Chainsaw Clutch Slipping? Here are 5 EASY Fixes!

chainsaw clutch slipping

If your chainsaw’s clutch is slipping, it might be because the clutch shoes or clutch springs are damaged. Yet, things like having the wrong chain tension, using a dull chain, not giving proper lubrication to the bar and chain, or using the wrong size chain can also bring about this issue.

Btw, I’m Sam, and I have more than two decades of experience working with chainsaws. In this article, I am going to explain why your chainsaw’s clutch might be slipping & how you can fix it.

Are you ready??

Let’s get started!

How Does a Chainsaw Clutch Work?

Before I get into the “meaty” part, I first want to provide some background information on how a chainsaw clutch actually works.

This will help you understand why it may be slipping & what you can do about it! (Trust me, I’m not adding this in just to make the article longer. It’s important stuff!)

Chainsaws use a ‘centrifugal clutch‘ which has mainly 4 different parts:

  1. Clutch housing (clutch drum)
  2. Clutch shoes
  3. Clutch springs
  4. Drive shaft

Here’s how it works: 👇

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

As the chainsaw engine speeds up, the clutch housing & clutch shoes also spin faster. This causes the centrifugal force to push outwards on the clutch shoes, pushing them against the inside of the clutch drum.

This makes a connection between the engine & clutch drum (which is connected to the chain). The power from the engine is then transferred to the chain, causing it to spin around the bar!

When the engine slows down, the centrifugal force weakens and the clutch shoes move back inwards.

But when the clutch shoes don’t get pushed out enough or the friction between them & the clutch drum is gone, it causes the clutch to slip!

How to Tell if My Chainsaw Clutch is Slipping?

The symptoms of a slipping chainsaw clutch are pretty obvious once you know what to look for.

Here are the TOP 5 signs that your chainsaw clutch may be slipping: 👇

  1. The chain halts during operation
  2. Overheating or smoking
  3. Burnt clutch smell
  4. Lack of power at full throttle
  5. You might hear unusual noises

Chainsaw Clutch Slipping - Causes & Fixes

Here are 5 possible reasons why your chainsaw clutch is slipping and what you can do about it: 👇

Your Chain is Dull or Worn Out

A dull (or “worn-out”) chain is probably the most common reason for a slipping clutch.

Here’s why:

A sharp chain pulls itself into the wood & cuts like a hot knife through butter. But when the chain gets dull, it causes more resistance and puts extra strain on the clutch, causing it to slip.

“But how do I know if my chain is dull?”

Well, here are 5 CLEAR signs:

  1. You have to push down harder on the saw to make a cut
  2. Your saw cuts crooked
  3. Your saw produces smoke when cutting
  4. Your chain keeps coming off the bar 
  5. Visual signs like dull or chipped teeth on the chain

If you notice any of these signs, a QUICK fix is to sharpen your chain.

If you don’t know how to sharpen a chain, watch this tutorial 👇 or hire a professional (here’s how much professional sharpening costs).

However, if your chain is too worn out and can’t be sharpened anymore, it’s time to buy a new one!

Your Chain Tension is Too Tight

With a tight chain, your engine has to work harder to move the chain, putting excessive pressure on the clutch.

And we all know excessive pressure leads to slipping!

So, how do you know if your chain tension is too tight?

Well, take a screwdriver and try to pull the chain around the bar (while the engine is off & the chain brake is disengaged). 

If it moves smoothly, you’re good to go! If not, your chain is too tight.

Moving chainsaw chain around the bar with a screwdriver.

Don’t worry!

Here’s how you can fix it: 👇

  1. Have the bar nuts finger tight & loosen the chain tensioner.
  2. Lift the bar nose by hand.
  3. Now tighten the chain until the drive links disappear in the groove & the tie straps just touch the bar rails.
  4. Turn the tensioner 1/4 extra.
  5. Tighten the bar nuts & you’re done!

Check out my ultimate guide on chain tensioning!

Your Chainsaw isn't Oiling the Bar & Chain

Every chainsaw comes with an oiling system, and its “one & only” job is to keep the bar and chain lubricated.

When there isn’t enough oil, it can cause serious friction between the bar and the chain. This friction can put excessive load on the clutch, causing it to slip!

So, before coming to the conclusion that your clutch is DEAD, check if the oiling system is working.

Here’s how you can check: 👇

  1. Start your chainsaw and let it idle
  2. Hold the tip of the bar over a light-colored surface (like a piece of paper)
  3. Rev the engine & observe.

If you see oil droplets on the paper, your oiling system is working fine! If not, you have a problem.

how to check if chainsaw is oiling

And there are TONS of things that might be causing this issue. For example:

  • Clogged oiler holes
  • Faulty oil pump
  • Dirty bar groove

Check out this article, where I’ve explained everything you need to know about fixing your oiling system & keeping it in top shape!

You Might Be Using the Wrong Size Chain

If all of the above reasons don’t apply to your situation, it’s possible that you’re using the wrong size chain for your saw.

If the chain gauge is too wide or the chain pitch is incorrect, it’ll bind in the bar groove and give you the illusion of a slipping clutch.

How do you know if you’re using the wrong size chain?

To check if you’re using the correct chain, you need to know 3 things: 👇

  1. ✅ The chain gauge (the thickness of the drive links)
  2. ✅ The chain pitch (the spacing between the drive links)
  3. ✅ The number of drive links

If it’s a “stock” chain, these numbers should be listed in your saw’s manual. If not, you can usually find them on the chain packaging.

Once you have these numbers, compare them to the chain gauge, pitch, and drive link count written on your bar. 

If they don’t match, SORRY, but you’ve been using the wrong chain! 🐸

Read this article where I’ve explained why it’s so important to use the right size chain for your saw.

Your Clutch is Simply Worn Out

Last but not least, it’s possible that your clutch is simply worn out.

It’s a mechanical part, after all, and with repeated use over time, it can wear down and become less effective.

So open up your chainsaw & inspect the clutch. Try running your saw at idle without the chain attached and see if the clutch engages properly. If not, it’s time to replace it!

But there’s a catch! 🐸

Sometimes, you don’t need to replace the entire clutch to solve this issue. It could just be a worn-out, gummed-up, or jammed clutch spring or clutch shoe that needs to be replaced.

And replacing these tiny parts is much cheaper (usually 2-3 bucks per part) and easier (~10 min job) than replacing the entire clutch!

💡 PRO TIP: When you replace your clutch shoe or spring, it’s better to replace all of them, even if only one is damaged.

How to Get the Right Clutch for Your Chainsaw?

Chainsaw clutches aren’t universal!

In other words, not all chainsaw clutches are the same. Depending on brands & models, they come in different shapes and sizes.

So, make sure you get the right replacement clutch for your saw!

But how??

Well, here’s the truth: 👇

Unlike with the bar and chain, you won’t find a straightforward size reference for chainsaw clutches. (which makes sense since it’s not something you regularly replace!)

But don’t worry!

Here are 2 ways you can find the right clutch for your chainsaw: 👇

Contact the Nearest Dealer

The “safest” & easiest option!

You can either call them or visit their store. Just give them your brand, model number, and clutch type (if possible), and they’ll provide you with the correct part!

If they don’t have it in stock, they can order it for you (or at least try to repair the existing one!).

Find One Online

If there’s no dealer near you or if you want to save some money, this is your “go-to” option.

But… it’ll require a little bit of research!

  1. First, find out your chainsaw’s brand & model.
  2. Google it and add “clutch” at the end (e.g., “husqvarna 455 rancher clutch”)
  3. You’ll see eBay, Amazon listings & other online shops selling clutches for your saw. Check the reviews & ratings, and you’re good to go!
how to find the right clutch for your saw online

💡 PRO TIP: Check the return policy before you place your order. Just in case! 😉

On top of it, there are tons of Facebook groups & forums where you can find replacement parts for your chainsaw.

But be careful of the scammers!

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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