Staying Sharp With Storm-Ready Chainsaws

The Disaster Response Team at Oregon Tool offers tips.

By Carissa Gingras
From the August 2023 Issue

Just last year, natural disasters caused nearly $165 billion worth of damage across the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And when disasters strike, property cleanup crews, including landscapers and arborists, work diligently to help ensure those affected are safe and able to regain some sense of normalcy.

Supporting their efforts is Oregon Tool’s Disaster Response Trailer. For over a decade, it has been deployed to communities ravaged by storms to ensure those involved in cleanup are equipped for a speedy recovery.

chainsaws, Disaster Response, Oregon Tool
(Source: Oregon Tool)

The Disaster Response Trailer

As the top Saw Chain™️ manufacturer, Oregon Tool manufactures parts crucial to any disaster response. In the Spring of 2011, the Oregon® Disaster Response Trailer was created as a result of the devastation left behind by Alabama tornadoes.

A team of Oregon employees with unwavering focus set out with a simple plan: create a trailer equipped as a one-stop mobile repair shop, prepped with tools and technicians to provide free chainsaw maintenance including saw chain sharpening, chainsaw tune-ups, and equipment repairs.

Disaster Response, Oregon Tool
(Source: Oregon Tool)

In 2012, the team was deployed to Pipersville, PA, to support those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Oregon Tool partnered with a valued dealer to sharpen and repair over 1,000 saw chains for homeowners, landscapers, and business owners.

In the last 12 years, the team has been on the front lines of 19 of the most devastating U.S. ice storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, sharpening and repairing over 11,000 saw chains. Read on for advice, gleaned from years of experience, on how landscapers can ensure their chainsaws are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Ready For Anything

In preparation for storm clean-up, landscapers need to have the right tools and replacement parts for their equipment.

According to a 2021 Oregon-conducted study with 1,000 landscape professionals, 48% of landscapers buy two of a target replacement part and 30% buy three of a target replacement part so they have extra parts on hand when needed, making landscapers some of the most prepared professionals to tackle storm emergencies.

chainsaws, Disaster Response, Oregon Tool
(Source: Oregon Tool)

Ideally, those replacement parts won’t be as necessary if existing equipment is properly cleaned and maintained. This means the saw chain should be sharpened every time a chainsaw is fueled. Dull chain increases fuel consumption, can cause excessive damage, and increases the likelihood for low kickback. Low kickback—when the chainsaw bar launches upward after chain gets caught in the wood—is one of the most common causes of chainsaw injury.

If wood debris from the chain looks like dust—as opposed to chips— it’s likely the chain is dull and needs to be sharpened. Having to force the chain to get it to cut is another sign it needs to be sharpened.

There are two main methods used for sharpening chainsaw chain: first, by hand using a round chainsaw file or secondly, using an electric chainsaw grinder. A third method, square filing, is only meant for square chain used to cut large trees.

Sharpening Prep

Before sharpening a saw chain, you should prepare by having gloves, protective eyewear, and a chainsaw filing kit on hand. You should also have a clean workspace to prepare the saw chain prior to sharpening.

  1. Before sharpening a chainsaw, it’s necessary to know the type of chain and sharpening angle specifications found in the owner’s manual or on the chain pack. The chain identification code is usually written on the driving link.
  2. Put on personal protective gear, including gloves and eyewear.
  3. If sharpening a chain while it’s attached to the chain saw bar, tension it properly.
  4. Make sure chainsaw is powered off.
  5. Wipe oil and grease off the chain. This step will prevent buildup from occurring on the file’s teeth or the wheel when grinding.
  6. Inspect the chainsaw chain for damage or any of the following:
      • Proper installation of tie straps and drive links;
      • Cracked or broken cutters, cutter top plates,or tie straps;
      • Bent, cracked, or burned drive links;
      • Severe abrasive damage;
      • Abnormally worn chain;
      • Wear patterns that may indicate a worn bar or sprocket; and
      • Loose rivets. If rivets rotate, they are too loose.
  7. Select and use the correct file guide and file.
  8.  If the chain is broken, repair or replace.
  9. Check and adjust depth gauges.
  10. Sharpen the chain to manufacturer’s recommendations, keeping it balanced.

Round File Sharpening

After the pre-work, you can use either a round file or a grinder to sharpen the saw chain. There are a few simple steps to take when sharpening with a round file:

  1. Engage the chain brake, lightly clamp the chainsaw bar in a bench vice, then release the chain brake to rotate the chain by hand. Wear gloves during this first step.
  2. If using a file guide, place it over the cutter with the file in the gullet, between the cutter and the depth gauge. Make sure the file guide has two points of contact, one point of contact on the cutter top plate and two on the depth gauge.
  3. Hold the file in the correct location so that 1/5, or 20%, of the file’s diameter is positioned above the cutter’s top plate.
  4. Check to see if the top plate filing angle should be parallel to the chainsaw chain centerline.
  5. Locate the cutter with the most damage. Sharpen using steady, even strokes to remove damage while counting the file strokes. Damage is removed when the cutter has a shiny, silver face. File all the cutters with the same number of strokes per piece from inside to outside so lengths are equal.
  6. Complete all the cutters on one side of the chain, before turning your chain to switch sides. Keep all cutter lengths equal.
  7. File back to remove damage and keep top plates equal in length.
  8. Recheck depth gauge.
chainsaw maintenance, Disaster Response, Oregon Tool
(Source: Oregon Tool)

Grinder Sharpening

Another sharpening method is to use an electric chain grinder, which can save time and money. Always refer to the grinder’s manual, but here are general guidelines:

  1. Check the grinder wheel shape.
  2. Set vise assembly to the correct top plate filing angle.
  3. Use the recommended top-plate cutting angle to set the proper grinder head angle.
  4. Check that the vise blocking handle is screwed in tight and that the chain is blocked.
  5. Turn on the electric sharpener.
  6. Sharpen the cutter by lowering the arm-motor unit. When finished, raise the arm and loosen the handle.
  7. Run the chain forward to position the next cutter to be sharpened.
  8. Block again with handle and sharpen.
  9. When all the cutters are sharpened, turn the machine off and unplug the power cable.
  10. Dress vitrified grinding wheels often to maintain correct shape using either a rotary dresser or dressing brick. After, check and adjust depth gauges. Clean off any debris and lubricate the chain with oil, ideally soaking overnight. Finally, store the saw chain in a container with lubricant so it’s ready for its next use.

Pre- & Post-Storm

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With equipment ready, you can be prepared even in advance of storms. Another way to prepare is by ensuring customer landscapes are in the best condition possible. In communities prone to wildfires, regularly remove dead foliage and trim overgrown branches. In flood-prone areas, grade soil so water flows away from buildings. And in areas at risk of tornadoes, maintain healthy trees that can withstand heavy wind gusts.

After a storm, landscapers often care for remaining trees, which will need time and frequent watering to regain strength. Unless branches are broken, they shouldn’t be pruned immediately after a storm.

Oregon ToolGingras is the director of Brand, Digital and Channel Marketing for Oregon Tool. She has over 30 years of work experience in B2C and B2B integrated marketing on the corporate and agency side. Prior to joining Oregon Tool in May 2022, she spent 12 years leading marketing initiatives at Briggs & Stratton, overseeing distributor, dealer, and retail strategy for lawn and garden parts, for residential engines and battery, and for commercial turf power applications.

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  1. We just went to one of your trailers in Perry Florida and the guys were amazing! Thank you so much for the incredible service and care that those guys exhibited in helping us get through this difficult situation.


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