Why Chainsaw Chains Keeps Coming Off and How to Fix It

Approx Reading Time: 18 minutes

The secret to making the most of homesteading tools is ensuring they are always in great working condition. From routine maintenance, repair to replacing worn-out parts, chainsaws are many a woodworker’s tools that do lots of jobs on the farm and at home. For purposes of forest maintenance, especially when it comes to felling dry branches, a chainsaw chain should be intact with proper tension. Sometimes, however, you will be forced to stop working midway when a chainsaw chain comes off. A question then comes to mind. How do you fix the chainsaw chain that keeps coming off?

Well, chainsaw chains come off the bar for various reasons. It can be due to worn-out bars, worn-out sprockets, and wrongly set tension. You should also note that with continued use, chains lose their tension and hence are more likely to come off the bar when you least expect it. And when it comes to fixing loose chainsaw chains, there are equally many approaches to getting your machine back to its optimal work output. While fixing loose chains is something you can do within a few minutes then get back to sawing, let’s emphasize that it is not a long-term solution. Thus, the next question is, what if the problem persists hence the words ‘chains keep coming off’ become the order of the day? If that is the case, we would say the problem with your saw is more profound than you may have imagined hence the need for a long-lasting solution.

Why Chainsaw Chains Keeps Coming Off and How to Fix It 1

If you are a homesteader, a commercial woodworker or forest service personnel who uses chainsaws most of the time, this post is for you. While you can quickly snap back the chain into alignment with the cutting chain, the fact that it keeps coming off presents a trickier situation, especially to a novice who does not know much about this powerful machine. Dive in with us as we explore among other things, reasons why a chainsaw chain may keep coming off and how to fix it. Most importantly, you should become an expert DIYer at the end of this post, someone who can fix tools like chainsaws whenever glitches like loose chains become an everyday problem.

Why Is The Chainsaw Chain Coming Off?

Before we dig deeper, a question everyone should be asking at this point is what causes chainsaw chains to come off? You can also rephrase the question as follows: Why do chainsaw chains jump off the guiding bar? From our end of the bargain, we would say, it happens because of many reasons. We did some homework on these issues and found out the following:

Drive Sprocket Is Worn-Out

You may have put back the chainsaw chain into position but here is something we found out. The drive sprocket could be the likely culprit due to wear and tear hence causing the chain to come off, often. Because it is the drive sprocket that engineers propulsion of the chains on the chain, chances are high that they will soon become worn-out. Over time, worn-out drives sprockets in chainsaws can no longer maintain an ideal tensile strength of the chain, let alone holding the chain in position. With that, you should expect the blade to continuously throw the chain off the groove whenever you are out in the woods working.

Bar Heel May Be Worn-Out

While most people will quickly adjust the chain tension whenever it loses grip on the guiding blade, it is never a long-term solution. The issue could be more profound, requiring the involvement of a professional chainsaw service/repairer. When researching the problem of chainsaw chains that keep coming off, we also discovered that worn-out bar heel is a very likely culprit. But what is a bar heel, if anyone may ask?  Well, the bar heel is a component of your chainsaw situated closest to the machine’s drive sprocket.

When the bar heel wears out, it lengthens the distance a chain travels because the grooves become less effective. With increased distance, you should expect the chain to start jumping off the guiding bar. We will, later on, look at how to fix some of these problems that cause blades to come off.

Wrongly Set Chain Tension

You may have probably thought that with more tension comes the excellent performance of a chainsaw, especially when ripping firewood at full throttle. However, it turns out that over-tightening a chainsaw blade is not the right thing to do; neither is having it too loose to establish an ideal grip on the guiding bar. The catch here is that if your chainsaw chain keeps coming off, you should check the chain tension and ask this question: Is it correctly or improperly set?

Let’s state that with the right chain tension, productivity and lifespan of the bar, motor and chain increases. It is also noteworthy that if the chain has too much slack on it, chances are high that it will come off. So, we asked, what’s the next step if that is the case? Well, there are several ways of testing chain tension with the most suitable one being the dime method.

The Bar Rails May Be In Poor Condition

The problem with chains that keep coming off does not end with improper chain tension, worn-out drive sprocket or bar heel. There is a real chance that the chainsaw blade keeps coming off because the bar rails are in poor condition. Let’s start by admitting that of all the components of your chainsaw, the bar rails take a serious beating throughout the productive lifespan of your machine, especially when you are out in the woods sawing. Among other things that threaten the lifespan of the bar rail is working at full-throttle, in which case the chain spins at very high speed. There is always a high possibility of accidentally cutting into earth.

Damaged bar rail heralds more trouble for your powerful wood cutting machine. The most notable outcome is that drive links of the chain will lose their smooth grip on the guiding bar. With that, you should expect chainsaw chains to come off the bar very often.

Based on the above possible reasons why the chainsaw blade keeps coming off, you should, therefore, fix the problem before proceeding with sawing wood. It is also noteworthy that there are many other causes of the problem. They include loose guide bar, improper application of chainsaw lubricant and disengaged adjuster.

How Do You Tighten Loose Chainsaw Blade?

With a loose chainsaw blade that keeps coming off, a question that is even more important arises. How do you tighten loose chains? Well, apart from applying the dime method we mentioned earlier, there are other ways of fixing the glitch. The dime method involves putting a dime between the bar and the chain when adjusting tension. We researched how to fix loose blades and as a result, we discovered exciting ways of realizing a proper tension on the chain.

But before we can dig deeper, let’s state that when using your chainsaw, the chains will inevitably stretch, hence becoming loose after some time. We bet you don’t want to end up sawing wood with a loose chain because it often spells danger to a woodworker. You should, therefore, check the tension of the chain every often to determine if it needs a fix or not.

Most importantly, take note that you cannot make the right fix if you do not know anything about proper tension. Lack of knowledge on this vital aspect of your machine means you may end up with a chain that is too tight or too loose to do anything. At this point, let’s quickly walk you through chain tension and what a proper one looks like.

Bad/Improper tension

You can determine if a chain is loose by pulling it off the guide bar. A chain that comes off the bar easily needs tightening right away. You should also check the drive links. If they are disengaged, then it is time you adjusted the tension of the chain.

Good/proper tension

In the case of good or proper tension, pull the chain and take note of the drive links. If the drive links remain intact, everything is set and ready for sawing. In a layman’s language, when you pull off the chain from the guiding bar and notice a tiny gap in between, it is all good. However, you should take note the gap should not be too big as that would mean improper tension. Chains that are too tight to move will not rip wood effectively even if you power your machine at full-throttle. The danger of the chain snapping is always lurking.

Fixing Chainsaw Blade That Keeps Coming Off: Vital Steps to Follow

Properly tensioning the chain in your chainsaw means you must follow certain steps. If you do it correctly, only a minute or less is enough for you to get back working at full throttle. Take note that when setting the right chain tension, skipping a step would affect the proper functioning of your machine. To get started, therefore, you need a screw wrench and the good news is that most chainsaws come with one. You can also check local homesteading stores or shop online for the best chainsaw screw wrench.

Step one

The first step is that you must loosen the chain and guide bar before properly adjusting them to the right tension. In cases where the chainsaw brake is attached to the two components on the side panel, start by unscrewing the brake before removing the side panel.

Step two

Now, it is time to adjust the tension screw found on the side of the guiding bars. When you tighten it, the tension on the chain will increase. On the contrary, loosening the screw releases tension on the chain so that it becomes loose.

Step three

The third and final step is tightening the guiding bar and nuts on the side panel. Most importantly, you should lift the chainsaw nose at this stage to ensure the chain has a uniform tension all around the bar. Any object between the chain and bar during this process will affect the desired chain tension.

If you follow the above steps to the letter, you should start working again without risking an accident. Your chainsaw chain will not come off again, not any time soon. However, if the problem persists, you may have to consider replacing the chain or the chain altogether. But first, check the grooves and the links to ascertain which one between them is worn-out.

When it becomes necessary that you must buy a replacement chainsaw chain, consider the length of the original one. You don’t want to end up with something shorter or longer than the original as it could mean you spend more money solving a problem that should cost only a few bucks.  When we checked eCommerce stores for available chainsaw chains, our attention was particularly drawn to 8TEN 16-inches, Upstart 20-inches and Husqvarna 16-inches chain. The best chains are easy to find, especially if you look the right way.

What to Do If Chainsaw Chains Fails To Tighten

While fixing a chainsaw chain that keeps coming off should be easy, sometimes the problem could be more profound. It means you will have to dig deeper, diagnosing something that could be more than worn-on bar heels. Thus, another question that comes to mind at this point is what if despite fixing lose blades/chains, nothing works?

Well, after following all the above steps to the letter but the chain fails to move, diagnose your machine further for other mechanical hitches and glitches. Some possible reasons why the chain won’t tighten include:

  • There is a possibility that threads in the chainsaw case are stripped. The threads serve the purpose of holding a screw for adjusting tension in place. They cease to function if stripped.
  • If tension adjustment screw keeps turning, chances are high that it is stripped. If that is the case, the best solution is replacing it with a new one.
  • You should also check to ensure the right guiding bar is properly installed, especially if it is a new one. The catch here is that guiding bars come in different sizes and installing the wrong one will affect the tension of the chain.
  • It is also possible that you may have installed a wrong chain. With chains in chainsaws, you should always install one with a proper length for your machine to avoid running into trouble.

What Is The Solution For Chains That Won’t Tighten?

After troubleshooting your machine for the above problems, it is time to do the fixing. When a chainsaw chain won’t tighten to the right tension, despite coming off every often, we recommend doing the following:

Remove a chain link

When you tighten a chainsaw blade/chain but nothing happens, removing a link or more can solve the problem. However, it is not something you should do without prior knowledge of the master link. Most chainsaws have a master link to make it easy for you when removing other links. Using a screw with a flat head, open it then use a pair of pliers to remove the end link attached to the master link. While at it, and of course depending on how many links you intend to remove, keep testing the tension of the chain.  Most importantly, stay safe. 

Chainsaw Chain: Determining the Right Length for Your Machine

With a chainsaw chain that keeps coming off, you would also want to think beyond fixing the problem. Thus, a question of chainsaw chain length comes to mind. How do you determine the right length for the bar? Also, do manufacturers sell universal chains or they come in different sizes? 

Well, let’s start by answering the second question. Chains are not universal. Depending on the type of chainsaw you have, length varies hence the need to measure one before fitting to your machine. However, you can buy a chain from a different manufacturer, say STHL and fit into your Honda chainsaw provided the length fits onto the bar.

Now, when it comes to finding the right chain length for your machine, it is imperative that a woodworker factor in the measurement of the bar. However, that is not the only way of going about it. There are other ways of determining the right fit for your chainsaw and they include:

  • Drive links: You can also determine the ideal chain length you need for your machine by stretching the loose chain on a flat surface. You should then locate drive links/lungs, usually on the inner side of the chain. With the number of drive links a chainsaw has at the back of your mind, you should comfortably buy a replacement/new chain without worrying about the right fit.
  • The distance between casing and tip of the chainsaw: Using a tape measure, wrap it around the chain from the point it enters the casing of your machine to the tip. You should always round up the figure to an ever number nearest the measurement you take. Usually, the most common measurements for the guide measure are 20, 16 and 18 inches. The bigger the figure, the longer the chain you will need.
  • Another way of determining chain length is by counting pitch numbers and drive links. Adding the two values should give you the correct chain length, hence making it easier to order for a replacement even without going to a nearby homesteading store to shop for one.
  • Chain pitch: Another method of determining the right length of a chain that would fit the guide bar on your machine is by considering the distance between rivets. Rivets serve the purpose of holding the chain together and any measurement between three consecutive rivets should give you an ideal chain length determination. Now, the right pitch is taken by dividing your measurement by two.

Now that you know how to measure chain length, it goes that anyone can come up with an accurate measurement even without using a tape measure. Most importantly, having this information means you will not run the risk of purchasing something that will not fit onto the bar. Because lose chains pose danger to a woodworker or anyone who uses a chainsaw, you must always take the right precautionary measures.

In any case, we implore you to seek help from a professional service center, especially if you are a novice in using these tools. Moreover, ensure the spark plug is off when handling a chainsaw. Accidental starts are not isolated cases when using saws. You risk becoming a victim of chainsaw accidents if you do not follow instructions on product labels. It is equally important to take precautionary measures when using chainsaws or when they are idling.

Precautionary Measures to Take When Chainsaw Chains Keeps Coming Off

First off, every woodworker using a chainsaw whose blade keeps coming off should worry about their safety. It is because there is a real risk of losing your hand or even leg should the chain snap or come off unexpectedly. Being aware of the problem, therefore, puts you ahead of it and the easier it becomes to seek a lasting solution. Another question then arises.  Apart from replacing or fixing a loose chain, how can one stay out of danger?

Well, several rules should govern your conduct when using these powerful machines. The rules apply whether you have a gasoline-powered or electric chainsaw.  Always take note of the following:

  • You should always remain focused when sawing by ensuring your eyes are on the bar and both hands firmly on the saw.
  • We recommend planning a cut so that the bar does not exit the endpoint catching you unawares. There is a real danger when a chainsaw bar exits the endpoint because it could end up cutting your foot or leg.
  • Take note of the kickback zone so that you don’t dig the chainsaw bar into it.
  • We always emphasize the importance of wearing protective gear and clothing. From gloves, chaps, goggles, ear muffs to boots, no part of your body should remain exposed when using these machines. Things could get worse if the blade keeps coming off.
  • For a novice woodworker, you would rather use chainsaws with reduced kickbacks to minimize the risk of harm. While you will have to bear with their slow cutting action, you would rather be safe than sorry.
  • Always take note of cutting action of your saw, especially when cutting from the top and bottom. When sawing wood from the bottom, a pull action should not catch you unawares. Sawing from the top always triggers a push action, and the more you are aware of it, the better it is for your safety.
  • Assume the right posture when sawing. If you are right-handed, the best and stable stance is having your left foot in front, usually at 45 degrees. Your right foot should be slightly behind. Your feet should be parted to match the width of your shoulder (boxer stance) with the knees slightly bent.

Should The Chain Move In A Specific Direction?

If you choose to replace a chain that keeps coming off the bar, a question then arises. Does it have to move in a specific direction? The truth is that chains must move in a specified direction for your saw to function. Apart from the machine being ineffective in cases where the chain takes the opposite direction, the risk of getting hurt lurks. To determine if it is rotating as desired, check it from the top, from the front, sides, and bottom. Usually, chainsaws should rotate in a clockwise direction. However, take note that viewing the rotation from the top is not the same as looking at it from the bottom. The latter is always the opposite hence should not be a cause for alarm.

Final Thoughts

Thus far, having a chainsaw is one thing but making sure it functions properly is something different. While professional woodworkers will always find it easy fixing problems such as loose chains and blades that keep coming off the guide bar, a novice woodworker runs the risk of causing further damage. It means if you are not sure of how to fix the problem at home, seek help from a service center. In some cases, the best option would be contacting the seller of your saw and ask for a replacement. It should be a cheaper option if your machine’s lifespan is still within the warranty period.

You have also learned that when it comes to fixing chains that keep coming off, stay out of danger. While removing a chain link should be a quick fix, a question you must ask is, do you end up with the right tension? Also, does your saw function optimally after fixing the problem? In a nutshell, when the chain on your chainsaw comes off every often, straightaway diagnose the bar rails and bar heels for wear and tear. Also, check the chain sprocket and chain tension to ascertain there are working optimally before figuring out the right fix.