How to Troubleshoot Common Malfunctions in Chainsaws

Approx Reading Time: 6 minutes

How often do you use a chainsaw? If you’re a forestry professional, you most likely own more than one high-quality chainsaws which you use on a regular basis. On the other hand, you are probably like many other people who live either in suburbia or on a country estate and occasionally cut down trees or trim and prune hedges on the weekend.

In any event, there is a strong possibility that you have come across maintenance issues with your chainsaw. Some of these problems are easy to fix while others can be excessively technical. This is a guide that will explain the most common malfunctions in chainsaws and the methods you can use to troubleshoot them.

What are the most common malfunctions in chainsaws?

It doesn’t matter how durable or expensive your chainsaw is (or how well you keep it maintained) there are going to be times when your engine simply doesn’t work like it should.

The most common malfunctions the vast majority of chainsaw operators experience include:

  • Not starting
  • Starting then abruptly stopping
  • Hard starts
  • Poor engine performance
  • No turnover.

I will discuss each of these issues in-depth, including basic troubleshooting tips.

What do you do when your chainsaw won’t start?

If your chainsaw doesn’t start, there may be issues with the carburetor. Perhaps the switches are not working, there is bad wiring or ignition coils that aren’t working properly. If you are mechanically inclined and feel confident that you can fix these malfunctions, go ahead. On the other hand, if you can’t, it is best to take your chainsaw to a dealer where a licensed technician will be able to fix it for you.

My chainsaw starts but suddenly stops. What do I do?

I can tell you from personal experience that start-stop is an annoying, frustrating issue that can dampen the progress you make in a day, especially if you’re spending hours cutting large-diameter logs.

Has this ever happened to you? Your chainsaw starts but only runs continuously for twenty seconds or so? In this situation, parts are often to blame – faulty parts, that this. So, what can you do to troubleshoot this problem? I suggest checking the plug spark arrestor screen as well as the carburetor, spark plug and fuel filters.

What to do when your chainsaw is hard to start

Again, defective parts are often a telltale sign of issues relating to starting up a chainsaw. When this happens, I suggest checking through the chainsaw’s fuel system. You’re also advised to ensure that the chainsaw’s air intake and spark systems are in good working order as well. If they’re not, troubleshoot by pulling the cord. If there is a strong spark, it means your spark plug is working fine.

Afterward, check the intake and exhaust. If both are dirty, you must clean them thoroughly. In case the plug is working as it should, you should check the intake and exhaust. If these are both clean, they will cause no grief for you. Finally, check to see if the chainsaw is experiencing any fuel delivery problems.

Poor performance

Any number of factors including lack of lubrication in the engine and mechanical failure are what cause a chainsaw to perform poorly. An engine that isn’t lubricated properly contributes to heat building up due to metal on metal contact.

Sometimes, these issues cannot be rectified by simply fixing them yourself. You need a professional, which isn’t always cheap.

Other problems to be on the lookout for

If you use chainsaws, there are going to be malfunctions – it’s merely reality. You need to be ready when such issues occur. Many issues can be resolved relatively easily while others are more complicated.

While I don’t purport to be an expert in the maintenance or repair of chainsaws, I have enough experience with these powerful tools and have encountered my share of situations where one must have some basic troubleshooting knowledge.

Many of the minor issues can be avoided by regular maintenance. Clean your air filter. Put fresh gas in the saw. Always add bar and chain oil when you go to fuel up.

Dull chains are also another issue that chainsaw operators deal with. Sometimes, your chain will cut crooked or at an angle. This means that you are putting inconsistent pressure on one side over the other. It is important to ensure that you are using the right sized file for the chain you have.

The air filter is a vital part of the mechanical makeup of any chainsaw. If it isn’t functioning properly, you’re in for no shortage of headaches, including the ratio of air to gasoline in the carburetor being cut off. This, in turn, leads to fouled spark plugs and clogged spark arrester screens. When this happens, you’ll find yourself dealing with a real mess. Want to avoid this hassle? Perform regular cleaning and maintenance of your air filter.

Engine problems

Another common issue in chainsaw malfunctioning is a flooded engine. What causes engine flooding? It happens when gas is applied to the engine before it has had an opportunity to properly start. If the engine is flooded, you will have a frustrating time starting your chainsaw.

Stagnant gas can be a culprit here as it prevents the engine from turning over. In this case, you must drain the old gas from the engine and put in new gas.

One last piece of advice involves oiling your chain. If you want to see how efficient your chainsaw is at cutting, simply rev the engine slightly before you begin. If the chain is being sufficiently oiled, some of the oil will fly off the end when the engine is revved. What’s the lesson here? Always keep your chain oiled.


This guide is designed to tell you about the most common issues related to malfunctions in chainsaws. I hope you have gained a better understanding of the basic troubleshooting techniques you can employ to fix them and get your chainsaw back in great working order. Many of those troubleshooting guidelines are easy to follow and can be performed without having a great deal of technical or mechanical knowledge. Remember, if are unable to fix the issues your chainsaw is experiencing, always get a professional to do it.

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!