Chainsaw Chain Keeps Coming Off? Here are the Leading Causes + Fixes

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As a seasoned woodworking enthusiast, one of the most frustrating dilemmas I often encounter is dealing with loose chains on a chainsaw. When that chain keeps slipping off, it means potentially redoing the task, and no one wants that.

You might have heard it from any equipment shop; this is a common occurrence, but let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of why these chains tend to go awry. In this guide, you’ll learn how to prevent your chainsaw chains from slipping off. 

Why Does the Chainsaw Chain Keep Coming Off?

1. Worn-Out Drive Sprocket

Frequent use of the chainsaw will throw off the drive sprocket. Re-positioning your chainsaw chain isn’t a long-term solution, so a sprocket needs to be replaced every now and then, depending on its usage. 

worn-out drive sprocket

The sprocket is responsible for transferring power to the chainsaw, and with continuous use, it may wear out over time. When the sprocket loses its teeth due to wear, it can be a common reason why the chainsaw becomes difficult to rotate.

2. Worn-Out Bar Heel

While a lot may conclude for professional help, on many occasions,  the reason for a loose chain on your gas or electric chainsaw stems from worn-out bar heels. 

Defective bar heels cause the grooves to malfunction, brought about by the long-distance the chain travels. Adjusting tension is not a durable fix to keeping a chainsaw guiding blade on proper grip. 

Plus, the chainsaw chain will keep coming off when the groove becomes feeble. Even with ample chain tension, chainsaw bar heels will wear, prompting it to jump off the guiding bar.

3. Incorrect Chain Tension

Using chainsaws at full throttle, especially when ripping firewood is not going to keep its performance excellent all the time, nor expand the lifespan of the bar. Applying more tension around the clock isn’t an ideal fix either. 

checking chainsaw chain tension

Tightening to keep chains rigid, has become a common mistake because users expect them to be more efficient but it isn’t entirely true. Applying more tension can be the reason why it comes off easily too. But with tension set properly, it can increase the longevity of your chain. 

To achieve an ideal grip, it should be about ¾ inches when springed from the drive blades. Proper tension is pivotal to keeping your chainsaw productive at most. 

4. Damaged Bar Rails

One of the frequent mistakes among chainsaw users is insufficient lubrication on the bar rails while cutting wood. In my experience, this oversight can lead to increased heat generation in the chainsaw, resulting in rapid wear and tear on the bar rails.

Rails in poor condition will cause the chain to come off, brought about by loose tension amongst the drive links. Lay your machine on a flat surface, and inspect the groove of your bar rail. 

If it has expanded from its supposed gauge size, then it’s one telltale sign that your rails are completely damaged. 

damaged bar rails

With damaged rails, the chain will keep moving from side to side, causing the chainsaw chains to completely fall off. 

5. Material Stuck on the Chainsaw Chains

Using chainsaws on full throttle can easily cause unwanted materials, such as twigs, metals, and leaves to get jammed. 

Cleaning it regularly after use will impede jammed materials from getting stuck. When chainsaw chains get jammed, it automatically shifts to a safety hazard prompting loose chains or bent chainsaw chains

6. Using the Wrong Lubricant

Procuring the right oil grade depending on the season is important to keep your chainsaw chains intact. One culprit for the chain and blade coming off is using the wrong lubricant which can decrease the lifespan of your machines.

There are tons of curated oils for different machines and checking in with the season is handy to assess what oil weight you should use. For example, due to its high viscosity, canola oil, a bar and chain oil substitute, is suggested for usage on snowy days.

chainsaw bar oil

To reduce friction that can be caused with not enough oil on the chain, your choice of oil should have enough adhesion to prevent debris from clogging the bar. Sawing in the summer season will cause oil to thin out while doing it in winter causes the opposite – making it thick [1].  

Adjust your oil accordingly to prevent dry chains that will cause it to loosen and eventually fall off your chainsaw.

How to Fix a Chainsaw Chain That Keeps Coming Off

The dime method is one of the most popular ways to tighten loose chainsaw chains. Place a dime in the middle of the bar and chainsaw chain, and tighten the chain with the dime on it, to blend the proper tension. Hence there are more ways to keep the chainsaw chain coming off.

Step #1: Loosen the Chain

Detach all the basic components of your chainsaw to check whether all the parts are still in good condition. Inspect the chain to assess any broken teeth or common wears that are culprit to loose blades. 

Step #2: Adjust the Tension Screw

Pulling the chain off for more than half-inch from your guide bar is bad news. The chain teeth should have enough grip to the guide bar to prevent blades from falling out especially when cutting firewood. 

adjusting chain tension screw

Pull off the cover and the tensioner to check for any tears and strips on the tension screw that can deter the chainsaw from achieving the right chain tension. 

Step #3: Secure the Guiding Bar and Nuts

Keeping the guiding bars, blade, and nuts rigid in the side panel is crucial to ensure that the blade isn’t coming loose. The final step is to pull the chainsaw nose at the side panel and check the uniformity on the tension. 

Lift your chainsaw bar and inspect all angles, and screw to make sure that every part is equally intact and screwed properly.

Other Solutions to Fix the Chain That Fails to Tighten

Check the Other Components

Despite following the common procedures, many users get burnt with their chainsaw and still end up with a loose chain. When dealing with such distress, it’s best to check the other components. 

inspecting a chainsaw

After thorough testing to identify potential causes behind a chainsaw chain repeatedly disengaging, I’ve arrived at a conclusion. 

Beyond the sprocket, blade, and heels, it’s crucial to inspect other components that could also be contributing to the chain’s instability. Here’s a brief rundown of the additional parts worth examining.

Threads

Stripped threads can also be responsible for a chainsaw chain to come off. Make it a habit to inspect that the fasteners are tight, as regardless of thread repairs, loose fasteners can cause irreversible surface damage. 

Tension Adjustment Screws

Disassemble the case of the chainsaw, to replace tension adjustment screws that are essential during the course of a machine’s lifespan. You’ll have to get new pieces, once the screws reach their course, as repairs or calibration cannot suffice as a long-term solution.

Guide Bar

Guide bars perform a crucial role in sawing. When the grooves of the guide bar widen from its supposed gauge brought about by high-speed sawing, it’s more likely for the chains and blade to come off. 

chainsaw bar

Check the gauge indicated at the guide bar and measure the chainsaw bar whether it’s still the same, or you should replace it completely due to excessive wear.

Wrong Chain

The proper length affects the quality of the machine and your usage. There are different kinds of chain and mixing them up will end up with improper tension. You might want to check with your machine and what you’re sawing to know which chain best fits. 

Removing a Chain Link

The number of ideal chain links varies on the type of wood you are cutting. More links are better for heavier jobs, and vice versa. What most are surprised about is knowing that you can remove a chain link by yourself. 

This is often done to calibrate your chain to its appropriate length. However, it’s not advisable to remove chain links for the purpose of trying to revive them if it has worn down already. 

This step only works when adjusting it so it fits right into your saw, and nothing else. Here’s how you can do it:  

Determining the Right Length for Your Machine

When cutting or replacing links for a new chain, it will be difficult to come up with an accurate measurement as its stretchy material feature will cause err on the sizing. However, you can count the drive links instead, and consider both the pitch and the gauge. 

chainsaw chain and guide bar

These numbers are often indicated in the bar and this will be your basis for finding the right chain length for your machine. Additionally, you can use this identification chart for chainsaw chains to determine the appropriate length for your machine.

Safety Tips and Reminders

Like any other cutting device and machine, every chainsaw user should know the proper safety reminders before operating their machines. 

Wear protective gear

Gears for the eye, heads, hands, and feet are essential for protection when using chainsaws. 

A slight trip can cause damage to your body parts and keeping yourself covered and protected is a preventative measure you should consider all the time. Ear muffs are also recommended as the high pitch can also cause damage to the eardrums. 

Do not operate when you’re tired

Using your machine when you’re not well-rested can cause accidents brought about by carelessness. When the machine is on full throttle, the impact will be excessive for someone experiencing fatigue. 

electric chainsaw

Do not do it alone

It’s very risky to saw when you’re on your own as there can be a lot of unexpected events such as tripping, or chains falling off. And since you’re holding the saw, no one can assist you. 

The blade can easily cut you, and having someone around can help in first aid and quick fixes should these predicaments happen.

Examine your chainsaw before use

Inspect whether the chain is gripped on the guiding bar with proper tensity and if all the safety features are intact before operating your machine. 

Check for the sprocket and screws too. Even after tightening your chainsaw, it can still pop off, due to other factors mentioned above. 

Fix loose blades

 When examining your chainsaw, make sure the blade is secured and tightened before operating the machine. Most chainsaws will look efficient as the blade looks intact, prompting you to use it right away, but this carelessness is the the most common reason for accidents.  

FAQ

Can you over-tighten a chainsaw chain?

Yes, you can over-tighten a chainsaw chain. Over-tightening a chainsaw chain can cause your drive sprocket and screw wrench to get worn out easily. 

Instead, you can just adjust the tension adjustment screw with enough force, to prevent the chain from breaking. In tightening a chainsaw, make sure that when you pull, the drive links remain intact with the bar. 

Conclusion

It’s important to understand that chains on a chainsaw are designed to come off from time to time; it’s not something that will stay perfectly in place indefinitely. Knowing how to properly maintain and repair your chainsaw is a valuable skill for any user.

So, investing in the right maintenance materials and learning how to perform repairs correctly can save you both time and money. Without this knowledge, you may find yourself making frequent trips to the hardware store, which can add up in terms of cost.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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