How To Keep Your Chainsaw Purring Like A Kitten

Stihl store
This is Tim’s store in Oregon. If you get there, tell him I said hi!

My dad used to tell a story about a friend of his and a chainsaw. They were camping somewhere at the north end of Vancouver Island, about 40 years ago. My dad’s friend had a new McCullough Mac 10-10 and he was eager to try it out by cutting up some dead wood for the fire.

Now, Art (that was his name) was no beginner when it came to chainsaws. He was a tree feller by trade, and an experienced one. So when this new baby of his refused to start, he got frustrated. Perhaps “frustrated” is sugar-coating it a little. After about an hour of fiddling with the Mac and yanking the chain to no avail, he finally blew. In a fit of rage he threw the chainsaw into the lake, accompanied by many a word too salty to print here. My dad was scandalized (at the chainsaw toss, not the swearing). Art yelled, “You want the–(insert long, graphically salty description here)–chainsaw, go get it. You’re welcome to it.”

A happy ending.

Fortunately, a McCullough Mac 10-10 chainsaw doesn’t throw very far, they’re heavy saws. Dad waded into the lake and fished it out. He took it home, dried it out, and cleaned it up. When all was done, he gave the cord a test pull. It started up like a dream. Dad never had a problem starting it up at all.  Art wouldn’t have either, if he had just remembered to depress the throttle lock underneath the handle before pulling the cord.  And yes, Dad gave the chainsaw back to Art.

My Point?

Point being, there’s no middle-ground opinion about a chainsaw for most owners; either it works like a dream or it’s a crap piece of junk.  Often times it’s both. This happens when the chainsaw you know and love suddenly decides to cut out on you or quit performing in an optimum way. And, as the above story attests to, it happens even to good brands and experienced owners.

Meet, now, Tim Phillips. He’s a gold level tech and has been with Stihl for over twenty years. He owns a small store in Oregon, and has been to the Stihl factories in both Virginia Beach, VA and in Germany. This guy has serious chainsaw chops. He also happens to be one of the nicest, most helpful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with about chainsaws. The following Q & A will help keep your chainsaw in tip-top condition. Take the answers and tips seriously–this guy knows what he’s talking about:

Question #1: What is the best procedure for setting high and low idle on my chainsaw? Are there any tips for making it easier?

Tim: “The “H” on the saw affects the high speed air fuel mixture. Closing (turning it clockwise) the screw makes the fuel leaner and opening (counter clockwise) makes it richer. Becareful when you set it to lean; you can burn up the saw by leaning it down too far. Most shops have a digital tachometer they use to set the high speed screw. Most two-strokes turn 10,000 rpm but some of the big saws can run 13,000 rpm.

“The “L” affects the low speed. The adjustment on the screw is the same as for high speed. In on the screw leans it down and out makes the fuel richer.”

What about limiter caps?

“Most saws have limiter caps on both screws so you can only go a half turn in or half turn out from the factory settings. For those that don’t, you want to turn the screw in until it stops, and then back it out from one to one-and-a-half turns.

“Then there is the idle screw. To adjust this correctly, you want to turn it in (clockwise) until the chain starts to spin, then back it out until the chain stops spinning. I always go until it’s about to die and then in until the chain turns; then I find the middle of those two.”

Question #2: How should I measure tension in my chain? Any tips that might make it easier?

Tim: “Chain tension—This is one I get asked a lot.  You don’t want to see any chain hanging down on the bottom of the bar, so adjust the chain so there is no chain hanging. Then, take your bar wrench (never use your hands) and push or roll the chain forward. It should glide forward fairly easy but not take superhuman strength to make it move down the bar.  Then, with it set, you want to hold up on the tip of the bar and then tighten the bar nuts. This is because there is always a small amount of play between the bar studs and the hole in the bar. By holding the tip up, it takes out the play. If, after you do this, you see the chain still hanging down a little, tighten a little more.

“A tip about the bar is to flip it over every time you take the chain off and put it back on, because all the heat and wear is on the bottom of the bar. By flipping it over, it shares the wear and the bar lasts longer. At some point, it’s best to take it into a saw shop and have them profile the bar. What that does is it gets rid of the uneven rails and makes them square again like new. You can tell how it’s time to profile the bar—it cuts in a circle no matter how hard you try and make it cut straight. Or, you can feel a lip on the edge of the bar by where the chain rides.

“If you don’t have a shop in your town or they don’t do bar work, you can take a flat file and do it by hand, but be careful; there are sharp edges there.”

There are four more questions to answer, but that’s in tomorrow’s post!

One last thing:
chain file kit for Stihl
Chainsaw file kit for Stihl

Stihl doesn’t sell their chainsaws online.


A number of reasons. Warranty and Liability issues are a concern. Another reason is that dealers are required to unpack, prep and test each unit they are selling. Not only that, but Stihl believes in supporting their dealers and making sure that when you buy their chainsaws, you end up talking to a person instead of a website. This is especially beneficial when it comes to expediting any resolution of unexpected issues. You can find out more by visiting the FAQ on the Stihl website.

You can buy chainsaw files online, though.

Check out this chain file kit that’s good for Stihl, Husqvarna and Echo, as well as Poulan. Canadian residents can get the real deal Stihl kit here.

Tomorrow we’ll talk to Tim about the file kit you see in the picture above, chain sharpening, air cleaners, oil, fuel and more. You’ll want to hear what he has to say–it just may keep you from pitching your chain saw into the nearest lake.

Have a great day and maintain your motor axe!