Do Chainsaw Chains Stretch? Cause, Risk And How To Fix Loose Chains

Yes, chainsaw chains stretch due to usage and time. Even new chains stretch more as you start using them due to the break-in period. Note that it is not safe to continue using the chainsaw once the chain becomes loose. You should keep checking the chain’s tension and tighten it often to reduce accidental risks at work.

A chain is an essential part of the chainsaw that every chainsaw user should keep an eye on. The funny part is that the chains tend to loosen up when least expected. But, as soon as you notice that, you should consider stopping your work to fix it. If you wait longer, the chain can come off the bar, posing a health risk. 

You will know whether the chain is loose by pulling it away from the guide bar. If the drive links are not engaged, then it means the chain needs to be tightened. However, the proper chain is a little loose but cannot disengage from the drive links. Nonetheless, tightening should be done well to avoid too tight chains that can break easily during operation. 

Do Chainsaw Chains Stretch

Why Do Chains Stretch? 

Chainsaw chains tend to stretch and get loose due to usage and time. The new chain tends to stretch more and calls for regular tightening for safe use. But, you may be asking what causes the chain to stretch. Check them below:

Wearing Off

Truth be told, the chainsaw chain will not last you forever. Depending on the usage, it can go for 5 or 10 years or even more. So, you will need to replace it at some point in time. The chain and sprockets will wear off with time as you continue using it. If you notice that the chain loosens up frequently, its teeth get dull, and it becomes difficult for it to move around the bar, then it is time to replace. 


Heat is another thing that can cause the chain to loosen up. There is a lot of friction and pressure that the chain undergoes during use. When it becomes extremely hot, it tends to lose its tension but will bounce back when cool. It is even worse when the chain is not lubricated as the friction will be more, making it wear off fast and become loose in a short time. 

Break-In Period

As you start using a new chainsaw, the chain tends to stretch; this is the break-in period. The time varies from one chain to another depending on the often you use it. Once the period is over, then the stretch will be minimal and less frequent. It is thus best to always inspect the chain for any sign of abnormal tension and tighten it accordingly.

Problems Of Using Stretched Chains

You should at no times use a chainsaw with a loose chain as it can damage the bar. If this happens, it will cost you more to prematurely replace both the chain and the bar. 

Besides, using a loose chain is risky as it can come off the guide while in operation. However, nowadays, the chainsaws come with chain catchers that prevent the chain from flying off. Nonetheless, it is advisable to tighten the chain rather than waiting for accidents to happen. 

Is There A Way Of Preventing The Chainsaw Chain From Stretching?

Sadly, you cannot prevent the chainsaw chain from stretching. It might happen anyway. The only thing is to inspect the chain before every use to prevent any risk associated with loose chains. This prevents any further damage to the chainsaw and ensures the safety of the users. 

Detecting A Stretched Chainsaw Chain

If you are a beginner, it may seem like an uphill task to detect a stretched chain; but it is not. As you continue using the chainsaw, you will notice any changes easily, including a loose chain. Actually, you will see and feel the difference. Nonetheless, the steps below can help you detect a stretched chainsaw chain that needs to be fixed:

1. Put your tool on the table or any flat surface

2. Ensure the chainsaw is switched off. If the problem occurs when in use, then allow the tool to cool down before inspection.

3. Check the chain part under the guide bar. Is it sagging? Is there space in-between? In case there is such, then consider tightening your chain.

4. Check if the chain is touching the guide bar or just close to it. If it doesn’t, the chain is loose. 

5. If the chain is close to or touching the guide bar, pull it a little with your hands. Here it would help if you were careful as the chain blades are sharp with oil, and therefore it is wise to put on gloves. 

6. Check if the chain comes off the guide bar slides. Suppose it does, then it is stretched and needs some tightening. 

How To Tighten A Chainsaw Chain

If, after following the steps above, you notice your chain is stretched, then consider tightening it before using. Fortunately, the process is quite easy following the process below:

Process Of Fixing Stretched Chainsaw Chain

Step 1: Ensure The Chainsaw Is Switched Off

At no time should you try to tighten the chainsaw chain when in operation. This is because a running chainsaw can easily cut off your fingers, arm, or cause any other bodily harm. Before you start, ensure the tool is switched off and left to cool if you were working with it. When the chainsaw is in operation, the chain and the bar become very hot, and using it before it cools can cause burns. 

Besides, fixing the chain when it has not cooled off completely can result in overtightening. Simply because a hot chain is loose and tightening it to required tension as such can overtighten once cool.

Now put the chain on a level surface such as a table to start the inspection. Alternatively, place the chainsaw in a vice to ensure stability and safety when tightening. Note that you will be handling a sharp chain that can be dangerous, and gloves will be of help in the process.

Use the screwdriver and wrench that come with your tool as it matches the tension adjustment screw and side plate nut size. If you do not have one, then consider buying the right size wrench and screwdriver. 

Step 2: Loosen The Bar Bolts

In order to get enough room to work on the chain, and the guide bar, the bolts on the side panel of the guide should be loosened. Please do not remove them completely, as it can add you some unnecessary work when re-assembling. Also, check if the braking system is attached to the side panel. If it is, then unlock it before detaching the side panel.  

Step 3: Tighten The Tension Adjustment Screw

The tension adjustment screw is normally positioned at the bar base. However, some chainsaw has it on the inboard or outside between the bolts that hold the bar in place. Some digital chainsaws have an adjustment dial that does not need any tool for tightening. 

Once you locate the tension adjustment screw, start to tighten it. As you tighten the screw, the chain will be tightened too and vice versa. Lift the bar using the other hand so you can feel and see the chain tightening. Continue adjusting the screw until you achieve the required tension. 

Step 4: Tighten The Bar Bolts

Now it is time to tighten back the bolts that were loosened in step 2 above. When doing this, ensure you lift the chainsaw nose to avoid any serious effects on your tool. 

Step 5: Recheck The Chain

Before you head out to work, it is best to recheck the chain if the right tension has been achieved. Sometimes, the chain becomes overtightened, which can cause the chain to break during operation. If you notice that the chain is overtightened, repeat the steps above, and instead of tightening the tension adjustment screw in step 3, loosen it. Once done, your tool will be ready for the next job. 

How Tight Should A Chain Be On A Chainsaw?

The chainsaw chain should not be too loose or too tight. It should pull freely at the same time, feel snug. When too tight, it can easily break, while if it is too loose, it can come off the guide bar, which pauses danger. You can use the pull test to check whether the chainsaw has been tightening correctly. 

Use your thumb and index fingers to pull the chain off the guide bar. Do this without losing the grip. If the chain does not lift even a little bit, then it is too tight. On the contrary, if the chain lifts and comes off the drive links, it is too loose. In both scenarios, you should fix the chain before using it.

Ideally, the chain should pull off a little from the guide bar while still engaged in the drive links. Besides, the chain should snap back smoothly when released and easily rotate around the bar. 

Final Word

Using a chainsaw with an overstretched chain is risky. It is advisable always to check your tools as it can easily stretch due to wear, heat, and during the break-in period. Luckily, fixing does not require professionalism as long as you do it keenly while keeping in mind your safety and that of the chainsaw. Hope you can now do it yourself after reading this far.

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