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How to use a Chainsaw in Snow & Cold Weather

Updated on December 1, 2011
Some basic tools
Some basic tools

When most of you are thinking fishing in March & April us folks in the northern latitudes are thinking firewood. In most of Alaska springtime is when snow conditions are at their best. By spring the winter snows have settled to cover the underbrush and last years stumps. Spring is also longer days; the sun is finally beginning to show itself after months of hugging the horizon. Good snow pack lots of day light time to go to work.

Warm chainsaws, snow, and cold moist air create a few problems you won't normally have in the summer. Cold moist air frost carburetors and filters, melted snow on bars & chains emulsify with bar oil reducing its lubricating value. Whether winter or summer when I head out to the woodlot I carry a small toolbox with some basic tools in it. A bar wrench to adjust the chain tension, files to sharpen the cutters and touch up the rakers, a stump vise to hold the saw steady while you sharpen the chain, a brush to clean the air filter, a second one to clean snow & sawdust from around the filler caps. I also have a short piece of hacksaw blade to clean the bar groove, a screwdriver to adjust the carburetor, and a filter funnel to fill the fuel tank. In the winter I include a bottle of Heet to keep fuel dry and the carburetor frost-free.

The first thing I do in cold weather is to make sure your fuel is free of moisture. When I mix fuel in cold weather I like mix 5 gallons at a time. If you are not going to do a lot of cutting a gallon may be enough for you. I pour the proper amount of 2 cycle oil in a 5 gallon can then add gallon or so of gas then put the lid on the can and slosh it around to mix the oil with the gas. When the gas & oil are mixed I add about a half of bottle of Heet then the rest of the gas.

In my toolbox I carry 2 brushes; an old soft bristle toothbrush and a small paint brush. I use the paintbrush to clean snow and saw dust from around the oil and gas filler caps before I open them. This helps keep snow and saw dust out of the fuel and bar oil. I also use a small filter funnel when I fill the gas tank this also helps cut the amount of snow & moisture that makes its way into the gas. Most saws have baffles inside the air filter cover baffles direct the airflow to the carburetor. They normally have two settings; one is for warm weather the other is for cold weather. The winter setting directs warm air from the engine to the carburetors air intake. The summer setting draws cooler air from the outside to the intake. They may not look like much but they are very important. If set incorrectly your saw could over heat in the summer. On the other hand if the baffle is set for summer use during cold weather you can get carburetor icing that may cause the saw run erratically.

Baffle just above the filter

Snow and cold not only have an effect on the carburetor and fuel they also affect the ability of the bar oil to do its job. During cold weather you will need to use winter weight bar & chain oil. Winter weight is thinner and will flow better in colder temperatures. If you cannot get winter weight oil you can safely dilute regular bar & chain oil with kerosene at a 20% to 25% blend. Mix one part kerosene to four or five parts of gas, make sure it is completely mixed before using it or you could ruin the bar and chain.

If you use a chain saw in snow you will get snow on the bar and chain. Because the bar is going to be warm from friction any snow that gets on it will melt. Melted snow will emulsify with the bar oil causing it to lose some of its ability to lubricate. When using a chainsaw in snowy conditions you need to increase the amount of oil to the bar & chain. Your owner’s manual will tell you if your saw has an oil adjustment and how to use it.

In the winter you will get a lot of frozen gunk under the sprocket cover and in the bar groove. I pull the bar & chain off two or three times a day to clean all the frozen sawdust and oil from under the sprocket cover. This is also a good time to check the oil port and make sure the saw is getting a good oil flow to the bar and sprocket. You can start the saw with the bar off and watch how much oil is coming out the port. While the cover is off I check to make sure the chain brake is clean and working properly. If it is plugged with frozen sawdust and oil it will not function correctly. Either it will not work at all or could cause excess wear on the clutch and sprocket.

As I have things apart any way I take a piece of hacksaw blade and run it through the bar groove on both sides of the bar to clean them up. This will allow the bar oil to keep doing its thing. Touch up the cutters and depth gauges often in cold weather and keep chain adjusted to its proper tension. If you are using you chainsaw in really cold temperatures (especially 10 or 15 below and colder) you should loosen the chain when you finish for the day. In extreme cold the chain will contract as it cools this will stretch the rivets eventually the chain will become so sloppy it will be useless before its time. About the only other major thing I do is regrind a couple of chains to 30°. The reduced angle works better with frozen wood than the normal 35°.

Even beyond normal safety precautions winter with snow and cold add the need for other safety measures. Be extra sure of an escape route when felling trees in snow it is much more difficult to move in than bare ground. Gloves and saw handles get icy making it harder to keep a good grip on the saw. You will be wearing more clothes so you will not be as agile and movement will be more difficult. Your hands will be colder and less responsive. As always while using a chainsaw use hearing and eye protection. Wear chaps or chainsaw pants and good heavy work boots. Use gloves that resist icing and increase your grip. Above all take your time don’t get in hurry enjoy the time in the wild woods.


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    • Akhomesteader profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Alaska

      As far as I'm concerned Alaska is the only place to live. We probably have more personal freedom than any place in the U.S.

    • JimmyTH profile image


      9 years ago from Indiana

      Really good info I wouldn't have thought about -- I spent some Army time in Alaska but wasn't using chainsaws then. I got frostbite the first day there, wandering around base trying to find out where I got my winter issue. Kind of wish I'd stayed, though.

    • Hi-Jinks profile image


      9 years ago from Wisconsin

      I also have a Stihl.

      Please refer to my Hub


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