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Sharpen Your Own Chainsaw Chain

Do you have a chainsaw that isn’t cutting like it should? Is it creating sawdust instead of nice little wood chips?  Maybe its time to sharpen your chainsaw. Now the question is, do you pay someone to sharpen your chainsaw or do you sharpen it yourself? My thought is there are three categories of chainsaw owners, each having different needs.

Different Sharpening Needs

The first is the infrequent user. This user may use their chainsaw just a few time a year. They may cut up tree branches, that have fallen in their yard, or cut some bonfire wood. This user may use a file to tough their chain up occasionally and have it sharpened by someone once a year.  At the other end of the spectrum is someone who has a firewood or brush cutting business. These users may require sharpening multiple chains on a weekly basis. Its probably more cost effective for them to spend the money on a high-quality electric sharpener.

Then there is the group that falls somewhere in the middle. I consider myself in that category. I cut between 25 and 30 face cord of firewood a year. This requires sharpening my two chains somewhere between 10 and 15 times a year. That’s beside touching them up with a chainsaw file between sharpenings. For this group, you may want to consider purchasing a lower quality electric sharpener.

Chainsaw sharpener
My Sharpener

Sharpener Considerations

The higher quality sharpeners can offer more precise and accurate sharpening, but most of them will cost you hundreds of dollars. However, many of the less expensive sharpeners can provide good service at a much lower.  I purchased my sharpener for about $30, four years ago. In that time I’ve sharpened the chains I’ve owned at least 40 or 50 times. That would have represents a cost of approximately $200 – $250, if I would have had someone sharpen them for me! There is also the convenience of being able to sharpen them whenever I needed to.

Benefits of Electric Sharpeners

When you sharpen your chainsaw, it is very important to sharpen all the teeth equally. This keeps the saw cutting nice and straight. That is why an electric sharpener works so well. Once you get the sharpener adjusted to clean up the first tooth, the rest of them on that side are sharpened equally. Then switch the angle to the other side and sharpen the teeth on that side.

The Downside of Less Expensive Sharpeners

Chain in sharpenerThe only downside I’ve experienced, with a less expensive model, was the accuracy of the sharpener. When I switch the angle from the teeth on one side, to the other side, they were not perfectly equal. You would grind more off one side, and that’s a no-no!  On the more expensive sharpeners, the angles are the same and should be for the price you are paying for them. By being uneven this causes you to spend a little more time making adjustments to sharpen both sides equally. It still only takes about 15 minutes to sharpen a chain.  To me, it’s worth the time.

This doesn’t mean every brand of sharpener that cost less than $50 will have this problem, but if it does, not all is lost. When the time comes to replace my sharpener, I will be looking for another $30 sharpener. If you know of a good quality, accurate sharpener, for less than $50, please leave a comment and share it with the readers.  That would be the best of both worlds!!

The Work-Around

After sharpening the teeth on one side of your chain, its time to change the angle to sharpen the teeth on the other side.  This is where you need to take care when using a sharpener that may have accuracy issues. Just like when starting the first side, carefully make an adjustment until the tooth is cleaned up.  Now continue sharpening the rest of the teeth on that side and you’re all done!

Sharpening Tips

First and foremost, always wear safety glasses when running any power tool, especially a grinder of any kind.  I would also recommend wearing earplugs as well.  Please consider reading my article on safety for home projects.  It has lots of good ideas.  Before beginning to sharpen your chain, mark one tooth with a marker or some paint, so you can identify your starting point. Then when making the initial adjustments, I darken the first tooth’s cutting surface with a black magic marker. This allows you to clearly see that the entire cutting surface has been cleaned up. This is a little trick I learned back when I worked in a machine shop, running a surface grinder.

If you hit an object while using your chainsaw, like a nail or a rock, you may need to go around the chain a couple of time to clean the teeth up. In this case, don’t try to grind it all in one pass. Go around once, then adjust it to take a little more and go around again. In most cases going around once will do the job.  A set of calipers is a good tool to help keep the teeth even from side to side when using sharpeners with accuracy issues, or when you use a manual sharpener.

chain tooth colored with a sharpie  Chain tooth with sharpie ground off  Measuring chain tooth with caliper  sharpening chain tooth with file


Save Time and Money

So if you cut a significant amount of wood, owning your own chain sharpener can save you money. I’m sure you’ll like the convenience of being able to sharpen your chainsaw whenever you need to. By keeping your chainsaw sharpened your saw cuts straighter and faster. This saves you time, fuel and wear and tear on your chainsaw. So don’t hesitate to buy a chainsaw sharpener and start saving time and money!