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Why Won’t My Chainsaw Cut? (Even After Sharpening)

Why Won’t My Chainsaw Cut? (Even After Sharpening)
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Your chainsaw is a vital tool in your lawn and gardening arsenal. When it goes down, there’s a chance that your pristine lawn will too!

Has the thought of using your chainsaw as a doorstop or coat hanger crossed your mind? Are you boggled as to why your chainsaw won’t cut properly (even after you’ve sharpened the chain)?

Don’t toss your wood-cutting sidekick in the dumpster just yet. Let’s go over a few things that might be the cause of why your chainsaw isn’t cutting it any more.

You Simply Didn’t Sharpen the Chain Correctly

Sharpen your chainsaw chain

Sharpening your chainsaw chain correctly isn’t a simple process. Just because you ran a file across the chain’s teeth doesn’t automatically mean that the teeth are sharp. It’s a complicated process that takes time and patience to master.

Using hand tools such as round and flat files to sharpen your chainsaw chain teeth takes practice. It isn’t as simple as filing your nails. The multiple tools needed to do the job right complicate what seems like a simple process.

However, there are brand-specific sharpeners that can help you be a bit more proficient in the chain-sharpening world. Many of these sharpeners will allow you to sharpen both the teeth and the depth gauges simultaneously. (We’ll cover the importance of sharpening depth gauges later on.)

It’s easy as pie to sharpen your chain incorrectly. Here’s an example: C. Saw recommends that when sharpening your chainsaw’s teeth, you use the exact same number of file strokes on every cutting tooth. C. Saw is a master chainsaw technician, so his tips hold a lot of water.

What C. Saw doesn’t know is that when cutting a fallen tree from your neighbor’s yard, you nicked your chainsaw blade on an embedded nail. C. Saw’s recommendation won’t hold for your specific situation. If you were to follow his instructions to file each tooth the exact same number of times with your round file, some of your chain teeth would be sharp while the damaged teeth remain blunt.

The thought behind using the exact same number of file strokes on every cutting tooth is that by doing so, you’ll sharpen each tooth equally. In theory, this would be 100% correct. However, this doesn’t take into account any damage or excess wear that may only affect one or two teeth on your chain.

To avoid having a mix of blunt and sharpened chain teeth, you should inspect each tooth after filing. Did you have the correct angle of file? Does each tooth look uniform? Is the cutting edge sharp enough to cut cleanly?

Beyond a visual inspection, it is also recommended that you get a “feel” for your chain. Gently touch the edge of the chain with your thumb. Does the chain “grab” at you, or are you able to freely glide down the edge of your chain? If you can easily skim the edge, your chain needs a couple of extra runs with your file.

Keep reading if you are confident that human error isn’t to blame in your faulty chainsaw.

Your Chainsaw Chain Doesn’t Have the Appropriate Amount of Tension

Check your chainsaw tension for the appropriate amount of tension

Beyond incorrectly sharpening your chain, the next issue on your “why is my chainsaw not cutting” checklist is chain tension.

Chain tension can definitely stall your chainsaw’s ability to cut correctly, even with a sharp chain. How tight your chain should be for your chainsaw to operate optimally will be outlined in your owner’s manual.

You should check and adjust your chainsaw’s chain tension before every use (that’s one of those pesky preventative maintenance tips). In addition to checking before you fire up the chainsaw, you should also check the chain after a few minutes of use, especially if you’re in a colder climate.

A correctly tensioned chain will be slightly loose on the guide bar but tight enough that the drive links cannot be pulled out of the bar nose. A simple means to check if an adjustment is needed is to gently pull the chain away from the guide bar to inspect if the drive links stay engaged.

Metal will expand as it warms — it’s science — and if you have adjusted your chain tension on a cold metal chain, chances are that it will loosen as it warms up.

A too-tight chain will experience a high amount of friction along the bar while putting more than necessary pressure on your chainsaw’s front bearing. Not only will a too-tight chain decrease cutting efficiency and performance, but it will damage your machine in the process.

A loose chain isn’t going to do the job either. It isn’t just a safety hazard. The slack in your chain will gather just in front of the wood you’re trying to cut, causing your saw tip to move slightly into a less-than-ideal cutting angle.

When your chain finally makes contact with its intended target, it will not function as it should. In the long run, a loose chain will cause the tip of your cutting edge to fall below the body of the tooth.

When you attempt to cut the wood, the tooth will make contact, but the cutting edge will run freely, preventing the thin layer of wood from being removed. One tell-tale sign that you’ve been cutting with a loose chain is visible polishing on the tooth located directly behind the cutting edge.

You are more than sure that your sharpening skills aren’t subpar, and you’ve checked the chainsaw’s chain tension. If neither is your issue, keep reading.

Is Your Chain on Backward?

Is your chainsaw blade on backwards

No matter how precise your chain tension is or how sharp the cutting teeth are, if your chainsaw’s chain isn’t mounted correctly, it isn’t going to cut anything. A backward blade will definitely put a damper on your day’s activities.

It is more than necessary that your chainsaw chain run in the correct direction. A backward blade isn’t just ineffective for cutting; it’s downright dangerous since all the cutting teeth are pointed at you, not at the wood.

If you look at your chainsaw chain from above, you will see that the top of the chain has different blades, with sharp edges on one side and dull on the other. Chainsaw blades rotate clockwise, so the cutting teeth (sharp edges) on the top of the bar should face out, to the right and away from the motor.

Smoking wood and excessive rattle from your chain without any cutting are both sure-fire indicators that you’ve mounted the chain in the wrong direction. If this is the reason why your sharpened chain isn’t cutting, simply stop what you’re doing and reinstall the chainsaw chain properly.

If your chain is moving in the right direction, all cutting teeth are correctly filed, the tension is set, and you still aren’t able to cut butter with your chainsaw, keep going!

Does Your Chainsaw Guide Bar Need to be Replaced?

Chainsaw in need of a new guide bar

Your chainsaw guide bar has to handle a lot of heat and friction, and there comes a time when it becomes too worn down to work properly. It can be hard to know when it may be necessary to replace your chainsaw bar because of how tough they are made.

Here are a few indicators that it is time to replace your bar:

  • The bar is obviously damaged or bent
  • The chain moves from side to side on the bar even when tension is adjusted correctly
  • The blade edges are no longer pointing straight up but are tilted at a slight angle
  • The bar nose sprocket is damaged or jammed

If there is no need to replace the bar on your chainsaw and you feel confident in your cutting teeth sharpening skills, chain placement, and chain tension, you need to keep reading!

Coming in the Clutch

Chainsaw needing a new clutch installed

If you’ve made it this far and nothing seems to be hitting the mark for troubleshooting your chainsaw’s inability to cut, it could be an internal issue with the chainsaw’s clutch.

To rotate the chain, the clutch pads engage the clutch drum. The clutch pads will not exert enough pressure on the clutch drum if they are worn out. As a result, the chainsaw will not adequately cut. Repair or replace your chainsaw’s clutch assembly if the clutch pads are worn out.

Another issue may possibly be your chainsaw’s clutch band. The clutch band is a steel band that wraps around the clutch drum when the emergency stop trigger is pressed.

If the emergency stop trigger is depressed, your chainsaw chain will not turn. If your chainsaw isn’t cutting efficiently, make sure that the stop lever is completely depressed. If the clutch band continues to drag with the stop lever depressed, try adjusting the clutch band.

If your chainsaw has no issues with its clutch, tension, or guide bar; you are confident that you correctly filed the cutting teeth; and you know that your chain is not installed backward, keep going.

You Might Have Skipped a Step in the Sharpening Process

Chainsaw chain

As mentioned before, sharpening your chainsaw chain is a complex process that involves more than just a few flicks of the file.

Every cutting chain has two distinct objects sticking out of it. We’ve discussed the importance of sharpening one of those objects, the cutting tooth. We haven’t touched on the other part, though.

The second part of your cutting chain is a small, curved piece of metal called the depth gauge or racker. It is just as important as the cutting tooth in having an effective, productive, and fun chainsaw.

When your chainsaw chain is in motion, the depth gauge and the cutting teeth work together. While the cutting edge cuts into the wood and begins to sink on contact. The racker keeps the tooth from digging too deeply and forces the tooth to only remove a small fragment of wood at a time.

Sawing and sharpening can take a toll on the cutting teeth of your chain, wearing them down until the rackers are too high. If your chain’s depth gauges are set too high, the piece of wood removed is too small and your saw does not appear to be cutting anything at all.

Rackers also require filing, though not as frequently as the cutting teeth of your chain. You can freehand file, straight across, with a flat file, your depth gauges until they are just a tiny bit (0.025 inches, to be exact) below the top of the cutting teeth’s edge.

If you’ve made it this far and know without a doubt that your cutting teeth and depth gauges are properly filed, the tension of your chain exceeds manufacturer’s standards, your bar is solid and sturdy, your chainsaw’s clutch is performing correctly, and your blade is not on backward, you may have to face the inevitable.

The Time Has Come for a New Chain

New chainsaw blade ready to be put on

If you’ve ticked off every box on the checklist of “why won’t my chainsaw cut, even with a sharpened chain,” and you’re still at the end of your rope, it may just be time for a complete chain replacement.

Chainsaw chains can deteriorate to the point where attempting to keep them sharp and cutting takes all the fun out of a day’s work. A few tell-tale signs that it is time to replace your chain are:

  • Bouncing or rattling when positioned against wood for cutting
  • Needing constant pressure to “draw” itself into the wood
  • Smoking, even when every other factor is correct
  • Jagged or crooked cuts
  • Damaged or missing teeth (unlike your neighbor, chains can’t work properly without all their teeth)
  • Fine sawdust rather than rough wood chips
  • Chain tension that has to be constantly readjusted

Though it may sadden you to have to say goodbye to a trusted friend, it may just be time.

Final Thoughts

There’s a myriad of reasons why your newly sharpened chainsaw chain isn’t cutting the mustard. It could be human error in improperly sharpening the chain’s cutting teeth, failing to file depth gauges, inadequate chain tension, the need for a new chainsaw guide bar, a clutch in need of repair, or a backward chain. Maybe it’s just time for a new chain altogether.

Hopefully, this handy guide helped you get back to sawing logs!

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