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Can Chainsaw Chains Be Shortened? (Why You Might Not Want to)

Can Chainsaw Chains Be Shortened? (Why You Might Not Want to)

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Any chainsaw chain can be shortened. Some are more difficult to reduce in length than others, and some should not be shortened if you are looking out for your own safety or extended use of your chain.

This article aims to explain in detail how you can shorten your chainsaw chain. Before going into how to adjust the length of your chain, you should first figure out if you should even attempt to shorten it or if you should simply toss it and buy a brand-new one.

Some chains can present safety hazards if their links are overly worn. This is also the case with a stretched chain.

The first section will describe the condition your chain should not be in if you plan to adjust it in any way. Read on to gain this knowledge before moving on to the steps for shortening a chainsaw chain.

Qualities of Non-Adjustable Chain

There are a few reasons why you should refrain from trying to shorten your chainsaw chain.

Chain Strength

First, if your chain is already showing signs of wear and tear with obvious weaknesses, it is smart to avoid trying to adjust it.

Shortening a chainsaw chain without a master link involves replacing the small pieces, called rivets, that hold the chain links together. Unless you have a special tool that does it for you, these rivets will need to be pressed by a human hand and simple tool.

Thus, your chain should still be very strong and in good condition, or you could end up with a broken chain while you are cutting away on something, which could end very badly for you or anyone else around.


To replace your rivets and do everything else required to shorten your own chainsaw chain, it can end up being quite costly, especially if you do not have any of the tools whatsoever already in your possession.

This is why you should add up the costs for all the necessary equipment you will need and compare the total to the cost of simply buying a new chain or having a professional adjust your existing chain.

If you are planning on adjusting chains for years to come, then this, of course, might be a good investment. Also, you can actually buy a machine that presses rivets so you do not have to do it with your own strength.

You really need to just think about how much you will use the tools you plan to purchase and whether it is worth the money and effort to shorten your chain. You could also consider getting a professional to adjust your chain’s length for you.

If you decide to have a professional handle the adjustment, not only will this guarantee your future safety, but it will also take the guesswork out of knowing whether your chain is in good enough condition to be adjusted.

Wrong Length

If your chain is not the exact right length, after you remove the links to shorten it, it could end up being a little too short. It would certainly be a pain to go through all the trouble of removing the links and repressing the rivets on your chain only to find out it was all for nothing.

Thus, be absolutely certain your chain is the correct length to shorten it as much as you need to before you begin removing links. If it is not the length you need it to be, it is best to simply purchase a new chain for your chainsaw.

Shortening the Chain

Now we will delve into the steps for shortening the chain on your chainsaw.

Keep in mind, however, that if your chainsaw does not include a master link, which makes shortening the chain much simpler, you will need to remove some of the rivets from your chain to disconnect the links. You will also need to put rivets back into the links.

Doing this requires a specific tool that can be a bit costly, averaging around $100. This might be a dealbreaker for you in regards to shortening your own chain. Perhaps going to a professional or purchasing a new chain is in order in such a situation.

Safety First

Before you remove the chain from your chainsaw, there are a couple of safety precautions you should take.

First of all, if you just used your chainsaw, you should let it cool down until its components are bearable to touch. The chain and motor can both be hot right after the chainsaw is used. Nobody likes a burnt finger, especially right before they need to use their fingers to shorten a chain.

The second precaution is removing the spark plug. Although it would be a rare occurrence for you to accidentally set off your chainsaw, the risk still exists. That’s why it is vital for you to take out the spark plug, in turn removing the saw’s power supply.

Now that you have looked out for your future self, it is time to begin the process of shortening your chain.

Remove the Master Link

If your chainsaw is one with a master link, shortening the chain will be much simpler. Of course, the first action you should take is to find the master link.

This link should be easily distinguishable from the others on the chain. Most of the time, it is a different color than the others. If you are having trouble locating it, you might need to look at each individual link to discern which one is the master link.

The way a master link opens varies according to the chainsaw brand and type, but regardless of this fact, the master link should easily snap apart. After all, it is there to make it less of a hassle to adjust the chain.

You will probably be able to pry the master link open using your hands, but a simple tool such as pliers should help you out greatly.

Once you have gotten the master link apart, you will need to remove it from one of the chain links it is attached to so you can remove other links for the proper length.

This step will require a little more power, but pliers should help you get the job done quite easily and quickly. Use your pliers to tightly grab onto the master link, and work it off of the other link slowly.

You can also pick up an inexpensive tool called a chain break, which can make the master link removal process even easier. You could consider buying one from your local hardware store or online before you attempt to shorten your chain.

Remove the Links

The next step involves actually removing the links. You need to figure out how long you would like your chain to be, and then you need to do some link measurements.

This way you can determine how many links need to be taken off of the chain for it to be the length you are aiming for. It is at this point that you might realize that your chain cannot be shortened to the length you need because the links are not an appropriate length to make this possible.

If you do run into this issue, unfortunately, you will not be able to shorten the chain and will, instead, need to buy a whole new chain that is the correct length.

However, if this is not the case, and your chain is adjustable for your needs, then you can remove the amount of links necessary.

You will need a tool that can help you yank on the links, so needle-nose pliers or a similar tool should do the trick. Removing the links will require snapping them away from each pair of rivets that hold them to each other.

Once you have removed the number of links necessary, you can put the chain back together. This is quite easy to do with a master link.

Simply maneuver the master link back onto one of the other links similarly to how you took it off the link earlier. Make sure that the spacing of the links is correct before you reconnect the chain.

If your chainsaw does not have a master link, you will need to also get the rivets into the chain link that will be reattached to the connecting link. This calls for a hammer or a special tool, which was mentioned at the beginning of the article, that you can pick up for around $100.

If you do need to put your rivets in, make sure to get the top part of the rivet all the way into the hole on the link. The chain should move freely but not from side to side. If it moves to the side, the rivets will need to be hammered into the link holes more tightly.

If you would like to extend the length of your chain rather than shorten it, you would follow the same steps as you would to shorten it, except instead of removing links, you would add more to the chain. This requires taking the same approach as you would for a chain without a master link.

In other words, in this case, you will need to use either a hammer or the specialized tool to get your rivets back into the holes on the drive part of the chain (the main metal piece the rivets fit into).

You can use this same technique to actually create your own chainsaw chain as well. If, for some reason, you would be interested in doing such a thing, such as if you have a bunch of extra rivets and drive pieces lying around, all you would need to do is attach each link to the other until you have reached the appropriate length for your chain.

This can be a bit time-consuming, but it is a very self-sufficient way to obtain a chainsaw chain, and if you already have all the necessary components of a chain in your possession, you might as well use them.

Final Steps

After you have reconnected your chainsaw chain, it is time to test the tension of the chain to make sure its length is ideal. You can do this by putting the chain back onto your chainsaw and pulling the chain out and away from the saw.

If the chain moves slowly and loosely back into position, you will need to adjust the length more by removing additional links. If you think you are close to having the correct length, you could remove one link at a time and carry out the tension test again.

Hopefully this is not the moment you realize that your chain is not the appropriate length for shortening it as you need. If this is the case, it is time for you to buy a new chain.

Once you have gotten your chain to perform well on the tension test, you can put the spark plug back into the chainsaw and try out your newly adjusted chain.

Final Thoughts

It can’t be stated enough that you should not try to shorten or adjust your chain in any other way if its teeth are worn and very dull, if the chain is stretched out, if the metal is starting to show signs of rusting, or if there are any other noticeably damaged pieces on the chain.

For one, making an adjustment to a chain that is in one of the conditions described above will most likely just end up being a waste of time considering it will not last long and could break while you are using it, which leads to the second point.

You could seriously injure yourself or a person in your immediate surroundings if your chain breaks while you are using your chainsaw.

Thus, if you find yourself in a position where you should not shorten your chain, you need to purchase a new one for both your safety and the safety of people and objects you will be using the chainsaw near.


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