Cutter Lengths.

Continuing our look at common problems encountered when sharpening the chain, in this post we'll take a look at the effects of variable cutter lengths.

When you first start sharpening your chain, it's natural to wonder where to start, i.e. which cutter do you choose to begin the process? Does it even matter? Well, yes it does! Find out more after the jump.

Many of those coming to the chainsaw maintenance and cross-cutting courses don't realise that it's important to start filing the correct cutter when sharpening as you must end up with all the cutters filed to the same angle and the same length. And the clue is in those last few words - they should all be the same length.

This means that you have to base the length of all the cutters on the shortest cutter; but why does it matter? Surely as long as the filing angles are correct, the length of the cutters is irrelevant? Errr, no.

The main problem with having the lengths all different is that it will cause the chainsaw to cut in a curve rather than a straight line. There is a very noticeable drift from the cutting line, and I've seen it referred to as a 'banana cut' on the ArbTalk forum just recently. This is a good description!

So, when we start to sharpen we must find the shortest cutter - but what if there's a longer cutter that has lots of damage? What if they're all the same length? What if you don't have a set of vernier calipers to hand to check? Let's deal with each of these in turn...

Damaged Cutters

In theory, as long as you only cut wood with your chain the cutters shouldn't get damaged. But life being what it is, sooner or later you'll cut through some timber only to see sparks coming out of it - then there's the sinking feeling that you've just found a nail, or part of a wire fence, in the middle of the wood. Maybe you touched the chain on the ground as you exited a cut, or maybe there was just lots of small bits of flint in the rough bark of an old Birch tree. Whatever it is, one day you'll end up with the leading edge (or working edge) of the cutter getting damaged.

The main thing is to file away all the signs of damage. Now in our example where there is a longer cutter which is damaged, it makes more sense to file this first of all and then check it's length against the [previously] shorter one. If it's still longer, then it'll need to be filed more; if it's now the shortest one, then this is the one you'll base the rest on.

Same Length

If all the cutters are the same length, and none are more damaged than any others, then you've got no worries - start anywhere!

No Vernier Gauges

For the utmost accuracy you can use vernier calipers - but there really is no need, unless you pride yourself on engineering tolerances that NASA would be proud of. Use the simple nut and bolt trick - one bolt, fitted with two nuts is all you need. Fit the head of the bolt between the working edge and loosely tighten the first nut up against the trailing edge of the cutter (use the second one to lock it in place). For more information, check out this post...The Nuts And Bolts Of Meaasuring.

Setting The Lengths

Once you have sorted out any damaged cutters, and you know which one is the shortest, make sure that it's sharpened correctly and then measure along where the side plate and top plate meet. Set your measuring apparatus to the required length and don't forget to mark it!!. I just use a permanent marker to colour in the top plate so I know when I've gone round the whole chain.

Try to get the cutters all the same - if you don't you'll find it more difficult to get accurate felling cuts, particularly when using the medium fell technique as the saw will drift of course as you cut around the back of the tree. You might also find that you suffer from more vibration when you use the chainsaw, as the chain reacts to the odd lengths.

In the next post we'll take a look at filing angles and the working edge.

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