Correct Chainsaw Chain Direction (with REAL Pictures!)

You’re NOT alone! I also wondered the same thing when I was a beginner. 🙂

chainsaw chain direction - featured image

Btw, I’ve been using chainsaws for over 20 years. And in this article, I’m going to show you –

  • the correct direction for the chainsaw chain,
  • why it’s so important,
  • how to ensure you have it running in the right direction, and many more.

Are you ready?

Let’s jump right in!

Which Way Does a Chain Go on a Chainsaw?

The chain on a chainsaw always goes clockwise if you look at it from the right side. In other words, if you look down on the chainsaw from above while holding it, the chain should move forward and away from you.

(Here’s a visual example of that:)

chainsaw chain direction image

Another way to remember this is that your chain should move toward the sprocket, which is located on the tip of the bar.

understanding chainsaw chain direction 2

Quite easy to remember, isn’t it?

But, do all chainsaws have the same chain direction? 🤔

Yes, all chainsaws out there use this same principle when it comes to the direction of the chain. They all run in the “clockwise” direction.

There might be some sort of physics behind this, but in any case, it has been standardized. 

So, no matter the type of chainsaw you are using, the chain should always move in this direction.

Why Does the Chainsaw Chain Direction Matter?

Let’s face it:

It’s important to know which way your chainsaw chain moves.


There’s a 50/50 chance you’ll put the chain on backward and end up damaging the chainsaw (and possibly even injure yourself!)

Here're a few potential issues that can occur if you install the chain wrong:

worn out chainsaw spur sprocket
  • Increased risk of kickback: Kickbacks are bad! This is when the chainsaw jumps back up in the opposite direction. When you put the chain wrong, you increase the risk of kickback.
  • Your saw will be burning the wood (rather than cutting it): Since the cutters are pointing the wrong way, they don’t have the chance to cut through the wood. So, the chain will keep grinding against the wood, slowly burning it but not cutting it.
  • The chain will easily come off the bar: Probably the most DANGEROUS outcome of putting a chainsaw chain wrong. (Read this article if your chain keeps coming off the bar!)
A chain that keeps coming off the guide bar.
  • The chain might get RIPPED OFF: If you use the chainsaw with the chain on backward for an excessive amount of time, you might get your chain ripped off

The bottom line?

You need to know the correct direction for the chainsaw chain and make sure it’s installed that way.

Otherwise, you’ll be risking your own safety and damaging your saw!

How Do You Know if Your Chainsaw Chain is on Backward?

You can check if your chainsaw chain is on backward or not by looking at the cutters. If they’re pointing forward, the chain is in the correct direction. But, If they’re pointing towards the powerhead, then it is installed backward.

Correct Chain Direction:

correct chain direction
  1. The cutters are pointing toward the tip of your bar.
  2. The depth gauges are in front of the cutters (and pointed towards the powerhead).
  3. The drive links are pointed forward.

Incorrect Chain Direction:

  1. The cutters are pointing towards the powerhead.
  2. The depth gauges are behind the cutters.
  3. The drive links are pointed toward the tip of your bar.

Sounds confusing?

Just keep in mind that your chain should be facing the exact direction it rotates. This is the correct direction, and you need to make sure it’s installed that way.

Signs that your chain is on backward:

There are a few other signs that can help you identify if the chain is on backwards or not. For example –

  • The chain isn’t cutting at all (it just keeps spinning around!),
  • You feel a lot of vibration from the saw,
  • The chain keeps coming off the bar,
  • You hear strange noises coming from the drive sprocket,
  • Or, you notice a lot of smoke or a burning smell.

If you experience any of the above, it might be a sign that your chainsaw chain has been installed backward. You need to put it in the right direction ASAP!

How to Put On a Chainsaw Chain the Right Way?

Let’s face it:

Putting on a chainsaw chain is not rocket science. Yet, so many folks struggle to get it right.

No worries! I’m here to help you out 🙂

Here’s the step-by-step guide to installing the chainsaw chain correctly 👇

1. Make sure the engine is turned OFF and the chai brake is not engaged.

Engaged vs disengaged chainsaw chain brake.

2. Use a screwdriver to loosen the chain tensioning screw. Depending on your chainsaw model the screw might be located at the side, or between the guide bar and the saw.

3. Use a spanner to finger-loosen the nuts on your clutch cover. This will allow you to remove the cover and have access to your chain and bar.

chainsaw cover nuts

4. Get the chain and bar off the saw (Caution: Wear protective gloves), and pull the chain away from the bar.

5. Now, get the chain you want to install. Make sure the chain is compatible with your bar and saw. 

6. IMPORTANT: Put the chain onto the bar and make sure it’s in the right direction (check the image below). The cutters should be pointing toward the tip of the bar.

correct chainsaw chain direction 2

7.  Reattach the bar to the saw and place the chain around the chain sprocket. (make sure the drive links are seated correctly on the drive sprocket!).

installing chain on chainsaw sprocket

8. Place the cover back on and tighten the nuts.

9. Finally, use the screwdriver and adjust the chain tensioner to set tighten the chain. It should be tight enough that it doesn’t sag below the bar. (Learn more: How Tight Should a Chainsaw Chain Be?)

10. Pull the chain around the bar and check if it’s moving freely. (If not, loosen the chain a bit!)

Pulling the chain around the bar with hands.

And, you’re all set!

If you want a more detailed guide, check this YouTube video out:

Goodbye Words!

That’s it!

Now you shouldn’t have any confusion about the right direction to mount your chainsaw chain!

Share this with your arborist friends and make sure everyone knows the correct direction for their chainsaw chain.

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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