Sharpen Your Chainsaw So It Cuts Like Crazy



 Autumn is the best time of year for cutting firewood in my book. The air is cool, bugs are gone and impending winter makes it easy to get excited about the need to stock up on homemade heating fuel, even if what you cut now will still take a year to dry before it’s ready to burn.

But despite all the reasons for getting excited about making your own firewood, the exercise depends entirely on having a sharp chain on your saw. This is key. A dull chain is as useless as it is dangerous, and relying on some professional shop somewhere to sharpen your saw for you is about as practical as relying on your parents to tie your work boots.

Unless you happen to cut wood within a few hundred yard of a saw shop, you really need to develop the skills to do the work yourself. After sharpening my own saws for 25 years with a file and guide, I graduated to using an electric chain sharpener a couple of years ago, and I certainly can recommend the Oregon unit I use. The results are outstanding – better than a new chain – though I still consider hand filing to be an essential self-reliance skill. Hand filing makes the most sense for casual chainsaw users because the tools you need are inexpensive and the skills required translate into greater competence no matter what how you sharpen your saw. To learn more about sharpening saws by hand with a file, check out my online tutorial on the subject at

Pay special attention to the section that covers adjusting the height of depth gauges. This is often overlooked and is the leading cause of an otherwise sharp chain not cutting up to its potential.

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

John LeDoux
11/3/2011 1:03:44 AM

I use a 'Dremel' with a grinding stone that matches the size of the chain like 3/16" or 5/32" and sharpen my chain in 5 minutes or less.

11/1/2011 12:04:54 AM

Steve: I note that your excellent blog on sharpening chainsaws had as related content 4 of my blogs on firewood and wood stove tips. We cut, split and stack about 11 cords of firewood a year and don't have the luxury of waiting for fall, but taking the time to touch up a chain in the process makes the job go much easier. It is easy to cut through a log and hit the dirt which quickly dulls a chain. It takes time to stop and touch up a chain but well worth the effort if you require on firewood for heat as we do. I have to admit however, I really hate to stop cutting to sharpen a chain. I have also found that filing into a tooth on a chain with the light effort on the down stroke sharpens the tooth better and results in a sharper tooth. A couple light strokes works better than hard strokes or back and forth strokes too.

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