Can Chainsaw Chains be Shortened?


Chainsaws are a handy tool to help you saw wooden logs and perform other yardwork. The cutting efficiency of these machines is dependent on the high-speed cutting chains. Over time, these chains elongate due to continued tension and wear rate. As a result, the cutting performance deteriorates. Hence, you might want to know if these chains can be shortened to achieve the right amount of tension at some point in time.

Can chainsaw chains be shortened?

In general, yes, chainsaw chains can be shortened. The procedure for doing so is as follows:

  • Step 1: Ensure that the chain isn’t hot and the spark plug wire is disconnected.
  • Step 2: Remove the chain from the chainsaw by detaching the side cover.
  • Step 3: Pop the links open by breaking their rivets and remove one of them to shorten the chain length. Connect the links back with the help of rivets.
  • Step 4: Once the chain has been shortened, reattach it to the chainsaw and test its tension. Repeat the procedure if it needs further shortening.

In chainsaws, the chain is wound around the sprocket and the rod, where it rotates at high speed. It is usually made up of drive links (containing sharp cutting edges) and the connecting links. Due to continuous wear and fatigue, a chain is bound to elongate since these links elongate due to prolonged tension. Typically, we recommend that you purchase a new chain when the old one has worn out. Reusing this adjusted chain can cause a sudden failure and may result in safety hazards. If the wear is not much, you can resort to removing these connecting links until the chain’s length is correct.

If you aren’t sure how to do that, we recommend that you go through this entire article as it simplifies the technical procedure into the form of straightforward steps.

Tools Needed:

To perform this job, you need the following equipment:

  • Pliers
  • Chain breaking tool
  • Rivets and rivet gun
  • Ball pin hammer
  • Safety goggles and gloves

Shortening the chain on a Chainsaw in simple steps:

The step-by-step procedure for shortening the chainsaw chain is provided in this section.

Step 1: Perform the initial measurements:

Before starting the procedure, some initial precautionary steps should be followed, which are mentioned below:

– Always wear safety gear:

While performing any chain-related work, proper safety gear must be worn. This includes safety goggles and gloves.

– Allow the chain to cool:

If your chainsaw is hot following yard work, allow it to cool down for some time. The chain and the bar might be too hot to operate with, and it’s safer to let them cool down first.

– Disconnect the spark plug wire:

Disconnect the wire from the spark plug. The engine might start accidentally if the chain’s sprocket is rotated with the spark plug engaged. Hence, the removal of the plug wire prevents the engine from starting unintentionally.

Step 2: Remove the chain from the saw:

Removing the chain from the chainsaw is pretty straightforward. You can do it by just following the steps given below:

  • Step 1: Remove the side cover fasteners: You need to remove the side cover to access the chain. The side cover is attached with the help of screws/nuts. Use an appropriate screwdriver or an Allen key to loosen the nuts.
  • Step 2: Remove the cover and brake: With the nuts loosened, remove the chainsaw’s side cover. While doing this, make sure that the chainsaw brake (if any) is unlocked. If it isn’t, you won’t be able to put the cover back on.
  • Step 3: Pull the bar to release the chain: Pull the bar towards you. You will hear the bar click, and the chain’s tension will be released as you do it. You can now release the chain out of the sprocket.

Step 3: Shorten the Chain by removing the links:

Shortening the chain involves removing certain links in the chain until its tension becomes significant. To perform this step, you first need to check if your chain uses a master link or not; manufacturers incorporate a master link to make the link removal process easy.

– Chains with a master link:

The master link is visually different from the other links of the chain and can be identified easily. Once identified, you can perform the steps below:

  • Pop the master link open: You may need a pair of pliers to open the master link. Remove the rivets using pliers to pop the master link open.
  • Remove the link next to it: Once the master link is opened, remove the link attached next to the master link by breaking/removing its rivets.
  • Reattach the master link: Reattach the master link where the removed link was present initially. Insert the rivets and snap them closed using a hammer/rivet gun. The chain length has now been altered since a link has been removed.

While doing this procedure, please be careful of the sharp drive links on the chain not to injure yourself. Also, ensure that the spacing between the drive links remains unaltered while you adjust the links.

– Chains without a master link:

For chains that lack a master link, you will need a chain breaker tool to pop the links open. The chain breaker tool breaks the rivets open. To attach the links back, a rivet gun should be used. The step-by-step procedure is as follows:

  • Pop the link open: The procedure, in this case, is also the same as it involves the removal of the links. In this case, you need to place the link that you want to remove under a chain-breaking tool and rotate its lever till you hear a popping sound. The rivets on one side of the link have been opened. Repeat the same procedure on the other side of the chain on the same link till the link is detached.
  • Remove the links: Remove that link from the chain. We shall start by removing one link and then test if the chain tension is sufficient. If it isn’t, you need to keep removing links until the tension becomes significant.
  • Connect the Chain: Once you have removed the link/s, you need to reattach the chain from both the opened ends. To do this, align both the drive links and the chain links and insert rivets into the holes. Snap the rivet ends using a rivet gun.

Step 4: Test the adjusted chain length on the saw:

Now that the chain length has been modified, you need to test if it still serves the purpose or if it needs to be adjusted further.

– Chain reassembly:

To reattach the chain to the chainsaw, you can follow the steps below:

  • Loosen the tension screw: The tension screw is located between the bar and the chainsaw itself. Loosen the screw so that fitting the chainsaw becomes loose on the bar.
  • Thread the chain: Thread the chain on the sprocket until the drive links are fully slotted in their place in the sprockets.
  • Pull the bar and tighten the nuts: Pull the bar away from the chainsaw along its length. This will give tension to the chain. Now, tighten the tension screw and push the bar away from you until you hear it click. This will make the chain nice and tight.
  • Reattach the side cover: Reattach the side cover on the chainsaw and tighten its fasteners.

– Testing the chain tension:

To test the chain length, carefully hold the chain with your fingers and pull it away slightly. Then, release the chain from your fingers. If it fits back into its place and does not sag, it has the correct tension, and you don’t need to shorten its length anymore. Otherwise, if you notice the chain not making contact with the bar and still sagging, it needs to be shortened further.

Related Questions:

1. Do all chainsaw chains have a master link?

Not all chainsaw chains have a master link. The ones that come with the unit and are made from top chain manufacturers such as Oregon have a master link. The ones that come from local dealers may not have a master link. These shop owners buy a long chain on a spool, cut smaller chains from it, and then sell it afterward.

Note that master links can be identified quite quickly as they are different from the other links and usually stand out as distinct.

2. Do chainsaw chains stretch?

During operation, the links of a chainsaw undergo tension. Due to continued use, they are bound to elongate. Thus, chainsaws stretch over time and sag on the bar. If it becomes too loose, it can hang down from the bar and cause a safety hazard for the user.

3. Why does my chain keep coming loose on my chainsaw?

Apart from the tensile elongation, the major factor contributing to the chain’s elongation is the heat. In metal, high temperature increases the thermal expansion coefficient, meaning that the elongation becomes easy. As a result, the chain keeps coming loose on your chainsaw.

4. How many times can a chainsaw chain be sharpened?

Typically, the chainsaw cutters need sharpening about ten times throughout their entire lifetime. If the cutters appear uneven after you have sharpened them on your own, consider taking them to a professional grind.

5. How often should a chainsaw chain be replaced?

Chainsaw chains might last up to 5 years or, in some cases, even ten years (when used occasionally). However, they may become dull after some time due to continued use. For mechanical parts like the chains, sprockets, gears, the average lifetime is highly dependent on proper maintenance.

Final Remarks:

Chainsaw chains can be shortened quite conveniently. However, we recommend that you exercise caution while dealing with these sharp chains to injure yourself. Furthermore, if you witness considerable wear and tear in your chain, consider replacing it with a new chain rather than attempting to shorten it as this can cause sudden failure, and you will need a new one anyway.

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