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Chainsaw adjustment notes

stihl MS211 chainsaw close up


Have you thought about doing a series on maintaining chainsaws? Sharpening, cleaning, and adjusting? I would be really interested in that!

Eric in Japan

Thanks for the question Eric.

I've been learning as I go, so I'm not sure if I've got enough experience to do a series on the subject, but I might have enough information to form a short trilogy of tips.

Chain adjustment: I learned the hard way to never over tighten the nuts that secure down the chain tension. The old 039 had a problem vibrating loose, which would make me stop every so often and adjust the chain slack. My amateur mistake was to tighten it too much, which stripped out the bolt and required a trip to the shop to fix.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my two cents on sharpening the chain with a file.



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If you don't want bolts or nuts to loosen without overtightening them you can use thread locker (from e.g. loctite). So-called nyloc nuts (with a nylon friction ring) also work well but can as a rule only be re-used a couple of times. Castellated nuts in combination with a cotter pin or drilled bolts fastened with safety wire also work fine.

In any case, make sure that there is no oil or grease on the bolt or nut's thread when you tighten it. It will decrease friction and can make you over-tighten the bolt. Anti-seize compound (sometimes called copper grease even though it's not technically a grease) is usually fine.

The best way to tighten a bolt repeatably is to tighten it manually until the joint has no play. Then using a spanner rotate it a set amount, e.g. 3/4 turn. How much you need to turn it depends on the diameter of the bolt, the free length and the required tension.

A lot of manuals use torque (because it is easy to measure) as a measure of bolt tension, but since this depends to a large degree on the coefficient of friction between the bolt and the threaded hole, it is not always reliable.

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Jan 24 18:03:31 2012
Great! I, and my chainsaw, thank you! Looking forward to sharpening techniques!
Comment by Eric in Japan Tue Jan 24 18:25:57 2012

Roland --- Great info, as usual! Mark was talking about torque wrenches as he washed the dishes, but it sounds like they're not all they're cracked up to be. Your method makes a lot of sense.

Eric -- Glad it helped!

Comment by anna Tue Jan 24 18:49:43 2012

When checking chain tension, grasp the chain between two fingers and lift up. If the bottom of the drive link clears the bar, the chain is too loose. Another way to look at it is to not have any sag in the chain.

If the chain has stretched so much that the tensioner will not maintain tension, time for another chain.

Comment by Bob Tue Jan 24 22:56:54 2012
Bob --- Good point about the chain tension. Mark generally pulls from the bottom and tightens the chain until one tooth can just barely come clear of the bar when you tug on it. I think maybe the chain tightens a bit as it's running? (Can't quite remember the specifics there....)
Comment by anna Wed Jan 25 17:13:03 2012
It's the other way around. As the metal heats up with use, the chain will expand so you have to tighten it as you use it. The trick is to loosen the tensioner back up when you're done cutting for a while as when it contracts back it can cause damage to the bar/chain or both. But the way Mark is determing how tight to tighten it is exactly right.
Comment by Danny Wed Feb 8 17:43:40 2012