How Dirt Dulls a Chainsaw Chain

Your chainsaw slices through oak and PVC like a hot knife through butter, so how can plain old dirt dull its chain?

Read on for an in-depth look at how dirt dulls a chainsaw chain, plus some handy tips on keeping dirt out of your chain.

How Dirt Dulls a Chainsaw Chain

Depending on your location, dirt will contain varying amounts of hard minerals and much softer organic materials. Dirt also contains a lot of sand, also known as the following:

  • quartz
  • silica
  • silicates

If you look at sand under the microscope, you’ll find that its particles have razor-sharp edges. Sand is therefore used in abrasives such as grinding compounds and sandpaper.

It’s also used in abrasive blasting, where sand is used to smooth rough surfaces or remove impurities, corrosion, and rust.

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The Mohs hardness scale is used to identify and compare a mineral’s resistance to scratches. The bigger the number of a given mineral on the scale, the sharper it is. Here’s a look at some of the numbers:

  • Quartz has a Mohs hardness of 7
  • Tool blades usually have a Mohs hardness of around 6
  • PVC and wood aren’t even on the hardness scale

As you can see, dirt isn’t just an average abrasive but an aggressive one. It’s even harder than the steel in your chain teeth.

What Happens When You Cut into Dirt

Obviously no one sets out to cut into dirt for the fun of it. Cutting into dirt usually happens by mistake and rarely lasts for more than a few seconds. In spite of that, it’s enough to significantly dull your chain.

Within moments, dirt gets into the bar and the sprocket. It dulls your cutters, wears out your chain links, and stretches your chain.

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You’re basically attacking the steel of your chain with tiny rocks that are much sharper and harder than it is.

Take driftwood, for instance. If you inspect it before cutting it, you’ll find that it’s embedded with granules of sand that can wreak havoc on your chain.

Why You Shouldn’t Cut With a Dull Chain

Unless you’re a professional who's been using a chainsaw for years, getting dirt in your chain is inevitable. However, you should never keep using a dull chain if you can help it. Here’s what you want to avoid.

Overheating and a Shorter Life

Cutting with a dull chain will raise your engine temperature. In the fall, winter, and spring, the increase in temperature may not be enough to damage your saw. But if you’re running a dull chain in sweltering August, you may just damage your valuable tool.

In addition to the extra load on your saw, keep in mind that the interior temperatures will be higher in the rings, pistons, and cylinder. The flywheel fan cooling can only go so far, which can lead to broken rings or a scored cylinder.

Overheating increases the wear and tear on every part of your saw and shortens any tool’s life. A sharp chain spares your chainsaw all that abuse.

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Higher Fuel Consumption

A dull chain uses up more fuel. You can make your fuel go longer with a sharp chain, which saves you money and is better for the environment. The sharper your chain is, the less fuel it’ll need to burn.

Less Efficiency

Running a dull chain means you’re taking a longer time and exerting more effort to cut. With a sharp chain, by contrast, you’re not trying to push harder to get your chain to cut at an acceptable speed. This lets you accomplish the same amount of work faster and with less effort.

How to Keep Your Chain Out of the Dirt

Take a look at these ways to avoid hitting dirt.

Stop and Roll

Cut three-quarters of the way into your log. Stop before your chain hits the dirt. Roll over the log with your boot, a crowbar, or a peavey, and finish the cuts. You can also use a cant hook to lift the log and roll it away.

If rolling the log is impossible, do all your cutting just short of the dirt, then go back and finish the job. This way, you end up cutting into dirt and dulling your chain at the end of your session rather than the beginning. Now you can replace your chain and clean and sharpen it.

Keep the Tree off the Ground

Before you start, mark the area where you intend to fell the tree. Place a few poles on the ground perpendicular to where the tree. This way the tree won’t fall in the dirt, and you can safely cut all the way through it.

Change and Sharpen Chains Often

Depending on your cutting volume and frequency, invest in 3-6 super-sharp chains. Your spare chains should be ready to replace your current one if it cuts into dirt. Make a point of changing chains often and sharpening them twice a day.

Signs of a Dull Chain

A dull chain poses an even bigger risk than damage to a valuable tool: Your saw can kick back more easily. To avoid such a dangerous scenario, keep an eye out for the five major signs of a dull chain:

  • You find yourself exerting more pressure than usual to force the chainsaw to cut.
  • Your chainsaw produces smoke even though you’ve oiled the chain.
  • Cutting against the grain creates fine sawdust rather than coarse strands.
  • The cut is crooked, although uneven teeth could be the culprit.
  • While cutting, your chainsaw rattles or jumps.

If any of these signs crops up, it’s time to either sharpen your chain or take it to be sharpened.

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Although soft to the touch, dirt is sharper than steel and can dull your chain and wreak absolute havoc on your saw.

Keeping your chain out of the dirt prolongs your chainsaw’s life, burns less fuel, and spares you wasted time and effort.

That said, cutting into dirt comes with the territory. Replace your dull chain, then sharpen it or take it to your dealer. Your trusty saw will be safe, and your chain will soon be slicing away effortlessly once again.