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Chainsaw Care 101: Avoiding Common Pitfalls for Longevity

When it comes to do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, having the right tools is essential. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding yourself stuck in the middle of a project because you’ve damaged your tool. This is especially true when it comes to chainsaws.

If you’ve never operated a chainsaw before, it’s important to understand that it’s not a simple task. Using one without proper knowledge and skill can lead to serious injuries or even damage to the chainsaw itself. Nobody wants that to happen.

So, let’s discuss the key things you should avoid to ensure you don’t harm your chainsaw and stay safe during your DIY endeavours.

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How To Ruin Your Chainsaw

It’s pretty easy to ruin your chainsaw. If you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll destroy it faster than you turn it on. But let’s not waste any time and get right into the easiest ways to ruin your chainsaw.

Knowing The Basics of Chainsaw Use

Chainsaws are commonly used for tasks like felling trees, trimming branches, and cutting firewood. However, using them correctly is essential. Just like other activities, there’s a specific technique to it.

Consider how golfers have their distinct swings, or baseball players have their unique batting styles. Similarly, arborists have their own proper way of using chainsaws.

It’s crucial to remember that chainsaws can be quite dangerous. But by mastering the correct technique, you’ll not only keep yourself safe but also safeguard the tool from potential harm.

To begin with, when dealing with chainsaws, it’s advisable to invest in a new one. Unless you have the expertise to repair small engines, it’s best to steer clear of tinkering with them to avoid any unnecessary risks.

Here are some basics that I will go into a bit more detail below:

  1. Protective Gear: Wear appropriate safety equipment, including a helmet with a face shield or safety goggles, hearing protection, gloves, and chainsaw chaps or pants designed to protect against cuts.
  2. Familiarize Yourself: Before starting the chainsaw, read the manufacturer’s manual to understand its specific features and safety recommendations.
  3. Starting the Chainsaw: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for starting the chainsaw. Ensure that the chain brake is engaged before starting the engine.
  4. Grip and Stance: Hold the chainsaw with a firm grip, using both hands. Keep your left hand on the front handle and your right hand on the rear handle. Maintain a stable stance with your feet apart and braced.
  5. Cutting Techniques: Learn the proper techniques for cutting, such as making sure the saw’s chain is properly sharpened. Make cuts at waist level or below, and avoid cutting above shoulder height.
  6. Clear Work Area: Keep the work area free of obstacles, and ensure no one else is in the vicinity when you’re operating the chainsaw.
  7. Chain Tension and Maintenance: Regularly check and adjust the chain tension to ensure it is properly tensioned. Perform routine maintenance, like chain sharpening and engine maintenance, as recommended by the manufacturer.
  8. Kickback Awareness: Be aware of kickback, a sudden and forceful backward motion of the chainsaw. To minimize the risk, always maintain a proper grip and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on avoiding kickback.
  9. Emergency Stop: Familiarize yourself with the chainsaw’s emergency stop feature so you can quickly shut it down in case of an emergency.
  10. Seek Training: If you’re new to using a chainsaw, consider taking a chainsaw safety course to learn the necessary skills and precautions.
chainsaw blade

Using The Chain Sheath/Guard

When you buy a brand new chainsaw, it’s going to come with a guard or sheath. This is to protect people from cutting themselves on the chain, but also, it is to protect the chain from people!

If you leave out a chainsaw on your workbench and bump into it, you risk dropping it on the floor or damaging some of the teeth on the chain. Or maybe you are down for the day and just walking back to put the chainsaw away. One simple bumping into a wall, or trash barrel, or car will damage the saw.

Spinning Blade Meets Immovable Object

Kickback is going to happen when you either pull away from or push towards an immovable object. The spinning chainsaw chain will climb up the immovable object which can kickback the chainsaw directly towards the operator.

Kickback can be fatal, so you need to be extremely careful for not only the chainsaw, but, and far more importantly, for yourself. More than 28,0000 chainsaw injuries1 happen every year.

Removing The Chain Brake

Okay, some professionals will probably disagree but removing the chain brake is ‘technically’ ruining the saw. You are removing a vital component from the chainsaw that prevents it from kickback… which means you are likely to get cut.

You should never remove the chain brake from your blade especially if you are not a professional. Hobbyists and DIYers alike please, just keep the brake on the chainsaw.

Loan Your Chainsaw with Caution

While it may sound amusing, lending your chainsaw to a family member, neighbour, or anyone unfamiliar with its operation can be a risky proposition. There’s a chance that the chainsaw may not return to you in the same condition you lent it out, especially if the borrower is not well-versed in its proper usage.

Cutting Through Soil, Mushy, or Decaying Trees

While it might seem like common sense, it’s important to emphasize that using your chainsaw to cut through dirt, rotting trees, or mushy materials is a surefire way to accelerate the dulling of your chainsaw blade. Not only will the abrasive qualities of soil and decaying wood wear down the chain rapidly, but there’s also a risk of experiencing kickback when the chainsaw comes into contact with the ground.

Here’s why this is problematic:

  1. Dull Blade: Soil, rot, and mushy wood contain abrasive particles that can quickly blunt the sharp cutting teeth of your chainsaw chain. Dull blades not only make cutting less efficient but also increase the likelihood of dangerous kickback.
  2. Kickback Hazard: When the chainsaw touches the ground or encounters unexpected resistance, it can result in a violent and potentially dangerous kickback. This can lead to a loss of control over the chainsaw and poses a significant safety risk to the operator.

To avoid these issues and maintain the longevity of your chainsaw, it’s crucial to use it solely for its intended purpose: cutting wood. If you need to remove a tree that has fallen or is in a challenging position, it’s best to clear the area around the trunk before using the chainsaw to avoid contact with soil or rotting wood. Always prioritize safety by wearing appropriate protective gear and using your chainsaw in a manner consistent with recommended guidelines.

Using the Correct Fuel for Your Two-Stroke Engine

When you’re dealing with a two-stroke engine, it’s vital to use the appropriate gasoline. Make sure you choose a gas can that contains the right gasoline-oil mixture. To avoid any mix-up, a helpful practice is to use a smaller gas can exclusively for the correct fuel mixture and clearly label it for easy identification. This ensures that you consistently use the right type of gas for your two-stroke engine, maintaining its performance and longevity.

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Sharpen The Chain Wrong

Most people have no idea how to sharpen a chainsaw chain. And therefore, most people sharpen the chainsaw chain incorrectly, dulling it or just flat out ruining it. Be sure not to do that. We’ll have a guide on this one soon.

Running the chainsaw with a dull, blunt chain is the worst thing you can do for the tool. Chainsaws only operate as good as their chain is sharp. Think about it – it’s designed to cut through wood. If you aren’t able to cut through wood, you’ll damage the bar.

Felling A Tree Bigger Than Your Bar

If you’re feeling adventurous and decide to take on the challenge of felling a substantially larger tree with a chainsaw that has a much smaller bar, you’re in for a tough lesson. Your chainsaw is likely to become lodged within the tree, leaving you in a sticky situation. When you attempt to extract it, there’s a high risk of your chainsaw bending like the letter ‘L’. To prevent this mishap, it’s advisable to use a wedge positioned behind the saw as a precautionary measure.

Not Priming The Chain

For mini chainsaws especially, most of which don’t have an automatic oiler, you need to remember to oil the chain. For standard-size chainsaws, there will be an oil reservoir you can fill but don’t forget it. Nothing will ruin your chain faster than running it dry.

Ripping Off The Choke Knob

Okay, this has never happened to me but some people accidentally rip the choke knob off the chainsaw. Can’t imagine it’s easy to start once you do that.

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Over-tightening The Chain

If you tighten the chain too much, you will ruin your chainsaw. It will overheat and stretch out the chain. Remember, the best way to tighten a chainsaw is to ensure there is a little bit of give on the chain so the part of the chain closest to the bar is just touching. We have an in-depth guide over at Sweet New Earth were we explain how to properly tighten a chainsaw.

Not Cleaning It

One common mistake that users often make is neglecting the maintenance of their chainsaw, and a key aspect of this is not keeping it clean. Chainsaws tend to accumulate a considerable amount of sawdust and debris during operation. Over time, if this buildup is not addressed, it can lead to several issues, including potential overheating of the clutch, which is a vital component in the chainsaw’s operation.

Here’s why it’s crucial to keep your chainsaw clean:

  1. Overheating: Sawdust and debris can accumulate in various parts of the chainsaw, including around the clutch. When the clutch overheats due to these obstructions, it can lead to a decrease in the chainsaw’s efficiency and may even cause damage to the clutch assembly.
  2. Reduced Performance: Sawdust and debris can clog air vents and cooling fins on the chainsaw’s engine, hindering proper air circulation and cooling. This can result in reduced performance and, in severe cases, engine overheating.
  3. Safety Concerns: A dirty chainsaw can also pose safety risks. Debris accumulation can obstruct the chain’s movement or other vital components, potentially leading to accidents or the chainsaw not functioning as intended.

To prevent these issues and ensure the longevity and optimal performance of your chainsaw, it’s essential to clean it regularly. This involves removing sawdust and debris from various parts, such as the chain cover, air filters, and cooling fins. Additionally, it’s a good practice to inspect and clean the chain and guide bar after each use to prevent premature wear and maintain cutting efficiency.

And That’s How You Can Ruin Your Chainsaw… Fast

Avoid doing anything on this list, and you should have your chainsaw for years to come. Over at Sweet New Earth, we pride ourselves on providing valuable tips and information to help you make the most of your tools and equipment while ensuring your safety. Proper chainsaw maintenance and safe usage are the keys to enjoying a reliable and long-lasting tool that serves you well in all your cutting endeavors. So, follow these guidelines and keep your chainsaw running smoothly for many productive years ahead.


Koehler SA, Luckasevic TM, Rozin L, Shakir A, Ladham S, Omalu B, Dominick J, Wecht CH. Death by chainsaw: fatal kickback injuries to the neck. J Forensic Sci. 2004 Mar;49(2):345-50. PMID: 15027558.

Author Bio

Carl Anderson

Carl Anderson is an avid outdoorsman with a keen interest in writing about and reviewing tools. He has over 20 years of writing experience and the only time he isn’t feverishly typing away at his computer is when he’s outside in nature working on his projects. You can learn more about him at Sweet New Earth.

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