Chainsaw Tips
Getting the Most from Your Saw

Chainsaw Tips: Since the dog days of summer are rapidly approaching, it's a good time to talk about your saw and how to get the most from it when you're processing your logs and blanks. I've always said that processing logs was the least desirable part of the woodturning experience for me.

Try spending all day in full sun, with 100-degree heat and 99% humidity and you'll know what I mean. That's a pretty typical harvesting day for me, as I cut about 95% of my timber in the unbearably hot and humid Houston summers. Here are some tips to help make sure you get the most from your saw and a few to make it easier on your body as well.

Note: These quick tips are not intended to be a complete guide to using your chainsaw. Please consult a competent local professional, or your chainsaw owner's manual for proper use of your saw and use any safety equipment that may be required.


Sawing Tips

  1. Make sure your chain is sharp! If you do not know how to sharpen your chain correctly, there are lots of books and even free sites on the Internet that will show you the correct protocols. Also remember, you can have a razor sharp chain installed and two seconds later it can be dull as a butter knife when chainsawing. All you need to do is let the tip hit the ground, run through dirty bark, or hit an obstruction in the timber and your chain is toast. Keep several chains on hand and switch out when necessary. Then, take a break in the shade if possible and sharpen all of your dull chains while you rest a bit.
  2. Periodically clean under the chain cover housing to remove any accumulated shavings and sawdust. I usually do this on every second cycle (approximately every fourth tank of gas), since I've already stopped and I'm looking at the saw anyway. A small chip brush works well to clean under the chain cover and is easy to carry in your tool kit. Note: If you're working at your studio and have access to compressed air, a few blasts from your air hose is all that's necessary to keep this area clean.
  3. While you have the chain guard cover removed, check and clean the bar oil lubrication holes, to make sure your bar is getting lubed correctly. Sometimes, a small chip can become stuck in an outlet port, causing a reduction in oil flow. This is bad for your bar, and it can also slow your chain speed.
  4. Periodically, check your chainsaw air filter for accumulated dust, or debris. About every tenth tank of gas, I pull the air filter cover off and brush any dust off the face of the filter. A clogged filter can really bog your saw down, killing your chain speed. I usually bring a second clean filter and swap out after a few hours of cutting. If you do this, you will be amazed how much better your saw runs.
  5. Check the height of your chain rakers periodically. Most folks never think about the rakers on their chain, or how important they are to the cutting performance of your chain. Rakers are the projections on the chain that stand proud between adjacent teeth on the chain. Their function is to help clear chips from the cut and to help regulate the depth of the cut. Filing guides are available to make sure your rakers are set to the correct height. It's worth the money to buy a book on chainsaws, or consult your owners manual to make sure your saw is in top notch shape and that you're working safely. If your chain is not sharpened correctly, not only will it be more difficult to cut, but it can be very dangerous as well. Learn to use and maintain your saw correctly and remember - don't take chances with your safety!
  6. When ripping to prepare your blanks for the lathe, make sure the log is as short as possible for the blank size you are cutting. For example, if you are cutting a 14" bowl blank and the log section is 17", I would trim it with a crosscut to say 14" - 15" first, then do your rip cuts. Shorter lengths of log rip faster, so if you can shorten the log your rip cut will be easier.
  7. Always try to cut through clean bark if possible. If the bark is obviously dirty, use a hatchet or an axe to get to clean wood before you make your cut. Yes, this is not fun either, but it's a lot faster to remove a dirty strip of bark with an axe, than to resharpen a chain dulled by dirty bark.
  8. Replace the spark plug on your saw every two years. As cheap as plugs are, you should replace them after two years of service if you use your saw much at all. If you use your saw daily or several times a week, consider replacing the spark plug every year.
  9. If you saw is more than five years old consider getting the bar reground. Your chainsaw repair shop can do this repair for you very easily. Regrinding the bar periodically insures that the chain is running and tracking correctly in the bar guides.
  10. Use a manufacturer recommended fuel stabilizer in your chainsaw gas can. This will prevent the gas from degrading over time, when stored for extended periods of time with gas in the tank. I have been using stabilizers in my chainsaw gas cans for almost twelve years with great success. I never have to empty the saw during the winter and both of the petrol saws fire right up in the spring.

If you would like to learn more about using your chainsaw to process bowl and platter blanks, check out our two-disk, DVD video set on Bowl Turning: Step by Step.


Body Saving Tips

  1. Save your back! Use proper lifting equipment to lift logs onto cutting jigs if necessary. On smaller lightweight logs that are easy to pick up, wear a weight belt and make sure you lift the load correctly. On larger log sections, try to roll them onto your cutting jig, or get a friend to help you. Make a bowl blank cutting day out of it and you will both benefit.
  2. You only have one back and an injury can really set you back, so take care of yourself. Remember to take frequent breaks when cutting. Stretch and walk around a bit in the air conditioning, or in the shade to recuperate a wee bit before you get back to cutting. Make friends with another turner and work together when using your chainsaw. It will be lots more fun and easier for both of you.
  3. Don't forget to do some stretching and flexibility exercises before you begin sawing. You need to warm up properly and stretch your body to help prevent injuries. I usually warm up and stretch for 15-20 minutes before a day of sawing. It really helps! There are lots of sites on the Internet that can show you the correct way to warm up and stretch your body prior to physical exertion.
  4. Remember to drink plenty of fluids... If you do not, you can easily get dehydrated. I usually drink lots of pure water, with an occasional sports drink to replenish electrolytes, and fluids lost through sweating. If you feel thirsty, you're probably already getting dehydrated.
  5. Wear all of the necessary safety equipment when using your saw. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Don't let them happen to you. Safety equipment like steel toe boots, chainsaw safety chaps, hearing protectors, leather gloves, weight belts and safety helmets all cost less than one trip to the emergency room.
  6. If you over exert yourself and you wake up with a sore back, your doctor may be able to write you a script for a therapeutic massage. Most outpatient hospitals and rehabilitation facilities offer these services. They may also offer hot pack treatments, ice pack therapy and other treatments to get you back up to speed quickly.

Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to prevent accident or injury.


Steven D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines, which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world. Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms with unique visual and tactile treatments.

Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.

Steve is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's "Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in an upcoming issue.