So, you have a saw now. Maybe it’s brand new, maybe it’s one a relative dug out of the shed, maybe you bought it at a pawn shop or garage sale. How do we get it to perform it’s best and protect our investment and new tool for a long time?

Saws have two stroke engines. This means that you must mix oil directly with the gasoline in order to properly lubricate the engine. Failure to do so will run the saw “lean” and burn it up in a very short time. Read your owner’s manual, research online and find the recommended oil to fuel ratio for your particular saw. Typically, it will be 40-1 or 50-1 in modern saws. Always use a proper fuel oil mixture.

One of the very easiest things you can do to help your saw run trouble free and last a long time-NEVER, EVER run your saw on Ethanol. You can mix your own fuel- simply buy a good quality 2 stroke oil and add it to the appropriate amount of gasoline (usually it’s one bottle of oil to one gallon of fuel) or you can purchase pre mixed fuel. Pre mixed fuel is expensive but if you only have a little cutting to do it’s a good option- you will notice that EVERY pre mixed fuel uses a NON-Ethanol base. That should tell you something. Keep plenty of two stroke oil on hand, though a little goes a long way.

Personally, I empty the fuel out of my saw if I am going to store it for much longer than a few weeks. I just don’t want fuel sitting in the fuel system for very long. It’s easy to set the saw on the shelf, get distracted by life’s’ demands and then come back 6 months later to stale fuel and maybe a clogged carburetor. While rebuilding a carburetor is not terribly difficult it should be avoided if at all possible and buying a new one, if OEM, can sometimes cost more than the saw is worth. I dump out the fuel and attempt to start/run the saw several times before putting it up to try to pull as much fuel out of it as I can. Storing the saw dry if you aren’t using it regularly is cheap insurance.

The other important oil used in chain saws is bar and chain lube. This oil will be held in a separate tank from the fuel mixture, usually at the front of the saw. This lubricant is pumped into holes in the bar and prevents the chain from overheating and prematurely wearing out the bar. Bar oil is relatively inexpensive and commonly available at home improvement stores, even Walmart carries it. In a pinch, you can substitute standard 30 weight oil. I’ve seen people use used motor oil and other lubes including fryer oil! For me, given the cost of real bar oil, I’m not putting that stuff in my $800 saw and taking a chance that it clogs my oil pump.

The chain on your saw is critically important to it’s performance. Above all else, it must be sharp- chains are no different than any other cutting tool- they get dull from use. A sharp chain on a properly running saw will cut for you, you shouldn’t have to muscle it through the cut. If the chain hits a hard object- a rock, a nail in the wood or dirt it will dull quickly or sustain damage. Be mindful when you are cutting of avoiding things that unnecessarily dull the chain.

Keep the chain properly tensioned. There will be an adjustment screw on the saw near the rear of the bar. To properly tighten the chain do so when it’s cold, loosen the nuts holding the bar to the power head, take the pressure off the bar by lifting it slightly with one hand then turn the bar adjustment clockwise using a screw driver or Scrench to tighten the chain. A Scrench is a saw specific tool that’s used to loosen/tighten bar nuts, adjust chain tension, pull the spark plug and in some cases make opening the fuel and oil tanks easier- it’s a handy tool! Tighten the chain so that it is has enough slack to move on the bar by hand-pull it away from the power head to avoid cutting yourself! The chain should be tight to the bar, not hanging loosely, but not so tight that it’s really hard to hand pull. Tighten the bar nuts snugly- you don’t need to gorilla them- their studs can strip. You may need to tighten the chain as you cut- it can stretch a bit as it gets warm in use. Honestly, this is much easier to explain and comprehend with video, YouTube is your friend here.

Spare chains are a must, they wear down with use and while you can buy an entire roll of chain and make your own, most users are better off simply buying a few extras. Chains will last a long time if not abused. When one chain gets dull you can put on another one and keep cutting while you have the other sharpened. When you purchase a new chain make sure that it fits your saw- the length, width and number of drive teeth must match the saws bar and sprocket. There are also several different types of chains in terms of how aggressively they cut and certain safety features- another topic…Again, use your owner’s manual, research online or on most newer saw bars the proper chain information is actually printed on the bar itself and you can match that up to the information on the chains packaging.

In terms of sharpening chains, you have two options- taking the chain off the saw and having it sharpened- usually at a hardware store or power equipment dealer or doing it yourself. As with most things of this nature, I’m going to advocate for you to learn this skill! Typically, a sharpening service will charge you by the tooth- for a 20” chain in my area, you’re going to pay $6 or so and it will likely take 2-3 days to get it done. There are MANY tools to sharpen chains with and it’s never been easier honestly to do it yourself and get good results, saving time and money in the process. We’ll cover this more in a later installment.

It’s also not a bad idea to keep a spare bar around for your saw- if it’s a different length, that adds versatility- but will require different chains of course. You will often see saws with their bars installed upside down- the writing is upside down- that’s intentional. Every few times when you swap out/sharpen the chain, flip the bar over so that it wears more evenly. Bars can be damaged- pinched by the wood you are cutting for example, often they can be straightened out but not always. Bars are sometimes specific to a particular model of saw, within “families” of saws there is often some interchange but very little commonality exists between brands. Definitely buy a spare bar nut or two, they can vibrate loose and get lost during cutting.

For general maintenance- keep your saw clean- blow off all the accumulated bar oil, dirt and wood chips before putting it away. Crud packed around the cylinder can affect the saws cooling. Check and clean the air filter, change it if its clogged. Periodically check the oiler holes in the bar and make sure they are clear so they can deliver lube to the chain. If your saw has a sprocket with lube holes on the end of the bar grease them with each use. Check the fuel lines from time to time and periodically change out the filter in the fuel tank. When you pull the bar cover off to put on a new chain, check the wear on the drive sprocket. Check the spark plug once a season- it’s condition can tell you quite a bit about how well your saw is running.

The keys to getting long life and good performance out of your saw are to use good fuel and oil, change filters as needed, use the right, sharp, chains keeping them properly adjusted, store the saw empty of fuel until ready to use.


“Stuff” to keep your saw cutting-

  1. Good fuel
  2. 2 Stroke Oil
  3. Bar and Chain Lube
  4. Spare chains
  5. Spare fuel filter
  6. Spare air filter
  7. Extra bar nuts
  8. Spare bar?
  9. Chain sharpening system
  10. Extra spark plug
  11. New fuel line
  12. Scrench
  13. Bar Sprocket grease gun?