When to Replace a Chainsaw Chain

Even if you don’t use your chainsaw too regularly, there will come a time when you feel you are doing more work than you feel you should be when putting it to use. The saw may feel somewhat sluggish, the cuts seem to take longer, or you find yourself constantly fighting a thrown or bound chain.

Even if you have been diligent in your chainsaw maintenance and care of your saw, there will come a time to ask yourself when to replace your chainsaw chain. This is actually a normal part of chainsaw maintenance as well, and although a full replacement of your chain may not occur too often- you should be aware of what will clue you in that the time has come to retire and replace it

The Anatomy of a Chainsaw Chain (The Abbreviated Version)

No matter the make and model of your chainsaw, it has a length of chain that is powered, on average, at 50 rotations per second. This is an incredible amount of speed that provides you with the power to cut smoothly through dense materials with very little overall effort. This spinning effect creates an incredible amount of friction when in use, which wears on the chain even with diligent care and maintenance.

The main parts of the chain are explained below because of their care, and wear, it what determines whether you should be investing in a new one. Your recognition of their wear when you sharpen and care for them may be your first indication that you are nearing the time to find a replacement.

Guide Bar

Oregon 140SXEA041 [153] Bar, 14IN Pro-AM, 91 Seri Small Engine

Although the guide bar is not part of the actual chain itself, it is what it sits upon and rotates around. Keeping your bar and chain well oiled when cutting will help ensure you have an uninhibited movement around the bar, which will allow it to cut more efficiently, and avoid problems with the chain teeth themselves.

Drive Links

Drive Links

The drive links are the metal ‘teeth’ that are found on the opposing side from the actual cutting teeth. These fit within the groove found in the guide bar to provide a snug, yet fluid feels to the chain when it is sitting properly- and keeps it spinning safely and effectively along the guide bar. When these become damaged for any reason, or begin to bind due to poor oiling, it may not sit properly along the guide and need to be replaced.

Right and Left Cutters

Oregon 95VPX066G 66 Drive Link Micro-Lite .325-Inch Pitch, .050-Inch Gauge, Low Kickback Saw Chain

The right and left cutters are the long, sharp teeth responsible for cutting. They alternate with one another to ensure an even, balance cut, and do become dull constantly- requires regular sharpening. For every gallon of gas used, you should be resharpening the chain as part of regular maintenance. Dull cutters will create a finer sawdust, rather than chip, and cut poorly.

Depth Gauge

Drive Links

Depth gauges, as their name suggests, controls how deep the teeth cut into the wood when cutting. These are the ‘fin’ like looking teeth, and when they begin to wear, need to be filed to their proper height in relation to the wear on the cutting teeth to ensure you are creating wood chips when you cut, and not inefficient sawdust. These will eventually wear down too much to adjust and are often a major reason to replace a well-maintained chain.

Signs Your Chain is Getting Dull

As mentioned, a chain that isn’t cutting well is usually a good indicator of an issue with wear. If your chain is fairly new, then most likely with some extra attention and proper sharpening you can bring it back to life. But if you have used it for significant cutting hours, with many sharpening and multiple depth gauge adjustments, then it is most likely time to replace. Some other common ways to determine if it is time to find a replacement is as follows:

Teeth are broken or worn unevenly

Sharpening Tool

Hitting a hard object, such as an embedded nail, or even a rock beneath your logs, can occasionally happen. When it does, the teeth that raked over said object are most likely going to be damaged, even if it isn’t immediately noticeable. This will cause it to cut unevenly, and the longer this goes unchecked, the more your chain will wear unbalanced.

Sometimes you can easily file out small nicks, but if this has occurred you should stop cutting as soon as you can to asses the damage to salvage the chain if possible. The longer you wait for the more likely it will become unrepairable.

Issues with Chain Tension

Loose Chains

If you find yourself constantly adjusting the tension, yet it continues to loosen more than more than it should, then you are going to need to find a replacement as soon as you can. The tension in the chain takes on a lot of the cutting force. Over time it begins to stretch, causing these straps to lose their ability to stay tight. This interrupts the ability to keep the teeth properly connected to the bar.

A loose chain can bind up when cutting, create kickback scenarios, or even snap, which can cause serious injury. If you struggle to keep it properly tightened, then you should replace it immediately to avoid any issues that could arise.

Smoke is present when cutting

Chainsaw Smoking

If you are getting any type of smoke while cutting, even if lubrication and tension are correct, your chainsaw is struggling to cut and may simply be wearing against the wood rather than cutting it. Usually, you will notice a finer dust rather than chips before you get to this point as the saw won’t be cutting as efficiently. But whether you have or not, smoke is not a good sign and you should stop cutting and replace your chain before continuing.

Sawdust, rather than coarse chips are left behind

Your cutting teeth will dull with wear, as mentioned above, and keeping them sharpened is part of your regular maintenance. But you may notice your saw throwing out finer and finer chips, and it may take longer to cut than it used to. You also may feel that you need to apply more force while cutting.

As the depth gauge wears down, there will come a time that it can no longer be filed. When this occurs you have literally run into the end of your chain’s life. You cannot adjust or sharpen any longer at this point even if the chain looks like it is still usable. Use of a chainsaw in this condition is ineffective and can be the cause of smoke due to the friction created when the teeth are not cutting well.

Chainsaw feels unbalanced, cuts unevenly, or rattles when in use

Chainsaw Unbalanced cut

In short, if you have attempted to balance your cutting teeth, are certain of your depth gauge, and the tension is properly adjusted, but the saw still doesn’t cut correctly- then you need to replace the chain. You may notice your saw listing to one side while cutting, struggle to get an even cut or find yourself noticing a rattle when at work. No matter what it is- if it isn’t right- and not at all what you are used in using your chainsaw, then you should try a new chain to rule out it being the culprit of your ineffective cutting.

What to Look for When Replacing Your Chain

There are a few things to keep in mind when heading out to purchase a new chain. First, it is good practice to always have a few chains on hand regardless of how often you use your saw. Swapping these out regularly help create even wear on your saw overtime, plus you never know when you might compromise your teeth in some manner or have no means to sharpen your chain in the field and need to complete a job.

Otherwise, know how to get the right chain for your saw by being aware of the pitch, gauge, and a number of drive links to fit your bar. Not all chains and bars are made the same and are not always easily interchangeable.

 

Pitch

The pitch is the distance between and 3 rivets on the chain, divided by 2. This length describes how close together links are on the overall length. You can usually find this somewhere on the saw, or users manual, but if not, it is easy enough to measure for yourself.

Gauge

The gauge measurements are the width of the drive links that fit into the guide bar. Most guide bars will display this information somewhere towards the tip of the bar.

Drive Link Number

The overall length of a chain is not determined solely by inches, but rather a combination of pitch and number of drive links. Be sure to match the number of drive links on your new chain to your old one. Again, this may be listed somewhere, but you can easily count them as well if you are unsure.

Conclusion

When it comes time to replace your chainsaw chain, you will most likely notice the decrease in efficiency and power provided by the chain before you can visually see the wear on with your bare eye. Even though you can extend the life of your chain with proper sharpening and other saw maintenance, it doesn’t have an infinite life- and it will eventually need to be replaced.

Be sure to always be in touch with any changes you may notice in your saw when you use it, and try to determine if it is the chain that may be causing the issues before you delve any further into the problem. Keeping an extra chain around can be handy in situations when you feel you may be coming to the end of its life.

If you have any questions or comments, or other tips that might be useful, please let us know below. And, as always, please share!

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