Those of you that have spent years sharpening a chainsaw blade by hand know exactly how much time this type of delicate and complex job can take. You can use either a file to manually sharpen a blade or you can use an electric chainsaw sharpener to get the job done. The best chainsaw sharpener should be easy to use, fast, and efficient, which is why I often rely on electric models. Using an electric powered sharpener, you’ll have a chainsaw blade that’s as sharp as the day it was made, in a matter of minutes.
Learning how to sharpen a chainsaw by hand is a heavy-duty job and not one that’s recommended for the beginner.
An electric chainsaw sharpener is the perfect solution for the beginner and the experienced handyman who doesn’t want to waste the time and effort it takes to manually sharpen a chainsaw blade. In this guide, I’ve included instructions for both methods. The sharpening method you choose should be based on your skill level and sharpening experience.
Using an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener
A dull chainsaw blade is completely useless. If you’ve ever used a saw with a dull blade then you know how dangerous and difficult the job can be. The difference between a sharp chain and a dull one all boils down to the shape of the tiniest tips of each cutter on the chain. Learning how to get this small detail correct is something electric sharpeners do well. I use the Granberg chainsaw sharpener. This isn’t exactly the cheapest electric chainsaw sharpener out there, but it does an excellent job of sharpening even the dullest chain and it can do so in fraction of the time it takes to manually sharpen one.
If you have a fireplace or wood stove and spend a significant amount of time chopping wood every season, then you definitely need to invest in an electric chainsaw sharpener. The steps I’ve included in this guide for electric models will help you quickly sharpen up a chain in a matter of minutes.
Getting to Work-How to Sharpen a Chainsaw
All types of electric chainsaw sharpeners come with a couple of adjustable stops. One of the stops will regulate the side to side horizontal position of each cutter that’s relative to the sharpener’s abrasive wheel. The other stop will regulate the grinding depth.
The sharpener’s horizontal stop will determine how much metal should be removed from the leading edge of each cutter on the chain. It’s this adjustment that you will want to fine-tune first.
Begin by examining the chain and look for any damaged cutters. With the sharpener, you must grind all the cutters down to this level, so the chain cuts evenly and will remain balanced. This is why you’ll need to adjust the tool to suit the worst cutter on the chain. The horizontal stops will rest against the back edge of one of the cutters, holding it at a fixed distance from the side of the wheel.
Next, you’ll place the chain in the holder groove and adjust the swivel table so that the abrasive wheel meets the chain at the factory ground angle. Most types of chainsaw chains are made with a thirty-degree angle.
The next step is turning the threaded adjustment knob found on the horizontal stop, so you can ensure that enough metal has been removed from the leading edge of the cutter to make it sharper. Begin by gently grinding one of the cutters and readjust the horizontal stop until you’ve gotten it just right.
Fine-Tune the Threader Adjuster
Make small adjustments to the threaded adjuster, which controls how far down the wheel chops. The adjuster must go down far enough to impart a hooded side profile. However, it should not go so far that it grinds down into a link’s main body.
Before you get started filing away the entire chain, try this adjustment on a few of the teeth. Make sure that you grind each cutter repeatedly for one second each. This should be done until full graining has been achieved.
Achieving a Good Edge
Because the metal at the leading edge of the cutter is very thin, it’s crucial that you don’t overheat it by grinding it for a long period of time. If you achieved a good edge, the chainsaw blade should look crisp and clean and will be razor sharp to the touch.
If the abrasive wheel’s edge darkens and doesn’t grind the metal as well as it once did, this means that the wheel has become glazed. If you run into this issue then you can always treat the surface of the wheel using a dressing stone until the original color has been restored.
A freshened wheel will have sharp cutting edges and a clean surface that can cut faster and will not retain as much heat.
Rotating the Chain
Since a chain has cutters that alternate rotation along a chain, you’ll need to use a chainsaw blade sharpener on all of the cutters on one side, then you’ll swivel the chain holder so you can handle the cutters that are pointing the other way.
Most pros recommend marking the starter cut using a permanent marker. This way, you’ll know exactly where you need to stop so you can save time that would otherwise be wasted accidentally regrinding cutters that you have already sharpened.
Depth Gauge Guide
Successfully sharpening a chain is mainly about shaping the cutters so they’re able to slice. However, it’s also about adjusting the height of another portion of the chain. This part of the chain is called the depth gauge.
A depth gauge is a curved, rounded extension of metal that is located in front of every tooth. They regulate the bite of each tooth as they slide over the material you’re sawing through. The height of the cutters can be reduced significantly after four to five sharpenings. Because of this, it’s necessary to reduce the height of the depth gauges. Without this type of routine maintenance, no chainsaw chain will be able to properly cut.
Filing Depth Gauges
For this job, you’ll need to begin by filing a depth gauge manually down to the correct height using a guide that has been made specifically for this task. It should be done with a flat handle file.
The chain on your saw will be stamped with a number that represents the number of thousandths of an inch that the depth gauge must sit below the cutting edge. You will use this filed down depth gauge to set up the depth stop so the wheel will grind all the other gauges to the correct height.
For periodic chain maintenance, using an electric chainsaw sharpener is ideal, however, you’ll need to change the sharpener’s abrasive wheel to an extra wide version that’s specifically designed for this job.
If you use your chainsaw for work or you cut up your own firewood each year, then you’ll need to be extra careful and efficient with this task. Sharpening a blade yourself will cost you less than taking it to a professional or replacing the chain.
Electric sharpeners deliver a huge boost in cutting efficiency not just because the sharpeners get the job done faster, they also produce a chain that cuts better than even a chain that’s brand new.
Manually Sharpening the Blade
If you want to manually sharpen the chain, you can leave the blade on the saw and clamp the saw in a vise to hold it securely in place. Make sure that you tighten the vise enough to keep it steady, but not so tight that it will crush the bar.
You can also remove the blade and secure it in the vise.
Chainsaw Blade Type
Not all chainsaw blades are the same. Each chain may have a different blade guide, depth of the guide links, and angle of the cutting teeth.
If you’re not sure what type of blade your saw has, take a look at the user’s manual.
Before you get started, you’ll need to know the cutting teeth angle and diameter. The teeth diameter is also the same size of the file that you’ll need to sharpen the teeth. Most blades will require a diameter that’s around 7/32”, 3/16”, or 5/32”.
The angle of the teeth will also vary ranging from ten degrees up to thirty-five degrees.
Tools for the Job
Most pros recommend using a stump vise to keep the chainsaw bar in place. You’ll also need to buy a file that has the right diameter for your blade. You can use a guide handle for the file.
Marking the Chain
Mark the chain on the starting area, using a permanent marker to prevent sharpening the same teeth twice.
Setting the Chain
Tighten the chain before you begin sharpening it, if you notice any slack. However, the chain should be loose enough so that you can move it along the grooves in the bar as you make progress when you sharpen.
Every blade is different, however, most blades will use a twenty-degree up to thirty-five degree sharpening angle. This angle must be maintained as you sharpen the blade.
If you’re using a filing guide, you’ll see the angles that are marked by a line that crosses the file guide.
Make sure that you correctly match the angle, keeping it parallel with the saw bar.
When you sharpen without using a file guide, you can use a piece of cardboard to make an angle guide and place it under the saw blade.
Built-In Filing Angle Guides & Depth Gauge Tool
You’ll find that some manufacturers place lines right on the top of a cutting tooth. These lines are depth guides that provide the proper angle for the teeth. Make sure the round file runs parallel to this line when you’re manually sharpening the blade.
Keeping the Round File Level
The round file should be perpendicular and horizontal to the bar at all times. Never allow the round file to rise or dip during the process.
The round file should be kept flat as you sharpen every tooth.
Start Manual Filing
A file will work on a push cut only, so you’ll only need to make a couple of passes to sharpen a tooth. The file should be placed in line with the right angle for the teeth, so you can make one stroke forward across each tooth.
As you’re filing, apply pressure back into the curve of the tooth, which will remove any burrs.
Once each stroke is complete, you can return the file to the starting position.
The worst teeth on the chain should be addressed first, then you can file the remaining teeth. You will focus on sharpening the alternating teeth, only going in a single direction on the chain until you’ve returned to the mark you made at the start of the process.
The chain should be rotated once all of the teeth running in one direction have been sharpened. Now, you’ll use the same technique to sharpen the teeth that run the other way.
Build Up Your Stockpile of Chainsaw Chains
Regardless of the type of sharpening process you use, it makes sense to have an extra chainsaw chain on hand that’s sharp and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Once a chain becomes dull it will not only cut poorly but it can also be very difficult to use.
Most people will simply remove the chain and replace it using a brand new chain. But if you cut through a large amount of wood, whether professionally or for home use, you’ll find that you go through chains rather quickly.
If you want to reuse your chains, I recommend always using an electric sharpener since it’s more efficient. Instead of using a chainsaw sharpener for just one chain at a time, you can wait until you’ve got a few dull chains in the garage and some downtime, then you can grind away and keep the spares chains in a plastic protective box. This way you’ll always have a sharpened chain on hand and ready to go.
Signs Your Chainsaw Needs to Be Sharpened
Sharpening a chain is not an everyday part of routine chainsaw maintenance. If you’ve never sharpened a chain before there are three things that you should watch out for that can indicate your chain needs to be sharpened.
- If you notice that your chainsaw has begun to spit dust instead of sharp wood chips it’s time to sharpen your chain.
- Pay attention to how difficult or easy it is to cut through wood. If you find yourself struggling and you have to apply more pressure to make simple cuts, then the teeth on the chainsaw chain are dull and must be sharpened.
- If the chainsaw blade seems to pull in a specific direction this indicates that one side of the blade is dull and needs to be sharpened.
If you ignore these signs that your chainsaw chain is dull you could be putting yourself in a dangerous position. A dull chain increases the chances of kickback while you’re cutting through thicker material. Not only can this result in major engine damage but you could also be seriously injured.
Now that you know how to sharpen a chainsaw using an electric chainsaw sharpener and a blade file, you can keep all of your chainsaw blades sharpened and ready for action. With an electric sharpener, the process is more efficient and can save you plenty of time. Additionally, using this method as opposed to manually sharpening the blade with a file, is a much easier process, so it’s a great choice for the beginner.
This tool is also an excellent option for the professional who does not have time to stay on top of keeping their chainsaw blades sharp and ready for work. While you can always manually sharpen a blade, an electric sharpener will allow you to get the job done in a fraction of the time.