How to sharpen a chainsaw

It is that time of the year again when the organised people have all their firewood neatly stacked in preparation for the winter season.  For the rest of us, the chill in the air means it is time to give the chainsaw a pre-season service and get ready to harvest firewood for the winter.  One of the most important parts of a service is to sharpen the chain,

Chainsaws work best when they are sharp.  Dull chains are slow to cut, and become dangerous.  An easy way to tell how sharp your chain is, is to check the size of your shavings – good size chips mean your saw is sharp.  Fine powdery dust means you need to sharpen your chain.  It might also mean you are cutting seasoned Australian hardwood, which can be almost impossible to cut with a chainsaw.

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains

Cutting seasoned hardwood can be extremely hard on chains – I used two sharp chains to cut through this trunk.

Many people find it easier to have more than one chain on the go.  I generally buy a new chain each year, and over the past few years have gathered half a dozen chains.

There are many ways to sharpen a chain.  I persisted with a file for a few years, before discovering the talents of a local expert in Gundaroo Machinery Services.  Andrew sharpened my chains for many years and does a great job, but I wanted to see if I could sharpen the chains myself, so I bought a cheap sharpening disc off eBay.

It took me a couple of goes to get it set up how I liked.  I ended up bolting the sharpener to an old particle board shelf.  AI then cut a slot for the chain to be fed around the sharpener.  When it comes time to sharpen my chains, I simply place the shelf across two saw horses.  This means I can loop all my chains over the shelf and then do them in a batch.

how to sharpen a chainsaw

Chainsaw sharpening tool with extra chains ready to go

I found the sharpener instructions easy to follow.  The disc is designed to sharpen each tooth’s leading edge at the best angle.  A guide on the sharpener adjusts the depth of the disc on the leading edge of the tooth.    Being able to work in a batch means that it doesn’t take long to sharpen all the chains.

To use the sharpener, you simply turn the machine on, and  pull the disc down onto the chain to sharpen every second tooth.  All chains have a special link where two consecutive teeth fall the same way, and this is a good place to start and finish your sharpening cycle.  After doing one side you rotate the base plate to the other side and sharpen all the opposing teeth.

how to sharpen a chainsaw

The spinning disc is brought to the leading edge of the tooth

A guide holds the chain in the right place.  The guide is adjustable for the wear on the chain, meaning even tired old chains can be sharpened.

 Does it work?  Yes, to a point.  I tend to do all the chains in batches and it does a reasonable job of sharpening the leading edge of the teeth.

Some words of caution:

  • If you hold the disc down too long, it will burr and overheat the chain.
  •  As teeth wear, the leading edge recedes, and the guide also needs to be ground down to compensate.  I haven’t been able to find a way to accurately shape the guide with this tool.
  • You should probably wear gloves when doing this as some of the burrs can be extremely sharp
  • Eye protection and hearing protection should also be worn.
  • Do not do this on a day of Total Fire Ban as the grinding may and usually does cause sparks.

When my chains become too dull or out of adjustment, I send them to Gundaroo Machinery Service for a professional sharpen to bring them back to their proper parameters.

Chainsaw sharpening is definitely a skill, and it takes years of practice to do it well.  If you feel it something best left to the professionals, then I suggest you give people like Andrew at Gundaroo Machinery Service a call on 0414 824 176.


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