How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Better Than New

Reader Contribution by Steve Maxwell

Do you have trouble keeping a chainsaw sharp? Lots of people do, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. This is especially true once you realize how well electric saw chain sharpeners work. I’ve relied on a chainsaw to keep warm since 1988, and until 10 years ago I sharpened by hand with a file and a guide. The process worked and all that practice made me good at it. But my definition of “good” changed after I tried an electric sharpener about 10 years ago. Besides being at least 3x faster than a file, a machine-sharpened chain simply cuts better. Way better. In my days of sharpening by hand I could get an old chain to cut as well as a new one. My electric sharpener makes chains cut even better than new.

Of all the small homesteading tools in my life, a chainsaw is probably the single most important one. That’s because so much depends on a properly cutting chainsaw. We heat our home and workshop exclusively with firewood, plus all our domestic hot water. A chainsaw is also essential for keeping the forest from invading our fields. And when a destructive windstorm hits every once in a while, a chainsaw is the only way to cut through the tangled mess of downed trees and get out.

The only kind of electric saw chain sharpeners I recommend look like a miniature wood cutting miter saw. There are smaller designs than this that use tiny grindstones, but they’re too slow and the grindstones don’t last long enough to be practical.

Every pro-grade electric saw chain sharpener has two main parts. A clamp holds the chain firm at just the right angle, while the spinning grindstone swivels down into the leading edge of the cutter. Sparks fly, metal is removed, and a sharp edge is created.

Consistency is the reason electric sharpeners work so well. Once you have the machine adjusted for a given chain, it makes each cutter exactly the same. Cutters become so sharp you really do need to be careful not to cut yourself on them when you’re carrying the saw before firing it up.

The only drawback of an electric sharpener is the fact that you need to remove the chain from the saw before sharpening it. My way around this minor inefficiency is to have two or three chains ready for each of my saws. I replace a dull chain for a fresh one out in the field, then I sharpen them all at the same time back in the shop when I have time to get out the sharpener and set it up.

Over the years I’ve noticed a tendency for self reliant people to avoid tools or techniques that they consider “too fancy”. I used to do this myself. But eventually, something usually happens. Either the self reliant homesteader grows weary of the struggle and gives up, or they start working smarter and more efficiently with great tools. My tool collection is a lot fancier and more lavish than I ever wanted it to be 30 years ago when I started homesteading, and I’m sure this is one reason I’m still here enjoying a successful life with my family out on the land.

Download a free ebook showing how I sharpen chains using and electric sharpener:  How to Use an Electric Saw Chain Sharpener

Steve Maxwell and his family homestead on Manitoulin Island, Canada, on a little patch of farmland surrounded by a sea of forest. Connect with Steve Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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