Chainsaw Maintenance – 8 Basic Tips For Beginners

As I stood at my workbench today, looking at customers’ destroyed chainsaws, I started thinking about writing a blog post regarding proper chainsaw maintenance for beginners. If new users knew what to do for their new chainsaws, they could significantly extend the useful life of their equipment.

This post will cover the basics of chainsaw maintenance for individuals new to the operation of chainsaws.

Most problems that arise for chainsaws can be avoidable with proper maintenance and care.

Chainsaws make our lives considerably more manageable regarding outdoor cleanup and cutting firewood. Without chainsaws, our outdoor tasks would be way more difficult and time-consuming.

Like any tool, a Chainsaw needs maintenance for peak performance and long service life.

Chainsaw maintenance for beginner chainsaw users is completed by conducting the following 8 tasks:

  1. Keep Chainsaw Air Filter Clean
  2. Keep Chainsaw Spark Plug Carbon Free
  3. Use Only Fresh Properly Mixed Fuel in Chainsaw
  4. Use Correct Bar Oil in Chainsaw
  5. Inspection of Chainsaw Oiler
  6. Clean Chainsaw’s Guide Bar Rail and Oiler Holes
  7. Use a Sharp Chain on Chainsaw
  8. Store Chainsaw Properly

1. Keep Chainsaw Air Filter Clean

A chainsaw needs to be able to breathe to function correctly. Chainsaw’s intake air thru the air filter and exhale gases thru the exhaust, both of which need to be clear and open for the chainsaw to operate optimally.

The chainsaw’s air filter makes sure that the air being pulled into the chainsaw’s air intake is clean and free from dirt and debris that could damage the engine.

Over time air filters get clogged and effectively block air intake into the chainsaw. When a blockage occurs, the air-fuel ratio of the chainsaw changes, which makes the chainsaw operate in a non-optimal state.

In the case of old or damaged air filters, dirt may be able to pass by into the chainsaw’s air intake. Once the dirt has been ingested into a chainsaw, internal damage can occur. Damage can include loss of compression of the chainsaw or cylinder scarring.

Keeping a clean air filter is easy.

Cleaning or replacing your air filter regularly can help you avoid many problems with your chainsaw.

2. Keep Chainsaw Spark Plug Carbon Free

The spark plug provides the fire spark needed for the chainsaw’s engine to combust fuel. If the spark plug is weak and not firing correctly, the chainsaw will not run correctly.

A spark plug is composed of a terminal, insulator, central electrode, ground, hex head, and gasket. Over time a spark plug’s central electrode can get coated with a hard dark substance called carbon.

The carbon can cause a spark plug to have a weak spark or no spark at all.

The spark plug will often need to be replaced if the electrode is coated heavily with carbon. In a pinch, if you cannot purchase a new spark plug, you may be able to clean the spark plugs electrode with a small hard bristled brush.

In some cases, the carbon will be too thick and hardened, cleaning will not work, and the chainsaw will require a new sparkplug.

3. Use Only Fresh Properly Mixed Fuel in Chainsaw

Fuel is the lifeblood of the chainsaw. Bad or improperly mixed fuel can cause a chainsaw to run improperly, not start or destroy a chainsaw internally. Good properly mixed fuel is critical to a chainsaw operation on longevity.

Fuel needs to be both FRESH and MIXED PROPERLY for your particular model of chainsaw.

What does it mean for chainsaw fuel to be fresh?

Fresh fuel has not started the decay process that comes from aging while sitting in a fuel container. Yes, fuel can and will decay just like any other perishable item.

Never use fuel more than a month old as a rule of thumb. If your fuel is older than a month, it is best to dispose of it instead of running it in your chainsaw.

Once the fuel has started the decay process, it does not combust appropriately, and your chainsaw will not run correctly, if at all.

Another problem with aging fuel is water. Nowadays, the fuel we have contains ethanol, which can pull moisture from the air and into your fuel. Water in the chainsaw fuel is terrible for the chainsaw’s engine and can lead to catastrophic engine failure.

The engine damage can occur when the fuel with water goes through a process called phase separation. Phase separation is when the water in the fuel separates the mixed fuel into different parts. Once the mixed gas is separated into different layers, the oil in the fuel rises to the top of the fuel tank leaving the water and fuel at the bottom of the fuel tank. The chainsaw’s carburetor pulls the fuel from the bottom of the fuel tank and therefore pulls straight fuel and water into the engine void of any oil lubrication. This can and will cause a lean seizure in the chainsaw’s engine if run long enough.

In most cases, a damaged cylinder, piston, and rings in a chainsaw is a catastrophic failure because the cost of the repair will be close to if not more than the price of a new chainsaw.

What does it mean for chainsaw fuel to be mixed properly?

Properly mixed fuel is fuel mixed with the specific fuel to oil ratio according to the owner’s manual of your specific model of chainsaw. Typical fuel mix ratios used in chainsaws are 50:1 and 40:1

BrandStihl ChainsawHusqvarna ChainsawPoulan ChainsawFuel Ratio Mix50:150:140:1Example Fuel Ratios for Stihl, Husquvarna, and Poulan Chainsaws

Using the incorrect fuel mix ratio in your chainsaw can lead to internal engine damage caused by not having enough oil or carbon build-up by having too much oil.

Chainsaws are designed with a specific fuel mix ratio in mind. Be sure you read your chainsaws owner’s manual to get your chainsaw’s fuel mix ratio.

It’s easy to avoid fuel-related problems by using fresh, properly mixed fuel from the beginning. If you doubt the gasoline you have, it’s best to dispose of it and start with a freshly mixed can.

4. Use Correct Bar Oil in Chainsaw

Bar oil is used to lubricate the chain as it rotates around the guide bar.

Will any type of oil work for chainsaw bar oil?

The answer is absolutely NOT.

Chainsaw bar oil is designed to be tacky enough to stick the chain and guide bar while providing lubrication at the same time. If regular oil is used in place of chainsaw bar oil the bar and chain will build up heat and wear due to the oil being slung off the chain as it rotates. Regular oil is not tacky enough to be used as chainsaw bar oil.

Chainsaw bar oil is also designed to be more environmentally friendly than standard oil. If you are using regular oil for bar oil, you are slinging environmentally damaging oil out into your environment. Using regular oil in place of chainsaw bar oil is not a good idea.

5. Inspection of Chainsaw Oiler

This tip goes hand in hand with tip number four’s recommendation of using correct chainsaw bar oil.

Now that you have the correct bar oil for your chainsaw, you need to make sure that the chainsaw’s oiler is functioning correctly. This can be done in two ways and only takes a second to check.

The first way to check the chainsaw oiler is to start and run the chainsaw as normal. Before you make contact with the wood for your first cut look and see if you a light oil mist coming from the chain onto the wood. If the chainsaw is oiling correctly, you will see a light line of oil on the wood directly in front of or beneath the chainsaw chain and bar. If no oil is present, kill the chainsaw and inspect to see why the oil is not getting to the bar.

The second way to check the chainsaw by oiler is to remove the chainsaws chain, guide bar, and chain cover. You should be able to see the oil hole of the chainsaw. The oil hole is where the chainsaw expels oil to oil the chain and guide bar. Clean the oil from around the chainsaw’s oil hole and reassemble the chainsaw without the chain and guide bar. Once the chainsaw is back together, start and run the chainsaw for approximately 30 seconds. Now kill the chainsaw’s engine and remove the side cover again. If oil is dripping from the oil hole, you know the oiler is working.

If there is no oil present, you will likely have an issue with the worm gear or oil pump on the chainsaw and will need to take the chainsaw into a service center for repair.

6. Clean Chainsaw’s Guide Bar Rail and Oiler Holes

Now that your chainsaw is oiling correctly, you need to turn your attention to the guide bar itself.

The chainsaw’s guide bar rail and oiler holes must remain clean and open. Over time the rail and oiler holes can become clogged with dirt, dust, and debris, which can hinder the effectiveness of the bar oil.

The rail of the guide bar is the opening around the edge of the guide bar that the drag link of the chain sits in while it rotates.

If the guide bar rail is dirty, the oil can not travel efficiently with the chain’s drags links around the guide bar, which causes a build-up of heat. Heat on a chainsaw’s guide bar and chain will lead to your guide bar and chain wearing out quickly. Heat needs to be avoided as much as possible.

Also, the oiler holes on the guide bar itself need to remain clean and open. If the oiler holes become plugged, the bar oil can not pass from the chainsaw’s oiler to the guide bar. If no bar oil is transferred to the guide bar, your chain and bar will basically be run without lubrication. This will lead to heat quickly building up, and you are left with a ruined guide bar and chain that will need to be replaced.

7. Use a Sharp Chain on Chainsaw

Using a sharp chain on a chainsaw is often overlooked by the beginner chainsaw user.

A sharp chain will pull itself toward the wood. The user will simply need to guide the cuts of the chain and let the saw work. When a chain is sharp, the chainsaw will produce wood chips as it works its way through the wood. Cutting almost feels effortless when your chain is sharp.

On the flip side, a dull chain will feel like it is resisting cutting and almost bouncing across the surface of the wood. When this happens, the chainsaw operator will have to press down on the chainsaw and run the saw harder to get it to make any cutting progress. The chainsaw will be exposed to more wear and tear, not to mention dangerous aspects of cutting with a dull chain. Also, sawdust will be produced by the dull chain instead of the wood chips produced by the sharp chain.

8. Store Chainsaw Properly

This is where most beginner chainsaw operators make mistakes.

Most beginners will use their new chainsaws for a task at hand and simply store the chainsaw in the shed or garage when done. In most cases, the chainsaws are put up dirty and with fuel still in the fuel tank and carburetor. This is a major no-no.

Always clean your chainsaw upon completion of a job. You don’t want caked dirt and grime all over your new chainsaw for extended periods of time in a hot garage or shed. The next time you need your chainsaw, it will be a nightmare to clean.

Also, the fuel left in the fuel tank and carburetor can decay and will more than likely pull water out of the air and into your fuel tank.

Remember, decayed fuel will make your chainsaw run poorly and water can destroy your chainsaw. Always dispose of the non-used fuel in the chainsaw’s fuel tank properly and run the carburetor dry if storing your chainsaw for more than a month.

Spend a little time properly storing your chainsaw and you will save a ton of headaches in the future.

Wrapping Up

Keeping a chainsaw in proper working order is done by completing maintenance on a routine basis.

The beginner chainsaw user can extend the longevity of their new chainsaw and save money by following the eight basic tips of chainsaw maintenance explained above.

Have a great day and happy cutting!

Steven R

I have been part of the chainsaw and outdoor power equipment business in one way or the other for over 35 years. There are not many things that I have not seen in the business. From repairs, sales, equipment operation, and safety I can help you with your questions.

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