How to Crank a Stihl Chainsaw: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Crank a Stihl Chainsaw: A Comprehensive Guide

Operating a chainsaw requires skill and proper technique to avoid injury. This is especially true when it comes to cranking and starting a Stihl chainsaw. Properly preparing the saw and understanding the starting procedures are crucial steps that every chainsaw operator should know. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the key steps involved in cranking a Stihl chainsaw to bring the engine to life.

First, it’s important to appreciate the necessity of following the proper cranking technique with a Stihl chainsaw. These professional-grade tools need to be respected and handled with care. Rushing through the starting process or ignoring important safety steps can result in dangerous kickbacks or failures to start. Taking the time to correctly activate components like the chain brake and set the appropriate choke settings will make cranking the saw much smoother. The reward will be a roaring chainsaw engine ready to take on the toughest cutting jobs.

So what does proper chainsaw cranking entail? Here’s an overview of the key steps:

  • Preparing the saw by engaging the chain brake, removing safety covers, pressing the fuel primer bulb, and setting the master control to cold start.
  • Starting the saw by placing it on clear ground, stabilizing it with your foot, and steadily pulling the starter cord.
  • Disengaging the chain brake prior to beginning cutting operations.

I’ll now dive into the specifics of executing these starting sequences in greater detail. Follow along step-by-step to become adept at bringing your Stihl chainsaw to life!

How to Crank a Stihl Chainsaw?

how to crank a stihl chainsaw

Cranking a Stihl chainsaw requires a precise process to prepare the engine and get it running smoothly. Here is a concise summary of the key steps involved:

First, activate the chain brake to lock the chain in place. This prevents any accidental engagement during starting. Next, remove the cover over the guide bar and chain. Press the fuel primer bulb several times to draw fresh gasoline into the carburetor. Set the master control lever to the cold start or full choke position.

Place the chainsaw on clear, level ground and stabilize it by pinning the rear handle under your right foot. Firmly grasp the front handle with your left hand. Pull the starter cord briskly with your right hand until the engine attempts to fire. Repeat pulling the cord until the engine starts and runs. Release the chain brake before beginning cutting operations.

Now let’s look at carrying out each phase of this starting process in greater detail.

Preparing the Chainsaw

You’ll need to take a few preliminary steps to get your Stihl chainsaw ready for cranking. This preparation is essential for smooth, safe starting of the engine.

Activating the Chain Brake

The first step is to engage the chain brake by pushing the hand guard forward. This locks the chain in place so it can’t spin during cranking. It also prevents the chain from engaging if the throttle trigger is accidentally squeezed during starting. Engaging this brake is an important safety precaution.

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Removing the Cover

The next step is to take off the cover over the guide bar and chain prior to starting the saw. This plastic safety cover needs to be removed so the chain can spin freely when the saw starts. Be sure to replace the cover when transporting or storing your saw to prevent damage.

Pressing the Primer Bulb

Most Stihl chainsaws have a primer bulb located on the side of the carburetor body. Press this rubber bulb several times until you see fuel inside return to the carburetor. This draws fresh gasoline into the carburetor so the engine can fire initially. Priming helps start the saw, particularly if it’s been sitting for a while.

Setting the Master Control

Locate the master control lever, which acts as the choke for the chainsaw. Slide the lever all the way to the full choke or cold start position. This provides an enriched fuel mixture for starting the engine from cold. Make sure it’s set properly before pulling the starter cord.

Starting the Chainsaw

Once you’ve prepped the Stihl saw, it’s time to bring the engine to life. This takes a bit of coordination and proper technique.

Placing the Saw on the Ground

Put the chainsaw down on a clear area of ground before attempting to start it. Make sure there are no branches or debris that could obstruct the chain or guide bar. The saw needs to sit on a flat, stable surface so it doesn’t tip or shift during cranking.

Holding It Down with Your Foot

With the saw resting on the ground, place your right foot on the rear handle to pin it in place. Press down firmly with your heel to keep the saw anchored while you pull the starter cord. This prevents the saw from lifting or kicking back during the starting process.

Pulling the Starter Cord

With a good grip on the front handle with your left hand, grasp the starter cord handle firmly with your right hand. Pull the cord out steadily until you feel resistance, then give it a brisk, full arm-length pull to crank the engine. This motion will spin the flywheel and engage the starter pawls to crank the motor.

Repeat pulling the cord briskly until the engine attempts to fire and start. It usually takes 2 to 3 hard pulls. Once the saw starts, allow the engine to warm up for a minute before cutting.

Releasing the Chain Brake

After the chainsaw engine is running smoothly, press the hand guard back toward the front handle to disengage the chain brake. This unlocks the chain so it can start spinning around the guide bar. At this point, blip the throttle trigger briefly to test that the chain accelerates as it should. Your saw is now ready for cutting!

Chainsaw Safety Tips

When cranking and operating any chainsaw, following essential safety precautions is absolutely critical. Respect for these powerful cutting tools and vigilance against hazards are required to avoid severe injuries. Here are some of the top safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Always wear complete protective gear when using a chainsaw, including helmet, visor, ear muffs, gloves, chaps, and boots. This equipment is mandatory to prevent devastating contact injuries from the moving chain.
  • Carefully check your work area first to eliminate tripping hazards, remove any obstructions, and ensure stable footing. Maintain sure-handed control over the running chainsaw at all times.
  • Keep bystanders and animals at least 30 feet away from your work zone when cutting. Stop the saw if anyone encroaches on this safe distance. Flying wood chips and debris can injure others nearby.
  • Don’t ever use a chainsaw one-handed or extended over your head where you can’t control kickback forces. Likewise, don’t attempt cuts by holding the saw between your legs.
  • Shut off the saw when passing over cleared areas, traveling between work locations, or taking breaks. Don’t carry a running saw at your side for any distance.
  • Perform regular maintenance on bar lubrication, chain sharpness, engine tuning, and replacement of worn components. A poorly maintained saw is dangerous and prone to increased wear, damage, or failure.
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Personal Protective Equipment

Given that a chainsaw in operation can quickly cause grave harm if it contacts your body, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is absolutely mandatory. Here are some of the key gear components that all chainsaw operators must use.

Recommended Protective Gear

At minimum, you need an ANSI-approved hardhat with integrated visor and muffs to protect your head, face, eyes and ears. Tight-fitting gloves with saw-resistant reinforcement provide protection against hand injuries.

Chainsaw chaps made of cut-resistant fibers safeguard your legs, while steel-toe logger boots offer critical foot protection. Always have a well-equipped first aid kit on hand in case of accidents.

Importance of Appropriate Clothing

Regular work clothing simply won’t cut it when operating a chainsaw. Fabric materials used in most pants and shirts will not stop the spinning chain from instantly slicing into skin and muscle. Heavy fire-resistant materials are essential, hence the need for specialized chainsaw chaps. Long sleeves, no loose clothing, and no jewelry round out proper attire.

Chainsaw Maintenance

Keeping your Stihl chainsaw in top working order through regular maintenance and cleaning is essential. This prevents many issues that can disrupt cutting work or lead to breakdowns. Be sure to inspect, sharpen, adjust, and replace parts on the recommended intervals.

Regular Inspections and Cleaning

Check frequently for leaks, damaged hoses and fasteners, dulling chain, clogged air filter, and excess buildup of debris around engine and clutch components. Clean the saw body, chain cover, and guide bar groove routinely to prevent accumulations of wood chips, sap, and dirt.

Chain Sharpening

Use a round file and depth gauge tool to periodically sharpen each cutter along the chain to restore optimal cutting performance as the edges dull. Follow the manufacturer’s filings guides for the correct angles and stroke patterns. Remove an appropriate amount of material without over-filing.

Replacing Worn Parts

Expect to replace the chain after extensive use, and refresh sprockets and guide bars as they show signs of excessive wear and elongation. Swap in new spark plugs and air filters as specified in the maintenance schedule for peak engine function.

Troubleshooting Common Chainsaw Issues

Even well-maintained chainsaws can occasionally encounter problems that affect starting and cutting efficiency. Here are solutions to a few of the most frequently occurring issues.

Identifying Problems

The most common types of problems that arise with chainsaws include failure to start, flooded engine, sputtering/stalling, lack of power, excess vibration, and spinning chain at idle. Diagnose the root cause by methodically checking different systems and components.

Resolving Issues

For failure to start, first confirm adequate fuel, proper master control choke setting, quality spark, and clean air filter. Flooding issues can be cleared by removing and drying the spark plug, then following correct starting steps. Check the carburetor settings and fuel lines if the saw stalls or lacks power. Reduce vibration and chain spin at idle by tuning up engine idle speed and inspecting clutch components.

Chainsaw Won’t Start

When your Stihl chainsaw won’t start, there are a few key troubleshooting steps to isolate the cause of the problem. Methodically go through these checks until the saw fires up.

Checking Fuel Levels

If the saw won’t start, the first place to check is the fuel level in the tank. You may be out of gas, or the remaining fuel may be old, contaminated and gummed up. Add fresh fuel, or drain out old gas completely.

Inspecting the Spark Plug

Remove the spark plug and inspect it to see if it’s wet with gas (flooded engine) or fouled and blackened by combustion deposits. Let wet plugs dry fully before reinstalling. Replace excessively fouled plugs so they spark properly.

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Cleaning the Air Filter

A choked, dirty air filter starves the engine of air for proper combustion. Remove the filter and clean it with compressed air or mild solvent. Replace filters that are too saturated with grime and debris.

Chainsaw Cuts Poorly

Cutting performance declines when chains become dull, chain tension loosens, or bar and chain lubrication is insufficient. Here are some solutions to restore a smooth, efficient cutting chainsaw.

Inspecting the Chain

Check the cutter teeth along the chain for dullness, chips, rounded edges, and embedded debris. Thoroughly sharpen all teeth and cut depth gauges that are no longer optimally pointed and sharpened.

Adjusting the Chain Tension

Loose chains derail easily and cut inefficiently. Tensions should be checked routinely. Tighten guide bar nuts until the chain has only about 1/8 inch of vertical play midway along the bar.

Ensuring Proper Lubrication

The chain bar oil reservoir should be full before use. The oil delivery holes and bar groove must be unobstructed so lubricant reaches the chain. Increase oil feed rate if the chain still runs dry.

Proper Chainsaw Storage

Storing your chainsaw correctly between uses helps prevent issues like gummed up carburetors and rusted components. Here are proper storage steps to keep your saw running great for years.

Cleaning the Chainsaw

Start by using a small brush and rag to remove all exterior debris, sap, and dirt from the saw body, chain cover, guide bar, and engine cooling fins. Avoid spraying down the saw with fluids that could get into the engine.

Storing the Saw

Empty fuel from the tank and run the engine until it stops to clear gas from the carburetor and fuel lines. Store the dry saw away from any sources of heat, sparks, or moisture. Engage the chain brake and cover the bar and chain.

Additional Storage Tips

For longer storage, add fuel stabilizer to minimize gumming, or disconnect the spark plug to open the cylinder. Position the saw horizontally if possible, resting on its recoil handle. Keeping the saw well maintained and protected preserves optimal performance.


Learning how to properly crank and operate a Stihl chainsaw takes some practice, but mastering the starting procedures outlined here will quickly allow you to fire up your saw and get to work. Respecting critical safety precautions will also keep you injury-free. Your saw will provide years of smooth, reliable service given proper use, storage, and routine maintenance. With the power of a Stihl chainsaw under your control, you’ll stay prepared to take on any challenging tree cutting or firewood processing job.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I sharpen my chainsaw chain?

In general, the chain on a Stihl chainsaw should be sharpened every few hours of use, or whenever you notice a decrease in cutting speed and efficiency. This helps restore peak cutting performance.

What type of fuel should I use for my Stihl chainsaw?

Always use fresh unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of at least 89 mixed at a 50:1 ratio with Stihl brand 2-stroke engine oil. This properly lubricated fuel mixture prevents engine damage.

How do I adjust the chain tension on my Stihl chainsaw?

Loosen the side cover nuts and turn the tensioning screw clockwise until the chain solidly contacts the bar with no sag, then re-tighten the side nuts while holding the bar nose up. Leave just a bit of play in the chain.

How can I prevent my chainsaw from flooding?

Using proper starting technique, avoiding overly aggressive choking, and cleaning the air filter regularly will all help prevent flooded engines. Running stale gas also causes flooding problems over time.

What is the proper way to hold a chainsaw when cutting?

Use a firm grip with your right hand on the rear handle and your left hand on the front handle with thumbs wrapped around. This allows maximum control and ability to react to kickback forces.

How do I clean the air filter on my Stihl chainsaw?

Remove the air filter cover and gently tap the filter to dislodge debris. Clean it with compressed air or mild solvent and let it dry completely. Replace the filter if it’s too dirty or damaged after cleaning attempts.

When should I replace the chain on my Stihl chainsaw?

Replace chains when cutters get too short to be effectively sharpened, normally around 5/32 inches long. Also replace chains that are stretched and loose fitting or damaged and missing cutters.

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