This method is the most difficult, and requires the most attention to detail that I know of (As far as sharpening a chain goes…). The angles are all done by hand and memory, so it is very easy to get wrong. It can be done, but much care must be given to the task. To jump past all the words, and get straight to the video, click this!


     -Consistency! This is a biggie. You want to be consistent with all you do concerning chainsaw chain sharpening. You will want each tooth to be as close to the same as all the other teeth as possible. If you take 3 swipes on your first tooth, take 3 from all the teeth. Push down with the same pressure on all the teeth. Keep the angles the same on all teeth. Be a machine! The closer you can keep all the teeth to being the same the smoother the chain will cut. It may be tricky at first, but hang in there, you’ll soon have the hang of it! LOL.

     -Find a comfortable place to do your work, if possible. Your spouse might not approve if you try to sharpen your saw on the kitchen table or on the couch in front of the TV… What I mean by finding a comfortable spot to work from, is like a nice level bench or truck bed. Somewhere that puts the saw at a comfortable height for you to do your thing! Tree stumps can work just fine if you level them off first. There is even a vise made to set in a tree stump. I prefer the back of the work truck, all my tools are there, as well as the gas and oil.

Pointing at a cutting tooth
“Look Ma, a tooth!”

     -Wear some leather gloves. This is optional, but let me tell ya, if you aren’t paying attention you can really gash your hand if you don’t have a set of gloves on. Ask me how I know! Those cutting teeth are quite sharp even when dull, especially on fleshy bits.

     -Have patience. If this is your first time working on a chainsaw chain have some patience. It is not a difficult task, but it will take time to learn what’s going on. Take your time and have patience and persistence and you will surely learn how to make a chainsaw chain nice and sharp!

     -Make sure you have the right file for the job. If you use the wrong file for the job, you will not achieve the results you want. Here is a list to guide you, hopefully in the right direction! Page 4 has a great chart detailing which file for which chain you will need.

File size chart
A general file chart I found on the back of a chain box.


     This is the hardest way to sharpen a chain, the most concentration must be given. You must pay close attention to your pressures and angles. If you have a chain that has witness marks on the top of the cutting tooth this task will be much easier. If your chain has said witness marks, then that is the angle that you will want to file at. The angle of those marks is usually 30 degrees. This seems to be a reasonable angle for a good balance of cutting and sharpness durability. It will cut faster at steeper angles (like 35 +), but you will notice it goes dull quicker too. I sharpen all mine to 30° for daily work.

A good angle for the file-min
This is the 90 degree angle I keep talking about.

     The angle of the file in relation to the bar is specified on the box the chain came in. I like to keep mine all at 90°, it keeps things simple for me, and seems to cut just fine. By this angle, I mean the angle if you were to look straight down the bar, from the tip, towards the saw. The file in the tooth, ready to file, should have a 90° relationship to the bar on each side of the file/bar.

Bad file angle
A bad filing angle!

     You will want about 1/4 of the file to be above the top of the cutting tooth. You will want to watch this so you can change the height or depth of your cut to adjust accordingly. If the file rides in the tooth too high you will have no “hook” on your cutting tooth, and it won’t cut very well. Too deep, and there will be too much hook (which also has poor cutting attributes), not to mention you will be cutting into the tie strap of the chain. You will notice that this will happen about half way down the life of the chain, but if you cut too deep into the strap the chain could fall apart. I don’t even want to think about something like that happening! Just watch that you are applying just enough downward pressure to keep 3/4 of the file under the edge of the cutting tooth. I like to aim down and back at about a 45° angle, in general.

More bad file angle
Another poor choice of angle!

     A file does have a direction of travel. The pointy end is where the handle goes. Most saw files were designed to push from the handle, they will not do much on the return pull. It is best to take all pressure off when returning the file to the start. You should be able to tell quite easily if your file is backwards just by the way it is cutting. Backwards it will feel like it is just sliding along not doing anything, that’s because it is doing just that. Nothing! Turn it around or reverse the direction of travel and it should start working. You will want to sharpen from the short side of the tooth towards the pointy end. Reverse that direction and the file will be chattering all over, also not doing much. Filing should smoothly remove little tiny dust-like pieces of tooth with each swipe.

Pulling the file thru the cut-min
Notice the direction of file travel in relation to the cutter tooth. I am pulling the file here.

     You can lightly hold the file and tap it out on a hard object. Actually, since I don’t use a handle on my files this may not work too well if there is a handle on the file. When I tap my files out I can feel them vibrating. One thing you may consider buying is a file card. They were designed to clean files, and they do a good job. They look like some kind of miniature curry comb, with lots of little short wire bristles. They must not be too popular anymore, because the guy at the hardware store looked at me like I was a blathering idiot when I asked for one. I made him order one for me from their website, so now he should know exactly what a file card is!

Body positioned so I can look straight down-min
Using my left hand to stabilize the chain. Notice my body positioning in relation to the saw for this side of the chain.

     I like to position myself directly over the tooth I am sharpening. This lets me look down, directly at the witness marks (…if the chain has them!). Doing it this was helps me with consistency. On one side I stand directly in front of the bar, with the saw in front of me. On the other side I place the saw on my left with the bar pointing to the right. This lets the angle of my right hand stay the same, regardless of if I am on one side or the other (of the chain).

     I like to use my left hand to stabilize the chain. I do this by wrapping my thumb over the top and curling my fingers under the bottom. I can then simultaneously push with my thumb, and pull with my fingers. This keeps the tooth from moving side to side, and locks the chain down from spinning. I also like to use the file to help move the chain to the next tooth. This is a good way to help avoid cuts to your fingers!

Pinching the chain-min
Using my left hand to stabilize the chain. Notice my body positioning in relation to the saw.

     One more thing to note: I try to take the same amount of material from each tooth on each side. If I have a tooth that has been “rocked” I do not try to sharpen it all the way down to make it pretty and pointy. I take the same amount from the “rocked” tooth as I did on all the other teeth. Eventually, over a few sharpenings, that messed up tooth will look just as nice as the others. This increases the longevity of the chain, and you wont be able to tell that one tooth isn’t pointy in the cut. Keeping the length of each cutter as close to the same as possible will give you a smoother cut. I say the bit about longevity because if you were to do it correctly you would find the worst tooth, make it perfect, and then match all the rest of the teeth to that one. That takes more material from all the other teeth than is needed for normal applications. By the way, I’m a cheep bast…



     This method of filing is both the simplest and hardest. It is the simplest because you only have your chainsaw and one file. That’s less stuff to lose on the trail! It is the hardest because there are no angles predefined to follow (unless your chain has witness marks!). I think it is good to at least know how to file without a guide, because you never know when you will be stuck without said guide. With patience and practice you will be able to sharpen your chain consistently well with just a file. It does get easier the more you do it too, so hang in there a bit. 🙂

     Thanks for reading my tutorial and watching my instructional video! Share any sharpening stories you have in the comments below. Also, I’m only human and I tend to forget things, so any questions or comments are always welcomed! Thanks for sharing, liking, and subscribing. You can email me from over there on the right hand side too…

Safety first, Cass “Cronkito”

To learn about chain nomenclature, push this!

To read about how to adjust the depth gauges on chainsaw chains…

Read about sharpening with a file guide!

Read about how I use a precision file guide here!













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