How to Remove, Replace and Refit a Chainsaw Chain – Including How to Find the Right Spec Chain for Your Chainsaw

Summary: How to find out the specification of your chainsaw chain and replace it safely. Step by step guidelines to changing the chain on your chainsaw, including removing the old one, confirming which kind of new chain that you need and then fitting a new chain to your chainsaw. This guide also cover the common types of blades that you could choose to use.

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You have some wood that needs chopping and you have a chainsaw that hasn't been used in a while. You are keen to get chopping but, on closer inspection, it needs a new chain.

If you have no idea of the spec of the chain you are looking for it can be a real chore to work out the exact size and spec you need. This article will help with all the aspects of replacing a chainsaw chain, from measuring to working out the gauge and pitch your new chain should be.

If you are unsure about using a chainsaw, please see our project about how to handle a chainsaw safely.

When to Change the Chain on a Chainsaw

It sounds obvious, but there are three parts to replacing your chain on your chainsaw. First you have to remove the old chain, and the question is when should you do this? Clearly the chain moves at seriously high speeds and the last thing you want to do is take any chances; if the chain brakes in use then there is a high chance that it will damage your saw or even worst, you.

Cutting parts of chainsaw chain

The Cutting Parts of a Chainsaw Chain

The things that you should look for as signs that you should change you chain are:

  • Broken Cutting Teeth: This happens when the chain his something hard like rock. With the cutting teeth the chain will not be able to cut so if you see that there are several cutting teeth missing then it's time to change the chain for a new one
  • Filed Down or Reduced Teeth: You sharpen the cutting teeth on the chain by filing them, so as time goes by they will become smaller. If they become too small they are more easily damaged and can break off in use which is dangerous. When they are too small to sharpen easily you should replace the chain. See our range of Chainsaw files for sharpening chains here.
  • Cutters get too Small: The cutters should wear down at roughly the same rate as your cutting teeth. If you notice that they are wearing down faster then the chain will need to be replaced. You will experience too much pull or not enough pull on the chain if this is the case
  • Sagging or Loose Chain: You should be able to tighten the chain but after a point this will not be possible and the chain will not be taught against the bar. This is potentially very dangerous as the chain might break

Now you know that you need to change the chain on your chainsaw, you need to know how.

How to Remove the Chain From the Chainsaw

If you are new to using a chainsaw you might feel apprehensive about removing the chain. These simple instructions will guide you through the process so you can take the chain off safely.

Begin by pulling the chain break back (towards you, if the bar is pointing away from you). This is extremely important. If you forget this step, it can be difficult to put the chainsaw back together. It also releases the chain.

Next, undo the two bolts. You will need a tool to do this and carefully take them out. Make sure you put them somewhere safe so they doesn't get lost. Then you can remove the side casing (also called clutch cover). You might have to wiggle it around a bit to get it off. Once removed you will be able to see the whole bar and chain.

The parts of a chainsaw

The Parts of a Chainsaw – Particularly when Removing the Chain

Carefully pull the bar away from the chain tensioner, then lift the chain off. Remember, even though it may be too blunt to use, it might have sharp parts on it and can still cut you. You might want to wear gloves for this.

Begin by removing it from the nose of the chainsaw first. Leave the clutch sprocket and take off the bar.

Step by Step Guide to Removing a Chainsaw Chain

  • Pull chain break back – releases chain
  • Undo bolts and remove them, then remove the side casing
  • Pull the bar away from the chain tensioner
  • Lift chain off, make sure it off the nose of the chainsaw bar
  • Take off the clutch sprocket then take bar off and put it the other way around. This is because a chainsaw wears one side more and this evens out the wear. Chainsaw bars are symmetrical

Top Chainsaw Tip - Chainsaw bars wear on the side of contact and are symmetrical. Therefore the changing of a chain is a good time to flip the bar over. This allows you to even out the wear on the bar.

Now that you have got the chain off, you will need to work out what the size and specification it is so that you can get the right chain to replace it.

What is a Chain Specification and Why Do You Need To Know?

Chainsaw Chain Spec's are given in 3 numbers. These are:

  • the pitch
  • the gauge
  • the number of drive links

These three numbers will always be given when you are buying a chainsaw chain. You may get more, such as the length of the chain, but these are the three you need to look out for.

If you get the pitch or gauge wrong, it won't fit on your chainsaw. These are specific to your chainsaw model. The number of Drive Links is specific to your chainsaw bar length.

All you need to do is get these three measurements from the chain that you have removed and purchase a replacement of the same specification. However this is not always as easy as it sounds.

How to Measure the Specification of Your Chain: Pitch, Gauge and No. of Drive Links

If you don't have the original packaging or manufactuerers information of the chainsaw chain you are using then it is likely that you will have no idea what size the chain is. It is important that you are sure of the chain spec, so that you order the right one.

There are three ways to find out the spec of your chain:

  1. Keep the original chainsaw chain spec that came with the chain (almost certainly lost)
  2. Measure your chain manually
  3. Measuring using a Chainsaw Adviser

Finding the Chain Spec

Before spending time measuring your chain it is worth looking on your bar, or to find the packet your last chain came in. The information should also be in the manual of the chainsaw.

Finally you can try looking up the model of your chainsaw online. If you still can't find the correct specifications, do not worry, this article will help you.

Ensuring that you can find the spec will save you some effort when the time comes, so it is worth noting this down when you get a new chainsaw or chain.

The Standard Method

If you do not know and cannot find the corrcet specs then you have no alternative but to measure it. You will need to get the three all important numbers, the pitch, gauge and number of drive links.

  • Drive Links - Count the Teeth (inside hooks). A handy way to speed up counting is to lay the chain out flat, lining up the loop so that both are facing each other. This means you can count them in twos. The diagram below shows the shape of the drive links to count
  • Drive links on chainsaw chain

    Drive links on a chainsaw chain

  • Pitch – Of the three numbers you need, the pitch is the most tricky to measure. It is the distance between 3 rivets (round bolts that hold parts of the chain together) on the chain, and then divided it by 2. It is quite fiddly and you might prefer callipers to a ruler to measure this. The image below shows the rivets and you can use the below table to help you convert the distance into the pitch
  • Measuring chainsaw chain pitch

    How to measure the chainsaw chain pitch: the distance between 3 rivets on a chainsaw chain to count

    Chain Pitch Convention Table - Distance between 3 rivets to Chainsaw Chain Pitch:

    Distance between 3 rivets Pitch
    0.375” 1/4”
    0.1875” 3/8”
    0.1625” .325”
    0.202” .404”
  • Gauge - Use callipers to measure the thickness of the drive links. These are the teeth on the inside of the chainsaw chain loop. Put your callipers around the tooth and measure the thickness. They can be measured in either mm or inches. Most chain sellers will use both. See below for a conversion table

Standard Chain Gauge measurements conversion table:

Metric Imperial
1.1 mm 0.43”
1.3 mm 0.50”
1.5 mm 0.58”
1.6 mm 0.63”

Using a Chainsaw Adviser

As you can see it can be tricky to measure and find the spec of your chain quickly. There is a handy little gadget to help you called the Chainsaw Advisor.

Rotatech (at UK manufacture of Chainsaw Chains) has developed a tool that makes measuring your chainsaw chain extremely easy. It is much cheaper than purchasing a calliper and also much easier to use.

The tool in question is called the Chainsaw Adviser and does all the calculations for you. At just £2.99 (Exc. VAT) from Northern Arb Supplies, it is well worth it. You even get a voucher to save £3 off your next chain order. So it is basically free.

Here's how you use the Chainsaw Adviser to measure your chain:

Drive Links

In the same way as before, you just count them to get the number of Drive Links. They are the same hooked links you measured the thickness of when you measured the gauge. As before you can save time by looping the chain so that teeth face each other and you can count the pairs of teeth.

Count the drive links of the chain

Count the drive links of the chainsaw chain using the normal method

Finding the Pitch

In order to measure the chain pitch, you line up the edge of Chainsaw Adviser with the chain's Drive Links (teeth pointing towards the inside of the chain loop). The distance between each is the Pitch.

Line the leading edge of the Adviser up to the first tooth (as showing in the photo below) and then read off the measurement at the point of the second tooth. This is your pitch. There are 4 measurements on the Adviser. You may need to use the scale on either the top or the bottom of the Adviser; the one that is the closest is the correct one.

The imperial measurement, used by the chainsaw adviser is the most commonly used. If you need the metric measurements, you can use the conversion table above to help you.

Finding teh pitch using the Chainsaw Adviser

How to measure the Chainsaw Chain Pitch using the Adviser - Line it up to the drive links to measure the Pitch from the scale

Finding the Gauge

To measure the gauge, slot a Drive Link (teeth pointing to the inside of the chain loop) of the chain into the slots in the chainsaw adviser. Try each of the 5 slots on the adviser. One will fit nice and snugly. This is your gauge. The photo below demonstrates the chainsaw adviser being used to measure the gauge.

Finding chain gauge with Adviser

How to use the Chainsaw Chain Adviser to measure the gauge of a chainsaw chain. Watch the video at the end of this page for a demonstration of how to use the adviser

How to Choose the Correct Type of Chainsaw Chain

Depending on the type of task you are about to undertake, the type of chain you need might change. Normally a standard chain is suitable for DIY or occasional use. You might see this called a full house saw chain. It produces smooth planks and good for bars up to around 24” long. It is also widely available. The more specialised types of chain are more expensive, can be harder to get hold of and for little benefit.

Here are a number of different types of chainsaw chains that you might consider:

  • Ripping Chains - used to make planks, the cutters are at about 10 degree angle to give a smooth cut to the planks
  • Low Profile Cutters - these are chains with a round edge and grind profile. They are popular and are normally the chain that comes with a chainsaws. These are the easiest to sharpen
  • Semi Chisel Cutters - similar to low profile cutters. They have the round radius edge. They often stay sharp longer than other chain types
  • Full Chisel Cutters - Great for hardwood trees. They cut fast, but need sharpening more than other chains. They are not too hard to file, but it is more important you do it correctly. Than with other chain types
  • Full Skip Saw Chain - this is the most efficient cutting chain and has the least number of teeth. You need  24” or larger bar for this type of chain. They are great if you are cutting a lot of tinder and the cut can be quite rough
  • Square Round Saw chain - these cut really fast. They are a type of full chisel chain, they need a special fat-headed file and are very difficult to sharpen

How to Tell a Quality Chainsaw Chain

There is a whole range of quality chainsaw chains out there but there are a few things to look out for when getting a good chain.

Blued steel cutters is a sign of quality - these make the chain last longer. You can recognise them by the blue tinge on the metal the cutters are made out of.

Blue steel and chrome plated cutters last much longer

A Standard Chainsaw Chain with Chrome Plated Cutters from Rotatch

  • Oil holes - These hold oil, keeping the chain lubricated and preventing it overheating. The holes themselves should be quite large and clearly visible
  • Oil carry holes on chainsaw chain

    Large Oil Carry Holes in a Chainsaw Chain

  • Oil Reservoir- The bump on the connective links. These hold extra oil and keep the chain lubricated for longer
  • Oil reservoir tie links on chain

    Chainsaw Chain Oil Reservoir Links

Pick a Brand

If all else fails, purchase your chains by choosing a quality, well known brand. The main respected, professional brands are: Rotatech, Stihl, Oregon and Husqvarna.

Finally once you have purchased you new chain, then you will need to get it fitted back on to your chainsaw.

How to Fit a New Chain on a Chainsaw

Now you have your new chain, it is vital you fit it correctly. The important thing to remember is to adjust the tensioner before you fit the chain by firstly screwing it in and then threading the drive links (the hooked teeth) of the chain back onto the bar of the saw.

Start at the back the sprocket and then move over the top, to the front nose of the bar and then around. Next put the tension into the chain and then replace the side cover and fit the bolts on using your hands.

Once it is correctly tensioned, you should be able to pull the chain a bit away from the bar, but not enough to take it off. Once you are happy with the tension, screw the bolts on tightly using the correct tool.

The Quick Guide to Fitting a Chainsaw Chain

  • Adjust the tensioning screw - screw it in a small amount. This means you can screw it out to increase the tension on the chain should it stretch a little
  • Thread the chain back around the back of the sprocket
  • Thread the drive links into the bar, starting at the top, back of the bar, move around to the nose of nose of the bar and then underneath
  • Put tension into the chain, by pulling slightly on the bar nose to fit correctly at the adjusting pin
  • Replace the side cover
  • Using your fingers, screw the nuts on until firm, but not tight
  • Tighten the chain, using the adjusting screw on the saw
  • Test the tension - should be able to pull chainsaw chain from the bar a little, but not able to remove it

Note - If the chain ever seems to be hanging from the saw, it needs to be tightened before it is used!!

When it comes to changing and replacing the chain on a chainsaw the hardest and most time consuming part can be trying to find out what the specifications and measurements of the new blade should be. We recommend keeping these safe once you know them, but often they get lost or misplaced so the Chainsaw Adviser is a great little gadget to help you.

By using this very handy tool, you can get on with removing and replacing the chainsaw chain quickly and safely in the knowledge that you have got the correct new chain.

If y ou are looking to purchase a new chainsaw, checkout the range of chainsaws we have in our store here.

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