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If I'm going to spend the day in the woods with the chainsaw, my chain will get dull before I'm done.

Should I learn to hand-file the cutters, and sharpen in the woods?

Or should I bring a spare chain (or two!) and swap them out? I would get them sharpened at the hardware store.

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Both. Initially you may find that hand sharpening is kind of slow but once you get the hang of it, and realise you really only need to just slightly touch up each tooth, you can be back cutting in about the same amount of time as it takes to swap chains, or even less.

Always take a spare chain. Even if you touch up the working one rather than swap it out, there's always a possibility of damaging the chain, necessitating a replacement.

Back home it's worth looking into the cost of having the chain(s) professionally sharpened, as opposed to the time you're going to take to do a similar job. Also, you should be able to get a bunch of sharpenings for the price of even a mediocre machine sharpener. At least that's how the costing works out where I am.

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When you're in the woods, you probably want to spend your time cutting, not doing things you could do back in your shop (or have the hardware store do for you). So I would bring at least at least an extra chain: as many you think you'd need, plus one.

With an extra chain along, you are additionally prepared in case one has a problem that sharpening can't fix.

Hand-file sharpening is a useful skill. If you learn to hand-sharpen your chains, you can do that to all the chains at once back in your garage.

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+1 for unforseen problems. The one time you need a new chain is always when you have to hike 2 miles to get it. – Steve Jackson Oct 23 '10 at 19:41

I spent the day in the woods following an excavator. He knocked down trees, I cut off root balls, he sorted the results.

I brought a spare chain and my sharpening kit. I had just figured out how to sharpen freehand and get a good result.

There was often dirt embedded in the bark around the stumps. There was a lot of dirt flying as the excavator worked. The chain went dull often.

I think I sharpened 5-6 times that day. I would have needed a lot of extra chains to keep up with that work. A file fit in my pocket, but spare chains would not.

Touching up the cutters with a round file goes really fast, now that I know how to do it. I don't think swapping the chain would have saved me any time.

I will take my used chains to a pro with a fancy machine to get all the angles ground just right, and then continue to use a file in hand to touch up in the field.

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I'd carry a file to hit the chain every once in a while. It doesn't take long. Another option is a battery powered dremel tool with a round stone to sharpen blades. You have to be careful to not grind the teeth wrong.

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