Get your chain saw ready for spring cleanup

A tuned-up chain saw is a safe, working saw

Published: March 09, 2015 04:30 PM

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After a winter of shoveling, roof-raking, and other back-breaking chores, another task awaits—ridding the yard of winter's debris. A common part of the job is taking a chain saw to fallen tree branches, but that can be frustrating if your chain saw isn't ready for the cleanup. Here’s what to do:

Fire it up. Since a chain saw is a handheld machine with a small engine, degraded gas left over the winter can keep it from starting. If you added fuel stabilizer to the gas before you put it away for the season, it might start right up. (The 2-cycle oil you mix with your gas should have built-in stabilizer.) Otherwise, remove whatever gas you can before adding fresh, stabilized gas and trying again. Consider using only ethanol-free gas, available at the pump in a few states, at some marinas, and by the quart at Sears, home centers and some dealers.

Replace small parts. Gas-powered chain saws have a spark plug, which you should at least check if you’re having trouble. There's also a small air filter that needs replacing once a year.

Check the chain. If you’ve barely used your saw, you might get away without sharpening each blade in the chain or having it done professionally. (You can tell if it needs sharpening if it’s pulverizing rather than cutting the branch, leaving much more sawdust behind. At the very least, you’ll need to readjust the tension and oil the chain—both of which help prevent kickback while reducing wear on the chain and the bar it rides on. A loose chain can also slip off the bar and toward you. Your owner’s manual should explain how to do it; so does this helpful video. Try to keep a second chain on hand, and be sure to top off the chain oil.

Catch up on safety. This is also a good time to be sure you have all the necessary safety gear on hand, including snug-fitting clothing and sturdy work boots, preferably steel-toed. Your legs should be shielded with cut-resistant chaps; the backs of your hands, with protective gloves. You should also have a helmet with a face shield, and hearing protection. Keep chain saw safety in mind whenever you use your saw.

Need a new chain saw?

Our chain saw Ratings of more than 40 models include heavy-duty gas models such as the Echo CS-590-20, $400, lighter-duty gas models including the Stihl MS 180 C-BE, $230, the corded-electric Worx WG303.1, $100, and the battery-powered EGO CS1401, $300. Be sure to check see our chain saw buying guide before shopping.

—Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)

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