How to Sharpen a Chainsaw by Hand with a File

When you own a chainsaw, you get satisfaction the most when the usual chainsaw becomes very sharp and effective. Think about it. I am sure you would be feeling amazing. With a properly sharpened chainsaw, the time-consuming and stressful task of cutting trees becomes effortless and quick.

Now chainsaws are used both by professionals and beginners to cut wood and trees. Even if the chainsaw is strong and powerful, but its blades have become dull, it won’t be able to cut. 

A chainsaw is a power-cutting tool, and it can be sharpened even at home within a few minutes. It should be ensured by its user that the chainsaw chain is sharp all the time.

Dull Chainsaw Blade

If the chainsaw blades have become dull while cutting through the wood, the chainsaw will cause buckling and burning, which can be very dangerous. 

There can be kickback due to which even the hands of the user can get damaged. Thus, it becomes extremely necessary to sharpen the chainsaw from time to time. With a sharpened chainsaw, the work done will always be effective. 

A chainsaw can be sharpened by a professional if you take it to a service center, but if you want to save money and time, it can be done at home as well. It is not a difficult task and just needs the right equipment.

Things Required

Filing a chainsaw by hand with a file requires the following things

  • A filing kit contains round files, flat files, file guides, and depth gauges.
  • A pair of gloves.
  • To avoid injury, you should have protective eyewear as well.

Steps to Follow Before Sharpening the Chainsaw

There are certain things to be done before you sharpen your chainsaw. These are mentioned below in a stepwise manner –

Step 1. Before sharpening the chainsaw, you should know certain things like the chain type and the specifications of the right sharpening angle.

Information about this is mostly present in the manual provided, along with the chainsaw.

The drive link of the chain contains an identification code that can be used to find the information regarding the chain online as well. But in case you are not able to find out the number or type of the chain, you can check the details online or take it to the nearest chain dealer.

Step 2. While sharpening, you should always wear protective clothing and gear like eyewear and gloves.

Step 3. If you do not want to remove the chain from the chainsaw bar while sharpening, it should be ensured that the chain is tensioned properly before sharpening.

Step 4. The chain should be properly cleaned before sharpening. All the stains of oil and grease should be removed from it. This prevents the building up of dirt during the filing of the teeth.

Step 5. The chainsaw chain has to be checked thoroughly for any signs of damage. The installation of the three tie straps and drive links should be done properly.

Look carefully for any cracked and broker cutters, tie straps, or cutter top plates. If any cracked, bent, or burned drive links, you should replace them before sharpening them.

If there is a worn-out and damaged chain, replace it. Look for any wear patterns as it indicates worn-out bars or sprockets. Try to rotate the rivets with your fingers, and if it can be done easily, it indicates that these are not tight. 

Step 6. For sharpening the chainsaw saw by hand, you should be ensured that the correct file guide and file have been selected.

Step 7. Replace or repair the broken chainsaw chain if present.

Step 8. It is essential to check the depth gauge properly and adjust it accordingly.

Step 9. Based on the recommendations by the manufacturer, the chainsaw should be sharpened as this ensures that everything is balanced.

Also Read: Best Chainsaw Sharpeners review

Things to Know Before Using a Chainsaw Sharpener

It is important for the user to have easy handling during sharpening and for this, use a rotary dresser or a dresser brick.

  • The brake of the chain should be engaged, and for this, it is essential to clamp the chainsaw bar in a vice.
  • The chainsaw guide should be placed in between the rivets on the chain and adjusted accordingly so that the arrow on the guide must be pointing towards the nose of the bar.
  • Always maintain proper angle while sharpening. The angle printed on the outer plate of the saw should be followed.
  • Also, the filing should not be too deep, and this can be prevented with the help of the rollers on the guide. Thus, the side plate of the chain does not get damaged. 
  • The strokes by the file must be even and steady, and this should be continued until the cutter becomes shiny silver.
  • Once 2-3 cutters have been sharpened, the brakes have to be released, and the chain has to be rotated forward or backward so that more blades can be sharpened.  When this is done, the brakes have to be rearranged, and more cutters are filed.
  • Once all the blades on one side of the chain are sharpened, the chain has to be turned around. This enables the user to sharpen the blades on the other side of the chain also.
  • The height of the depth gauges on the chainsaw should be adjusted, and for this, the depth gauge tool and file have to be used. If the height of the depth gauge is more, the cutters will not reach the wood.
  • The chainsaw chain should be sharpened every time the gas chainsaw is refilled with fuel.
  • The chain should be kept away from the dirt even after sharpening as this prevents the chainsaw from getting dull quickly.

When to Sharpen the Chainsaw?

A dull chainsaw is of no use, and at this time, it needs sharpening. To know whether the chainsaw needs sharpening, you have to try to cut or saw with it and observe the waste material from the saw cuts properly.

If you get fine sawdust, it means the chainsaw needs sharpening. But if on cutting, you can get chips, it indicates the cutters are sharp.

If a chain is sharp, it will cut very well with very little force. With a dull chain, the user has to apply much pressure while cutting.

If the chainsaw chain is dull, the cutting time increases, and it becomes less effective.

It is also dangerous to use a dull chain as the chances of kickback increase. In this, the chain may get caught in the material and can throw the bar towards the operator, due to which the user can get an injury.

Anatomy of the Chain – Three parts of the Blade Which Needs to be Sharpened

The user needs to inspect the cutters on the chain loop before starting the process of sharpening. With the help of a round file, it is easy to sharpen the semi-circular cutting edges on the chainsaw.

Each cutter has a depth gauge gin in front of it, which controls the depth of the cut into the wood. The saw is designed to cut straight as the angle ground on the cutter alternates between the right and the left.

The semi-circular cutting edges of the saw teeth have specific diameters, and for sharpening this, the round file of the same diameter has to be used.

There is a depth gauge in front of each cutter, a metal piece that looks like a fin. Compared to the tip of the cutter, the tip of the depth gauge is a little shorter, which helps to control the cutter’s depth that the cutter can make into the wood.

It is seen that if the chainsaw is sharpened several times, the level of the cutters and the depth gauge becomes the same, and the chainsaw cannot cut wood in the right way.

The depth gauge can be lowered to a suitable height by using a flat file and a file guide.

If the cutters have become dull due to normal use, then it is easy to sharpen them.

Tools for Sharpening

Tools are required to sharpen a chainsaw chain properly. These are a round file, file guide, a flat file, and a depth gauge. It is advised not to use a rat-tail file on the cutters.

1. Round file

Based on the diameter of the cutter, a round file has to be selected. It should be of the same diameter. For medium-duty chainsaws, the commonly used diameters are 3/16, 5/32, and 7/32 inches.

The manual provided with the chainsaw can also be used to know about the requirements of the chainsaw.

In any case, you should not use a rat-tail file as these have tapered diameter and coarse teeth, which can damage the cutters of the chainsaw

2. File guide

For holding the round file at a uniform depth, a file guide is used. This makes the sharpening process easy.

3. Flat file

A flat file and the depth gauge are also required during the sharpening process.

It should be ensured that the filing is done at the right angles. For this, the round file is mounted in the file guide, and the file is held at an angle of 30 to 35 degrees to the chainsaw bar in a horizontal position, and vertically, it should be at a right angle.

With this arrangement, filing can be started. Each stroke has to be counted, and for each cutter, the same number of strokes should be used. This ensures accurate and perfect sharpening.

Sharpening a Chainsaw by Hand with a File

Following steps have to be followed while sharpening a chainsaw by hand.

1.     Make strokes away from the body – If you are using a file for sharpening the chainsaw, ensure that the file is kept at 30-35 degrees to the bar, and strokes are made outwards away from your body. It is beneficial to cut a slot in a log that would help hold the bar during sharpening. With the help of the file guide, all the cutters can be filed to the same depth and shape.

2.     Make use of the file guide – The cutter must be lined up with the file, and this can be achieved by looking through the file guide. After filing a cutter, the file has to be moved to the other side of the bar so that other cutters can be sharpened as well. After six to seven cutters have been filed, the chain has to be allowed to move. While doing this, gloves should be used, which is essential protective gear.

3.     Kerf cut – While sharpening, it is essential to keep the saw bar secured,, and for this, a 2 inches deep kerf cut is made into the wood in which the saw bar is kept. After this, the file and file guide has to be placed into a cutter on the top and towards the end. The cutter with which the sharpening process has been started should be marked and on its top, a mark with a felt-tipped point is made. This will help you to recognize the spot from where the process has started. Also, the ground angle with the cutter has to be set.

4.     Strokes – The proper angle on the blades have to be maintained throughout the process and while doing so, you can make a stroke with the file, which should be away from the body but parallel to the ground. You may feel slight vibrations in your hands during the first few strokes on the dull cutter, but these vibrations are normal. For a single cutter, only 5-6 strokes are required and then take a pause. When the outer edge of the cutter has a sharp look, it means the cutter is perfectly sharpened. Then skip a cutter and file the next one, and the number of strokes should be the same as in the first strokes. This is because the cutting angles on the cutters are in the reverse direction on every other tooth.

5.     Continue filing until the blur is formed – A cutter is sharpened when the burr is formed in its outside edge. After sharpening five cutters, the brake has to be disengaged, and the chain has to be pulled along the bar. This will make other cutters exposed for sharpening. The sharpening process has to be continued till you reach the tooth again, which was marked. This indicates that all the cutters of that side have been sharpened. At this time, the other side of the bar has to be sharpened, and for this, you need to follow the same process for the opposite side of the chainsaw chain. On this side, the same number of strokes has to be used on the opposite side.

Filing of Depth Gauge with the Filing Guide

The filing guide is an important tool to check the height of the depth gauge, and this has to be done every time you sharpen the chainsaw.

If you find the depth gauge is above the guide, you need to file them with a flat file. The depth gauge is also present in front of the cutters, and the height of these has to be checked as well, which can be done by using the depth gauge guide.

The gauge is placed on the blades, and the slotted ledge is placed on the depth-gauge fin. If it is found that the fin is higher than the ledge on the guide, it should also be filed with the flat file but lightly.

Comparison between the Old Chainsaw and the Sharpened Chainsaw

Worn out chain – A chainsaw chain can be sharpened about 10 times before it gets worn out and then it is required to be replaced. If there is uneven wear out of the cutters after a few sharpening, the professionals can regrind them so that they gain a uniform shape again.

Same angle – When the bar is clamped to the guide, the file remains at the same angle as each cutter. You may take a little longer to use it, but the cutting edge is always restored to the ground angle. Thus, professional help in sharpening the chainsaw is less likely to be required.

Pulls to the side – If you observe that while cutting, the chainsaw pulls to the side, it means one side of the saw is sharper than the other side. Thus, each side of the cutter should be sharpened with the same number of strokes and with the same amount of pressure. This will ensure that the chainsaw makes a straight cut.

New Chain – You may be required to buy a new chain for your chainsaw if you have used it for a few years. But you may face some problems with the new chain as it may cause rough cutting and may also get worn out faster. Thus, it is recommended to buy three chains at a time and switch among them while using the chainsaw. This will ensure that fitting among the bar, chains, and sprockets is always perfect. Also, you will be able to use your chainsaw for a longer time.


After going through the above article, you must be sure that sharpening a chainsaw by hand is not a difficult task.

It requires practice and patience and with the help of files and guides, you can sharpen the chainsaw chain within 10 minutes. With the help of the sharpening process, a dull chainsaw can be converted into a sharp tool that will be more effective.

While working with any of the tools, safety should be given the most importance. Never forget to wear gloves and protect your eyes. Have a safe sharpening! 

9 thoughts on “How to Sharpen a Chainsaw by Hand with a File”

  1. Using a file to sharpen a chainsaw chain is a very easy method. It is simple to do and I learned this technique from this article only. Thanks for the wonderful and informative article. It has made my life so easy. Now, I don’t have to bother to buy an electric sharpener, the file is very helpful to me.

  2. I always consider that sharpening a chainsaw with a file would be very difficulty and tiresome job but this article realized me that it can be done in an easy way. The steps mentioned are explained in detail and I find it to be simple too. I am surely going to try this method next time to sharpen the chainsaw. Using a file is cost effective as well.

  3. A sharpened chainsaw is the best to work with and using a file to sharpen it makes the task even more easy. I totally agree with the information mentioned in this post. It can help many people who are new to chainsaws and don’t know much about its sharpening method. I must say this website is well maintained and every information is true.

  4. Thanks for a wonderful information about using a file for sharpening a chainsaw. It is very useful for everyone who is a regular user of chainsaw. Even the anatomy of the chain of a chainsaw is explained nicely which will help the readers to use the chainsaw even better. I must say everyone who reads this post will get benefit for sure.

  5. Before sharpening a chainsaw, it is essential to follow some steps which help in getting the best results. I did not know about this earlier but after reading this post, I understood the various steps. These helped me to get perfectly sharpened chainsaw. Thanks for guiding us in a right way.

  6. Thanks for the information on using a file to sharpen a chainsaw. It is also mentioned that you should use a rotary dresser or a dresser brick while sharpening. It is an essential point which I could not get in any other website. With this, my chainsaw is perfectly sharpened every time. I must say, this is the best website to read about various sharpeners.

  7. My chainsaw has become dull as the cut wood chips are not fine. I think its the time to sharpen it. I would be doing for the first time as I got confidence after reading your posts. I have bought a file to do so. Lets see if I am able to do it successfully. I will update the result soon.

  8. Sharpening a chainsaw with a file is an easy method but it require a depth gauge also. I want to know if I do not have a depth gauge, can I still sharpen the chainsaw? Please provide your guidance on this. I would be very grateful for this help. Thanks a lot.

  9. Chain is an important part of the chainsaw and its entire working depends on the sharpness of the chain. To get it perfectly sharpened, it is important to understand the anatomy of the chain in detail. In this page, this is mentioned in detail and I understood it completely. This helped me to get better sharpening of the chain.


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