Using Your Chainsaw in the Dirt. Tips from a Professional


If you’re a homeowner who uses his chainsaw under all circumstances, it will see its fair share of dirt. In a lot of situations, this will be hard to avoid. This blog post will provide you with relevant insights into using your chainsaw in the dirt.

Using your chainsaw in the dirt.

Running your chainsaw in the dirt can quickly dull its cutting blades and affect performance. To avoid this from happening, you should cut 90% of the wood with a chainsaw. And use a regular saw to cut the remaining side close to the ground. Clean the wood from dust particles using a broom. Elevate the wooden log using a log jack while cutting. Keep a set of reserve chains that are sharpened.

I will look at the various points in more detail in this blog post, including cutting dirty wood.  I will also answer the question I sometimes get: if you can use a chainsaw to dig a hole or trench.

Is it OK to Use a Chainsaw in Dirt?

It is certainly not recommended to use your chainsaw in the dirt. Not only does dirt exposure dulls the cutter teeth, but sudden exposure to any dirt or debris has been reported to come with an increased risk of kickbacks.

Dirt can mean external outdoor particles such as soil, sand, clay, silt, or organic matter. In most cases, the logs to be sawed are covered with such particles, and it becomes imminent to deal with them. If I’d be straightforward, there’s no way in which this dirt could be beneficial for your chainsaw in any way.

Although there would be no damage on initial contact with dirt, any exposure to dirt during cutting can dull your machine’s cutting chain. I have seen situations in which the guide bar grooves get plugged with sawdust. This is quite critical for operation as the risk for kickbacks gets increased.

What Happens when you Use your Chainsaw in the Dirt?

Dirt contains various hard particles that are harder than the chain’s steel. As a result, it can dull the sharp chain cutters and affect its performance. Also, the dirt can get stuck between the sprocket and chain and may add additional load to the engine.

Depending on the location, dirt may contain various hard organic and inorganic minerals such as silica and quartz. Quartz is said to have a hardness value of 7, which is greater than what most machine tools have, i.e., around 6. Hence, when a harder material presses against a less hard chain, it is bound to reduce its sharpness by a process known as abrasive blasting.

Apart from the scientific evidence, dirt particles are pretty likely to get trapped between the guide bar and chain. This affects the smooth chain operation and adds an unnecessary load on the engine. This increases the lubricant consumption by the guide bar and consumes a large amount of fuel. Hence, this is certainly not ideal for your engine in any respect.

Following are the problems associated with running your chainsaw in the dirt:

● 1. Dull Chain Cutters:

I have seen users who report their chain getting dull almost instantly when running in dirt. You might need to sharpen your chain every five minutes after running it in the dirt. So, it would be best if you didn’t believe in the myths that say it is okay to run your chainsaw in the dirt once in a while.

To check if your chain is dull or not, notice if the chainsaw smokes excessively and produces fine sawdust instead of wooden chips. If yes, then your chain has become dull and needs sharpening.

● 2. Worn Out Chains:

If sand or dust gets trapped between the bar and chain, it can affect the smooth chain operation. If the chain isn’t maintained properly, it is bound to wear out and stretch, ultimately affecting performance. Running a dull chain implies you’re cutting for a longer period and with greater effort. In contrast, with a sharp chain, you’re not trying to push more to get your chain to cut at an optimal speed. This allows you to complete the same amount of work in less time and with less effort.

● 3. Sprocket Damage:

The chainsaw’s sprocket is attached to the engine and provides the power for the chain to rotate around the guide bar. (Image courtesy of Science Channel) The sprocket’s operation is critical in allowing the motor to run and fully transmit its power to the chain itself. If dirt becomes lodged in the sprocket or enters the motor, the chainsaw may lose performance or operate poorly.

● 4. Fuel Consumption:

A worn chain consumes more fuel. With a sharp chain, you can make your gasoline last longer, saving you money and healthier for the environment. The sharper your chain, the less gasoline it will require.

● 5. Overheating:

As I said earlier, trapped dust particles cause an additional load on the engine, damaging its internal components like pistons, cylinders, gasket/O-rings, etc. It increases the overall temperature in the engine, which increases the risk of an engine seizure.

Cutting Dirty Wood

It is clear now that using a chainsaw in the dirt is strictly not recommended if you want your device to keep functioning properly. While cutting through a log, the rotating chain is bound to hit the dirt once it cuts through the log. So, how should you proceed when cutting through dirty wood becomes unavoidable.  Please read the section below to address these points as we help you form your wood cutting strategy in the dirt.

● 1. Leave a fraction of wood uncut:

Cut carefully through the wood with your chainsaw until you’re about 90% of the way through. Roll the log to the uncut side at this point. You can break the remaining portion with an ax or your foot. Axes are more useful for larger pieces of wood, while your foot should be kept for the fast force required for smaller logs.

This kicking approach works well on pieces with a short side, but wear appropriate shoes and safety gear. If rolling the log is impossible, cut all the way down to the dirt, then return and finish the task. As a result, you end up cutting into the dirt and dulling your chain near the end of your session rather than at the start. You may now replace your chain as well as clean and sharpen it.

● 2. Wipe the wood from dust:

If you must flip the log over, make sure to remove the side that was in contact with the soil surface. To clear the debris, a broom should sufficient. This is necessary to avoid any interaction with the tiny sand particles.

● 3. Use a log jack:

A log jack is a tool used to lift wood off the ground so that it does not come into contact with the dirt or surface below. The tool wraps around the surface of the wood and employs a long handle with a stand on the bottom to forcefully lift the log. The log will be supported by the stand, allowing for clean cuts.

Mark the location where you wish to fell a tree if you are attempting to do so. Place a couple of poles perpendicular to the tree’s location on the ground. This way, the tree will not fall into the earth, and you will be able to cut through it safely.

● 4. Change and Sharpen Chains Often

Invest in 3-6 super-sharp chains, depending on your cutting volume and regularity. If your existing chain cuts into the dirt, your spare chains should be ready to replace it. Make it a point to change your chains frequently and sharpen them twice a day. I can give you a handy tip that most users have found quite helpful.

If your chain gets dull due to running in dust, you should keep it as it is. Instead, keep a separate sharp chain at your disposal, which can be used while cutting. You can keep the other blunt chain for cutting dusty wood or roots of trees. This sacrificial chain can be useful when you wouldn’t want to use your sharp chain, such as digging a trench.

Can I dig with a Chainsaw?

It is possible to dig small trenches as deep as a few inches using a chainsaw. But the process is extremely dangerous and may damage your chainsaw.

I would say that although it is possible to dig using a chainsaw. These trenches are 4-5 inches deep and not as wide. You can try routing thin underground wires into those trenches. Before you dig using a chainsaw, make sure that the ground doesn’t have hard rocks. I would recommend wetting the soil with some water as it would soften the ground and wouldn’t overheat the chainsaw.

Expert Opinion:

I would say that digging using chainsaws is possible, but it’s not a smart idea which everyone can try. You should only do so if you have a cheap chainsaw with a sacrificial chain. But remember that digging too much underground would cause rocks to collide with the bar and chain.

Now, the chain isn’t sharp enough to cut through hard rocks. Hence, pushing your saw, in this case, would severely overheat its engine and may cause an engine seizure. This can be extremely dangerous from the safety point of view as contact with rocks during cutting can cause a severe kickback injurious. It may bend your guide bar and make it useless. Also, due to a fast-rotating chain, a chainsaw would be extremely messy for use in dirt.

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