoid one-sided wear.

What size file do I require for sharpening my chainsaw?

You will be making use of a chainsaw file for sharpening your chainsaw. This kit will contain round files of different sizes. You need to use the round file for sharpening the cutting edges of the cutters. The file should match the cutter’s diameter, with the most popular sizes for chainsaws being 5/32”, 3/16”, and 7/32”.

How long should the chainsaw blade stay sharp?

If you’re only going to use the chainsaw rarely, you might only have to sharpen the chainsaw blade only every year. Meanwhile, a tool that is used frequently will have to be sharpened regularly for ensuring that the blade doesn’t get extremely dull. On average, a chainsaw blade would retain its sharpness for around 3 hours of actively cutting through wood.

How many times will you be able to sharpen the chainsaw?

A chainsaw chain could be sharpened up to 10 times or sometimes more before you’re going to replace the entire chain altogether. It will mostly be dependent on two things – the amount of metal removed each time you sharpen and the amount of wear your chain incurs.

How many strokes will it take to sharpen a chainsaw?

Using steady, even strokes with a round file, you should give each cutter around 5–6 strokes until the face of the cutter is shiny silver. To know that the cutter is sharp, try to feel a burr along the cutter’s outer edge. Count the strokes and use the same number of strokes on every cutter.

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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.