Can a Chainsaw Chain be Shortened?

Approx Reading Time: 7 minutes

Chainsaws can be a very helpful piece of equipment to have, especially for the folks who like to do landscaping and tree work themselves rather than hiring professionals.

However, like all tools and equipment, chainsaws don’t always work correctly, and sometimes need adjustment. More specifically, chainsaw chains may need to be shortened for many different reasons.

Depending on the reason for shortening your chain, it may or may not be a safe thing to do. So, let’s talk about how to shorten your chain, as well as in what situations it may be better to buy a new chain altogether. 

Can a chainsaw chain be shortened? Yes, chainsaw chains can be shortened. If the chain has a master link, simply remove it and the necessary amount of other links to make the chain the correct length. If the chain does not have a master link, you’ll need a special rivet tool to shorten the chain. 

Chainsaw chains can be shortened; however, the difficulty of doing so is different depending on whether your chain has a master link. Additionally, it’s important to also discuss whether or not your chain should be shortened, as shortening a worn chain can be dangerous. 

How to Shorten a Chain That Has a Master Link

Many chainsaw chains now come with a master link. A master link is specifically designed to be easily removed in the event that the chain needs to be shortened. This can be extremely helpful to have because reducing a chain without a master link is slightly more involved than shortening a chain that does have a master link.

The latter process can be done fairly easily by following the steps below:

Removing the Master Link

  1. Let the chain cool. Whether you’re working on a car, a chainsaw, or a tractor, the first step will always be to let all the equipment cool down. If you haven’t used your chainsaw recently, this step is, of course, not necessary. However, if your chainsaw has recently been used, let it sit until the chain and engine are cool enough for you to rest your hand on them without discomfort.  
  2. Remove the spark plug. The next step is also a safety-related one, and it is to remove the spark plug from the chainsaw. This is done to prevent the chainsaw from being able to fire up while you’re working on it. Some may choose to skip this step because it is, admittedly, unlikely for the chainsaw to fire when you’re the only one around, but it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. 
  3. Locate and remove the master link. The next step is to locate the actual master link that you will be removing. The master link needs to be removed to allow the removal of other links in the chain, which will ultimately shorten the chain. The master link should be relatively easy to find: just look for a link that is clearly different from the other links in the chain. It’s usually a different color.

Different master links are designed differently, so it’s difficult to say exactly how to remove all master links. However, most will have some sort of clip or snap to keep them secure, and you’ll have to pop this open with your hands or a pair of pliers to unlock the master link. 

Once the link is free, you’ll need to disconnect it from one of the other links to which it is attached. This is best done with a pair of pliers, channel locks, or a needle-nose vice grip.

Whatever tool you choose to use, all you’ll have to do its gently pry and maneuver the link with some pressure to free it.

Once the master link is completely disconnected from one of the links it is attached to, you should have a fully disconnected chain, ready to be shortened. 

Shortening the Chain

  1. Remove the required amount of links. Once the master link is free, you need to remove the correct amount of additional links to get your chain to the desired length. Links should be fairly simple to remove and will pop out of place with a bit of pressure. This is done most easily when you have something other than your fingers to grip the links with, like a needle-nose vice grip or pliers, as mentioned above. 
  2. Reconnect the chain. Once you have removed the necessary amount of links, you are free to reconnect your chain. This is a very simple step that is done by simply attaching the master link to the link on the other end of the chain. Snap it back into place, and be sure that it is completely secured. 
  3. Check the tension of the chain. After your chain is completely reassembled, it is imperative that you check the tension of the chain before using it. This can be done by performing what is called a snap test. 

Do this while your spark plug is still disconnected. Hold the chainsaw in one hand, and with the other hand, grasp the chain along the topside of the bar. Pull the chain away from the bar, and quickly release it. A properly sized and tensioned chain will snap back into place very quickly and will have absolutely no sag or slack along the bottom of the bar. 

If your chainsaw passes the snap test, your chain is the right length and is adequately tensioned. If it didn’t pass the test, continue adjusting the length by repeating steps 1 through 3.

Finally, reconnect your spark plug. Now that you’ve got your chain at the correct length and have checked the tension, you can reconnect your spark plug, and get back to work!

How to Shorten a Chain Without a Master Link

As I mentioned, not all chains come with a master link. In this case, step three in the above guideline (Removing a Master Link) will be slightly different and will require you to have a special tool that will enable you to disconnect the chain and allow you to shorten it by removing links. 

If your chain does not have a master link, you will need a special rivet installation tool. This is a tool that will allow you to release one of the links to free the chain, giving you access to free other links. You should be able to pick up a tool like this at your local saw shop or hardware store. 

This video explains the process pretty well: 

Once you have the tool, using it is not difficult. Simply use the tool to punch out the rivets in the chain links, and then reconnect using a reverse procedure, making sure that the connections are secure. The rest of the steps will be the same as listed above.  

Final Thoughts: Should You Shorten Your Chain?

Finally, it’s important to discuss not only whether or not you can shorten your chain, but whether or not you should. If you need to shorten your chain simply because it is too long as a result of having too many links, then reducing your chain is a perfectly good idea, and is safe to do.

However, if you’re shortening your chain because it has stretched due to wear and use over time, the chain should not be shortened. Instead, a chain like this should be replaced entirely.

This is because shortening a worn-out chain will not fix the problem that caused it to lengthen: stretched links and worn parts. This makes it dangerous to use, and it should be replaced. 

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!