Chainsaw Chain Direction: Which Way Does the Chain Go?

operating an electric chainsaw on a log

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Getting your chainsaw’s chain direction wrong in the middle of cutting wood slows down work and can cause accidents.

There’s no need for a  fancy digital caliper to fix this common problem. In this article, our experts will clearly explain how to gauge your chainsaw chain correctly and the basics of mounting direction. 

What is the Right Chain Direction?

The most common question that a lot of users ask is why the chainsaw’s chain direction matter. When replacing a blade, or any part of your chainsaw, many often place the chain in the wrong direction, which leads to accidental damage on the machine. 

operating an electric chainsaw on a log

You’ll want the blades rotating above the chainsaw bar, and with the latter situated on the left side, it should spin in a counter-clockwise direction. This puts the cutting edges faced away from the motor engine. 

If it’s moving in a backward direction, then it’s positioned wrong. 

How to Identify the Direction of Your Chainsaw Chain

Mounting the chain and getting the right blade direction is confusing even for a regular chainsaw user.  An experienced user who has operated chainsaws for long probably knows all the tricks already, but anyone can still experience this common pitfall. 

Check Chainsaw Blade Direction

Even when you’re using a heavier and bigger electric or gas chainsaw, the positioning of the blades stays in only one direction. If it’s in a direction opposite the chainsaw engine, then your chainsaw blade direction is on a good start. 

electric chainsaw

The cutter tip or pointed edge should always face in the direction the chainsaw blade rotates. Keep the blades pointed to the right, putting the tip of the bar away from the engine. 

How to Get the Chainsaw Chain Direction Correct

Step #1: Detach the Chainsaw Casing

To start disassembling your chainsaw, remove the chainsaw casing and clutch cover from the chainsaw body. 

Adjust the chain tension to loosen the nuts and disengage the chain break before putting out the clutch cover. Then, remove the side casing to get to the bar and chain to fully disengage the casing. 

Step #2: Remove the Chain

When the tension is already loose, you can easily pull off the chain from the sprocket. Carefully pull away the chain from the chain bar. Lay everything on the ground and keep all materials intact. These old pieces can be useful guides when finding replacement chains.

Step #3: Identify the Direction of the Chainsaw Chain

To pin down the correct chainsaw direction, check out these 3 essential variables: the drive links, cutter, and guide blade. 

person operating an electric chainsaw

First, determine if the drive links, or the wavy-shaped piece, are pointing forward. If it’s on the reverse side, then you might want to toss your chains to the correct direction.  

Next, inspect the cutter. The chainsaw blade is often percepted as the guide blade. Remember that the long tails or the sharp edges are the cutting blade and are always in the same direction as the chain links. 

Lastly, check the direction of the guide blade. The guide blade should be directed in front of the cutter so it’s facing the opposite way.

Step #4: Check if the Drive Link, Cutter, Guide are in Order

The drive link, cutter, and guide should always come in this specific order to assess that you are in the correct chainsaw chain direction. These pieces come one after the other. If you’re faced with a sequence where the guide comes first before the chainsaw blade, then you’re definitely on a backwards chain. 

orange gas chainsaw and blue electric chainsaw

Step #5: Put the Chainsaw Back Together and Tighten the Blade

After inspecting the chainsaw direction, it’s time to reassemble the chainsaw with the correct replacement chain. Wrap your new chain around the guide bar and ensure that the chain link is fixed into the bar track, while the sharp edge should be faced outside or upwards. 

What Happens When the Chainsaw Chain is Set to the Wrong Direction

The cutting teeth of the chain are fabricated to bite in the right direction only. So when you mount a chain in the wrong direction, the blunt edge of cutters hitting wood will be forced. And the downside is that you still end up with smokes instead of actual cutting. 

Not even a good bar oil can fix a chain in reverse. You’re also at risk of a broken chain and waste bar oil damage.

When Should I Replace My Chainsaw Chain?

Knowing when to replace your chain saves you a trip to your chainsaw dealer.  To maximize your saw’s performance, it’s best to replace your chains once the following telltale signs appear:  

orange gas chainsaw

If the chains are producing rougher threads [1], and you’re having trouble with cutting positions brought about by the chainsaw shakes, then it’s high time to replace your chains. Also inspect the chainsaw teeth direction. If you often position it reversely, this may be another reason why the teeth of the chain dull out easily. 

How to Find a Replacement Chain for Your Chainsaw

Here, our tool experts also gathered the factors to look out for when replacing your Blue max chainsaw chains: 

Pitch

A larger pitch generally means a heavier duty chain. You can know the pitch by the average distance of the three successive chain links into two, or check for the more accurate measurement in the tool or user manual. 

Oftentimes, it’s quantified by decimal or fractions and can vary depending on the size of the saw chain.

chainsaw pitch

Gauge

With the wrong gauge size, you’ll end up with a seemingly dull blade and de-railed chains, all of which are risks for accidents. To come up with a precise measure of the gauge, use the dime method. You’ll essentially want it to sit tightly on the insides of the bar rails. 

Drive Link count

Manually counting the pin is the common exercise chainsaw users do to determine the number of drive links. These are the bumps or circles inside the chain that are very easy to distinguish. 

What a lot of users aren’t aware of is that link counts are often indicated in the chain bar. The chainsaw manual is also an accurate basis when finding replacement chains. 

Conclusion

Any power tool requires routine maintenance. In the case of chainsaws, mounting it in the right direction or calibration is the most basic maintenance that any user should learn to keep the machine’s longevity. Otherwise, you can’t expect an efficient chainsaw experience and performance. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen and women. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson