How to Sharpen a Chainsaw
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How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

If your chainsaw bogging down, throwing fine sawdust, and basically not performing as you would expect to pertain to how well it cuts? Then you most likely need your chain sharpened and your depth gauges checked. This is part of any type of chainsaw maintenance, both electric and gas-powered models, and is required not only for saw performance but also for safety reasons.

Below is a quick step-by-step tutorial to help guide you in sharpening your own chain, and learn how to check and adjust your depth gauges if needed. Even if you are adept at this job, it never hurts to review, especially if you haven’t used a chainsaw for a while. The best way to sharpen a chainsaw is the right way, so hopefully, these few tips help guide you to a hassle-free cutting experience.

What You Need

Bosch Chainsaw Resting
Image credits:
Sven Brandsma via Unsplash

What tools you need and knowing how to use those tools are more important than any other detail. Use the wrong tool, and you can damage your chain- or even create a dangerous cutting situation. These tools are not expensive and quite handy to have on hand. In fact, you can usually purchase them in a chainsaw sharpening kit.

  • A pair of protective gloves– Since you are working with a very sharp surface, you will want to protect your hands. A good pair of leather gloves or similarly thick material will work.
  • Round file, preferably with a file guide– Make sure to get around the file, not a rat-tailed file. A rat-tailed file has a tapered diameter and coarse teeth which can ruin your cutting surface. A file guide fits over your round file and helps keep you from filing too much.
  • Flat file– for use in resetting your depth gauge, not for your cutters.
  • Depth gauge guide– to help guide you in the correct setting of your depth gauge
  • Flat surface to work on– be sure to work on a flat surface to keep your saw from slipping.

When to Sharpen Your Saw

Michael Fenton via Unsplash

Knowing when to sharpen your chain is just as important as knowing how to sharpen your chainsaw. And this knowledge can save you a lot of work in the long run and get your saw up for ripping again. Dull blades will spin against the wood you are cutting without doing much work, and create fine sawdust. If you have noticed your wood chips becoming smaller and finer in size, your chain is in need of sharpening.

A dull chain increases the chances of kickback from occurring, plus the effort you have to put forth towards getting a job done will increase tenfold. Another good way to stay on top of your chain maintenance is to sharpen every time you fill your tank – or every two hours or so if you are using a gas-powered saw. It may be sooner, or you may feel longer, depending on the type of material you have been cutting as well, but as a general guide, it works well.

Step 1: Engage the Chain Brake

You want your chain to be locked in place when you place force against it. By locking your chain brake (if your saw has one), you keep the chain secure and easy to work with. After you have sharpened an area, unlock it and turn the chain until you have more to sharpen. Placing the bar in a clamp on a workbench can be helpful as well, but isn’t necessary if you do not have one available.

Step 2: Locate Right and Left Cutters

There are both right and left cutters on your chain to keep it cutting straight. They alternate and so you must sharpen each side independently to keep an even cut. These teeth are long, and semi-circular in shape and are easy to resharpen and reshape. The shark-fin-looking tooth is the depth gauge and should be left alone for now.

Step 3: File Cutters at the Right Angles

Pick a cutter to start with on either the right or left side. You can mark this in some manner with a dot of ink from a permanent marker, for example, so you know where you started. If you have a guide you can fit this over the cutter, but it can be done without as well. The best angle to file at is a 30 to 35-degree angle (follow the angle of the tooth) and held at a right angle vertically. Start filing, providing 2 to 3 strong forward (never back towards you) strokes.

These should be smooth strokes pushed away from you and of the same strength each time. It may take a little practice to get uniform in your sharpening skills, but with a little practice, you will get good at it in no time. You may need to file more strokes if you still can feel burrs as you file due to heavy use. Use the same number of strokes on each cutter. Once you have completed one side, you can begin on the other. Be sure to stay consistent and know where you begin and end.

Step 4: Locate Depth Gauges

After you have sharpened your cutters, you can address the depth gauge. You will not want to adjust this every time you sharpen the chain as you will begin to wear it down too quickly. A general rule of thumb is to file it every three times you sharpen your chain or at least double-check where the depth is at.

Step 5: Check and File Depth Gauges

The depth gauge is the fin-like tooth sticking up, and this is what controls how deep the cutters cut into the wood. When it sticks up too high due to wear on the cutters, you get less of a cut, and it will take longer to complete your job. Over time it is the wear on these that will eventually render your chain useless and time for another.

Some chains have how high a gauge should stick up, but to take any guesswork out of it- simply use a depth gauge filing guide. Place it over the gauge, and if it is sticking up too high compared to the cutters, it will stick through the guide. When they do this, file each flush with the guide using your flat file, but do not push too hard as you can accidentally take off part of the guide as well.

Optional Alternate Chainsaw Blade Sharpening Technique

If you do not want to sharpen your saw by hand, you can save a little time and energy by using a Dremel tool that includes a chainsaw sharpening guide and grinding wheel. These are very handy, and if you are comfortable with chainsaw sharpening, this may be a good option for you. Care must be taken not to get overly enthusiastic and grind off too much of the cutter.

Chain Troubleshooting Guide

Chainsaw Blade In Tree
Hans Braxmeier via Pixabay

If you are not quite adept at this technique, or your chain has some wear on it, you may begin to have trouble with its effectiveness. Some of these issues can be easily remedied, but others may indicate the time to find a replacement. The following provides better information on the types of problems you may run into and their solutions. Having an awareness of this makes your cutting experience a safer experience.

  • Problems with getting each cutter even– file guides truly do allow you to get each cutter back to a more factory ground angle. This may take a bit more time than if done without but does provide a better, more uniform sharpening.
  • Proper use of multiple chains – when you place a new chain on an older saw it may not match up well with the sprocket and bar. Although you can care for and use the same saw for quite some time with proper maintenance, it is best to have two or three chains that you trade out from time to time to help keep everything fitting better together.
  • Saw pulling to the side – If your saw pulls to one side or the other then your cutters are sharper on one side than the other. You can attempt to even these out, but it might be better to take that chain to a professional sharpener to reset both sides and get it working as it should.


If you have been wondering what is the best chainsaw sharpener, look no further than your own two hands. This is a simple, easy to complete technique that requires very little time and attention to detail. Most chainsaw chains can be sharpened 10 or more times before needing to be replaced, and are still good even if you managed to offset the blade simply by bringing it into a professional to even it out.

Hopefully, this has been a helpful guide to get you started on your own chainsaw chain care and maintenance. A good chain makes your job that much easier, and knowing this technique can save you a lot of money in replacement chains over the life of your saw.

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