Can Carbide Chainsaw Chains Be Sharpened? (Explained)

Carbide chainsaw chains have become increasingly popular among professional chainsaw users and homeowners alike in recent years. Made of tungsten carbide, these chains are extraordinarily hard and stay sharp significantly longer than standard steel chains. However, many chainsaw owners wonder – can you sharpen a carbide chain once it eventually does become dull? Or do they need to be replaced entirely?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sharpening carbide chainsaw chains. We’ll discuss the benefits of carbide chains, when they need sharpening, the specialized equipment required, and step-by-step sharpening instructions. We’ll also provide tips on preventing carbide chains from becoming dull too quickly.

Whether you’re a professional arborist or a weekend warrior tackling projects around your property, this guide will ensure you can keep your carbide chain cutting like new for as long as possible.

Benefits of Carbide Chainsaw Chains

Before we dive into the specifics of sharpening, let’s first review the advantages carbide chains provide over traditional steel chains:

  • Exceptionally hard – Made of tungsten carbide, these chains stay sharp up to 60 times longer than steel. Carbide has a hardness rating of 8.5-9 on the Mohs scale, while steel rates around 5.
  • Requires less frequent sharpening – Steel chains may need sharpening after every 1-2 hours of use. Carbide can cut for 15 hours or more before dulling.
  • Higher cutting speed – The hardness of carbide allows faster chain speed with less friction. You can get more work done in less time.
  • Smooth cutting performance – Carbide chains cut fast and smooth with less vibration and kickback.
  • Longer chain life – Although initial cost is higher, carbide chains far outlast steel over their usable lifespan.

For professional chainsaw operators doing large volumes of work, the added durability and cutting efficiency of carbide chains make them well worth the investment despite the higher initial cost.

When to Sharpen Your Carbide Chain

Carbide chains stay sharp dramatically longer than their steel counterparts. But no chain stays sharp forever.

You’ll know it’s time to sharpen your carbide chain when you notice any of the following:

  • Reduction in cutting speed – The chain seems to move slower through the wood than usual.
  • More effort required – You need to apply more pressure to cut effectively. Vibration and kickback may increase.
  • Rough cutting – The chain leaves a rough, fuzzy edge instead of a clean cut. Sawdust is coarse instead of fine.
  • Chain slipping – Friction has increased enough that the chain slips off the bar.

Under normal use, a carbide chain can cut for 15-40 hours before sharpening is needed. If you notice significant dulling much sooner than this, examine how the saw is being used and operated to prevent premature wear.

Specialized Carbide Chain Sharpening Equipment

Sharpening carbide chains requires specialized equipment not suitable for ordinary steel chains. Standard files and guides will not work.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Diamond flat file – The file must contain diamond abrasives to cut the ultra-hard carbide. Standard files are too soft.
  • Special guide – Aftermarket guides fit the diamond files at the correct angles needed for carbide chains.
  • File holder – Holds the file steady. Can be a simple handle or part of a guide system.
  • Depth gauge tool – Carbide requires specialty gauges made from diamond or borazon.
  • Safety gear – Protective gloves, glasses, and possibly a face shield. Carbide filings are highly abrasive. Avoid skin and eye contact.

High quality diamond flat files made specifically for sharpening carbide chains are available from brands like Oregon, Timberline, and Safariland. Most include a built-in handle.

Be sure to reference the chain manufacturer’s sharpening recommendations and use only approved equipment to avoid damage. Match the file size to your chain – common sizes are 3/16″, .325″, and 3/8″.

Using proper carbide-specific gear is critical, as improper sharpening can crack or fracture the cutters. Follow all safety precautions when working with diamond files and carbide dust.

How To Sharpen a Carbide Chainsaw Chain

Once you have the proper specialized gear for sharpening carbide, follow these steps:

Step 1: Clamp the Bar

Immobilizing the bar and chain is important for safety and accuracy while filing.

  • If still attached to the saw, ensure the engine is off and secure the hand brake.
  • For bench filing, clamp the bar firmly in a vise or clamping jig, with the chain suspended freely.
  • Ensure the chain can move freely along the bar without twisting or binding.

Step 2: Inspect for Damage

Before sharpening the chain, inspect each cutter carefully for:

  • Cracks or missing carbide
  • Broken or bent tie straps
  • Rivets that are loose, damaged, or worn into the cutter body

Damaged cutters must be replaced. If damage is severe, the entire chain may need replacement.

Step 3: Set Up Sharpening Angle

Carbide chains have a specific top-plate filing angle that must be maintained. This angle varies by chain model and is typically 30-35°.

Consult your chain’s technical specifications to find the correct angle. Match your file guide or jig to this angle.

Step 4: Joint the Cutter

“Jointing” refers to ensuring all cutters are the same length prior to sharpening. This helps the chain cut evenly.

To joint:

  • Run the flat file perpendicular to the top plates at a very slight inward angle.
  • Apply firm pressure and make several full-length back-and-forth passes to establish an even height on all cutters.
  • Remove the minimum material needed – don’t over-file.
  • Check for even height by running a gauge across the tops of all cutters. Joint further if needed.

Step 5: Sharpen the Angle

Once jointed, it’s time to sharpen the critical cutting angle.

  • Insert your diamond flat file into the file guide at the pre-set angle for your chain. Ensure the file sits flat against the top plate.
  • Use moderate, consistent pressure and make 5-6 full passes per cutter. Let the file do the work.
  • Flip the chain over and repeat to sharpen the opposite angle.
  • Maintain the file’s orientation relative to the bar on both sides.

Step 6: Gauge and Lower Depth

Filing the top angle increases the cutter depth. Depth gauges prevent over-penetration into the wood.

To set proper depth:

  • Use a carbide depth gauge tool to file down gauges uniformly.
  • File just enough to achieve proper depth relative to the freshly sharpened cutters.
  • Strive for consistency across all cutters.

Consult your chain specifications for the correct depth gauge setting.

Step 7: Clean the Chain

After sharpening, thoroughly clean the chain to remove all metal filings and diamond dust before re-installing.

Failure to clean properly can rapidly dull the chain as debris gets embedded in the wood.

Step 8: Test and Tune the Cutters

Examine each freshly sharpened cutter closely. If any cutters appear inconsistent:

  • Make additional passes with the file to fine tune as needed.
  • All cutters should have a uniform appearance when the chain is properly sharpened.

Now your carbide chain is ready for many more hours of peak cutting performance!

Tips for Making Carbide Chains Stay Sharp Longer

With proper use and care, carbide chains can maintain their sharp edge through several sharpenings before needing replacement. Here are 5 tips to maximize the lifespan of your chain:

  • Keep chain properly tensioned – A loose chain accelerates wear. But don’t over-tighten.
  • Thoroughly clean the bar groove – Build-up inside the groove accelerates chain and bar wear.
  • Check guide bar for wear – Replace a worn bar. A faulty bar damages chains.
  • Use proper lubrication – Prevent friction with high-quality bar oil and a working oiler system.
  • Alternate chains – Rotating two chains extends the life of both substantially.

Taking good care of your carbide chain allows you to capitalize on your investment by postponing replacement as long as possible.

Carbide Chain Sharpening FAQs

Let’s wrap up with answers to some frequently asked questions about sharpening carbide chains:

How many times can a carbide chain be sharpened?

With proper sharpening, most carbide chains can be sharpened 5-10 times before reaching the end of their usable life.

Does sharpening carbide chains require special training?

While formal training isn’t necessary, in-depth knowledge of chainsaw maintenance and experience with carbide cutters is highly advisable before attempting to sharpen high-value carbide chains. Poor sharpening can quickly ruin a carbide chain. Consider having your dealer sharpen chains unless you’re highly experienced.

What’s the best way to sharpen carbide chains?

The best method is using the proper specialty files and guides at the angles specified by the chain manufacturer. Attempting to sharpen freehand or with standard equipment will produce poor, inconsistent results.

Can I convert my steel chain saw to use carbide chains?

In most cases, yes. However, you likely need to swap out the guide bar and may need a more powerful saw motor to effectively drive carbide. Consult your saw and carbide chain manufacturer.

We hope you found this guide to sharpening carbide chains comprehensive and useful! Proper sharpening lets you utilize these premium chainsaw chains to their maximum potential.

Put this advice into practice to keep your chains sharply cutting for as long as possible. And be sure to always prioritize safety – chainsaws are dangerous tools requiring skill, extreme care, and undivided attention when in use.

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