How to Use a Chainsaw Sharpener: Manual and Electric

rat tail file

After using your chainsaw a lot you’ll notice that the cutting efficiency goes down and it’s much harder to cut with. A chainsaw does go dull after a while. While there are replacement blades, you can save a considerable amount of money by sharpening the cutting teeth on the chain yourself. You can actually sharpen the teeth several times before replacing them.

There are typically two styles of sharpener, manual and electric.

Manual Sharpeners

The most common manual sharpener is also known as a “file” or “rat-tail file.” These files are specifically made for chainsaws and feature a file inside of a guide attached to a handle. They are rather inexpensive and are widely available through most hardware stores. Before you buy this type of sharpener, you need to know the size and diameter of your chain. You can see my old rat-tail file pictured above.

The biggest drawback of the rat-tail file is that you need to sharpen each tooth individually. You also need to ensure that you are using the right angle with each one. This is possible by someone with lots of experience sharpening chainsaws, as well as someone with lots of patience.

Another manual option is to use a guide bar mounted sharpener. These sharpeners mount on the guide bar and sharpen the blade as it passes through the sharpener.

Electric Sharpeners

Electric options are a more efficient way of sharpening your chainsaw. They can be setup as complete systems or can work as attachments to die grinders or dremels.

The complete systems are normally mounted to a bench or vise. They feature a staging area for you to put your chain into as well as a grinding wheel that you can control. The grinding wheel uses a higher RPM and efficiently grinds the cutters.

The dremel attachments are much cheaper than the full systems, but they assume you have a dremel in the first place. They are very similar to the setup of the rat-tails, except they are electric. They feature a file as well as a guide bar that allows you slide the sharpener back and forth.

How to Use a Chainsaw Sharpener

Sharpening your chainsaw is highly dependent on the type of sharpener you’re using. For instance if you’re using a rat-tail file or bar mounted, the method of sharpening is going to be similar to a dremel file. However it’s going to be drastically different than a full electric system.

Manual Filing

This video by Oregon is very solid and goes over the process very well. If you’re planning to file your chainsaw manually with these tools, this video is a solid explanation:

Electric Filing

This is a bit more difficult to describe as different products will have their own methods for electronically grinding the saw. The overall process with these tools is very similar, however each will have their own nuances. This video by James from Highlandoutboards uses the Buffalo Tools chainsaw sharpener and goes over the process quite well:


No matter the option you use, it’s going to take some practice to get good at sharpening your chainsaw. Due to technological advancements, electric sharpeners are actually rather inexpensive when compared to manual options. However, the more professional sharpeners can cost upwards of $200. If you’re someone who only uses your chainsaw every couple of months than a rat-tail file or a bar mounted sharpener will do just fine and won’t break the bank.

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