Chainsaw Sharpening Guide


A chainsaw just like any other cutting tool gets blunt with time and usage. That means unless you sharpen it regularly, its efficiency will decline until it will finally stop cutting or you get injured forcing it to work. A dull chainsaw consumes lots of fuel while doing less cutting. It also gives kickbacks and therefore can easily cause accidents. Sharpening your chainsaw should not be difficult if you know what to do and when to do it. In this chainsaw sharpening guide, you are going learn how to sharpen your chainsaw with a file or with chainsaw sharpening tools.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw with a File

Filing your chainsaw using a file is little bit different filing using a filing machine. Just like any other manual task, it needs you to make some preparations and carry out some measurements to complete the tasks correctly. This guide applies to all chainsaws in general. However, it’s best to always check your chainsaw manual for any tips that the manufacturer of the chainsaw recommends.

chainsaw in vice

You will the need a round file and a flat file. The round file will be used to sharpen the curved hollow part of the cutting link. The flat file is used to file the cutting link to the correct depth. You will need a filing guide as well. The filing guide helps you to get the right filing angle when using the round file. The filing guide will also help you to determine the proper cutting depth to which you will file the cutting link.

How to use a Chainsaw Sharpening Guide

One of the easiest ways to learn to sharpen your chain is to use the sharpener guide mounted on the chain saw. These take as much time as the manual method without a guide, but they are accurate even for beginners. You just need to position them onto each cutting link to file it. They are easy to position. Hold the chainsaw bar in a vice. Place them chainsaw sharpening guide on the bar, and start filing. The sharpener guide will control your filing angles and position. They offer you an easy step to learn how to file your chain the traditional way discussed in the eight steps below.

Sharpen a Chainsaw by Hand

Step 1
Find the size of the chainsaw link also called the pitch. There are several saws in the market, and they all have different pitches. You can easily check out the pitch using the code etched on the side of the cutting link. It is usually found on the outer side of the depth gauge.
Step 2

Use the number in step one to get the matching file from the conversion table. Each pitch number is matched with the correct file diameter for the chain that has that number. It is best to buy files from suppliers and tool shops recommended by manufacturers. Using the wrong file will irreparably damage your file.

Step 3

The next step is to thoroughly clean your chain to remove debris, sawdust, and dirt. You can use mineral spirits and detergents readily available in conventional stores to get rid of oils. You should only use those cleaners that are less aggressive to avoid damaging the plastic housing and seals of your chainsaw.

Step 4
You need to find out any cutting link that has been excessively damaged, chipped or bent. Such cutting links should be replaced with new ones. Using broken cutting links is dangerous and can lead to accidents due to kickbacks. Observe or measure the upper plate of cutting link. It should at least be 1/4 an inch long. If it’s shorter, then you need to replace it. An overly worn cutting edge can break easily during the cutting motion.
Step 5
Now fasten the chainsaw and its bar to make sure that it won’t move when filing. Position he bar in the vice such that it allows the chain to rotate freely.
Pitch Code - chainsaw sharpen guide step 1
Conversion Table
chainsaw sharpen guide step 5

Step 6
Hold the file with both hands. One hand should hold the handle while the other holds the other end of the file to guide its motion. If your chainsaw bar is horizontally oriented, then the file should also be held horizontally. Keep the angle between the file and bar at 30 degrees when you view it directly from the top.

Filing Angle Image Link:

While filing, a 1/4 of the file’s diameter should be above the top plate. It’s important to keep in mind that the file only sharpens on the forward motion.

1/4 Filing Position Image Link:

If you try sharpening on the backward motion, you will dull the file. When filing, you want to make sure that all cutting links are filed precisely to the same height. That ensures all teeth will chip out woodchips of the same size and therefore cut the wood uniformly.

Forward Filing Image Link:

You also want to restore the cutting link’s angle as it was machined in the factory. Make sure that file rests at 90 degrees on the chain as you file.

Vertical Filing Angle Image Link:

Step 7
When you are filing, you should rotate the file as you do so to make it wear out evenly. It’s also important to make sure that the cutting link you are sharpening is positioned in the middle of the bar. You can achieve that by rotating the chain to move the cutting links to the middle position. That will help you to maintain the proper cutting angle.
Step 8
Once you file the cutting link, check to confirm that it is filed evenly. The cutting edge surface should be uniformly bright.

Sharpen a Chainsaw with Power Tools

Manual sharpening is demanding, but it is a safe method to ensure you don’t wear off too much material from your chain cutting links, which could in turn shorten the lifespan of your chain. However, if you have many chainsaws to sharpen or you want an easier way to work, you can use an electric chain sharpener as an alternative. Electric chain sharpeners are both quick and accurate with their only downside being they can easily file off extra material from your chainsaw chain.

The electric chainsaw sharpener has a motor that is running continuously unlike your manual filing action. That is why electric chainsaws are fast and can file extra material easily if you do not set them correctly. However good ones aren’t too hard to use if you take the time to follow the user manual and set them correctly per the type of chain you want to file. Always follow the product instructions for chain-specific guides.

How Do I know The Cutting Edge is Worn-out?

Cutting Link Markings:

The cutting edge has markings that enable you to know when it’s time to replace it. The manufacturer etches these markings onto the chain after having done some quality control tests on the chain.

Mark 1
Mark 1 marking indicates the right cutting edge angle of the upper plate’s cutting edge. It also gives the minimum cutting link length. Should that length become shorter, then the cutting link should be replaced. When you notice that you have filed the cutting link up to that mark, it is time to replace it.

Mark 2
Mark 2 gives the circular angle that should be maintained when sharpening the cutting edge. The cutting link should be replaced when it has been filed up to that point.

Mark 3
Mark 3 marks the correct depth gauge angle and wear. When the depth is being reset, that resetting should be parallel to that mark.

Mark 4
Mark 4 is used to check the extent of wear of the running faces of the cutting link. If the wear is consistently parallel to that mark, then the chain wear is normal. If the wear is not consistently parallel, then there is a problem, and you should do and inspection and replace that cutting link.

How Often should a Chainsaw chain be sharpened?

The question of how often the chain cutting links should be sharpened is not so clear. However, one thing that we recommend is that you need to sharpen your saw  chain before it becomes dull and dangerous to use. Some say you sharpen after cutting a certain number of trees, others recommend after ten uses, while others recommend you do it after a certain number of hours of use. We recommend you do it after 40 hours of use or when you hit a rock, soil, or you cut a hardwood tree. Those three can make your chain dull easily. Rocks, in particular, can blunt the saw instantly. Overall, you should keep a watchful eye on your chain. Keep in mind what it looked like when it was new. It should never look so different from that because when new, the manufacturer optimized it for cutting.

When does my Chainsaw Chain need to be Replaced?

Your chainsaw will get dull with time no matter how sharp it was when you bought it. That will cause it to become inefficient and dangerous to use. Knowing when it is time to replace your chain will save you time, energy and money. A chain that is in good condition does not require you to spend much energy as you use it to cut wood. It does not cut fine wood chips that cause you to spend more fuel to get a deep cut into the tree or lumber. You should, therefore, pay attention to the signs below to keep your chain in shape at all times.

Chain replacement signs

  • You have to apply pressure on the saw to make it cut wood. A good chain pulls itself into the wood when placed on it.
  • You notice that when cutting vertically, the saw does not make coarse chippings. Instead, all you see is fine sawdust.
  • You see smoke even when the chain is well lubricated, and the chain is well tensioned.
  • You find it difficult to position the chainsaw precisely because it rattles and bounces when cutting.


Those are the top signs that you should use to replace your chainsaw. Of course, if you also notice other signs such as a chipped cutting link, you should replace the link or if they are all chipped, replace the chain. You should not wait for the cutting link to be totally blunt before you sharpen it. You should make sharpening a regular thing. As soon as you notice a slight bluntness or wear of the cutting edge, sharpen your chain. That will help you to avoid spending much time and energy sharpening the chain because it is excessively worn.

You should also make it a habit of inspecting your chain at the end of each day or before you store it. That will help you to identify defects early enough. You will also become familiar with your chain in its good working condition. We hope this guide has been helpful and you will find it easy to maintain your chain.