How to Winterize Your Chainsaw


With the deer season upon us, most of our food plots are in, trails have been cut and maintenance chores are taken care of. Most likely you used a chainsaw in this preseason work and have now lain it aside in exchange for a bow or gun in hopes of harvesting a good buck. You’ll want it to start right up when it’s time again for habitat work, so it’s a good idea to do a few maintenance steps to your chainsaw prior to putting it into hibernation for hunting season.

One of the first issues you need to think about when leaving your chainsaw or any other motor idle is the fuel quality. Much of our fuel now contains ethanol – a plant-derived fuel additive. While ethanol may help our country to be less dependent on foreign oil, it is not the greatest thing long-term for our motors. If you let your chainsaw or other motor lay around for more than three or four weeks, you may quickly realize the negative side of ethanol in your fuel. Ethanol is not a very stable compound and will quickly begin to break down and cause problems in your carburetor or fuel injection system if left untreated. Ethanol can easily clog up the ports and jets, as well as the fuel line of the carburetor system. When this occurs it usually requires disassembly and thorough cleaning of the carburetor. While this is not terribly difficult, it can easily be avoided by using treated fuel or simply winterizing your equipment. I always add a fuel stabilizer to my equipment gas tank when filling up at the pump. Products such as “Mechanic in a Bottle” and other stabilizers will help keep your fuel fresh and prevent it from clogging up your fuel system.

To store your chainsaw, do not run it out of gas for the winter. This allows the interior seals to dry (and possibly crack) and that is very bad for your saw. It is much better to empty the gas out, pour in a little “Real Gas” or other ethanol-free gas/oil mix product (usually available at your local saw shop), run your saw for a few seconds to completely coat the interior with the Real Gas, and then shut it off and store it. This keeps the seals moist, the carburetor won’t gum up. When you’re ready to use your saw again, add back your normal gas/oil mixture.

Next, it is a good idea to remove the air breather and thoroughly clean it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually involves washing it with soap and water (for a paper-type air filter) or fuel (with a wire-type filter) and perhaps replacing or blowing out paper elements carefully with compressed air.

In order for your saw to crank in the spring it must have three things: fuel, air and fire. We have already talked about the first two, and now need to address the third one. The fire is in the ignition system, including a fly wheel, magneto and spark plug. At a minimum, you should remove the spark plug and give it a careful inspection. Look at the condition of the electrode on the bottom of the spark plug. A slight gray color is normal. A black, sooty or oily electrode indicates incomplete combustion and can result from a number of things including improperly mixed fuel, a poorly adjusted carburetor or even worn out piston rings. It is a good idea when you have the spark plug out to test the gap as well using the proper tool. When in doubt on any spark plug it is always a good idea and a cheap fix to just replace it with a new one. While the spark plug is out, I normally spray a light household oil into the cylinder port. This will help keep it lubricated over the winter months. Mildly dirty spark plugs can be cleaned using fine sand paper, but be sure to clean or blow off with a compressor any sand particles that remain on the electrode prior to reinstallation.

One other thing I like to do to my chainsaw prior to putting it away for a while is to make sure my blades are sharp, adjusted properly and ready to go the next time I use the saw. Hand-sharpening with a file is sort of an art but not too difficult to master. The two biggest keys in hand-sharpening are to use a good file and keep it on the proper angle. File guides are available to help you keep the right angle. Chainsaw files are inexpensive but wear out quickly. I buy them a dozen at a time and sharpen only a couple of chains before I discard each one. If you don’t feel the file biting into the metal of the chainsaw blade, it is probably past its usefulness. Remember when filing to move the file only in one direction, away from you. Make sure you buy files with a diameter that matches the size of your chain.

In addition to filing the cutting portion of the chainsaw blade, you should also check the height of the depth gauge or rider, which is opposite the cutting side (see the diagram in the Gallery below). A depth-gauge tool is available at your local chainsaw shop and will help you determine the proper height. Generally, cutting depth can be increased on more powerful saws and should be decreased on smaller chainsaws.

If you are worried about filing correctly or have dulled the blade beyond your sharpening confidence level, I would suggest taking it to a professional. Most chainsaw shops charge $5 to $10 to get the blade back to razor sharp and on the proper angle.

If you use a chainsaw as much as I do, you might even consider purchasing a bench-mounted commercial chainsaw sharpener for yourself. We heat our house entirely with wood, so I use my chainsaws throughout the year to gather firewood. My bench-mounted sharpener has paid for itself many times over and is easy to use once you know how to set the proper angle. I can put a commercial edge on any of my chainsaw blades in less than two minutes. These sharpeners can range in price from under $50 to $500 or more for the high-end model. I chose the middle and spent about $250 for mine. Warning: Once your friends find out you have one, they will be bringing their chains to you continuously, as my friends do!

After you sharpen your chain, be sure that it is adjusted to the proper tension. A loose chain is a major cause of problems and can ruin the bar or sprocket. Excessive tension will wear out a guide bar quickly. Adjusting your chain tension is accomplished by loosening the large nut or nuts on the side of the bar cover and then using a screwdriver to turn the tensioning screw on the saw. Normally turning the screw clockwise will add tension to the chain and counterclockwise will relieve tension. You should be able to pull a properly adjusted chain about 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the bar, and it should snap back in place when released.

Chainsaws are a vital tool in the deer manager’s arsenal. They can be used it many different ways to improve whitetail habitat. Take a little time now away from your hunting to prepare your chainsaw for its winter siesta. You will be much happier in the spring when your chainsaw fires right up and is ready to work when you are.

About Brian Grossman

Brian Grossman joined the QDMA staff in August, 2015 as its Communications Manager. Brian is responsible for amplifying QDMA’s educational message for hunters through social media, e-mail, the QDMA website, and Quality Whitetails magazine. He has been a freelance writer, photographer, videographer and web designer since 2003. A trained wildlife biologist, Brian founded the Poor Boys Outdoors and Working Class Hunter web shows and associated media during his free time while working full time as a wildlife manager. He came to QDMA from the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, where he was a field operations supervisor, overseeing management of 15 Wildlife Management Areas. Brian currently lives in Thomaston, Georgia with his wife, Tina, and his two children, Dakota and Brooke.