Electric Chainsaw Maintenance: Keep your Saw Clean, Sharp & Oiled

If you already own an electric chainsaw, then you’re probably familiar with how low maintenance these saws can be. When you’re ready to start cutting simply pop in a battery, pull back the chain brake, depress the trigger, and – presto – you’ve got a working saw at the touch of a button.

While that means you’ll never need to deal with frustrating dead spark plugs or clogged carburetors again, your electric chainsaw still requires some basic maintenance to keep it in good running condition.

Most of these maintenance tasks are common to both electric and gas-powered chainsaws, so you’ll be able to apply them to either type.

How to Maintain an Electric Chainsaw

A word of caution before we begin: Just like you wouldn’t perform maintenance tasks on an idling gas chainsaw, you should never do anything maintenance-related while the battery is still inside the saw. The same thing goes for corded saws – always remove the plug from the outlet before you start working.

Refilling Bar Oil

The most common maintenance task you’ll need to perform on any electric chainsaw is refilling the bar and chain oil. This needs to be done whenever the oil starts to run low, which you’ll be able to see as the saw’s oil gauge nears empty.

Refilling the bar oil is straightforward on most saws. First, place the saw on level ground, unscrew the cap to access the oil reservoir, and then carefully pour the oil until it reaches the top of the gauge. Then replace the cap.

refilling bar and chain oil
Refilling bar and chain oil on the DeWalt 12-inch 20v Chainsaw.

Be careful not to overfill or spill the oil as you pour, as this stuff is pretty messy and you don’t want to get it all over your clothes.

Keep in mind most saws burn through bar oil quickly, especially if you’re performing demanding tasks like clearing land of trees and brush. It’s a good idea to keep a jug of bar oil nearby so you can refill it whenever you start to run low.

Cleaning out Debris

As often happens when working with a chainsaw, sawdust and other debris are bound to work their way into your saw. This will happen regardless of how carefully you operate the saw, so don’t worry about it.

chainsaw with debris buildup inside cover plate
Debris and sawdust need to be cleaned out regularly to keep the saw running smoothly.

To clean most saws, you’ll first need to remove the cover plate to give you access to the bar and chain. Removing the cover plate will vary depending on the specific saw. Some can be removed with tool-less knobs, while others will require unscrewing one or more nuts.

After the cover plate is removed, you’ll be able to scoop out any sawdust, debris, or gunk that’s worked its way inside. You may want to remove the bar and chain to clean any gaps between the bar and the saw body. Be sure to wipe down any debris or grime remaining with an old cloth or rag.

Next, you’ll want to make sure the oil discharge port is clear of sawdust and grime. This is where the bar and chain oil feeds out of and is typically found near the mounting bolts. If the discharge port gets jammed up, the chain won’t receive any oil – which can lead to the saw locking up. A good way to clean this is with a few sprays of compressed air.

Next, wipe down both the bar and chain thoroughly. Check the chain’s teeth for any jammed pieces of wood that need to be removed. Compressed air and stiff brush can both be helpful for this.

Adjusting Chain Tension

Adjusting the chain tension is another one of those basic electric chainsaw maintenance tasks that you’ll need to do from time to time as you use your saw. This can be after you replace an old chain, after cleaning out debris, or if the chain comes loose while you’re cutting down a tree.

As a rule of thumb, you want the chain to fit snugly to the bar, but not so tight that you can’t pull it away with a little effort. The chain should come about ¼ to ½ inches away from the bar when adjusted correctly.

Adjusting the chain tension depends slightly on the specific saw model. Some have tool-free tension knobs which allow you to adjust the tension by hand, while others have a tension nut or screw that can be adjusted by turning it with a wrench or screwdriver.

tool free tension adjustment knob
This saw features a tool-free chain tension knob.

Replacing Bar and Chain

Occasionally, you’ll need to remove and replace your old chainsaw bar and chain.

If your bar gets bent or the rail edge is broken then it’s time to replace the bar. Similarly, if the chain has broken or damaged teeth that can’t be fixed by sharpening then it’s time to replace it with a new chain.

To replace the bar and/or chain, you’ll need access to the mounting bolts beneath the cover plate. Remove the cover plate using the tool-less knobs or by rotating the nuts holding it in place.

Next, slide the bar and chain off of the mounting bolts. They should slide right off once the cover plate is removed.

Replace the bar and/or chain with the same type as the ones you’re discarding. That means the same bar length and chain length as well as the same chain type. If possible get the same brand as the ones you had previously.

If you wish to change the bar length by going longer (or shorter), make sure to consult the manufacturer’s specifications. Changing to a longer bar length will make the motor work harder, which can burn out the motor if it doesn’t have enough power.

To replace the bar and chain, first, slide the new chain over the new bar making sure the teeth are positioned inside the grooves of the bar. Make sure the chain is facing in the correct direction. Most saws will have an indicator on the bar and cover telling you which direction the teeth should face.

chainsaw bar and chain
Closeup of the bar and chain. Notice the indicator on the bar showing which direction the teeth should face.

Next, position the bar over the mounting bolts and position the end of the chain over the motor gear. Ensure the groove in the bar slides into place so the bar sits flat in position. At this point, the bar should stay in position while you replace the cover plate.

Finally, replace the cover plate, adjust the chain tension until you reach the desired tension and you’re good to go.

Sharpening Chain Teeth

A sharp saw is a safe saw. A dull chain can cause burning and buckling and make cutting through wood slow and dangerous. Luckily, sharpening your chain’s teeth can be done quickly without removing the chain from the bar. All you need is a vice and a basic chainsaw sharpening kit.

First, clamp the bar into place by placing it into a vice and tightening it until it’s secure. Then, engage the saw’s chain break so the chain can’t move while you sharpen the teeth.

Next, use a marker or wax pencil to mark the starting tooth for sharpening. Then align the sharpening guide on the sharpener so it lines up with the bar, and pull the file along the edge of the tooth. Repeat this several times until the tooth is sharp to the touch.

Repeat this process for every other tooth. You’ll need to release the chain break to access more teeth as you go.

When all the teeth on that side of the chain are sharp, you’ll need to release the saw from the vice, turn it around and file the teeth on the other side.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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