How to Tell If a Chainsaw Chain is Dull? (5 SURE Signs!)

how to tell if a chainsaw chain is dull

Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could sharpen our chainsaws once and they’d stay razor-sharp forever?

But, you know, that’s just wishful thinking.

Chainsaw chains, sooner or later, start losing their edge and end up needing a good sharpening.” 😅🪚🔧

Here are 5 signs that your chainsaw chain is dull:

  1. Your chainsaw produces fine sawdust instead of wood chips.
  2. Your chainsaw doesn’t pull itself into the wood, rather you have to put extra force on it to keep it going.
  3. You chainsaw cuts crooked
  4. Your chainsaw vibrates abnormally and produces excessive noise.
  5. Your chainsaw smokes than usual.

I’m Samuel and I’ve been in the chainsaw game for over two decades. In this article, I’m going to cover – 👇

  • 🔍 The signs of a dull chainsaw chain (in GREAT detail!),
  • 🤔 What causes a chain to get dull so quickly (and how you can avoid them),
  • 🚮 When it’s time to say goodbye to a chain for good, and many many more!

So, are you READY? 

Let’s get started.

5 Signs that Your Chainsaw Chain is Dull

A dull chainsaw chain can turn your wood-cutting dreams into a nightmare.

That’s why, It’s IMPORTANT to know when your chain is nearing the END of its sharpness. Otherwise, it could cause a host of problems.

Here are 5 tell-tale signs that your saw chain is dull: 👇

1. Your Saw Produces Powdery Sawdust Instead of Wood Chips

If your chainsaw produces FINE sawdust instead of wood chips (like shown in the image below 👇), it’s a SURE sign that your chain is dull and needs to be sharpened ASAP!

chainsaw saw dust

This is because, the cutting teeth on a chainsaw chain are designed in a way that they bite into the wood and create those beautiful, clean chips like you see right here: 👇

how do chainsaw chain cutting teeth work

But when the teeth lose their sharpness and become dull, they can no longer produce those chunky chips. Instead, they start to produce “fine” sawdust like this: 👇

powdery sawdust

2. Your Saw Doesn't Pull Itself Into the Wood

A chainsaw with a sharp chain will eagerly dig into the wood, much like a dog pulling on a leash when it catches a whiff of a squirrel. Your job is simply to guide it.

But, when the chain gets dull, it won’t exhibit the same level of enthusiasm. 

Instead, you’ll find yourself having to lean into the saw and apply more force than you should to make it cut.  

dull chainsaw chain

So, if your saw isn’t pulling itself through the wood, and you’re having to exert extra effort to make it cut, that’s a clear sign that your chain needs a good sharpening.

3. Your Chainsaw Cuts Crooked

A sharp chain will always give you STRAIGHT cuts (unless you’re holding the saw WRONG!❌).

cutting log with chainsaw

But, as the chain undergoes heavy wear and tear, the teeth on one side may become duller than those on the other.

As a result, the chain starts pulling the saw in one direction, leading to uneven cuts, as illustrated in this image 👇.

A chainsaw cutting crooked (not straight).

So, if you’re having a tough time achieving those nice, straight cuts with your chainsaw, chances are your chain lost it’s edge. 

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and give it a good sharpening.

But to be honest:

If your chainsaw is cutting “crooked,” it doesn’t ALWAYS mean that your chain is worn out. It could be due to loose chain tension, wrong sharpening, or something else too!

Check this article out 👉 7 Reasons Why Your Chainsaw is Cutting Crooked?

4. Your Chainsaw Starts to Smoke When Cutting

If your saw is producing a LOT of smoke while cutting (check the image below for reference 👇), then it can be a sign of a dull chain.

chainsaw smoking

Here’s what you need to know:

When a chainsaw chain loses its sharpness, it can no longer make clean cuts into the wood. Instead, it just tends to rub against the surface, creating friction and generating heat!

And as the heat builds up, it eventually transforms into that telltale plume of smoke. (Learn More: Why is My Chainsaw Smoking?)

The same goes for wood BURNING!

If your chainsaw is leaving behind a burnt mark on the wood, then it’s probably due to a dull or worn-out chain.

chainsaw burning the wood - featured image

To learn more, read this article where I’ve described 👉 the reasons that cause a chainsaw to burn wood in great detail.

So, if you’re facing any of these issues (smoking saw or burning wood), give your chain a check!

5. Your Chainsaw Vibrates Abnormally while Cutting

It’s NO secret!

Chainsaws VIBRATE! 💤 (It’s all part of the power tool charm!)

But if your chainsaw starts to VIBRATE abnormally while cutting, chances are that dull chain is the culprit.

chainsaw vibrating

“How can you tell if the vibration is way off the charts?

Well, you’re the one who knows your chainsaw inside out. You’re well aware of how it usually behaves while doing its thing – the kind of vibration it dishes out and the sounds it makes.

If you feel like the saw is vibrating more than usual (or producing a weird sound) while cutting, there’s no LOSS in hitting pause and giving the chain a GOOD look!

How to Tell If a Chainsaw Chain is Worn Out?

If you’re NOT sure if your chain is on its “last legs,” then you can always check it visually!

When you look at the chain, look for any signs of WEAR, like – 👇

  • broken links,
  • bent or chipped cutters (A),
  • missing teeth,
  • a lot of rust on the chain (B),
  • rounded or blunt edges (C), etc.
signs of a worn out chainsaw chain

I also recommend comparing it with a NEW chain (if you can) to see the difference.

Because that’ll give you a proper idea of how worn out your chain is and whether it needs to be REPLACED or not.

So, keep a close eye on your chain, and don’t ignore these signs if you want your chainsaw to serve you LONG and HARD!

What Causes a Chainsaw Chain to Wear Out?

Now, you might be wondering: “What causes the chainsaw chain to wear out in the first place?

chainsaw chain

Well, chainsaw chains don’t last forever. At some point, they’ll wear out from the constant friction and usage. (Learn More: How Long Does a Chainsaw Chain Last?)

Here are 7 factors that can contribute to the wear and tear of a chainsaw chain: 👇

  1. WRONG sharpening technique,
  2. Cutting hardwood (like oak, maple, cherry),
  3. Failing to maintain proper chain tension (Tips to Keep Chainsaw Chain Tight),
  4. Over-tensioning the chain (which causes EXTRA friction. Learn More: How tight Should a Chainsaw Chain Be?),
  5. Faulty chain lubrication system (Here’s how to fix a saw that’s not oiling!),
  6. Using dull or wrong files for sharpening the chain,
  7. Hitting the dirt, ground, or any other abrasive material while cutting, 

And the list GOES on and on!

So, if you want to increase the lifespan of your chain, make sure to AVOID these mistakes!

The GOOD NEWS is I’ve written an entire article on this topic. Check it out here: 👉 Why Does My Chainsaw Chain Wear Out Faster?

Is It Better to Sharpen or Replace a Chainsaw Chain?


It’s always BEST to sharpen a chainsaw chain before replacing it.


Because sometimes you might think that the chain is fully worn out and needs replacing. But a little sharpening can often give it new life without the hassle of replacing it!

Here’s what one of our Reddit community members had to say about this: 👇

What one of our Reddit community members had to say on identifying a worn out chainsaw chain.

I know what you’re thinking now:

When to Replace a Chainsaw Chain?

Well, if your chain is excessively worn or damaged, and sharpening doesn’t seem to restore it to its previous working condition, then it’s time for a replacement.

Take some time to examine the chain carefully before deciding to replace it.

Oh, one more thing: 👇

Some branded chainsaw chains have a “limit” line on top of the cutters (check the image below for reference 👇) that helps you determine the minimum length of each cutter, beyond which it needs to be replaced.
chainsaw chain cutter sharpening limit

If you’ve reached that line and can’t sharpen the cutters anymore, then what are you waiting for?

Get a NEW chain! 🐸

However, while choosing a chain, keep in mind that chainsaw chains aren’t universal. You need to have the RIGHT size chain that fits your saw. 

(Learn More: Are Chainsaw Chains Universal?)

GoodBye Words!

That’s all for this article!

If you’ve got any questions or comments about the topics discussed here, feel FREE to leave them in the comments section below.

Thank you for reading and GOODBYE!

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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