How to Tell When a Chainsaw Chain is Worn Out?

A chainsaw is one of the most versatile tools around. They’re capable of tackling a variety of jobs like pruning heavy bushes, trimming branches and limbs, cutting down trees, and removing stumps. As powerful as your tool might be, the real muscle behind the tool is a sharp chainsaw chain (click for the top 10). Without a sharp chain, cutting wood is going to be exhausting, inefficient, and downright dangerous.

While some chains are more durable that others, even the best chains on the market are going to lose their sharpness and grow dull eventually. Ever wondered how you can recognize when it’s time to sharpen your chainsaw chain? Well, you’re in luck because in this article we’re going to share a few ways to tell if it’s time to sharpen your chain.

Poor Cutting Performance

A sharp chainsaw chain slices through wood easily. When your chain’s teeth are sharp, the tool will pull itself down into the wood that you are cutting, spitting out long, wafer-like wood chips as it works its way through the object.

If you find yourself trying to force the tool through the wood by exerting pressure on the tool and notice that the chain is spitting out sawdust instead of wood chips, then your chain is in need of a good sharpening.


The performance of a chainsaw should be smooth and fluid. Sure, there’s lots of friction happening during the cutting process but if your tool’s chain lubrication system is working and the chain’s tension is properly adjusted, your chainsaw should be perfectly able to cope with this friction.

If you notice smoke seeping out from the cut, it’s because the teeth are probably dull and are causing too much friction and heat build-up. This doesn’t only affect the efficiency of the performance, it can also damage your chainsaw. If you see smoke, it’s time to sharpen your chain.

Uneven Cuts and Shaky Performance

A sharp chainsaw chain cuts clean and precise, smoothly pulling itself through the wood. If the cut you’re making is digging deeper on one side, it’s because the teeth are uneven or are dull on one side Also, keep an eye on the “feel” of your tool while it’s operating. If it is bouncing back towards you or rattling is preventing you from getting an accurate cut, then it’s likely time to sharpen, or even replace, the chain.

How to Replace a Chainsaw Chain?

Replacing the chain of your chainsaw is one of the most common maintenance tasks associated with chainsaw ownership. That’s why it’s important to learn how to efficiently replace the chain on your own. Luckily, this job can be completed with a wrench that comes with most models or just a flathead screwdriver and a socket wrench.

The first thing that you need to do is remove the side panel of your tool’s guide bar. This plate is usually held in place by two nuts which you’ll remove with your wrench. With the nuts removed, simply take off the plate so you can access the chain. Take note if your chainsaw has a brake attached to the side plate. If there is a brake, make sure that you unlock it before removing the side plate.

Next, pull the nose of the guide bar away from the tool’s housing to release it from the tensioner. This will release the tension from the chain, allowing you to remove it easily. To remove the chain, work with the slack and pull the drive links from the guide bar, slipping the other end of the chain over the clutch drum of the tool.

With the old chain gone, it’s time to install the replacement. Find the tensioning screw which is located on the inside side of the guide bar and loosen it with a flathead screwdriver. Now, simply thread the new or sharpened chain around the clutch drum, ensuring that the drive links are engaged with the sprocket. Then thread the rest of the links along the groove of the guide bar and over its nose.

Once the chain is threaded along the guide bar, pull the nose of the guide bar away from the tool’s housing to add some tension to the chain, making sure that the guide bar is seated on the saw’s adjustment pin.

With the guide bar in position, you can replace and secure the side plate by lightly tightening the nuts. With the nuts not completely tightened, adjust the tensioning screw to the proper setting. Finally, once the tension is set properly, simply tighten the side plate nuts and your chainsaw is ready for action.

How to Tighten a Chainsaw Chain?

When you replace your chain, you’re going to have to adjust the tension as well. And since chains stretch and get loose during use, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to know how to perform this task long before it’s time to replace your chainsaw chain. The good news is that this is a relatively simple task that can be performed in a few minutes.

The project can be performed with the combination screwdriver/wrench that comes with many models or you can just use a flathead screwdriver and a socket wrench. The first step is to loosen the nuts found on the side plate of the chainsaw.

If your chainsaw has a brake attached to the side panel, make sure that it’s unlocked before removing the plate. Then find the tension adjustment screw that is located on the lower part of the side of the chainsaw’s guide bar.

Adjust the tension with the flathead screwdriver. To tighten the chain, tighten the screw. To loosen the chain, loosen the screw. To test the tension, pull the chain slightly. It should provide some slack but the drive links should remain engaged with the guide bar. If the drive links separate from the guide bar, the chain is too loose.

Once you’ve achieved the proper tension, lift the nose of the chainsaw while reinstalling the side plate and tightening the plate’s bolts. With the side plate secure, your chainsaw is officially back in service.

How Many Times Can You Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain?

Tearing through wood can wear down even the toughest chainsaw chain but by sharpening your chain, you extend its life while ensuring that it performs efficiently and safely. The important thing to remember is that chains can only be sharpened a certain number of times before they lose their temper and need to be replaced.

While there is no set number, most chains can be sharpened between 3 to 5 times. This number varies greatly depending on usage, operating conditions, and how well you’ve maintained the chain and bar. Other factors to keep in mind are the type of wood being cut and whether your chain is constantly striking dirt and hard ground.

Working in demanding conditions and neglect of the tool can cause the number of times a chain can be sharpened to greatly reduce. But for most users who are operating in good conditions, you can expect to get an average of 3 to 5 sharpenings before it’s time to replace your chain.

About the Author

Bob Robinson has been a tool enthusiast and lawn care expert for the past 11 years. First working with John Deere to reduce their impact on the environment, whilst building his love for writing in his spare time. Now, Bob runs the editorial team at BestofMachinery and tends to his garden in his spare time.

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