How to Sharpen a Chainsaw – an Introduction

chainsaw-sharpeningThis post is about chainsaw sharpening. We’ll start out in this post discussing the importance of keeping your chainsaw sharp. We’ll also discuss how to know when your chainsaw needs sharpening.

In subsequent posts, we’ll examine the different methods of sharpening a chainsaw (yep – there are lots of ways to do it!). And we’ll also look at some of the tools for the job. As with many things, you can spend a little or you can spend a lot for chainsaw sharpening tools.

Everyone that owns a chainsaw, though, really should have the basic hand tools for sharpening a chain, along with the know-how to use them. The more expensive chainsaw sharpening tools – while great to have – aren’t something that you’ll have with you out in the field during a day of cutting wood.

But you can certainly take your simple hand tools with you so that you can touch up your chainsaw blade when it needs it. More on that later…

Nothing More Dangerous Than a Dull Blade

You’ve heard that before, right?

Statements like ‘the most dangerous knife in the kitchen is the dullest. The safest knife is the sharpest.’

That’s a truism that applies to chainsaw blades, too. In fact, one of the most significant dangers of operating a chainsaw is kickback. And both the likelihood and violence of a kickback is increased significantly with a dull blade.

Using a chainsaw with a dull blade is also much more fatiguing than using a chainsaw with a sharp blade.

You reach a point where the dull blade is forcing you to wrestle your way through every cut. You’re fighting the saw, rather than letting it work for you.

Aside from being a very unpleasant way to work, the fatigue induced by using a dull chainsaw ups the odds of an accident. As muscles tire, you just don’t have the same reflexes and control. And that’s asking for an accident.

Of course, you can reach the same point of fatigue with a sharp chainsaw. But you’ll get there a lot quicker using a chainsaw with a dull blade.

How to Tell When it’s Time to Stop and Sharpen Your Chainsaw

As we’ve just discussed, if you have to wrestle your saw through every cut, you’re working with a dull blade.

But there’s no need to get to that point. Because there are a few things you can watch for to tip you off that the blade is starting to dull, before it gets really dull.

Watch for sawdust. Contrary to what many believe, you should not be making sawdust as you saw. A nice, sharp chain will produce wood chips, not dust. So keep an eye on the discharge from your saw. If it starts to become dusty, then your blade is dull.

Watch for smoke. Have you ever seen or smelled wood smoke as you’re making your way through a cut? That’s another warning sign that it’s time to stop and sharpen your blade. A sharp blade will chew through the wood without generating enough friction to scorch the wood and create smoke. (If you’re producing smoke, also check to see that your chain is properly oiled.)

Is your chainsaw doing the work? If your saw begins to feed itself into the wood less eagerly, it’s beginning to dull. Keep going, and you’ll notice that you’re starting to dig in with the bucking spikes more, and applying extra leverage to force the cut.

Let’s not be the Dull Blades in the Drawer!

You’ve heard the saying that ‘he or she isn’t the sharpest blade in the drawer’?

If you or I are using a dull chainsaw, then – at least temporarily – we’ve joined the chainsaw in being a dull blade.

And I know how easy it is: you’ve just got a little more cutting to do, you’re tired, you want to get the job done, you DON’T want to take the time to stop to sharpen the blade.

That’s D-U-M-B!

And I confess to having been DUMB that way on several occasions. Through DUMB luck, I didn’t have an accident.

But why tempt fate? Keep that blade sharp!