After all my shame and frustration over my ability to sharpen my chainsaw, I've come up with a new plan, thanks in part to YouTube as well as the good guys over at Joe's Equipment. I did something I should have done from the beginning and sought out advice on how to sharpen a chain. I incorrectly surmised that it was a straightforward and easy process that I could figure out on my own, but soon learned that this was not the case. Several chains later I finally asked the pros what needed to be done, and they were happy to tell me. Again, I thought it was a simple case of just running the file or Dremel through the gap, but they told me the key was to lift the file a bit to ensure that it was grinding the upper curve of each link. There are implements that will help to ensure this happens, or you can just consciously make sure it happens when you file. It requires a little more touch, and it's slower, but apparently that's the key.
I then went on YouTube and watched some videos to glean more information and picked up a few more valuable nuggets of wisdom. Interestingly enough, the experts recommend sharpening your chain more frequently than I realized, on the order of every fill up of the gas tank. This seemed excessive to me, but I heard it again and again. The reason that I avoided this was because if, like me, you sharpen the chain incorrectly, you do more damage than good, meaning you actually dull the blade. So a moderately sharp chain can become moderately or excessively dull if you mess with it. I experienced this on a number of occasions so avoided sharpening it until it was absolutely necessary. Then, when I screwed up the chain, I simply replaced it with a new one.
I asked the guys at Joe's about the frequent sharpening, and they were somewhat elusive about their answer, saying it depended on the type of wood and how clean or dirty it was. Fair enough, but I interpreted this to mean that they on some level agreed. Next I learned (via YouTube and Joe's) that you should file each link the same number of times. This, too, was a revelation for me. Apparently you want each link in the chain to be identical, so you treat each one in the same manner.
Finally, I learned of the importance of a vise (vice, too, but that's another story). Whenever I sharpened a chain, I would hold the blade with one hand and work the file with the other. The problem with this approach is that it's a challenge to hold the blade steady and it ends up moving all over the place. This can also potentially put some strain on the body seal, which can subsequently compromise the running of the saw. The way around all this is to secure the blade with a vise, and they make these cool small vises that you drive into a block of wood and simply leave outside. I got mine at Joe's, of course.
Armed with all this knowledge, I think I may have finally figured out how to sharpen my chainsaw chain. I've been doing it for the past few weeks and as far as I can tell, so far, so good. It's still hard to match the sharpening quality of a brand new chain, but at least I don't think I'm ruining the chain. For now, I'll take it. Not only do I save time and money by not having to buy new chains, but I can feel like a capable real man in training by doing it myself, and I sure do love when that happens.
Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mike Pepler for the pic.