Tips for Maintaining Your Chainsaw

Want to keep your super-useful chainsaw running as long as possible? Follow these chainsaw maintenance tips to maximize your saw's lifespan.

Chainsaws are incredibly useful tools. If you buy a good one and treat it well, it will serve you for many years. My own chainsaw is more than 10 years old and still going strong, and my father owns a beefy old Jonsered that’s going on 35 years without any issues. Both saws endure lots of heavy use, like cutting hundreds of logs into firewood-length blocks to heat both our houses each year.

Besides brand and quality of design, the main thing that determines chainsaw longevity is how you maintain it. Chainsaw maintenance takes some time and diligence. But when your old saw hungrily cuts through a log like it’s new, it will all be worthwhile. Follow these chainsaw maintenance tips to keep your saw running great for many years.

Never Run Your Chainsaw Dry

As every seasoned chainsaw user knows, there comes a moment when your saw begins running out of fuel and the motor starts laboring. You notice it rev up noticeably higher and louder than normal during the cut. The temptation when this happens is to keep cutting, squeezing the last little bit of power out of your saw before you stop and refuel. The temptation is especially strong when you’re nearly through a thick log, and just a few more seconds will give you a complete cut.

The problem is, working your saw harder as its gas tank and oil reservoir run dry is really hard on the tool. It causes fast moving parts to work with insufficient oil to lubricate and cool them, causing internal wear at a rate much faster than usual. Instead, when you hear and feel your saw start to labor, shut it down right away and refuel. Your saw will thank you in the long run.

Keep the Chain Sharp and a Spare Chain Nearby

Chain sharpness is another thing that can affect the inner workings of your chainsaw. It’s common to nick some soil or a rock while cutting in the bush, causing a chain that was sharp seconds earlier to become really dull.

As with a saw running short on fuel, it’s tempting to keep cutting, especially if you don’t carry a spare chain with you. This is a bad idea. Cutting with a dull chain makes your saw work harder than it should, causing premature wear on the engine. That’s why it’s wise to invest in a good electric chain sharpener and a second chain.

When you’re in sharpening mode, sharpen both chains at once. During chainsaw use, take your second pre-sharpened chain with you as a spare. If your chain gets dull, shut the saw off and swap it out. Then sharpen the dull chain at your earliest convenience.

If you use your saw often, keep an eye on both chains each time you sharpen them. Eventually chains get too worn down to cut properly and need to be replaced. You’ll need to do this sooner if you’re a regular chainsaw user.

Clean Around the Chain

Even though your chainsaw is designed to keep sawdust out of the mechanism, some inevitably creeps in around the chain. That’s why it’s a good idea to clean around the bar and chain of your saw before each use.

Loosen and remove the nuts holding the clutch/chain cover in place, then pull the cover off. Chances are you’ll find lots of sawdust mixed with chain oil packed in and around the bar, chain and inside face of the cover. Use a slot-head screwdriver to carefully scrape out this debris until all the nooks and crannies are clear. Replace the cover, tightening the chain as you do if necessary.

Flip the Bar

The bar of your chainsaw is made of tough, high-carbon steel, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get worn down over time with heavy use. The narrow groove along the edge of your chainsaw bar houses the chain as it rotates roughly 50 times per second during use. This extreme friction, combined with the constant pressure on one edge of the bar as you push it into the wood you’re cutting, causes the bar to wear down.

That’s why taking apart your saw and flipping the bar at least once per season is a good idea. Most folks tend to wear the bottom edge of their bar faster because most cuts are done with the bottom edge. Flipping your bar evens out this wear and allows your bar to last as long as possible before replacement.

If your saw gets lots of heavy use throughout the year, flip it more than once or twice a year. A flip every month or so will serve you best.

Don’t Skimp on Two-Stroke Oil

With environmental consciousness on the rise, chainsaw manufacturers are more eager than ever to design saws that can run extremely lean, with as little oil mixed into the fuel as possible. It’s not uncommon for newer saw manufacturers to recommend ratios as extreme as 50:1, as in 50 parts premium gasoline to one part two-stroke engine oil.

The problem is, many older saws are meant to run richer, with more oil per unit of gas than this. Even in saws that are supposedly designed for 50:1, you won’t hurt them by mixing the fuel 40:1 or even 35:1. In fact, you’ll probably help the saw last longer. More oil in the fuel means better cooling and lubrication of moving parts, and ultimately less wear and tear.