Welcome To Makita...

You may have noticed another banner appearing over on the right hand side of the page, and so I'd like to say "Hi" to Makita UK. As well as having a history in providing tools used heavily in the construction industry, they also make chainsaws. Find out more after the jump...
Ahead of some articles that I'm planning on writing for a magazine, Makita offered to provide a saw for these articles and support this site. As it happened, they were kind enough to provide not one, but two, loan saws - the home / farm-user 42cc DCS4301, and the pro-level 50cc DCS5001.
This gives me a chance to take a look at some of the maintenance tasks on these Makita chainsaws and provide a review of the DCS4301 and it's bigger brother - the DCS5001 saw.
Without giving too much away just yet, there's some nice touches on these saws that will make ownership that little bit nicer and you might want to be putting Makita on your shopping list if you are in the market for a new chainsaw.
Makita provide ground saws from 33cc to 90cc for amateur and professional users, as well as two top-handled saws for use by arborists (one of which is the worlds lightest top-handle saw at 2.5kg). If you're not sure that you need a petrol driven saw, they also produce electric chainsaws and battery driven saws too.

Spark Plugs...

In this post we'll have a look at the humble spark plug. We often don't even give it a second thought until it starts to go wrong and then change it. But it can give us a clue as to the state of the engine tuning, and we can maintain peak engine performance with just a few minutes simple maintenance. Find out more after the jump...

There are a number of simple checks to make once you have removed your spark plug - there's not a lot of actual maintenance to do to a spark plug, but consider the following list:

  • Check for cracks or damage in the ceramic insulator.

  • If your plug has a screw-on cap, make sure that it's done up tight (not too tight though!).

  • Ensure that you have the correct type of spark plug if you are replacing it. You should be able to verify the type by referring to your owners manual (you did keep that in a safe place didn't you?).

  • The colour of the electrode will give you a clue as to the state of engine tune; it should be a sort of grey-brown. We'll take a closer look at electrode colour in a moment.

  • The gap between the electrodes should be set and checked using your thumbnail feeler gauges, the 'normal' setting tends to be around 0.5mm - but you must check this for your own saw. The feeler gauges should be a reasonably tight fit between the electrodes.

  • Electrode wear occurs due to the constant sparking eroding the electrodes; initially the electrodes become pitted and then start to loose their square ended shape as the erosion worsens.

Plug Colour

As we've just mentioned, the colour of the plug's electrodes give a clue as to what state of tune the engine is in. Under normal conditions the electrodes are a grey-brown colour (some people refer to this as 'biscuity-brown', but that's total nonsense as a Bourbon is quite a different colour from a Custard Cream).
If your plug has dark brown / black deposits on it, then it's a sign that the mixture of air:fuel is out of kilter. In this instance, there is a lack of air in this air:fuel mixture, and this can be caused by a clogged air filter. In fact, you should never make any adjustments to the carburettor with a dirty air filter.
At the other end of the extreme, you may be facing light brown / white deposits on your plug. If so, it's a sign that the engine is running weak and there is too much air in the air:fuel ratio - it's also a dangerous state for the saw to be in and you should get it checked out quickly. This can be a problem with saws that are constantly being tinkered with, as this situation is commonly related to a mis-tuned carburettor.


When refitting the plug, many people do them up too tightly - wrenching them up very tightly; they should be finger-tight... then just nipped up with the plug spanner. All you need to do is to slightly squeeze the compression washer fitted to the spark plug to create a seal that won't allow the gases to escape when the saw is running.
That's all for our look at spark plugs, there will be another maintenance post along shortly...

Recoil Starters...

The recoil starter is something that requires little in the way of maintenance; but it's worth taking care of it, if it's not to fail just when you need it, i.e. when you start the saw. Let's take a look at it after the jump...

There are a couple of different types of recoil starter on the market, from the most basic setup through to slightly more complicated systems such as the Stihl ErgoStart™ - which really does make starting a chainsaw very easy.

The basic principle is that as you pull on the cord, a pulley turns which will cause a flywheel to turn. This is the really nifty bit - as the flywheel turns the engine will also go round, but it also generates a little bit of electricity to send to the spark plug. With the engine turning and drawing in fuel, and the spark plug generating a spark, everything is set to run.

But how does it engage the flywheel when you pull and then automatically disengage when the engine runs? The recoil starter uses a small pawl which is thrown out when you pull on the cord, but is pushed back by the flywheel when the engine turns. It's really very simple, and there's not a lot to go wrong.

The main thing is that eventually the starter cord will break as it wears through use - normally this is at one end (near the handle, or near the pulley) and you can often see the cord fraying at these points. It's a good idea to carry around a spare starter cord when you're out using the chainsaw.

Replacing the starter cord is not too difficult (if you've got the basic system) and the following video shows you how to replace the starter cord on a Stihl chainsaw.

Setting the tension is important - too much tension and you risk damaging the spring or other components, and you won't be able to achieve the full 'pull-length' as the cord will bind before it reaches it's maximum length; on the other hand, have the tension too loose and the handle will not retract properly.

Fortunately it's quite easy to check for the correct tension; after retensioning, hold the handle down against the starter housing - it should return to the upright position and stay there. If it doesn't fully return to the starting position then there's not enough tension in the spring. To check that it's not too tight, pull the handle out as far as you can, then (and this is where you need three hands), keep it at full stretch and try to turn the pulley - it should be possible to tighten it about a ¼ of a turn.

That's about it really. Just keep an eye on the cord wear, and carry and spare around if you're out doing tree work.

Air Filters...

The air filter plays a critical role in the smooth running of your chainsaw, and it's important that you look after it properly. There are several different ways of going about cleaning the filter and several different styles and fitments for filters too, so let's take a slightly deeper look after the jump...

The filter has one clear, obvious function in life, and it should come as no surprise that it's to filter the air prevent debris from entering the carburettor.

In order to run, the engine needs a mixture of fuel and air, and with that in mind it's easy to see that a clogged air filter will upset this balance. During use the engine is sucking in air via the air filter, and along with the air is all the dust and dirt that you're throwing up whilst sawing - hence the need to filter the air.

With the air filter choked up with sawdust, there will be a lack of air in that fuel:air ratio and this will cause the machine to run rich.

Fortunately, cleaning the air filter is a simple affair, and it doesn't get much simpler than using a brush (a clean, unused paint brush is ideal) to swipe the dirt from the face of the filter. The idea is to gently brush the dirt off - not stab it further in to the mesh!

There are a couple of other ways to clean the air filter...

  • Wash it in warm soapy water - remember to rinse it, otherwise you'll end up with a bubble machine next time you start the saw.

  • Use an airline - you may need to split the filter in half in order to blow the dust off of the face (i.e. blow from the inside -> outside). Make sure that it's the type of filter designed to be split in half before trying it ;-)

There are many different styles of air filter in use, even with machines made by the same manufacturer, so you might find that you need to unscrew the filter, twist it to remove it or fiddle around with those annoying little plastic clips simply lift it off.

One things for sure - if the filter and surrounding area is pretty filthy then you'd be wise to use that brush to remove 95% of the dust before removing the filter. Once the filter is removed, you might consider putting a loosely scrunched up ball of tissue gently into the carb opening; this will prevent small children and furry animals from falling in to the carburettor whilst the filter is off. It's also quite a good way of preventing more dust from getting in to the carb.

That's about it, for now, with air filters - keep it clean and you'll be helping your engine to run at it's optimum.

Welcome To Sawpod.

You may have noticed a new logo that has recently appeared on the right-hand side of the page; and I'd like to extend a warm welcome to... Sawpod. Find out more after the jump...

A little while ago I did a review of the highly recommended "Sawpod", used to safely carry a pruning saw when climbing (but just as useful when on the ground).

The sawpod was designed by Tony Darbyshire, who actually taught me how to climb and safely use a chainsaw in the trees. As well as training, assessing, designing useful bits of climbing equipment, he's also a registered LOLER inspector and judges at various tree-climbing events. In fact, when it comes to climbing, he truly is half-man / half-monkey ;-)

So, I hope you'll welcome Tony and the Sawpod, and check out his site (after you've finished reading this one, if you please!).

Related link: Check out the Sawpod.

Drive Sprocket (Part 3)...

Now that we have mentioned the different types of sprocket (rim & spline, and spur), and also seen how to remove or replace the sprockets, it's time to take a closer look at how they wear. Just how do you decide when to replace them? More after the jump.

Drive sprockets have a hard life - they're constantly pushing the chain around the bar, they have the centrifugal clutch weights working on them and they have the chain brake band clamping the outside edge of the sprocket. All in all, they get it tough and it's no surprise that they don't last forever - in fact, you should be looking to replace your drive sprocket every 2 to 3 chains.

There are other ways of telling when the sprocket should be replaced. The teeth will wear down as they transfer drive to the chain by pushing the drive links along, the result is a groove that runs down the face of the tooth and wear on the top edge of the tooth caused by the tie-straps - when this wear reaches 0.5mm it's time for the sprocket to go (as shown in the image to the right).

The action of the clutch weights spinning out and contacting the inside of the sprocket will wear a grove in to metal, and it's not long before a slight lip appears on the inside. This is not normally a problem, but I have found that on Stihl saws, if you don't take the sprocket off for cleaning every now and then, the build of gunk and grime caused by sawdust and chain oil, can actually make removal of the sprocket very difficult.

Whilst mentioning Stihl, the other thing to watch out for are hairline cracks. I've noticed this on just a couple of sprockets in the past and they're caused by that little notch on the edge of the sprocket that drives the oil pump. I guess it's a weak point with the constant heating up and cooling down causing a stress fracture... eventually (if you don't catch it in time) it will break, as you can see from these photographs. Click on the images to see them full-size).

The chain brake operates on the outer edge of the sprocket and when used correctly created very little wear. However, many chainsaw users get in to the habit of revving the saw up, making their cut and then slamming the chain brake on - without waiting for the chain to come to a halt first. As well as greatly increasing the wear on the sprocket, the stresses involved in stopping a saw running at 12,000rpm to a dead halt in a matter of milliseconds does the chainsaw no good at all. Please wait for the chain to stop before putting the chain brake on! The wear can be seen as a series of grooves around the outer edge.

In fact, we'll take a closer look at the chain brake mechanism in a later post. But for now, you know what to look for on your drive sprocket.

Drive Sprocket (Part 2)...

In the previous post we looked at removal of the drive sprocket from a Stihl chainsaw, which uses an inboard clutch (which makes removal very simple).

In this post we'll take a look at the slightly more awkward procedure when dealing with machines fitted with an outboard clutch - in this example we'll be using my Husqvarna 350 chainsaw. Find out more, and watch the video, after the jump...

Those chainsaws that use an outboard clutch need to be tackled differently from those fitted with an inboard clutch. Husqvarna, Partner and the Stihl climbing saws all utilise outboard clutches.

The issue with these machines is that the clutch actually prevents you from removing the drive sprocket, and attempting to undo the clutch weights just turns the engine over (let alone the fact that it's threaded the 'wrong' way).

So, remove the drive sprocket from these machines is a bit more involved; here are the steps:

  1. Remove the side plate, bar and chain.

  2. Remove the engine cover to gain access to the spark plug.

  3. Remove the spark plug and fit in a piston stop tool.

  4. Knock the clutch weights off (remembering the thread is reversed).

  5. With the weights off, the drive sprocket can be removed along with the roller bearing.

The following video, although based on the Husqvarna 350 chainsaw, should be relevant to all chainsaws fitted with an outboard clutch.

Drive Sprocket (Part 1)...

The drive sprocket is all-important in transferring the drive from the engine to your chain, and it's another consumable item that's under a lot of stress from various elements.

In this post we'll take a look at removing one common type of drive sprocket that you'd find in a Stihl chainsaw. Find out more after the jump...

Removing the sprocket on a machine such a Stihl ground saw, is a very simple process and certainly much easier than a Husqvarna (or a Stihl climbing saw for that matter) - as you may have already seen from the video in the last post.

The reason that it's so simple is due to the method of clutch drive chosen - in these saws the clutch is fitted in the main engine housing and is known as an inboard clutch. With this type of clutch, the drive sprocket can be removed just by taking off a circlip.

It's really that simple - but let's just go through the steps one-by-one:

  1. Remove the side plate, bar and chain (make sure you wear gloves when handling the chain).

  2. Make sure the chain brake is off (handle pulled back). If the chain brake is left on, you will not be able to remove the sprocket as the brake operates directly on the drive sprocket.

  3. Remove the circlip holding the drive sprocket in place.

  4. Withdraw the sprocket, it should come out easily, but if you haven't cleaned your saw for a considerable period then it may be nigh on impossible more difficult.

  5. You should be able to see a [needle-roller] bearing. This will either be left on the end of the crankshaft or will have come off with the sprocket... either way, don't loose it!

The image below shows this in pictorial form, click on it to get the larger image (it's around 1Mb).

With the drive sprocket removed, you can now assess the wear on it - if you've been using it for a while then you'll probably notice scoring and general wear and tear pretty easily.

In our next post, we'll take a look at how to remove the drive sprocket from a chainsaw such as a Husqvarna, as they use a different method. After that, we'll take a closer look at that wear and how to decide when you need a new sprocket.

Replacing Stihl's Drive Sprocket

I thought I should even up the scores a bit - after doing a short video on taking out a Husqvarna drive sprocket, I thought I should create one for Stihl saws (although due to my own ineptitude you'll see the Husqvarna video in the next post). Watch the video after the jump...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, removal of the drive sprocket from a Stihl ground saw (or indeed most ground saws with an inboard clutch), is particularly easy; and that makes for easier maintenance. So the following video, based on a Stihl MS260, should be relevant for most saws having the same clutch setup. It's about 3mins 30sec long and represents my most advanced video to date! (Although the YouTube quality leaves a little to be desired - I just wish I could show the full MPEG-2 video CD.


The clutch on a chainsaw is of a centrifugal type, so that as the engine spins the clutch weights move out and engage with the inside of the sprocket.

Although there is little maintenance to do to a clutch, read on after the jump to find out a little bit more about the different clutch types...

There are two basic clutch configurations in use:

  • Inboard clutch.

  • Outboard clutch.

The image to the right shows an example of an inboard clutch as used on Stihl machines, and by Poulan as well, I think - although that's a US-based make rather than UK (interestingly enough Poulan is owned by Husqvarna, who mainly use outboard clutches on their own machines!). This clutch configuration has one great advantage - it's extremely easy to remove / replace the sprocket should you need to.

Outboard clutches, as seen in the picture on the left, are commonly used in Husqvarna and Partner saws, and Stihl climbing saws. This type of clutch makes removal of the drive sprocket much more awkward, but assessing the state of the chain brake band is made much easier.

In the next few posts we'll take a look at the drive sprockets, before returning to check out the clutch weights.

Poor Cutting Performance...

Does your saw not cut as well as it used to - figure it'd be easier to use the old bow saw instead? Are you having to apply quite a bit of pressure to get the saw to cut through the wood? Do you find yourself actually performing a cutting motion as if you were using a normal hand-saw? Does the saw no longer cut straight?

All of these things are a sure sign that there's a problem with your chainsaw that needs sorting - and fortunately they are all to do with just one component on the saw. Find out more after the jump...

It's very common for users of a chainsaw to carry on trying to cut through the timber even though it's obvious that something is not quite right; hopefully after this post, you'll have a better idea of what to look for and how to correct the situation.

The saw should self-feed, that is to say that it should cut through the wood with very little pressure as the cutters will pull themselves through the timber - forcing it through the wood just increases wear and effective loses power due to the increase in friction. So if you are having to push down on the saw, or rock it back and forth you're going to have to face the fact that... it's blunt!

There's nothing for it, but to sharpen the chain. Trying to cut with a blunt chain is a lesson in futility - it takes longer, is more tiring to you and it's not good for the saw. Always use a sharp chain. There's one sure-fire way of telling if your chain is blunt and that is the wood-dust that is produced. This dust is just like a fine powder and really does give the game away.

A sharp saw should produce wood chips, but you must remember to ensure that the depth gauges are set correctly to maximise the amount of timber cut by each cutter.

Sometimes a chainsaw just will not cut in a straight line; this is a classic symptom of incorrect sharpening and caused by having the cutter lengths different. Remember, the length of the cutters must be the same for every cutter. You can check the lengths using the nut and bolt method as mentioned in an earlier post, and in the picture on the right.

A saw that suffers from a lot of vibration when cutting is likely to have the cutters incorrectly filed (i.e. set to the wrong angle) or the depth gauges set too low (i.e. filed too heavily). This last scenario is a particular problem as it increases the risk of kickback from the saw.

If your saw is not cutting efficiently then try to work out why; all of the above problems are related to one single chain compenent... the cutter, and that's where you should start your search for the reason behind poor cutting performance.

Bath & West Show (pt 2)

Well, I've just got back after five days at the Bath & West Show at Shepton Mallet (UK) and it was full of adventure! Find out more after the jump...

The best part of the show for me was getting the trees setup for the dismantling demonstration that I was doing - having felled the trees in the woodland area, we then had to get them to the arena where we were demonstrating. Unfortunately for me, the fork lift that had been promised never materialised and so plan B was put in to action... use the Land Rover. The trusty Land Rover proved to be not so trusty after all and could not manage to pull the tree out.

Clearly a plan C was called for, and off I went in search of a heavy horse - enter stage right "Middleton Major", a shire horse who stands 18 hands high and his handler Charles. Now I had never seen a heavy at [real] work, as opposed to dragging bits of wood around at a show - and what an amazing privilege it was to see "Major" doing his stuff.

To be truthful, even "Major" couldn't shift the tree and Charles suggested that we take a couple of the branches off from the lower part of the stem. I must admit, I was slightly reluctant to use the saw as the tree was chained to the log arch that "Major" was harnessed in to; I was using a chainsaw within touching distance of a heavy horse (if I had put my hand out I would have been touching his tail). I needn't have worried.

With the branches off, "Major" pulled the tree (and Charles) straight out of the wood and in to the arena.

The heavy horse had succeeded where the fork lift and Land Rover had failed.


Unfortunately for those staying at the showground, Thursday night the heavens opened and torrential rain saw flooding around Somerset and that included the showground - I've put a little bit of video footage up for you to watch (2 minutes)...

Apart from that, the tree dismantling demonstrations went well and the rain held off for the rest of the show - although it was touch-and-go at one point.