Understanding Why Chainsaws Cut to One Side and How to Fix It

Understanding Why Chainsaws Cut to One Side and How to Fix It

Operating a chainsaw can be a useful skill for handling yardwork and forestry tasks. However, it can be frustrating when your chainsaw starts cutting crookedly to one side. Crooked cutting wastes time and energy, damages the wood, and makes accurate cuts difficult. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons a chainsaw might cut unevenly and how to troubleshoot this common issue.

Why does a chainsaw cut to one side?

why chainsaw cuts to one side

There are a few potential causes of a chainsaw cutting to one side rather than straight. Identifying the specific reason is key to fixing the problem.

Dull or unevenly sharpened chain

The small cutting teeth on a chainsaw chain do the actual work of slicing into the wood. Over time and use, these chain teeth become dull. A dull chainsaw chain results in slower, more difficult cutting. The chain will also have a tendency to pull to one side. This is because some teeth may be sharper than others, causing the chain to cut more aggressively on one side. Regularly sharpening all the chain teeth evenly is essential to prevent uneven cutting.

Damaged or bent chain links

The links that connect each tooth on a chainsaw chain need to be in good condition to enable smooth, even cutting. Bent or damaged links force the chain to move unevenly and cut to one side. Inspect the chain for any deformed, twisted, or cracked links. Any damaged sections will need to be replaced.

Uneven guide bar rails

The guide bar is the long metal piece the chain wraps around on a chainsaw. It has two narrow rails that the chain rides along. If these rails become worn unevenly over time, it can cause the chain to be pulled to one side. This issue usually requires replacing the guide bar.

Incorrect chain tension

Proper chain tension is essential for efficient cutting. The chain needs to be tight but still able to move fluidly around the guide bar. If the chain is too loose, it can sag to one side and cause uneven cutting. Tightening the chain tension with the bar nuts is required to stop one-sided cutting.

How to prevent chainsaw cutting to one side

With a better understanding of what causes a chainsaw to cut crookedly, we can now focus on solutions. Here are some tips for keeping your chainsaw cutting straight.

Regular maintenance and inspection

Preventing one-sided cutting starts with proper chainsaw maintenance. That means frequently inspecting the chain teeth, links, guide bar, and chain tension. Watch for issues like dull or damaged areas and address them right away before they worsen. A well-maintained chainsaw will have an evenly sharp chain and straight guide bar for straight cutting.

Proper sharpening techniques

Sharpening the chain regularly and correctly is the best way to maximize cutting performance. Use a round chainsaw file and holder to sharpen each tooth from the inside face to the outside edge. Apply even pressure along the whole length of the cutter for consistent sharpening. Avoid rocking the file while sharpening which can create uneven edges.

Correct chain tension adjustment

Check the chain tension every time before starting a chainsaw. The chain should have just enough sag to still easily pull it around by hand. Use the bar nuts on each side of the guide bar to adjust the tension as needed. Tighten each nut 1⁄4 turn at a time until the chain has the right tension.

Chainsaw safety tips

Operating a chainsaw safely is just as important as proper maintenance. Chainsaws are powerful, dangerous tools if not handled correctly. Keep these safety guidelines in mind.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

Chainsaw kickback and flying debris can cause serious injuries. Always wear safety glasses, hearing protection, thick work gloves, and cut-resistant chaps or pants. Sturdy boots with non-slip soles are also essential PPE when using a chainsaw.

Proper chainsaw handling and operation

Keep a firm, steady grip on the chainsaw handles with both hands while cutting. Maintain good footing and don’t cut above shoulder height. Let the chainsaw do the work rather than trying to force the blade through the wood. Pay attention to kickback warnings and avoid pinching the guide bar tip while cutting.

Kickback prevention

Kickback occurs when the guide bar suddenly jerks back toward the operator during a cut. It often happens when the tip of the guide bar touches wood or another object. Maintain control of the saw, cut at slower speeds, and be cautious of pinch points to prevent dangerous kickbacks while cutting.

Troubleshooting common chainsaw issues

Beyond cutting to one side, chainsaws can experience other problems. Knowing how to troubleshoot them quickly gets your saw back up and running.

Chainsaw not starting

If a chainsaw won’t start, first check that it has fresh fuel and the spark plug isn’t fouled. Choke or prime it before trying to start. Ensure the master control switch is set to “on.” The chain brake may need to be disengaged as well. If it still won’t start, the carburetor or starter cord may need servicing.

Chainsaw chain keeps falling off

A loose chain is the most common cause of a chain coming off during use. Tighten the chain tension properly to keep it secure. Also check the guide bar for any broken rails that could let the chain derail. Replace damaged guide bar components right away.

Chainsaw overheating

Frequent overheating usually indicates an issue like low chain oil, dirty air filter, or blocked cooling vents. Check the oil tank and refill if needed. Clean or replace clogged air filters. Use compressed air to clear any blocked air intakes that could cause overheating.


Chainsaws are invaluable for cutting and pruning logs, fallen branches, and other wooden objects. But they require regular care and maintenance to function properly, especially when it comes to cutting straight. Keep your chainsaw chain sharp and tensioned correctly, and inspect for damaged parts. Follow essential safety precautions as well. With practice and vigilance, you can become an expert chainsaw operator and handle any cutting task efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I sharpen my chainsaw chain?

It’s recommended to sharpen your chainsaw chain after every 1-2 hours of use. More frequent sharpening may be needed when cutting dirty or sandy wood. Regular sharpening is the best way to maintain maximum cutting performance.

What is the best way to clean a chainsaw?

Use a stiff brush and compressed air to remove wood chips, sap, and debris from the exterior, chain, sprocket, and bar groove after each use. Avoid using water or household cleaners which can damage components. Wipe down with a dry cloth and lubricate the bar and chain when finished cleaning.

How do I know when to replace my chainsaw chain?

Look for a chain with excessive stretch, damaged rivets or links, or chain teeth that are worn down to less than 4mm in length. A chain that lacks stiffness or cuts inconsistently likely needs to be replaced with a new one.

Can I use any chain on my chainsaw?

No, you need to match the replacement chain to both the chainsaw model and the size of the guide bar. Using the wrong chain can damage the saw. Refer to your owner’s manual for the proper chain type and pitch for your saw.

How can I tell if my chainsaw bar is worn out?

Inspect for uneven rail wear, sagging, grooves deeper than 0.5mm, or excessive play in the bar. A worn bar will damage chains faster and make cutting difficult. Replace guide bars exhibiting these issues.

What type of oil should I use for my chainsaw?

Use high-quality chainsaw bar and chain oil designed for chainsaw lubrication. Never use old or recycled motor oil which can damage chainsaw components. Bar oil is specially formulated to withstand high temperatures and thoroughly coat cutting components.

How do I store my chainsaw when not in use?

Empty the gas and run the engine dry before storing. Clean the saw and lubricate the bar and chain. Use a chainsaw case or wrap the bar with cardboard to prevent nicks and damage. Store the saw in a high, dry place out of reach of children and pets.

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