Zen and the art of chainsaw maintenance


We had some serious wind over the past week and with that came some windfall trees that will hopefully provide some of the timbers I’ll need for the frame.  Before I get started with that I wanted to make sure the chainsaws were ready to go.  Normally, I tend to eschew motorized machinery where a suitable, traditional hand tool would suffice, but since I don’t have draught horses and a pit saw crew (yet), I’ll have to settle for the portability and efficiency of a gas-powered chainsaw…for now.  I like to have two chainsaws: a smaller ~40 cc saw for limbing trees and clearing brush, and a larger ~70 cc saw for felling trees, bucking logs, and milling timbers.  The first thing I did was make sure the air and fuel filters were clean, before adding fresh fuel and bar oil (I try to store them empty, especially over long periods of inactivity).  Then I started them and let them idle for a while, adjusting the carburetor and throttle as needed.  Then I tested the compression in the cylinder to determine whether there was a good seal with the piston.

IMG_20170311_124347734.jpgThe smaller chainsaw had slightly lower than ideal compression but it should still run fine; the carburetor, throttle, and fuel mix can all be tweaked to get the whole machine operating in harmonious equilibrium again.  I checked the spark plug gap with a feeler gauge and made sure the clutch, exhaust port, and chain oiler were free from sawdust buildup and working properly.  Taking off the muffler to look into the exhaust port also allowed me to inspect some of the minor scoring on the piston which I suspect is the source of the low compression.  The next step was sharpening the chain, filing down the rakers and flipping the bar to make sure it will wear evenly from year to year.  The whole process is somewhat tedious but necessary to ensure smooth operation and maximize longevity.  And while it may seem like a hassle as I’m doing it, there is nothing more frustrating then having a chainsaw break down out in the woods halfway through a job or having to muscle a dull chain through a cut while putting extra strain on the engine.  It helps to think of the whole maintenance process as a ritual to achieve a certain peace of mind.  For me, a well-maintained chainsaw that starts on the first pull and bites effortlessly through a log is exactly like Robert Pirsig’s description of the Zen-like pursuit of quality in his motorcycle maintenance.  A wave of satisfaction accompanies the confidence that the machine is sound and its objective will be executed flawlessly.