Chainsaw Maintenance

Chainsaws are rugged, robust tools. Even so, they do need regular care to keep them running. Current and new owners may wonder what maintenance a chainsaw needs. We will discuss the regular chainsaw maintenance that you can perform yourself. Many of these tasks are part of regular operation and will be done at every use. Others can be done monthly, quarterly, or annually.

Know Your Chainsaw

If you are considering buying a new chainsaw or your first chainsaw, be aware that all chainsaws are not created equal. A top-of-the-line saw is designed to be maintained. Saws from big box stores or discount stores are not always so reliable. Experience will tell you that parts for off-brand chainsaw models are not always available. This makes some saws almost disposable.

The Purpose of YOUR Chainsaw

If you need a saw for occasional yard work, an inexpensive saw may be the way to go. You will use it for a couple of hours a couple of times a year. In this case, an inexpensive saw is a good choice. Proper chainsaw maintenance will keep it ready to go when you do need it.

If you need a workhorse that will last a decade or more, spend the extra few dollars and purchase a serious saw. A high-end chainsaw will usually cost more than $400. However, you will be able to maintain nearly every component on the saw. Barring any accidents, such a saw will provide reliable service for 20 years or more.

Chainsaw Maintenance Tips


It would be best if you took the time to read the owner’s manual that comes with your saw. Every manufacturer builds their saw a little differently than the other guys. The manufacturer will have specific maintenance intervals and operating procedures for the saw you have purchased. The first step to good chainsaw maintenance is knowing the specifics of your saw.

Tools You Will Need

Most chainsaws are designed to use standard mechanic tools. The manufacturer should provide any specialized tools with the saw. You should have the following tools on hand before you start:

  • Phillips and standard screwdrivers
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Socket set
  • Pliers
  • Any tool provided by the manufacturer
  • Appropriate chain file
  • Wire or plastic brush
  • Rags
  • Gloves

Daily Maintenance Tasks

Every time you take your saw out of the case for a job, these tasks should be done. Performing these tasks before each use will help to keep your saw operating safely and running well.

  • Clean the chain brake and check its function according to the instructions. Make sure that the chain catcher is undamaged.  Otherwise, replace it immediately.
  • Clean or replace the air filter as necessary.  Check for damage or holes.  Keep the muffler, air intake filter clean and the spark arrester in place.
  • The bar should be turned daily for more even wear.  Check the lubrication hole in the bar; to be sure it is not clogged.  Clean the bar groove, if the bar has a sprocket tip, this should be lubricated.
  • Check the function of the oiler to be sure the bar and chain receive proper lubrication.
  • Sharpen the chain and check its tension and condition.  Check the drive sprocket for wear.  Replace if necessary.
  • Check the starter and starter cord for wear or damage.  Clean the air intake slots on the starter housing.
  • Check for any loose nuts and screws and retighten if necessary.
  • Test the stop switch to be sure it shuts off the engine.
  • Check the cooling system of a saw fitted with a catalytic converter.
  • Use the correct fuel (gasoline or a gas/oil mix) recommended by the manufacturer.  For fuel mixtures, mix gasoline and engine oil according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Too much oil will make the saw run “dirty”; too little oil will damage the engine parts.
  • Do not use a saw in need of repair. Remove and replace any damaged parts

Safety Devices

There are several safety devices on a chain saw. To work, they rely on you to ensure they are functioning correctly. The manual will instruct you on inspecting and testing the safety features specific to your saw.


Be sure the trigger is moving freely. Debris or damage may cause the trigger to stick. If the trigger seems sluggish, check for debris that you can remove. If there is no obvious obstruction, take the saw to a certified mechanic.

Chain Brake

This device senses inertia from the chain to stop rotation in the event of kickback. The manual will have a chain brake test procedure. If the device does not function properly, take the saw to a certified technician to have it repaired.

Chain Tension

Adjust the chain tension in compliance with the manual specification. Ideally, the chain should not be tight against the bar. There should be a minimal amount of slack. The manual will specify the appropriate chain tension. Be aware that the tension may change during operation. Heat and vibration may cause the chain to become too slack or too tight. Stop the saw before making adjustments to chain tension.


Check the bar groove for wear or damage. Excessive wear can result in a derailed chain. If the bar is worn, replace it as soon as possible. If damaged, do not operate the saw until the bar is replaced.

Anti-Vibration System

The anti-vibration system may include springs and rubber bumpers. It isolates the handles. Check for broken springs or degraded rubber components. Rubber bumpers may dry rot and crack or become soft from use. Replace any broken components immediately. Degraded rubber components should be replaced as soon as possible.

Operational Components

These are the working parts of the saw that should be maintained at each work session. Addressing these items will keep your saw running and cutting as intended. The first step in good maintenance is proper set-up. Following these suggestions will help avoid problems in the future.

Gas / Oil Mixture

Two-stroke engines require a mixture of gas and oil to operate. The oil lubricates the inner workings of the engine. Use the amount and type of oil specified in the manual. Pre-mix the oil and gas in a gas can.

Fueling the Saw

Only fuel the saw when it is off. Make sure the saw is cool, then clean around the fill cap before opening. Dirt in the fuel tank is a common problem with engine operation.

See also  Make Your Own Penetrating Oil

Chain Oil

Use only chainsaw chain oil. Other types of oil will not lubricate the chainsaw chain properly. Improper lubrication can cause excessive bar wear and short-chain life. Wipe dirt from around the chain oil cap before opening. Dirt in the oil tank can plug the lubrication system. Before cutting, check that the chain lube system is working. The manual should have a guide for performing the test.

Chain Selection

Be sure to follow the manual’s specifications when selecting a new chain. Not all chains fit all saws. A chain has three specifications you need to adhere to Pitch, Width, and Link Count. A saw will not function properly with an incorrectly sized chain.

Chain Sharpness

A sharp chain is essential for a saw to be effective. A sharp chain makes your job easier and reduces wear and tear on the engine. With the engine OFF, carefully check the cutting edge of the chain teeth.

If there is a dull chain, use an appropriate file to dress them. It is wise to keep your chain sharp and have a few sharp chains on hand. Either sharpen your chain or replace the old chain with a new one.

If you are going to sharpen your chain, make sure you swipe the file in the same motion. If you’re not sure how to hold your file, you can purchase a file gauge at any home center to help.

In addition, be gentle with the depth gauges; they determine how deep the saw goes into the wood or other material you’re cutting. Make sure to file each depth gauge the same number of times.

Shut Down Procedures

A few tasks before putting your saw away will make for a quick start-up next time. Perform these tasks after the engine has cooled off.

Chain Tension

Loosen the chain. This will help extend the lifespan of the chain.

Oil Lube System

Shut off the oil lube system. Some saws will drain oil if the system is left on. If you plan on storing your saw for more than two months before the next use, drain the oil. If it is clean, it can be reused next time. You can always add more oil later.


If you plan to store your saw for more than two months before the next use, drain any gasoline into your oil mix gas can. It can be used later. Leaving gas in the saw for extended periods can lead to gumming issues in the system. Before storing the saw, run the engine to clear any fuel from the line and carburetor. You want to keep your gas fresh for optimal use.

Clean the Saw

Remove the chain sprocket cover and air cleaner cover. Brush or wipe out as much debris as possible. Remove debris from the bar and chain. An air compressor may be used with proper personal protective equipment. Be careful not to blow on the air filter, as this may force particles through the filter. Clean the air filter if possible. Replace it if it is dirty.

Starter Pull Cord

While you have the cover off, check the condition of the pull cord. If there are any frays or cuts, replace the cord as soon as possible. Put the clutch cover back on before storing.


Turn the bar after each use. Inspect for damage. This will extend its life.

Spark Arrestor

Check the spark arrestor screen on the muffler. Brush away any buildup. If the screen has a hole, is clogged, or has other damage, replace it.

Over All Check

When reassembling the saw for storage, check and tighten all fasteners. Be sure all covers are secured. We also recommend checking your cooling fins to ensure they are clean and working properly.

Monthly or Extended Period Checks

These items should be checked monthly or after extended periods of storage. If you use your saw heavily, you may want to check these items weekly.

  • Check the brake band on the chain brake for wear.
  • Check the clutch center, clutch drum and clutch spring for wear.
  • Clean the outside of the carburetor.
  • Check the fuel filter.  Change if necessary.
  • Clean the inside of the fuel tank.
  • Clean the inside of the oil tank.
  • Check all cables and connections.

Spark Plug and Cable

Remove the spark plug and inspect for wear. If wear is acceptable, clean, check the gap, and reinstall. If the plug is worn, replace it with a new plug. Set the gap on the new plug before installation. Plug and Gap specifications can be found in the manual. Inspect the plug cable before reattaching it.

Chain Brake Band

The chain brake band is a safety device that surrounds the clutch assembly. Check for wear or damage. If wear or damage is apparent, replace the band.

  • Always test the saw and brake before cutting.
  • Apply the chain brake with the saw held firmly in both hands and the engine running at operating power.  If the chain does not stop running immediately, have the saw serviced.
  • Remove the brake housing periodically and clean out any dirt, oil or sawdust.

Clutch Assembly

Check the clutch drum, spring, and bearing for wear. You may also want to lightly lubricate the clutch bearing with grease. Be careful not to get grease into the clutch. Only the bearing and clutch center require grease.

Fuel Tank

Inspect the tank for debris. Drain if foreign matter is in the tank. If there is an In-Tank fuel filter, inspect it and replace it if dirty.

Chain Oil Tank

Drain the tank and inspect. Remove any debris found in the tank.

Final Thoughts

A high-quality chain saw is a significant investment. Even an inexpensive saw costs a considerable amount. By performing regular maintenance, you can considerably prolong the life and performance of a saw. We have touched on most routine maintenance items a chainsaw owner may face. Most of these items are owner-serviceable.

However, if you feel unsure about any of these tasks, take your saw to a qualified shop. The few dollars you spend will be worth the expense. Your safety and your chainsaw’s longevity will benefit. Send us an email with any of the tips and tricks you use in your up-keep process.

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