New chain or sharpen yourself - how do you know?

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kingston73

Member
Feb 10, 2011
172
SE MA
Just wondering how y'all decide whether to sharpen your chain or replace it with a new one? I've tried sharpening myself but just with files, never with one of those jigs specifically for sharpening. How do you decide when your chain needs replacing? I know my chain is in need of help, I've used about 4 tanks of gas in the past week cleaning up after the storm and cutting some already downed trees before Irene and it's noticeably slower to cut even smaller branches now.

If I should buy a new chain, are there any brands or places that are much better than others? I know the closest place to me is HomeDepot which looks like mostly carries Oregon products.

Last question, currently I have the 16 inch bar that came with my saw (Poulan Pro 40cc), so if I'm going to buy another chain would it be a better idea to get a longer bar?
 

fabsroman

Minister of Fire
Jun 1, 2011
1,064
West Friendship, Maryland
kingston73 said:
Just wondering how y'all decide whether to sharpen your chain or replace it with a new one? I've tried sharpening myself but just with files, never with one of those jigs specifically for sharpening. How do you decide when your chain needs replacing? I know my chain is in need of help, I've used about 4 tanks of gas in the past week cleaning up after the storm and cutting some already downed trees before Irene and it's noticeably slower to cut even smaller branches now.

If I should buy a new chain, are there any brands or places that are much better than others? I know the closest place to me is HomeDepot which looks like mostly carries Oregon products.
I am kind of a rookie at this myself as far as maintaining the equipment is concerned, but I have done a lot of research. Pay attention to the size of the wood chips and the time it takes to cut. Do NOT use an extremely dull chain because you will just heat the chain up and ruin the temper. Me, I have 3 chains for each of my saws and have dulled up one so far by hitting the ground 2 or 3 times. That one cuts about 1/2 as good as it did when it was new, but it still throws pretty decent sized chips. Swapped it out anyway for a full chisel chain that cuts like butter, but I haven't used this chain that much.

From what I have read, Stihl makes some of the best chains. I just bought 5 of them. Replaced the chain on my dad's Craftsman saw and now it cuts really, really well. I am actually surprised at its performance versus what I have seen it do in the past. As far as I am concerned, a sharp chain is a must.

I am planning on getting a Northern Industrial chain sharpener come Christmas and learning how to sharpen chains. The Stihl dealer by me wants $15 per chain to sharpen them, which is cheaper than their retail price of $33 for a new chain, but I bought my Stihl chains for $15 to $18 on e-bay, so it makes no sense for me to get them sharpened for $15 each. Plus, the $130 electric sharpener will pay for itself in a couple of years at a $15 per chain price.
 

quads

Minister of Fire
Nov 19, 2005
2,744
Central Sands, Wisconsin
Sharpen your chain after every tank full, at least. Get a raker gauge and touch those up as needed. When the cutters are so small and thin that one breaks off, I replace the chain. Usually 30 cord or more for me.
 

Backwoods Savage

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2007
27,812
Michigan
When to replace? When you can no longer sharpen it.
 

amateur cutter

Minister of Fire
Aug 20, 2010
1,170
West Michigan
Learn to sharpen your own, best skill anyone that uses a saw can have imho. Some chains have a laser etched mark on the cutters that's considered the end of useful life. Like Quads, I sharpen mine till the first cutter breaks off, then toss them. Chain sharpening is not terribly difficult, it just takes a little practice. A file & joint tool is pretty inexpensive, easy to use, & will train you over time to sharpen successfully free hand. Hand sharpening results in longer chain life as you generally have to remove very little material to get the cutters sharp again.

I firmly believe that the best performance, & safety "modification" to any chainsaw is a good sharp chain. You'll cut faster & fatigue more slowly. Stihl has a good vid @ their website on sharpening chains. Have fun learning a very useful skill, you won't regret it. A C
 

Kenster

Minister of Fire
Jan 10, 2010
1,705
Texas- West of Houston
Get the right tools. Get a guide and watch some videos and just go at it. Go to Stihl.com for some great videos on all types of subjects regarding chainsaws.
I touch mine up with every other fill up. After about 20 hand filings I take it to my Stihl dealer who charges $5 a chain. Money well spent. You can get a decent electric sharpener at Harbor Freight for about $30 or so and a lot of guys on this board have gotten good results with them.

A dull chain is inefficient and dangerous.
 

CTYank

Minister of Fire
Sep 28, 2010
1,031
SW CT
I've been using Granberg's clamp-on-bar file guide (the same one) for about 35 yrs. Every couple of tanks, I use it for a couple of strokes per cutter, and they stay like razors.
IMHO, simplest way to extend life of engine, bar, chain. And a real safety-factor.
 

bpirger

Minister of Fire
May 23, 2010
632
Ithaca NY Area
A sharp chain is more important than the size of your saw....if you ask me. I resharpen with every tank of gas, or sometimes every other. Depends on what is being cut. If I touch the dirt, it is usually time to resharpen. When you cut with a sharp chain, compared to dull, you will know immediately by how quickly the chain cuts. There's a HUGE difference in this....and once you run a few tankfuls, you will know.

I feehand sharpen with the chain on the bar, the saw sitting on the work bench. You have to have the proper sized file....they are NOT all the same. Also, files will get dull....they have to be replaced too. I have some files that seem to stop working well after 6-10 sharpenings...others maybe worse. I buy files by the dozen...that will last a year or two cutting 6-8 cords a year. Keep all your chainsaw stuff in one box....stuff is easy to lose!

Get a wooden handle for your file. When you sharpen, you should see "dust" on the bench from the cutter. I typically do 3 strokes on each cutter. Angle is critical here....I typically follow that "laser etched line"...though perhaps not ideal. If you find yourself filing and not getting sharp, I'd say first make sure your file is sharp! If that's good, then you have the wrong angle. If you are cutting a 12" log and you get a "curve" to the cut, you have one side of the cutters sharper than the other. Typically I resharpen the whole thing and this will clear up. You'll know this when you see it....you can't cut a plumb log!

Sharpening is the MOST important thing for cutting wood. Now, combine a sharp chain and a nice saw, and cutting wood is a pure pleasure. With a sharp chain on my 371XP, I throw so many chips so hard that i get an abrasion on my right shin from the chips! yeah, I usually cut in shorts. It is a pure joy to cut this way. When the chain is dull, you are better off taking the 10 minutes to sharpen. Once you have figured out how to do this, you'll never cut with a dull chain again.

When I first started cutting my first load of logs 20 years ago, I think it took me 60 seconds to cut through an 8" log. I hand my grandpa's old homelite saw....a chain that couldn't cut butter....and files that i think my grandfather had used for 20 years! I thought files last forever....I thought I was sharpening the chain. NOT! I remember breaking down and buying my first saw, a Husky 41 I think, and I couldn't believe how it cut. I was a grad student at the time, and $200 blew my bank, but it was perhaps one of the most memorable moments of my life. WHAT A DIFFERENCE! I had never cut with anything else previously, so I had no idea what I was doing. I only wonder how my neighbors watched me take an hour to cut up a single 20' log and didn't stop and ask me what the H!LL I was doing. I could have cut faster with a buck saw....

Nothing more important than a sharp chain. If you don't know the difference, buy a new chain and run it for a few minutes. That's sharp! Anything else is a waste of time and hard on the chain/bar/saw.
 

Kenster

Minister of Fire
Jan 10, 2010
1,705
Texas- West of Houston
One thing we all missed.... I don't think any bar over 16 inch belongs on a Poulon 40 CC saw. My Stihl MS390 has 64CC and my 16 inch zings through wood (with a sharp chain.)
I wouldn't want to go bigger. I certainly wouldn't go bigger with a 40 cc saw.

This is not bashing your saw. It's well mated with a 16 inch bar.
 

amateur cutter

Minister of Fire
Aug 20, 2010
1,170
West Michigan
yeah, I usually cut in shorts.

I think/hope he's kidding. I'd recommend chaps & steel toes. Sharp or dull, a saw chain will do massive damage to human tissue in the blink of an eye.
 

RoseRedHoofbeats

Feeling the Heat
Oct 7, 2010
369
Salt Lake Valley, UT
So suppose one has an electric chainsaw (yes, I know, everyone here is now screaming and covering their eyes.) What's a good rule of thumb since I don't have a tank of gas to go by?

Those videos on stihl.com were great! Watching my dad sharpen a chainsaw about 10 years ago was the sum total of my experience, so those were very helpful, thanks!

~Rose
 

Kenster

Minister of Fire
Jan 10, 2010
1,705
Texas- West of Houston
RoseRedHoofbeats said:
So suppose one has an electric chainsaw (yes, I know, everyone here is now screaming and covering their eyes.) What's a good rule of thumb since I don't have a tank of gas to go by?

Those videos on stihl.com were great! Watching my dad sharpen a chainsaw about 10 years ago was the sum total of my experience, so those were very helpful, thanks!

~Rose
Rose, if you're working pretty much non-stop I would suggest taking a break every half hour or so and touching up the chain. The break will do you good and keeping the chain sharp will do you AND the saw some good.
 
M

MasterMech

Guest
Here's one nobody has mentioned yet: Drive links. Check the drive links on the chain for wear by comparing them to a new chain. If you notice significant wear/burs, toss the chain and then figure out why. Check your sprocket for wear grooves and your bar groove depth. You should clean the groove on the bar whenever you have the opportunity (With a tool, compressed air works but be sure you don't have any stubborn jams in there.) and make sure the tie-straps of the chain ride the rails of the bar and not just above it. Also make sure each rivet joint flexes freely.

+1 on those Stihl videos. They are very thorough.
 

fabsroman

Minister of Fire
Jun 1, 2011
1,064
West Friendship, Maryland
Kenster said:
One thing we all missed.... I don't think any bar over 16 inch belongs on a Poulon 40 CC saw. My Stihl MS390 has 64CC and my 16 inch zings through wood (with a sharp chain.)
I wouldn't want to go bigger. I certainly wouldn't go bigger with a 40 cc saw.

This is not bashing your saw. It's well mated with a 16 inch bar.
Yeah, I don't know about the 16" bar limit on a 40cc saw. My dad has a 40cc Craftsman with an 18" bar on it (i.e., what came with it) and it works just fine with a brand new Stihl full chisel chain on it.

I have an MS261 with a 50cc engine on it and an 18" bar and it does just fine too. Might have to look at horsepower instead of engine displacement. Heck, I am debating a 20" bar on the MS261 once it needs a new bar.
 

CodyWayne718

Feeling the Heat
Dec 11, 2009
404
Kentucky
Kenster said:
Get the right tools. Get a guide and watch some videos and just go at it. Go to Stihl.com for some great videos on all types of subjects regarding chainsaws.
I touch mine up with every other fill up. After about 20 hand filings I take it to my Stihl dealer who charges $5 a chain. Money well spent. You can get a decent electric sharpener at Harbor Freight for about $30 or so and a lot of guys on this board have gotten good results with them.

A dull chain is inefficient and dangerous.
The right tools! I looked at files and grinders on baileys awhile back and couldn't figure out what size files I needed or anything. I gave up!
 
M

MasterMech

Guest
CodyWayne718 said:
Kenster said:
Get the right tools. Get a guide and watch some videos and just go at it. Go to Stihl.com for some great videos on all types of subjects regarding chainsaws.
I touch mine up with every other fill up. After about 20 hand filings I take it to my Stihl dealer who charges $5 a chain. Money well spent. You can get a decent electric sharpener at Harbor Freight for about $30 or so and a lot of guys on this board have gotten good results with them.

A dull chain is inefficient and dangerous.
The right tools! I looked at files and grinders on baileys awhile back and couldn't figure out what size files I needed or anything. I gave up!
If you buy a new chain for your saw the package should tell you what size file you need plus angles etc.
 

laynes69

Minister of Fire
Oct 2, 2006
2,503
Ashland OH
I touch up the chain around every tank with a file. Makes cutting alot easier. If I hit metal or something hard, a have a cheap bench grinder from harbor freight I will grind the damage back. Works well for me.
 

RoseRedHoofbeats

Feeling the Heat
Oct 7, 2010
369
Salt Lake Valley, UT
Just picked up a set of hand files from Harbor Freight today and touched up the saw. Easy as pie and I could tell the difference right away.

~Rose
 

bogydave

Minister of Fire
Dec 4, 2009
8,426
So Cent ALASKA
I watch the cuttings. When the are more dust than chips, I touch my chain up with 2 passed on each tooth.
After a few hand touch ups, I know the chain isn't perfect but cuts OK.
After a few sharpenings, it may start pulling one way or another, pretty cheap (if it's a good quality chain) to have it
sharpened after a few hand filings.

I keep a few sharp chains in the tool box. Work a few seasons of cutting then take all then used ones in to get all the angles, tooth lengths & rakers tuned up.
A good evenly, machine sharpened & raker sized chain can cut circles around one I've hand filed a few times.

I alway have an old one with the rakers filed off for cutting ice if I want to to go ice fishing, (ice fishing tip::: square holes catch more fish ;) )
 
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