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Installing A Chainsaw Chain – A Simple How To Guide

You may be cheerfully cutting firewood to stack for your winter heat supply when you suddenly cut into a nail somebody had hammered into the tree a long time ago and the tree had grown around it. Sometimes you can feel when you hit the nail or even see some sparks fly! Exciting! Other times you won’t know anything happened until the cutting speed slows or the chainsaw is cutting crooked! Hopefully you have a few spare sharp chains, before you can continue you will need to be installing a chainsaw chain onto the guide bar.

This is a fairly easy task, although I do have over 15 years experience so that does help. But I want to share how I go about installing a chainsaw chain on our STIHL chainsaws. Our popular chainsaws are a STIHL MS 261 using an 18-inch bar, they are fairly easy to put on a new chain. The other chainsaw is a STIHL MS 661 and has a 32-inch bar which is a bit more difficult to install!

Getting Started – Chainsaw Wrench And A Sharp Chain

Installing A Chainsaw Chain

First of all you will need to decide if you want to wear gloves to protect your hands against the teeth of the chains or if the saw was being used hard, the bar and chain may be hot.

I use Wells Lamont leather gloves, and they are an excellent choice for outdoor work and to use while working on your chainsaw!

Put the sharp chain beside the chainsaw, within easy reach for when you will be ready for it.

Now locate your chainsaw wrench, that cool looking “T” shaped wrench that has two jobs! A screwdriver on one end  and the other end is to remove the nuts holding on the cover.

Removing The Nuts Holding On The Bar Cover

Installing A Chainsaw Chain

The first step is to remove the chainsaw bar cover, to do this you can set the chainsaw down like you normally would or lay it on its side with the bar and cover facing up. Then use the chainsaw wrench to loosen the 2 nuts holding on the cover.

After they are loose it is usually easier and faster to finish turning them off by hand.

Remove the cover while holding onto the bar and chain with the other hand, then after setting down the cover use that hand to pull the chain of the drive sprocket.

Now the bar and chain are free from the saw so remove the old chain from the bar and lay it to the side, but be sure you don’t mistakenly put the dull chain back on again! It must have been a Monday!


A Brand New And Sharp Chain!

Now you may want to loosen the chain tightener slightly by using the screwdriver end of the chainsaw wrench. It is located between the 2 bolts for the bar cover. I usually don’t do this and take a chance I will be able to get the chain on without loosening it, depends on how tight the chain was when you took it of.

But if you don’t have much experience installing a chainsaw chain I would recommend you loosen it so you have a much better chance of the tightener pin connecting to the chainsaw bar.

Enough of dismantling and let us begin putting things back together! Pick up your new shiny sharp chain and the bar, just be cautious while handling the sharp chain. Don’t let the sharp chain slip or slide through your hand, that is when cuts happen!


Back Together! – Installing A Chainsaw Chain

Alright! There are several techniques and trial and error methods for installing a chainsaw chain, but I will explain how I normally do it.

Remember the nose of the bar and the drive sprocket on the chainsaw are the most important places to get the chain on first, after that everything kinda falls into place!

The chainsaw bar is still disconnected, so pick it up and pick up the chain and put the chain over the nose of the bar. Don’t worry about the top and bottom of the bar just get the chain teeth into the sprocket on the nose of the bar.

Then with one hand hold the nose of the bar to keep the chain in place and the other hand to guide the other end of the bar into the saw.

There needs to be enough loose chain to be able to go around the drive sprocket on the chainsaw. To help gain some slack you can wiggle the bar or loosen the chain tightener some more. After you, have the chain around the sprocket be sure the chain is seated correctly into the drive sprocket.

If you do not have it seated correctly you will have extra slack in the chain as soon as you start the chainsaw and need to tighten it again. No big deal just a minor inconvenience!

Now get the bar cover and just set it in place, then slide the chainsaw bar back and forth slightly until the tightener pin drops into its hole.

After that put the nuts on and begin to fasten the bar cover, but stop before it is tight and finish aligning the chain into the groove on the bar. Tighten the chain and use your other hand to put the chain in the bar groove as you tighten it.

The chain is tight when there is no chain dangling beneath the bar or it takes a fairly firm grasp to pull the chain out of its groove on the bar.

Finish tightening the nuts holding on the bar cover and put away your chainsaw wrench and dull chain.


Ready To Get Back To Work!

Installing A Chainsaw Chain

This is usually a good time to check or refill the oil and gas tanks on your chainsaw. When I am installing a chainsaw chain I am often near our work truck with the gas and oil cans and it only makes sense to refill because it sure can be frustrating to begin cutting only to run out of gas within minutes because I didn’t check before I started!

By working in our family owned business you learn a few time saving tricks and shortcuts! Sometimes I see people struggling with their chainsaw and I want to be able to help others speed up their time spent working on their chainsaw so they can get back to doing the work they love! Cutting wood!

When installing a chainsaw chain, just remember the most important places to start are the bar nose then the chainsaw drive sprocket. Put both ends on first and the rest kinda falls into place!

Your Arborist Friend:

8 thoughts on “Installing A Chainsaw Chain – A Simple How To Guide”

  1. Thank you so much for this highly informative article, Justin! My chainsaw chain just recently snapped loose, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about fixing it (I’m a newbie to the world of chainsaws and chainsaw maintenance. Haha). I appreciate the fact that you gave us step by step instructions on how to fix our chain with pictures-I’ve always been a very visual learner. I have saved your site and will be using this article to fix my chain in the morning! God bless you!

    • Thanks for stopping by and I am happy to be able to provide you with information to fix your chainsaw! Once you learn how, it can be fairly easy and you should be back to work in no time!
      Just be sure you don’t put the chain on backwards, it can happen!
      Work safely!

  2. Hello there,

    I never thought there were so many things to consider. Thanks for providing insight into installing a chainsaw chain. The real challenge is probably putting it back together, but thankfully you’ve given very clear instructions.

    Very insightful, thanks for sharing it.

    • Sure thing! Happy to help.
      It can be a little tough to install a chainsaw chain on the large chainsaws.
      Did you know STIHL makes a chainsaw with a 59 inch bar? That would almost require 2 people to handle.

  3. wow, I am so please I have found this post. I always struggle with this when I do it so I have bookmarked for future reference. Another thing that I find time consuming and challenging is sharpening. I use a file, is there a faster and more effective method?

    • Happy to help you!
      We use a file to sharpen them sometimes, but most of the time we take several chains at once to our local chainsaw dealer and they will professionally sharpen them with an automatic commercial grade sharpener.


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