How to Sharpen a Chainsaw – How and When to Sharpen

When to Sharpen a Chainsaw

Photo: Stihl

As the name suggests, a chainsaw consists of a set of teeth that are fixed on a rotating chain. It was the first major tool that led the way out of using axes in felling trees, making the process very quick and easy.

That said, chainsaws are also used in tree pruning, limbing, bucking and firewood harvesting, among many other uses. At some point though, the teeth or blades on the chain do get blunt and need sharpening. Well, how do you know if they are blunt? Here’s how.

When to Sharpen a Chainsaw

There are two main indicators of a chainsaw’s bluntness. First, if the saw does not deepen the cut easily to the point that you find yourself forcing it down, then it needs sharpening. With sharp teeth, the saw deepens the cut with very little force.

Second, if the tool throws out sawdust instead of chips, it needs to be sharpened. This is because blunt blades cut out small pieces of wood while sharp ones cut large pieces.

Apart from enhancing the chainsaw’s efficiency, sharpening is important because it prevents kickbacks, which can be very dangerous.

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw

How to Sharpen a Chainsaw


Things You Will Need

  • Clamp/vise
  • Round file with its guide
  • Flat file
  • Depth gauge guide
  • Permanent marker


Before getting into the steps, you need to understand the design of the chain. It consists of two cutters (left and right) that are positioned in different angles, plus a depth gauge tooth that keeps the cutters from chopping off too much wood. This prevents stalling.

That said, the depth gauge tooth should not be higher than the cutters and therefore, as you sharpen the cutters, you also need to sharpen it so that it is always a few millimeters lower than them. Now let’s get down to the steps.

1. Using a stump vise or tabletop clamp, hold the chainsaw’s bar such that it is suspended in an upright position.

2. Tighten the chain around the bar by adjusting the tensioning screw. Make sure it is tight but still movable. This should keep it firm enough to prevent wobbling during sharpening while requiring little effort to move it around so that you can get to all the teeth.

3. Use a permanent marker to mark the first cutter you’ll be sharpening. This will help you to keep tabs on the progress.

4. Since the cutters alternate in facing different directions and different angles, pick one side and work on them first. With the guided round file, insert it into the notch of the cutter then stroke it about 5-10 times until its sharp.

5. After you have gone around and gotten back to the marked tooth, rotate the chainsaw so that you can sharpen the teeth facing the other side. Start by releasing the bar from the clamp then rotate the entire tool 180˚. Alternatively, you can switch your position and move to the other end.

6. Repeat steps 3 and 4.

7. Once done, use the depth gauge guide to check the height of the depth gauge teeth. If they extend above the guide, file them down using the flat file until they become flush with the guide.

8. At this point, you are done sharpening. Adjust the tensioning screw to loosen the chain then release it from the clamp/vise.

If you have a rotary tool such as the Dremel 4000 or 4300, you can use it with its chainsaw sharpening accessory to eliminate the manual stroking process when using a file.

Read More: The Best Chainsaw Sharpener

Tips for Sharpening a Chainsaw 

Tips for Sharpening a Chainsaw

1. Wear protective gear (goggles and gloves).

2. Use the same motion, the same number of strokes and the same amount of pressure when sharpening each tooth for evenness.

3. Make sure you stroke the file at the cutter’s angle position, which should be about 30˚. 

4. Apply some sideways pressure when filing so that the cutter gets good contact with the round file.

5. Always sharpen in a forward stroke motion. A backward stroke might damage the cutter and file.


In conclusion, maintaining a sharp edge on your chainsaw is critical for safety, better performance and reduced fuel/battery usage. We recommend that you follow the steps laid out above for the best sharpening results.