How to Change Chainsaw Chains In 9 Easy Steps

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By Jake Hill


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Are you in need of replacing your chainsaw chain but don’t know where to start? Look no further! This guide will walk you through the steps to safely and effectively replace your chainsaw chain.

A chainsaw’s chain is the heart of the tool, and taking care of it is key to ensuring it’s running at its best. However, when the chain becomes dull, it’s necessary to change it to bring back its sharpness.

If you don’t replace the chainsaw’s chain correctly, it can be costly, time-consuming, and risky. Using an old or rusty chain can cause your engine to overheat and kickbacks to occur.

In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to replace a chainsaw chain and get it back to working as good as new. Let’s dive in!

How to Tell When Your Chainsaw Chain Needs Replacing

Chainsaws are incredibly powerful tools, making them highly effective at the tasks they are designed for. However, with great power comes great responsibility. If not properly maintained, a chainsaw can be dangerous.

As the chain wears over time, it will lose its sharpness, making the work more difficult and increasing the risk for the operator. To ensure optimal performance and avoid potential risks, you must be aware of the signs indicating that the chainsaw chain is dull and in need of sharpening or replacement, which we’ve listed below.

  • More pressure is required on wood than usual: This indicates that the chain is dull and not cutting efficiently, thus requiring more force to cut through the wood.
  • Saw chain creating fine sawdust instead of rough threads: When the chain is dull, it will create finer sawdust instead of rougher shavings, indicating that the chain is not cutting effectively.
  • Difficulty achieving precise cutting positions due to rattling during the cut: A dull chain can cause the chainsaw to vibrate more, making it harder to control and maintain a precise cut.
  • Chainsaw starts to smoke despite being well-lubricated: A well-lubricated chainsaw should not produce smoke; if smoke is present, it could indicate that the chain is dull or damaged.
  • Chainsaw pulls in one direction, resulting in a crooked finish: A light chain can cause the chainsaw to pull in one direction, resulting in uneven or crooked cuts.
  • Blunt cutting teeth on one side or uneven teeth lengths: This can cause the chainsaw to pull in one direction and create uneven cuts.
  • Teeth hit rocks or dirt and have broken: Hitting hard objects like rocks or dirt can cause the teeth to break, indicating that the chain needs to be replaced.
  •  Noticeable missing tops on the teeth indicating chain replacement: Missing tops on the teeth can make the chain less effective and dangerous and needs replacement.

If you notice any of the above mentioned signs, then it’s time to sharpen or replace your saw chain.

How to Change a Chainsaw’s Chain

Now that you’re familiar with when to change your chainsaw chain let’s discuss the best practices and 9 easy steps for changing it:

Step 1: Remove the Chain Brake from the Chainsaw

Before you can put your chainsaw back together, you must first remove the chain brake. The chain brake is commonly located on the side plate of the chainsaw, and it can make it hard to put the chain back on if it’s not taken off.

Make sure to remove the chain brake first before disassembling the chain from the chainsaw.

Step 2: Remove the Side Plate from the Chainsaw

The side plate can be removed with a tool such as a screwdriver. Keep the screws in a container to find them easily once you’re ready to put the chainsaw back together.

Step 3: Release the Tension

To release tension on a chainsaw, gently pull the far end of the shaft away from the tool. This will cause the chain to become loose.

Step 4: Disassociate the Chain

Once the chain has become loose, gently pull it away from the chainsaw. In case the chain is particularly tight or rusted, it may be helpful to wear gloves while doing this step.

Step 5: Adjust the Tensioning Screw as Needed

A tensioning screw can be found near the bottom of the shaft of the chainsaw. Use a flathead screwdriver to gently turn it counterclockwise in order to make the reassembly process of the chainsaw easier.

Step 6: Put the Chain Back on the Tool

To reconnect the chain, thread it through the back drum, rotate the chain ring, and make sure that the drive links are properly aligned with the chain ring. Make sure to check that the chain is turning with the chain ring; if not, rethread the chain through the clutch drum and check again.

Next, return the shaft to its original position and align the guide bar after the chain has been installed around it. Once you release the pressure on the shaft in the second step, return the guide bar to its original position. Lastly, ensure it’s securely fixed in the chainsaw’s adjustment pin.

Step 7: Reattach the Side Plate to the Chainsaw

Once the chain has been reconnected, put the side plate back in its original location. Then, replace the bolts and screw them in using your hands, but you don’t want to overtighten them as the chain will need to be tensioned first.

Step 8: Adjust the Chain’s Tension

Tighten the tension nut on the bottom of the chainsaw’s shaft. Make sure it is securely holding the chain in place.

Step 9: Tighten the Chain

To properly set the tension on your chainsaw, use a screwdriver to adjust the tightness of the chain. This step is crucial before using your chainsaw to ensure safety and optimal performance.


How can you tell when a chainsaw chain is worn out?

When the chain is dull, you’ll notice that it creates finer sawdust rather than rough threads, meaning you’re sanding more than cutting. The chainsaw vibrations make it difficult to achieve accurate cuts, and the pull in one direction results in a crooked finish.

How often should a chainsaw chain be changed?

You can prolong the life of a chain up to 5-6 years by regularly sharpening it. However, if your chainsaw is not performing well even after sharpening and there are no other issues, it may be time for a new chain.

Is there a right and wrong way to install a chainsaw chain?

Because the chainsaw chain is designed to travel in a specific direction, running it in the opposite direction significantly reduces its cutting ability. The cutter blades on the chain only work in one direction, so if the chain is backward, it won’t be able to cut effectively.

Is it better to sharpen or replace a chainsaw chain?

Sharpening your chainsaw chain is definitely a worthwhile task as it makes cutting easier. Sharp blades require less effort to cut through wood, and the chain makes cleaner cuts.

Additionally, sharpening a chainsaw chain can be done multiple times without much cost, unlike replacing it with a new one.

Do you need to put chain lube on a new chain?

According to most major chain manufacturers, the lubrication that comes with the chain is perfect for riding, and you don’t have to remove it. All you need to do is to install it, ride, and re-lube as necessary.

Should a chainsaw chain be loose or tight?

A chainsaw’s chain should be adjusted so that it has a little bit of play on the guide bar but is still tight enough to keep the drive links from coming out of the bar nose.

In which direction should the chain be installed on a chainsaw?

The chain on a chainsaw should rotate clockwise, so make sure the sharp edge on the end of the chain is facing toward the motor and the right side. Double-check that the guide connection blades are also pointing in the correct direction.

Does hitting dirt dull a chainsaw?

When cutting close to the ground, it’s easy for the cutters to come into contact with dirt, rocks, and debris, which can quickly dull the blades. Furthermore, dirt can cause the chain links to wear out faster and cause the chain to stretch, as well as wear out the sprocket at the bar tip.

Can I sharpen my own chainsaw chain?

Yes, you can sharpen the chain on the saw while cutting, which will ensure optimal cutting performance and prolong the life of the chain.

Can I sharpen my own saw blades?

While steel-toothed circular saw blades can be sharpened at home using a file, however, it is recommended that you seek professional sharpening services for the carbide-tipped blades to ensure proper maintenance.

Carbide is extremely hard and requires a diamond wheel sharpener, and the process of sharpening carbide blades is complex; therefore, it is easy to ruin the blade if not done correctly.

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