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How to Adjust a Chainsaw’s Depth Gauge. What pros say

For most chainsaw users, a chainsaw is a garden tool that guarantees efficiency and productivity for sawing operations. However, most users encounter a common problem: the chainsaw is cutting very thin chips of wood per cut. This low material removal rate hampers productivity, and you begin to wonder if there’s a way to fix it. In this blog post, I will address this and help you solve this issue.

How to adjust a chainsaw’s depth gauge:

  • Step 1: I recommend using a depth gauge guide tool and a flat file.
  • Step 2: Clean the chain so that any deposits of oil or debris are dislodged.
  • Step 3: Fix the chain. Using the guide tool, file the top portion of the depth gauge until it is completely leveled with the guide tool.
  • Step 4: Repeat the above process for the remaining depth gauges.

Sharpening the depth gauges ensures that the chainsaw cuts enough wood per unit of time and saves you several precious hours of your time. Typically, depth gauge adjustments become more imminent after the chain has been sharpened.

To further elaborate on the original answer, I will provide valuable insight into some chain dynamics.

What Is A Depth Gauge?

As the name suggests, a depth gauge is a part of the cutter tooth that controls the depth of the cut. It is a pointed tip located along with the cutter tooth after the cutting blade. A small amount of vertical distance is present between the tip of the cutting blade and the depth gauge. This distance is also known as depth or rake and is often stamped on the depth gauge.

How does Depth Gauge Affect the Material Removal Rate?

I will show you first how the depth gauge affects the cutting efficiency of your chainsaw. During the cutting operation, a greater depth of cut results in a more significant amount of wood being severed. During a chainsaw operation, the material removal rate is the mathematical product of the chain speed, the speed with which it is fed, and the depth of cut. Hence, to achieve the maximum material removal rate, you need to maximize the depth of cut of your chainsaw. Mathematically,

Where, V = chain speed, f = feed speed, d = depth of cut, MRR = material removal rate. Since you have gained a basic insight into the cutting process, let us determine why a depth gauge is so important and why it needs maintenance to ensure superior cutting performance.

Graphical Demonstration:

The relationship between the raker depth and material removed per minute by the chainsaw.

This mathematical relation might seem dull but don’t worry. I will apply this to a real-world scenario. I will consider a Stihl 020 gas chainsaw running at full throttle at 10000 RPMs. It uses a guide bar whose height is 4.5 inches. The amount of wood that is cut in a minute is compared against various raker depths. You can see that at greater depths, the material removed per minute also increases. You can see that by keeping your rakers well adjusted, you can increase the wood removal rate and boost the cutting efficiency of your chainsaw.

Why Does a Depth Gauge Need Maintenance?

As your purchase, a new chainsaw, the cutting teeth, and the depth gauges of its chain are set correctly. Most homeowners tend to sharpen their chainsaw’s cutter teeth to achieve better results. In most cases, the sharp cutting edge of the cutter tooth gets lowered, ultimately reducing the depth gauge’s rake. The downside is that the material removal rate is significantly decreased since the depth of the cut is reduced. Due to this, your chainsaw will cut thinner chips of wood. There might come a time when it doesn’t cut anything due to the cutting edge and the depth gauge being at the same level.

Conversely, you might also see a situation when the depth gauge is way lower than the prescribed value of its rake. In this case, the chainsaw might be dangerous to operate as it dislodges very large wood chunks. It might also produce kickbacks to the user. Hence, it is not recommended for a user to operate such a chainsaw.

In both of these situations, it becomes mandatory to adjust the depth gauge of your chainsaw so that you can resume your regular sawing routine with minimal hitch and maximum productivity.

Adjusting a Chainsaw’s Depth Gauge: Step-by-Step:

Adjusting all the depth gauges on your chainsaw is very important to prevent accidents or kickbacks. For this purpose, all the gauges on the cutter teeth need to be at the same level. The procedure for doing that will be discussed in this section step-by-step.

Step 1: Gather your tools:

During this operation, you need the two most essential tools. One is a depth gauge guide tool, and another file to peel off the excess metal from the depth gauge.

– Depth gauge guide tool:

It is a tool used for providing a flat platform over the cutting teeth. It has a slot from which the depth gauge edge protrudes out. Each chainsaw manufacturer has its particular guide tool, which may not be compatible with a different manufacturer. So, it would help if you prefer buying the one which your chainsaw brand manufactures. A depth gauge guide tool is not very costly, and it falls somewhere around 10-15$. You can find some depth gauge guide tools here:

– Flat file:

Besides the guide tool, a flat-file is also needed to chop off extra metallic portions to perfectly level the gauges.

You can find flat files along with a depth gauge guide here (click here).

Step 2: Clean the chain:

Now that you have all the tools at your disposal let’s proceed towards accessing the chain. If you’ve come fresh after a sawing session, leave the saw for 10-15 minutes to allow the chain to cool down. Using a rag, clean off the debris or grease so that your hands don’t get spoiled. Please note that you don’t need to take the chain off to adjust the depth gauge. The filing operation requires that the chain be held fixed in a vice or at the chainsaw bar.

Step 3: File the depth gauge:

Place the chainsaw on a flat surface. Set the guide tool on the chain to cover the cutting tooth, and the depth gauge’s edge is exposed through the slot. You might see some of its portion protruding out of the slot. Note that only one tooth shall be visible per slot.

Take the flat file and feed it across the depth gauge above the slot to level the depth gauge. Keep filing the gauge until it has been leveled with the guide tool. While doing so, make sure you maintain the original shape of the depth gauge. Otherwise, the cutters will feed roughly to the wood while cutting. Also, avoid filing the gauge lower than the guide setting.

Step 4: Repeat the process for the entire chain:

Using a similar method, keep filing the rest of the gauges until all the gauges are of the same height. Again, it would be best to level all the gauges equally, preventing the chain from vibrating during the operation.

Related Questions:

1. When to sharpen a chainsaw chain?

The best way to know if your chain needs sharpening is to check the wood shavings produced during sawing. If the shavings comprise fine, dust-like particles, then you should consider sharpening your chain. On the other hand, if you see larger, thicker chips instead, then your cutter teeth are sharp, and there’s no need to sharpening yet.

2. How to sharpen a chainsaw chain?

If you see your saw producing dust-like wood particles while sawing, it probably means that your cutter teeth have become dull. In this case, you need to sharpen them to avoid any future risk of an injury or an accident; since dull chains are prone to produce kickbacks. To sharpen your chain, you should follow a step-by-step procedure as mentioned underneath.

– Step 1: Gather your tools:

To begin the process, make sure all the necessary tools are at your disposal. For sharpening, you need a round file along with a file guide. Make sure the file has a safety handle to avoid the risk of an injury.

– Step 2: Fix the chainsaw bar:

Before you proceed, it is better to fix your chainsaw bar on a bench wise if available. This makes the filing easy and effective as compared to holding the chainsaw manually. Ensure that the bar’s longitudinal side is fixed between the wise fixtures, with the top side of the cutter teeth visible from above. Also, your chain should move while the bar is fixed.

– Step 3: File the cutter teeth:

Using the round file fixed in the file guide, press it firmly on the top surface of a cutter tooth at an angle of 30 degrees. Afterward, move it across the cutter by pressing it firmly. It is essential to know that the filing should only be carried out in one direction. Avoid moving the file back and forth continuously, as this will damage the file.

While filing, make sure you move the file away from the saw and not towards it. Also, keep it pressed firmly until you feel the metal being peeled off from the surface. After a few strokes, repeat the process on the remaining cutter teeth until all of them have been filed completely.

– Step 3: File the depth gauges:

While the cutter teeth have been filed, it is also important to adjust the depth gauges to compromise our cutting depth. For this purpose, use a flat-file and a depth gauge guide tool and ensure that their top surface has been leveled as per the guide tool. Then, repeat this process for the entire chain.

3. Why does my chainsaw chain get dull so fast?

Various factors can contribute to the chain getting dull rapidly. These include chains hitting the ground or hard objects such as iron nails. Dust stuck in the chain, bent bar. Improper maintenance and inadequate lubrication can also cause the rapid wear of the chain. Eventually, you might need to buy a new chain.

4. What is the best angle to sharpen a chainsaw?

The sharpening angle is the angle at which you keep the round file on the top surface of the cutter teeth while sharpening. This angle varies for different chain types and is usually engraved on the cutter teeth. For crosscutting chains (against the grain direction), this angle typically varies from 25-30 degrees. For chains that cut along the grain direction, the sharpening angle is usually 10 degrees.