Can You Run a Chainsaw Without the Chain? (Let’s FIND Out!)

can you run a chainsaw without the chain - featured image

Yes, you can run a chainsaw without the chain. But you should not rev the engine too high as it can cause the clutch to come off and fly into pieces. And since there’s no chain to lubricate, empty the oil tank before starting the saw. Otherwise, it could cause a huge mess.

Btw, I have over 20 years of experience in professional chainsawing.

I’ve tried to run my chainsaw without the chain a couple of times, and I can tell you that it’s NOT a good idea.

Keep reading to find out why.

How Does a Chainsaw Work? (Don't SKIP!)

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this article, let’s first take a look at how a chainsaw actually works.

The BIOLOGY of a chainsaw is fairly complicated. Hundreds of moving parts work together.

But, for the sake of this article, let’s boil it down to the BASICS: 🤓

Diagram showing how a centrifugal clutch is disengaged at low speed and engaged at high speed.

Chainsaws use a centrifugal clutch that connects the engine to the chain. The operation of the centrifugal clutch is entirely based on centrifugal force.

There’s a drive shaft that’s directly linked to the engine’s crankshaft and is placed right in the center of the clutch (as shown in the image above!).

When the engine spins at HIGH speed, the drive shaft spins at the same speed, creating centrifugal force in the clutch.

As a result of this centrifugal force, the small arms (also known as “clutch shoes”) are forced outward, making contact with the clutch drum’s inner wall and causing it to spin.

And as the drum is connected to the chain sprocket, the chain begins to rotate around the guide bar and cuts whatever comes in its path.

chainsaw drum sprocket

When the engine RPM drops down (or when you release the throttle), the drive shaft loses its rotational motion, and the clutch shoes retract back to their original position, disconnecting the engine from the chain.

What Happens When You Run a Chainsaw Without the Chain?

Now you know how a chainsaw works.

But what happens when there’s NO CHAIN on the chainsaw?

The answer is SIMPLE: It won’t cut anything.

Chainsaws got their name because of their chain-driven mechanism. Without the chain, it would just be an engine with a long guide bar attached to it — like a really loud weed whacker.

running chainsaw without the chain

And if you pull the throttle, the clutch will still engage the sprocket, but since there’s no chain to be driven by it, the sprocket will spin freely and make a lot of noise, nothing else!

It’s like riding a bicycle without the chain — you’ll just be pedaling but going nowhere. 🐸

That’s not all!

As there’s no chain to lubricate, the oil being pumped out by your saw will just drip out of the oiler holes and cause a HUGE mess.

checking if chainsaw oil pump working

Is It Safe to Run a Chainsaw Without the Chain?

It’s safe to run a chainsaw without the chain. But, if you rev up the engine too high when the chain is off, the clutch might come off your saw and fly into pieces.

broken chainsaw clutch

But why is that??

Well, here’s what you need to know: 👇

The centrifugal clutch used in chainsaws is reversed threaded – meaning you have to turn it clockwise to get it off (RED) and counter-clockwise to tighten it up (GREEN). (opposite to what you’d normally do)

When you have the chain ON, the friction between the clutch shoes and drum increases, and the clutch tightens itself up.

But when the chain is OFF, there’s no friction or resistance to hold the clutch in place. At that point, if you rev up your chainsaw too HIGH, chances are the clutch will fly off.

How do I know all of these??

Well, I’ve done it myself and believe me, you don’t want to experience it!

When I was just starting out, I had a small green Echo chainsaw. Once, I had to take its clutch off to replace the drum sprocket.

But out of nowhere, a thought came to my mind 🤔 — “What would happen if I just throttle the saw with the bar and chain off?

I decided to give it a try, and guess what happened?? 😐

The clutch flew off the saw like a Frisbee! The parts were scattered everywhere, and it took me forever to find them all. (I’m thankful that no one was around to get hurt!)

Needless to say, I learnt my lesson!

I asked the same question in our Reddit community. Looks like they also agree with me.

(Check the full post here!)

If their words couldn’t convince you, here’s what donyboy (an expert chainsaw repair guy) says on this matter:

THE BOTTOM LINE: It’s totally safe to run a chainsaw without the chain. Just don’t pull the throttle too hard.

Can a Chainsaw Without the Chain Hurt You?

Yes, a chainsaw without the chain can still be dangerous and cause harm. Even though the chain does the cutting, the engine, and other moving parts can still cause injury if they come into contact with your body.

For example??

If the chainsaw’s engine is running, the rotating clutch drum or sprocket that powers the chain can still spin and cause harm if it comes into contact with you.

(That’s why it’s recommended that you always keep the side cover on!)

On top of it, the sharp spikes on the chain brake can also cause injury if you accidentally make contact with them while using the tool.

image of a chainsaw with spikes

So, always keep your guard up while using a chainsaw and use appropriate safety gear to protect yourself. (goggles 🥽 and gloves 🧤 are a MUST!)

Why Would Someone Want to Run a Chainsaw Without the Chain?

To be HONEST: 😇

Running a chainsaw with the chain off isn’t something most would find interesting. 

So, why would someone want to do it?

Well, there’re a few reasons.

Halloween Prank

Many people use a chainsaw without the chain as part of their Halloween decorations. It’s a fun, friendly way to add some spooky ambiance to your home or yard.

prepping chainsaw for halloween

The sound of the saw running creates just enough eeriness without being too SCARY for young kids.

Some even use it as a scary prop for their Halloween pranks. (imagine how your friends will react if you run toward them with a roaring chainsaw! 😈)

If you’re also planning to do the same, here’s how to prep a chainsaw for Halloween. Hope it helps!


Another reason people use it is when they need to diagnose any problems with their saws.

By running the chainsaw without the chain, they can check for issues such as fuel flow, engine speed, clutch engagement, spark plug operation, and more.

Frankly speaking:

I’ve never tried it myself, but I once noticed a local repair shop using the same strategy to troubleshoot a chainsaw that wasn’t oiling.

How to Remove the Chain From a Chainsaw?

Here’s how to remove the chain from a chainsaw: 👇

1. Wear protective gloves and turn OFF your saw.

2. Loosen the chain. (depending on your saw model, the chain tensioner screw could be located on the side or between the bar and the powerhead)

How to tighten a chainsaw chain - Step 1

3. Unscrew the side cover nuts using the spanner wrench and carefully remove the cover.

chainsaw cover nuts

4. Now, gently slip the chain off the sprocket and guide bar.

5. Once you’re done, put the cover back on and tighten the nuts firmly.

Simple, isn’t it??

Things to Keep in Mind if You're Planning to Run Your Chainsaw Without the Chain

Wanna give it a try?

It’s totally OK to run your saw without the chain. Just make sure you keep a few things in mind: 👇

  1. Never pull the throttle too hard while the chain is off, as it can cause the clutch to come off.
  2. Empty the oil reservoir before running your saw. (otherwise, it’ll make a huge mess!)
  3. Wear protective gear (Gloves and goggles are a must!)
  4. Don’t do it for too long, as the engine might get too hot.
  5. Be careful while removing the chain.

So, now that you know the RISKS, it’s time to give it a go!

Who knows, you might even enjoy running your saw without the chain! 😀

Be sure to share your story with us in the comments below 👇. Let’s hear what you have to say!

Happy SAWING!! 🙂

Samuel Anali

Hey there! My name is Sam, and I'm the NERD behind this site. I'm an avid chainsaw enthusiast, and I've been tinkering with them since I was 17 (it's almost 20 years now!).

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