How to tighten your chainsaw chain

For your chainsaw to work at its best and keep you safe, the chain must be at the right tension. Learn how to tighten it with our guide.

Workbench with sharpening tools and saw chain


You need to tighten your saw chain every so often because it is the part that encounters the most strain when you use your chainsaw: every time a tooth goes into wood, the chain experiences an abrupt peak of stress in terms of impact and friction. The accumulated abrasion, dirt, and sawdust generated also cause additional mechanical wear on the sprocket, chain and other parts. So it’s no surprise that the chainsaw tension will need adjustment over time.

If you can see that the saw chain no longer fits to the bottom of the guide bar, you need to tighten it – a correctly tensioned saw chain is snug to the underside of the bar but can still be easily moved round by hand when the chain brake is released. If you have a STIHL chainsaw with QuickStop Super, you also need to press the brake lever on the lower handle to release the chain brake. Be aware that the saw chain heats up during normal operation and therefore expands; you should also tighten the saw chain if it has more play after heating up.

If you tighten the saw chain at operating temperature, remember to loosen it – reduce the tension – again once it has cooled down. If the chain tension is too high, it puts extra strain on parts of the chainsaw, which could cause damage.

We recommend you check the chain tension every time, before you use your chainsaw.

Note: remember to consider your own safety when you check or tighten your chain

  • Never check or tighten the chain when the chainsaw engine is running.
  • Wear suitable protective gloves.
  • You can burn yourself on hot parts of the chainsaw engine or muffler if you try to check or tighten the chain at operating temperature.
  • For a cordless or electric chainsaw, take the necessary measures to ensure that it cannot turn on (remove the battery, disconnect the plug).
  • Check the saw chain for wear or mechanical damage (cracking, chipping, distortion) and do not use your chainsaw if the chain is damaged.


If you have a STIHL chainsaw with a quick chain tensioner, it is quick, easy and convenient to tighten the saw chain. You can identify which STIHL chainsaws feature a quick chain tensioner because there is a B in the model name; MS 181 C-BE, for example. Here’s how it works:

Video instructions:


The side chain tensioner is a tried-and-tested component of most STIHL chainsaws. It provides convenient access to the chain tensioner part and reduces the risk of contact with hot parts of the chainsaw engine.

If you have a model with QuickStop Super, remember to press the QuickStop lever on the rear handle when you try to move the chain around.

A man in the process of tightening a STIHL chainsaw chain in a workshop

Tighten chain with a front chain tensioner – step-by-step instructions

Only a few STIHL chainsaws have a front chain tensioner. They work in the same way as the side chain tensioner, and are just in a different position. 

Operating instructions for STIHL chainsaws

Download the operating instructions for your STIHL chainsaw here at your convenience.

Summary: how to tighten a chainsaw chain

  • If your saw chain is not fitting snugly to the underside of the guide bar, it’s time to tighten it

  • Shut off your chainsaw engine; remove the battery if it’s a cordless chainsaw; disconnect the power supply if it’s an electric chainsaw

  • Place the chainsaw on a firm, level surface

  • Release the chain brake

  • Follow the instructions depending on your chainsaw tension adjustment features, and tighten the chain appropriately. Check the tension

  • Don’t forget to wear safety gloves so that you don’t injure yourself on the sharp teeth of the chain