Last Updated on May 2, 2023 by Barry Gray
Whether you are considering getting a chainsaw or already have one, and it’s starting to cut less efficiently, you may well be wondering when you will need to replace the chain. So, how long do chainsaw chains last?
The lifespan of a chainsaw chain depends on various factors, but especially on the frequency of use. Commercial operators may only get six months lifespan, whereas occasional users may get more than ten years. Other factors affecting chain lifespan include chain type, lubrication, and sharpening.
As a damaged chain can be a safety hazard, it’s essential to know how to look after your chain and know when to replace it. Let’s examine the factors affecting chain lifespan so you can get the most out of your chainsaw chain and use it as safely as possible.
Factors Affecting Chainsaw Chain Lifespan
The lifespan of your chainsaw chain will depend very heavily on how much you use it.
If you use your saw every day for tough jobs, as commercial loggers do, you will probably only get six months out of the chain. On the other extreme, if you only do the occasional trim and pruning around your property, you may get more than a decade’s use out of one chain.
A chain will not wear out in storage unless it becomes too rusty. So, if you care for it properly in storage, a chainsaw chain can sit for years without deteriorating.
On the other hand, no matter how well you look after it, using it to cut wood will cause the cutter blades to wear down. The drive links will also gradually wear with use.
Average home use involving trimming, some firewood cutting, and the occasional cutting down of a tree will result in a lifespan of approximately five years.
How To Look After Your Chainsaw Chain
Other factors also affect how long your chainsaw chain will last.
If your chain comes in contact with dirt from cutting logs on the ground, it will dull the cutter blades. Similarly, you will dull the blades if you hit a rock while cutting on the ground.
Dirt wears the chain links and results in the chain stretching and wears the chain sprocket.
To extend the lifespan of your chain, support logs that you are cutting far enough away from the ground that a slip won’t land your chain in the dirt.
Regular lubrication helps to reduce friction on the chain and enables it to cut more efficiently. Either lubricate frequently or get a self-lubricating model. If you don’t add oil regularly, the drive links will start to bind, causing the chain not to sit correctly on the bar guide.
Letting the oiler clog with sawdust will cause overheating and stretching of the chain, so aim to keep it clean. Use proper chain oil, which is designed for use on chainsaw chains.
Improper chain tension causes the chain to wear rapidly. Ensure that your chain is neither too loose nor too tight.
The chain’s right and left cutter blades wear down with cutting and become dull. Dull blades cut poorly and cause the drive links to wear and create unhealthy pressure on the bar, the clutch sprocket, and the clutch.
Sharpen your cutter blades regularly to extend the lifespan of your chain and your chainsaw.
Depth gauges (the teeth that control how deep the cutters cut into the wood) also wear and must be filed to maintain the correct height relative to the cutter blades. When they have worn too much to adjust, you will have to replace the chain.
Sharpening the cutter blades without filing down the depth gauges results in you making progressively shallower cuts and damaging the chain. Doing so is also a good way to burn out the motor, so ensure that the depth gauges are at the correct relative height.
When sharpening, look for the small safety lines on the chain that indicate the limit to which you can sharpen it. Sharpening the chain past these lines can lead to the chain failing and possibly severely injuring whoever is using the saw.
You may come across some information that says that you can only sharpen a chainsaw chain 3-5 times in its lifespan. This rule only applies if sharpening when the cutter blades have worn down dramatically. It is better to sharpen more often.
A good guide for sharpening is to sharpen a little bit every time you refuel.
You get self-sharpening chainsaws, but these file the cutter blades down indiscriminately, and you may need to replace the chain sooner than you would if you manually sharpened the cutters.
When To Sharpen Or Replace Your Chainsaw Chain
If your chain isn’t cutting correctly, you may be able to get it working well again by sharpening. However, if you have sharpened it many times and re-calibrated the depth gauges multiple times, you should replace it.
You should replace your chain if the following occur:
Broken Or Unevenly Worn Chainsaw Teeth
If you hit something hard such as a nail or a rock, the teeth that hit the object will be damaged. If this happens, stop to assess the damage. You may be able to file out the damage if it is minimal, and if you do this immediately, you may salvage the chain. Otherwise, it will need replacing.
Stretched Chainsaw Chain
The cutting force of the spinning chain wears on the chain, causing it to stretch with time. As this happens, the chain loosens on the bar. A loose chain can bind when cutting. Binding can result in kickback or even the chain snapping.
Either way, a stretched chainsaw chain is dangerous and should be replaced immediately.
Chainsaw Creates Sawdust Or Smoke When Cutting
As a chain’s cutter blades wear, they will create finer chips until it is throwing out sawdust rather than chips. This means you are sanding rather than cutting. You will also find it takes more pressure on your part to cut.
This often happens when the depth gauges wear down too much. If they wear down, you will have to replace the chain, even if it looks like there is still life left in the cutter blades.
Continuing to use the chain in this condition will often result in chainsaw smoking. Smoke can be the result of improper lubrication and tension. But if these are correct, smoke is a sign that you should stop cutting immediately and replace your chain.
Uneven Or Unbalanced Cutting From A Chainsaw
If your chainsaw doesn’t feel right when cutting, whether it is pulling to one side, cutting unevenly, or rattling, this is a sign of uneven teeth lengths.
If you have calibrated the depth gauges properly and adjusted the tension correctly, your teeth are unbalanced and may be worn down too much to sharpen. Stop and replace the chainsaw immediately.
An unbalanced chainsaw chain will create problems for chain tension and is dangerous.
What To Do With Your Old Chainsaw Chain
Chainsaw chains are made of high-quality tool steel and are worth recycling. Give it to someone who has a knife-making forge. They will be able to turn it into a beautiful ripple-patterned Damascus steel knife blade.
Proper saw maintenance and chain sharpening will extend your chainsaw chain’s life. Avoiding rocks and dirt will also help keep your chain in good condition.
Depending on how much you use the chain, you can expect it to last five to ten years. It can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, provided it does not rust.