Chainsaw Challenges

With a little know-how and some time to tinker, learn how you can keep these essential homestead tools purring along.

| November/December 2019

Photo by LeonidKos

Generally, a small engine is defined as a gas- or diesel-powered engine of 25 horsepower or less. There are two basic types: two-stroke and four-stroke engines. Two-stroke engines are usually found on hand-held equipment, such as chainsaws and string trimmers. For this equipment, the fuel is a mixture of special two-stroke oil with fuel in a precise ratio. Four-stroke engines are typically found in larger equipment, such as lawn mowers, garden tractors, pressure washers, and generators. “Two-stroke” and “four-stroke” refer to the number of times the pistons must travel up and down the cylinders to complete a power cycle. This cycle consists of intake, compression, power, and exhaust. A two-stroke engine completes this cycle in two piston strokes, while a four-stroke engine does it in four.

One of the most common small-engine tools on farms and homesteads is a chainsaw. We live off-grid and heat our home with woodstoves eight months out of the year, cutting and splitting the wood ourselves. Since we need a large supply of wood, it’s a must to keep our chainsaws in good running condition. Before delving into specific chainsaw maintenance issues, it’s important to have a general understanding of small-engine equipment.

Photo by Victoria Redhed Miller

Unclean Means Unused

Most small engines are air-cooled, relying on the movement of air around engine parts to prevent overheating. The most important maintenance task with air-cooled engines is to keep them clean. Chainsaws and mowers are especially prone to being clogged with sawdust, grass, and leaves, and this affects the engine’s ability to cool itself during operation.

Many mower and chainsaw manuals recommend checking the air filter before each use. Considering that a dirty air filter is a common cause of an engine’s failure to start, this recommendation is made for good reason. For proper combustion to take place, a certain ratio of fuel and air must enter the carburetor. A clogged air filter prevents an adequate amount of air from reaching the carburetor.

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