What is the Right Chainsaw Chain Direction?

One of the more embarrassing things I’ve done in my 30+ years of home improvement is putting on my chainsaw chain backwards. It was the first time I’d used a chainsaw and I went and bought a new chain for the used chainsaw I’d picked up at a garage sale. 

I didn’t read directions much in those days and put it on backwards. It was kicking up sawdust everywhere and I thought my arms were going to fall off after an hour of cutting up some logs!

Well the good news is it’s pretty easy to figure out. Here are 2 steps to make sure you have the right chainsaw chain direction.

Step 1: Orient Your Chainsaw

First, look at your chainsaw pointing from left to right with the handle and motor on the left and the chain and bar pointing toward the right like the picture below. 

Looking at it this way, your chain will turn clockwise. This means left to right on the top of the bar moving away from the motor and right to left on the bottom of the bar, returning to the motor.

Man holding chainsaw

Step 2: The Right Direction for Your Chain

Take your new chain and identify these three parts on the links:

The cutter is the sharp piece on the top of the chain that does the actual cutting. When you look at the top of the chain from the right side, the cutter will be pointing forward, toward the tip of the bar (away from the motor). 

Don’t confuse the cutter with the guide. This is a shorter piece that looks like a shark fin right in front of the cutter. It’s not sharp like the cutter and doesn’t cut at all. It’s just a guide that controls how much wood the cutter cuts. 

Finally, there’s the drive link on the underside of the chain. It will have a notch that meshes with your chainsaw motor’s gears. This should be pointed forward, the same as the cutter.

Signs That Your Chainsaw is Dull

When a chainsaw is sharp, it will pull you toward what you’re cutting and will shave off nice clean wood chips with minimal smoke or dust. 

When a chainsaw is dull, you will notice:

  • The chainsaw stops pulling and you have to apply pressure to get it to cut. Your arms will start to ache!
  • Less wood chips and more sawdust
  • More smoke even though the chain is lubed
  • The chainsaw pulls or runs toward one side, like a poorly aligned car. This can mean uneven wear
  • The chainsaw bounces around making it hard to make a clean cut

Safety Tips When Changing a Chainsaw Chain

  • It’s an overused phrase, but with chainsaws you really do need to follow all of the safety precautions. OSHA has a whole section just on chainsaw safety which should tell you something.
  • Always make sure the chainsaw is off with no power source if electric or battery.
  • Never mess with the chain while a chainsaw is on.
  • Wear gloves because chainsaw chains are sharp, especially brand new ones right out of the package. That’s why you bought it after all. Believe me, it’s really easy to cut yourself when changing a chainsaw chain.
  • Check out our full list of essential chainsaw safety gear.
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