How to Use a Manual or Electric Chainsaw Sharpener

If your chainsaw has become blunt and is not performing the way you need it to, it's time to get out a sharpener or take it to a professional for sharpening. If you use a chainsaw regularly it makes sense to buy your own sharpener, rather than paying out each time to get it sharpened.

Chainsaw sharpeners are cheap and generally easy to use, although mastering a manual chain file can be quite challenging until you've had a few goes with it. Electric sharpeners - especially the bench top type - are quick and easy to use, but they are more expensive than manual files.


The appeal of manual sharpeners is they are quite cheap and can be taken with you if you are cutting wood away from home. You'll soon get the hang of using one - as the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

Electric sharpeners, either portable ones or bench top models, are easier to use and don't the skills needed to use a manual file sharpener but, as you would expect, they are more expensive so they are not necessarily the best option for anyone who only uses their chainsaw occasionally.

A popular choice of handheld electric sharpener is the type that looks similar to a drill bit and can be fitted into a Dremel tool or electric drill. All of these electric sharpeners are basically small circular grinding stones, which come in different diameters to fit the cutting teeth of your model of chainsaw. 

When you choosing an electric sharpener, consider where you will be using it. Some of the smaller units come with battery packs or cables to connect them to a car battery of cigarette lighter socket, which allow them to be transported and carried around wherever you use the chainsaw. If you only use your chainsaw at home it might be more convenient to have a mains powered model bench top model, which won’t consume batteries and will always be ready for use.

Another point to look out for is whether the sharpener can be used to adjust depth gauges. Many electric sharpeners are designed specifically to sharpen the cutting teeth and have guides which hold the file at the right angle for this purpose alone. You may need another tool to adjust the depth gauges, which is a task that should be done regularly.

The procedure for using a manual file sharpener is generally the same, no matter what brand of tool you buy. The same largely applies with electric wall mounted or bench top electric sharpeners, although there may be certain operational differences between various designs and brands of sharpener.

Whichever saw sharpener you choose to use, it's very important that you never over-sharpen your chain as it will result in the teeth becoming brittle

Let's take a look at how manual and bench top sharpeners are used, starting with the cheaper option, a manual file.

Using a Manual File Chainsaw Sharpener

A file guide or holder is a useful accessory if you plan to sharpen your chainsaw chain with a round or flat file. This will assist you in getting your file at the correct angle to ensure all the teeth are sharpened in a uniform way. These guides are very helpful to anyone who is new to using a manual file - when you become more experienced you will probably be able to get the job done without one.

You should clean your chain thoroughly with degreasing detergent or other suitable liquid or spray - this will remove any dirt and debris from the chain, leaving it clean for sharpening.


The first step is to clamp your chain bar in a vice on a work bench or other suitable setting, ensuring that the chain can be rotated along easily. If you want to sharpen a chain away from home or your workshop with a hand file, you can buy a pin vice which is a handy gadget that has pointy ends that can be pushed into a tree stump, provided a stable setting for the vice.

It's a good idea to tighten you chain before sharpening to provide plenty of tension so it doesn't move or slip when you are working on it with the handheld file. You should also check your manual to find out the correct angle for the teeth on your chain. If you can't locate the manual for your chainsaw, try to find out the angle online for your model. A 25 degree angle is a common setting.

It's worth marking the tooth you sharpen first with a pencil so you will know you have completed the whole chain when you get back to the marked location. As each tooth is sharpened you carefully more the chain forward to the next tooth.

With the bar in place in the vice, you should draw the file back and forth, evenly and steadily, across the cutting surface of the first tooth, at the same angle it already has in place. Three or four motions are usually enough to sharpen a lightly-worn tooth until it is shiny silver - a heavily-worn tooth will need to be worked more.

You should continue to work your way around the chain, moving it forward after sharpening each tooth - it is important to only sharpen the teeth facing in the same direction. After you have returned to the tooth you marked with a pencil you should flip the chainsaw bar round and repeat the same procedure on the other side of the chain, sharpening the teeth which you by-passed first time.

After sharpening it's important to use a depth gauge tool to adjust and set the correct height of the chain's depth gauges - is these are set too high the cutting teeth on the chain will no reach far enough into wood. Checking your depth gauges is crucial for safe and efficient cutting.

Using an Electric Bench Top Chainsaw Sharpener

Always read the instructions manual or guide that came with your electric sharpener before attempting to use the device - a good understanding of the guide will enable you to get the best out of your sharpener and also ensure you are using it safely.

Before using a bench top sharpener you should take the recommended safety precautions, including wearing safety glasses during all sharpening. Make sure your sharpener is securely fastened to a stable surface in your workshop or garage, and all its parts are firmly connected.


Next you should ensure your chain is securely attached to the sharpener. The connection method will vary depending on sharpener model you own. Once again, consult your manual for full instructions.

Now it's time to power on the machine and lower the grinding wheel towards the first tooth of your chain. Make sure you sharpen the tooth slowly and steadily. You want to have an even sharpness across the entire tooth. You can also get more refined sharpening on many models by tightening refining screws.

Once the first chain tooth is finished you will return the grinding wheel to the 'idle' position. You will then loosen the chain and move it along so the next tooth is in the sharpening position. A guide is provided with most bench top electric sharpeners to make sure you are sharpening your chain on the appropriate angle.

Move along the chain, sharpening all the teeth which are angled in one direction first. It doesn’t matter whether they are the left or right angled teeth - just stick with the one direction at this stage.

Once you have finished all of the right or left angled teeth you need to go back and do sharpen the other teeth which are angled in the opposite direction. This process can be quite time consuming, but it's much quicker and easier than using a manual sharpener.

You should be very methodical and ensure you do not miss out any teeth or sharper any of them more than others. Consistency is important as irregular sharpening can make cutting with your chainsaw more difficult, and even dangerous.

More expensive electric sharpeners feature an attachment that automates the teeth-feeding process, which make the whole sharpening process quicker.

You should be very careful when using the grinding wheel - applying light pressure for a few seconds should be enough to restore an edge to a tooth that has suffered from normal wear. 

As with any home chainsaw sharpening, if you find that a chainsaw tooth has been damaged more heavily - whether from hitting a rock, a nail or just excessive wear - it may be worth getting the edge restored by a professional.