Chainsaws are incredibly versatile tools that find more utility than simply in the hands of a lumberjack cutting down trees. Chainsaws are also often used for similar tasks like trimming branches but can also be used for chopping firewood, cutting fence posts, and other cutting tasks where serious cutting power is required.
However, the most impressive chainsaw is still limited in effectiveness by the quality of the chain it uses and the maintenance of that chain. As a cutting tool, the chain of a chainsaw will eventually wear out, but that does not necessarily mean you have to run out to your local hardware store to pick up a new one.
You can save yourself some money, and arguably some time, by sharpening your chainsaw’s chain at home, though there are a couple of options on how to do that. While manual chainsaw sharpeners are classic and have some benefits, electric chainsaw sharpeners are becoming more popular.
But do electric chainsaw sharpeners work?
Here we will go through what an electric chainsaw sharpener is, how it functions, how to use it, and cover some general considerations when deciding whether or not to use one.
Table of Contents
- Electric Chainsaw Sharpeners in a Nutshell
- How Does an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener Work?
- How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain with an Electric Sharpener
- Things to Look for in an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener
- Electric Chainsaw Sharpeners vs Manual Chainsaw Sharpeners
- The Limits of an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener
Electric Chainsaw Sharpeners in a Nutshell
Electric chainsaw sharpeners are essentially a cross between an angle grinder and a cold saw used for cutting metal. Like the cold saw, an electric chainsaw sharpener comes attached to a base that is then mounted onto your workshop or some other stable platform.
However, the body and pad of the electric chainsaw sharpener are positioned at an angle, similar to what you would expect from a traditional saw that would make a bevel cut. That said, an electric chainsaw sharpener employs a grinding wheel like an angle grinder instead of a traditional blade.
Beyond the general design of an electric chainsaw sharpener, the other feature that distinguishes this tool from competing designs is the specialized vice. To make sure that the chain stays firmly affixed while being sharpened, electric chainsaw sharpeners come with a specialized vice.
Most electric chainsaws allow for a wide range of different settings and arrangements to accommodate various chain pitches, gauges, profiles, and the number of links. Depending on the chain spec in question, this may require you to adjust the position of the grinder or different settings of the chain vice.
Some automatic models use a traditional grinding pad but do not apply the cold saw like design, instead favoring an enclosed pad with a wraparound chain clamp. This type of electric chainsaw sharpener requires far more understanding of the technical qualities of a chainsaw chain but relies less on your ability to physically engage in the techniques.
Sometimes the electric chainsaw sharpener comes with a grinding pad, but even then you are often better off purchasing a superior, specialized grinding pad than using the OEM version provided by the stock machine. This is not to suggest you cannot get okay mileage out of the OEM grinding pad but rarely does a company include its best grinding pad as part of the package.
It is worth noting that there are also portable electric chainsaw sharpeners that sharpen along similar principles but use entirely different techniques. These tools more closely resemble dremels or other similar oscillating handheld rotary electric power tools and use a cylindrical grinding stone.
How Does an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener Work?
Functionally, an electric chainsaw sharpener works like any chainsaw sharpener or any kind of grinder for that matter. The grinding pad or stone of the electric chainsaw sharpener rests against the tooth being sharpened and slowly grinds away the worn metal of the tooth, revealing fresh, raw metal underneath.
Of course, this still requires the appropriate techniques used to ensure that the sharpener puts a proper edge on the tooth in question. It is important to remember that the different types of electric chainsaw sharpeners function in slightly different ways, even if they all ultimately sharpen the teeth by grinding the metal.
For the automatic, and to a lesser extent the benchtop, electric chainsaw sharpeners, the main thing to consider is the settings of the device. This is especially important for the automatic models which require you to put most of the chain’s specs into the settings or account for them in your adjustments.
While the same could technically be said of benchtop electric chainsaw sharpeners, there is a little bit more wiggle room– though this ultimately requires you to eyeball the adjustments more than inputting them. It is fair to note that eyeballing some of the adjustments may not be quite as precise as a computerized setting system, but it also allows for more control.
Handheld electric chainsaw sharpeners, on the other hand, are all about direct control in their function which presents some advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage of this arrangement is that handheld electric chainsaw sharpeners require you to have steady hands to use the proper sharpening techniques.
The main advantage of a handheld electric chainsaw sharpener is that, once you are familiar with its process, it is the quickest chainsaw sharpening tool there is. This speed difference includes all of the different manual types of chainsaw sharpeners as well, making the handheld electric chainsaw sharpener the quickest method there is.
How to Sharpen a Chainsaw Chain with an Electric Sharpener
Regardless of the type of electric chainsaw sharpener you use, it is important to note the cutting corner and the witness mark on the top plate of the tooth. Keep in mind, not all chainsaw chains have a witness mark on the top plate, but you can use the chain’s manual to determine the grinding angle and how far you can grind the chain before needing to purchase a new one.
For benchtop and automatic electric chainsaw sharpeners, you need to know the gauge of the tooth as this will help determine the grinder head angle, the top plate cutting angle adjustment on the tool, and whether or not you need to grind with a down angle tilt. On top of that, you often need to adjust the chain vice for alternating teeth that alternate from a left to right cutting corner arrangement.
For a handheld electric chainsaw sharpener, you will choose the appropriate size grinding stone to match the pitch and gauge of the teeth. From there, the handheld electric chainsaw sharpener should come with a brace that marks the most common cutting corner angles.
Match the cutting angle on the brace with your chainsaw’s chain, aligning the mark on the brace with the angle of the tooth. Run the grinding stone’s full length along the cutting corner a couple of times before rotating and dropping it down the gullet, being careful not to dig downward.
Things to Look for in an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener
Despite the specs presented, the arbor or grinder speed of an electric chainsaw sharpener is generally not that important. Some electric chainsaw sharpeners have a grinding speed of only 3000 rpms while others can exceed 4000 rpms, but you only need the latter if you are sharpening specialized chains used for particular hardwood trees.
Instead, it is far more useful to look for an electric chainsaw sharpener that can accommodate a wide range of different gauges, pitches, and types of chainsaw chains. The type of chainsaw chain is usually the least important of the three accommodations as most benchtop and handheld electric chainsaw sharpeners can account for any type of chain.
However, automatic electric chainsaw sharpeners may only allow for specific types of chains– often standard chains without any skip links. Regardless, an electric chainsaw sharpener’s most important quality is its versatility which more commonly involves sharpening chains with varying pitches and gauges.
Outside of the chain compatibility, the quality of an electric chainsaw sharpener’s brace is the most important quality, though this tends to only matter for benchtop models. Both handheld and automatic electric chainsaw sharpeners come with a brace that works well for the different types.
Benchtop electric chainsaw sharpeners, on the other hand, are not always as well made and can create issues when sharpening the chain– especially if your adjustments are off.
Electric Chainsaw Sharpeners vs Manual Chainsaw Sharpeners
Even recognizing that electric chainsaw sharpeners do, in fact, work, that does not necessarily tell whether or not they are the right choice for you. This is especially true when you consider that there are just as many different types of manual chainsaw sharpeners on the market with their own benefits.
Arguably one of the main benefits of a manual chainsaw sharpener is that, on average, they are less expensive than their electric counterparts– though this does not always hold true when compared to handheld electric chainsaw sharpeners. On top of that, manual chainsaw sharpeners do not carry with them the risk of sharpening the teeth too much without a fair bit of negligence on the part of the user.
Finally, manual chainsaw sharpeners generally work every kind of chainsaw chain, regardless of the pitch, gauge, or number of teeth. Granted, this still requires a manual chainsaw sharpener to include the necessary accessories to sharpen chainsaw chains of different specs but most manual models do.
That said, for anyone with the money to spend, electric chainsaw sharpeners are almost always a superior option for a host of different reasons. For one, while electric chainsaw sharpeners may not provide the kind of precision or control that manual models do, they are still more reliable once you adjust the settings properly.
This is especially important if you have to sharpen multiple types of chainsaw chains with varying pitches, gauges, and depths and have a machine with the appropriate settings. Of course, the main benefit of using an electric chainsaw sharpener is the speed with which you can sharpen the chain which far exceeds anything even the most effective manual models can accomplish.
The Limits of an Electric Chainsaw Sharpener
While chainsaw sharpeners, in general, can significantly extend the lifespan of a chainsaw chain, there are still limits to the extent this tool can assist you before you eventually need to purchase a new chain. On top of that, the length of time that an electric chainsaw sharpener can increase a chain’s lifespan is tied directly to how effective your sharpening technique is.
Of the three main types of electric chainsaw sharpeners, the automatic models tend to keep a chain functioning the longest, though this still requires you to understand the full spectrum of different chain specs. If you make improper adjustments to an automatic electric chainsaw sharpener, you are liable to snap the chain just as easily as any of the other types.
For benchtop electric chainsaw sharpeners, the potential increase in a chain’s lifespan is just as much as with the other types, but it rarely plays out as well in real life. A big part of why has to do with the fact that benchtop electric chainsaw sharpeners are not as precise as automatic models but are far more powerful than handheld models.
Handheld electric chainsaw sharpeners are a tricky one in terms of extending a chainsaw chain’s lifespan as they rely far more on technique than the other two types. One of the advantages that a handheld electric chainsaw sharpener has is that it does not grind with the same level of power as the previous two do.
While this has little effect on the functional speed of sharpening your chainsaw chain, it helps reduce the chance of breaking the chain should you use an improper technique. That said, because a handheld electric chainsaw sharpener relies so much on technique, it is often easier to accidentally grind too much of the tooth without realizing it.
Keep in mind, an improper technique is unlikely to grind so much of the tooth away that the chain breaks or even becomes unbalanced, but it can still wear through the tooth’s material quicker without you knowing because of the small scales involved.
As we can see, electric chainsaw sharpeners not only work but they often perform better than their manual counterparts but they are infinitely quicker and, in most cases, easier to use. Granted, you have to give up a bit of control and precision for those benefits, but that does not change the fact that, in the hands of a competent user, electric chainsaw sharpeners are generally the superior option.
That said, it is important to consider how, where, and for what you use your chainsaw before deciding on which type of electric chainsaw sharpener to use. If you only occasionally use your sharpener at home or sharpen multiple chains all in one go, a benchtop model is probably your best bet.
On the other hand, if you are a professional and need to sharpen the chain in the field, a portable chainsaw sharpener is great for preventative maintenance. Finally, if you understand how chainsaw chains function but no longer have the dexterity to reliably sharpen the chain yourself, automatic models might be your best bet.