How to Tighten a Chainsaw Chain (with Pictures)

how to tighten chainsaw chain - featured image

Here’s how you tighten a chainsaw chain:

  1. Turn off your saw engine & make sure the chain brake isn’t engaged (and if the chain is hot, let it cool down).
  2. Loosen the bar nuts with the scrench tool just enough that you can move the tip of the bar up & down.
  3. While holding the bar’s tip up with one hand, turn the chain tensioner screw clockwise using the flat-head end of your scrench until the chain is nice & snug against the bar.
  4. Check if the chain tension is tight enough (you should be able to pull the chain around freely, but it shouldn’t hang down at the bottom of the bar).
  5. Once you have the tension right, re-tighten the bar nuts with a scrench while still holding the bar tip up.

Btw, I’m Sam and I’ve got over two decades of chainsawing under my belt. In this article, I’ll walk you through the steps to properly tighten a chainsaw chain.

We’ll also cover things like –

  • ✅ How tight is tight enough,
  • ✅ Ways to check if your chain is good to go,
  • ✅ What could go wrong if it’s too loose,
  • ✅ And some PRO TIPS to keep that chain in check for the long run!

Are you READY?

Let’s get started…

Step-by-step Guide to Tighten a Chainsaw Chain

Frankly speaking!!

Tightening a chainsaw chain is a piece of cake. There’s nothing “fancy” or complicated about the process.

Yet, you wouldn’t believe how many folks out there still wrestle with this straightforward and end up causing damage to their saw.

So here’s a step-by-step walkthrough on how you can properly tighten your chainsaw chain: 👇

Before You Begin!

Before you begin to tighten the chain, here’s a quick checklist to run through:

  1. ✅ Make sure your chainsaw engine is OFF,
  2. ✅ Make sure the chain brake isn’t engaged (just give it a pull back if it seems engaged!),
  3. ✅ Wear your protective gloves,
  4. ✅ If you’ve been doing some cutting just now, let the chain cool down (because chainsaw chains get stretched when they’re hot!).
  5. ✅  Make sure you’ve got the scrench on your table.
chainsaw scrench

Step 1: Locate the Chain Tensioner Screw

So, the first step is to locate the chain tensioner screw!

Depending on your saw model, the chain tensioner screw could be located either on the inboard or on the outboard side of your chainsaw.

How to tighten a chainsaw chain - Step 1

For this process, I’m using a Stihl MS60 which has the chain tensioner screw located on the outboard side (right in the middle of the bar nuts).

Step 2: Loosen the Bar Nuts with Your Scrench

Grab your scrench and turn the bar nuts counter-clockwise. You need to loosen them just enough that you can lift the tip of the bar slightly.

How to tighten a chainsaw chain - Step 2

Step 3: Tighten the Chain Tensioner Screw

While holding the tip your bar slightly up with your left-hand, tighten the chain tensioner screw with your right-hand. (Use the flat-head screwdriver end!)

How to tighten a chainsaw chain - Step 3

Turn the screw clockwise until your chain is snug against the bottom bar rails. You shouldn’t see any slack in the chain.

Plus, make sure there are no “kinks” in the chain by giving it a pull.

snugged chainsaw chain

However, be careful not to over-tighten the chain, as it could –

Step 4: Tighten the Bar Nuts

While keeping the bar tip up, go ahead and tighten those bar nuts. Make sure they’re snug enough to keep things secure while you’re in the midst of cutting.

How to tighten a chainsaw chain - Step 4

And you are DONE!

Congrats 🎉, now to know how to tighten a chainsaw chain.

How Tight Should Your Chainsaw Chain Be?

Your chainsaw chain should be tight enough that you can’t pull the drive links completely out of the bar groove. 

But at the same time, it shouldn’t be so tight that you can’t move the chain freely around the bar. 

Want to learn more?

I’ve written an entire article discussing the optimal tension for a chainsaw chain. You should check that out!

How to Check if Your Chain is Tight Enough?

Well, there are a lot of ways to tell check if a chainsaw chain is correctly tightened or not.

But here’s one of my favorite methods. It’s called the “snap test“. 👇

  1. GRAB your chain at the bottom of your bar with your forefingers and try to pull it away from the bar groove.
  2. For a hard-nose bar, about 3/4 of your chain drive links should come out of the bar groove and SNAP back with a moderate force.
  3. And if it’s a sprocket-nose bar, you should be able to pull out around 1/8″ (approximately 3mm) of your chain drive links.
checking if chainsaw chain is tight enough

However, if you manage to get the full drive link in sight (like shown in the image 👇), it means your chain is too loose and needs to be re-adjusted.

chainsaw chain sagging below the bar

There’s another method that I often use.

Take a screwdriver and use it to pull the chain around the guide bar.

  • If you feel a lot of resistance or the chain doesn’t move at all, it means the chain is too tight and needs to be loosened a bit.
  • If the chain moves without much resistance (but doesn’t sag below the guide bar), it means the chain is properly tensioned.
Moving chainsaw chain around the bar with a screwdriver.

What Happens if Your Chain is Too Loose?

loose chainsaw chain

If your chainsaw chain is too loose, get ready for a bunch of headaches. Here’s the lowdown:

That’s not all!

A loose chain can be far more BRUTAL than you can imagine. 

How Frequently Should You Tighten Your Chain?

You should tighten your chainsaw chain as soon as you notice it has become loose. Ideally, you should check your chainsaw chain tension at least once every tank of fuel, before each use, and after every 1-2 hours of cutting to ensure it’s tight enough.

tightening chainsaw tensioner screw

Were you expecting an exact number??

SORRY! But that isn’t practical.

Because there are TONS of variables that can affect how quickly the chain will become loose, including – 👇

  • The type of wood you’re tackling,
  • The sharpness of your chain,
  • Whether your chain is brand new or on the older side,
  • And, how hard you’re pushing your chainsaw.

So, instead of giving a specific number, it’s BEST to use your judgment and check the chain tension time-to-time.

Read this article to learn more!

Tips to Keep Your Chainsaw Chain Tight for Longer

how to keep chainsaw chain tight for longer - featured image

Let’s be real!

Preventing your chainsaw chain from loosening entirely is pretty much impossible.

But guess what? I’ve got some good news for you!

I’ve rounded up some handy tips to spare you from the hassle of re-tightening every 15 minutes. Here they are:

  1. Keep the bar & chain well-lubricated,
  2. Don’t apply too much pressure on your saw while cutting,
  3. Take breaks between your cutting sessions,
  4. Keep an eye on that chain tension as you work,
  5. Invest in a pre-heated chain,
  6. Avoid cutting dirty wood or hitting the ground.

Wait, there’s more!

Here are 8 other tips to keep your chain tight for longer.

Ending Words!

That’s all I have for now on how to tighten a chainsaw chain! With practice, you’ll get the HANG of it and be able to do it in no time.

But what if your chainsaw chain won’t tighten?

Well, there could be various reasons behind this. I’ve written a complete article about it, so give it a read 👉 8 Reasons Why Your Chainsaw Chain Won’t Tighten & How to Fix them.

Meanwhile, if you’re facing any difficulties or you have any doubts, feel free to reach out. I’m always here to help!

Happy chainsawing! 🙂

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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