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How to Tell When a Chainsaw Chain is Worn Out (4 Giveaways)

how to tell if chainsaw blade is worn out

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as cutting through something as hard as wood so smoothly and neatly. Chainsaws are some of the handiest, most versatile, and portable tools out there.

The real power lies in the chain, the one that looks like it belongs on a bicycle. That bad boy spins so fast it can cut through hardwood like it’s nothing!

Without the chain, a chainsaw would be no less than useless. This is why you should know how to tell when a chainsaw chain is worn out, and we’re here to give you some pointers. First, we’ll look at the factors that shorten the chain’s lifespan and how to fight them.


chainsaw blade cutting through wooden log

Factors That Shorten the Lifespan of a Chainsaw Chain

Several things can shorten the lifespan of a chainsaw chain. We’re going to tell you how to fix or avoid each one of them so your chainsaw stays intact without wearing out fast.

Here’s a list of the factors:

  • Infrequent or irregular chain sharpening
  • Dirty or smudgy chain
  • Unadjusted chain tension
  • Infrequent chain oiling 

How to Maintain the Chainsaw Chain

Before we jump to conclusions and assume the chain is worn out, let’s quickly go over the regular chain maintenance procedure. Proper maintenance of the chain ensures an extended lifespan for it and the chainsaw itself.

Sharpening the Chain

sharpening chainsaw blade

The chain can grow dull due to many factors. Hitting hard objects like the ground, rocks, or nails can make some of the teeth go blunt—regular sharpening of the chain is quite crucial in maintaining its efficiency.

If you don’t have a chainsaw filing kit, which is something you should invest in, then you can sharpen the chain with a thin metal rod, like a knife sharpener.

Cleaning the Chain

You should check your chain after every use. Many things can get stuck between the teeth. Bits of wood and dirt can easily be wiped off with a rag, but is the blade getting smudged or muddy? Leaving it that way can aid in dulling the edge quickly.

What you want to do is give it a good cleaning. This might take a bit of work, but it definitely beats wearing down the chain and being forced to buy a new one.

Firstly, separate the chain from the chainsaw, then soak the chain for 10 to 15 minutes in turpentine or a solution of ammonia and water. For the latter, you should work in a ventilated area with gloves and goggles.

Next, rinse the chain with water, and dry it off with a rag. Don’t let it self-dry, as prolonged exposure to water and air will accelerate the rusting process.

Fixing the Chain’s Tension

adjusting chainsaw blade tension

The chain is basically wrapped around a guide bar, which is the flat, metallic, blade-like structure sticking out of the chainsaw’s motor. How tightly is it coiled around the bar? That’s what we mean by tension.

There should be a tension adjustment screw on the lower part of the guide bar that can be tweaked with a flat-headed screwdriver.

You want the chain to snap in place properly, and there should be less than half an inch of space between it and the guide bar. If it’s too visibly separate from the bar, then it’s too loose.

Oiling the Chain

Another factor that can affect the chain is insufficient lubrication. Most chainsaws come with a grease hole. A funnel or grease gun can be used to stock the device up on oil. Then, the device will self-lubricate all its metallic components.

If your chainsaw doesn’t feature a grease hole, you can manually oil it by adding some grease between the bar and its chain.

Without proper lubrication, friction between the chain and bar can cause both to overheat, shortening their lifespan.

How to Tell When a Chainsaw Chain Is Worn Out

sharp chainsaw chain

Many things can happen while you saw, things that clearly shouldn’t and are dead giveaways that the culprit is the chain itself.


Do you smell smoke? Uh, oh. That’s never a good sign. Naturally, you’d think to check the motor, but that isn’t coming from there, is it? No, oddly enough, it appears to be emitting near the tree or branch itself.

If this happens, it’s time for some investigative work. Is the chain lubrication working correctly? Is the chain tension proper? If that’s a yes and yes, then it’s merely time to get a new chain.

Improper Cutting

Does it feel like you’re putting your back into it when you saw? That isn’t how it should be. The chain should be pulling itself into the wood, i.e., it should be doing most of the work. Also, it should be cutting out wooden wafer-like chips, not sawdust.

If it sometimes feels like it’s digging deeper into one side, this can be because the chain teeth have become dull or uneven on one side. This can be dangerous, as it may cause the tree to fall someplace you weren’t planning for.

If sawing remains improper even after sharpening the chain, then it’s time for a new one.


Another sign the chain needs replacing is if it ‘moves’ along with the guide bar as you work. By move, we mean what resembles rattling or bouncing. This will result in uneven cutting and often won’t be resolved through sharpening or lubrication.

Damage or Rust

Uh, oh. Accidentally hit the dirt again? It shouldn’t be a big deal, as long as the chain is still intact. If that’s not the case, and the damage resulted in dents or cracks, then your only option is replacing the chain. The same can be said if rust has taken over the entire chain.

Wrap Up

You know the signs; now you know what to look out for. After getting a chain replacement, make sure to maintain it regularly. We can’t promise it’ll keep the chain from wearing down; everything wears down eventually. However, proper care for the chain and saw will see that they last as long as five years, maybe more.  

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