How To Start A Chainsaw Quickly and Safely

pulling on starter rope of chainsaw

Gas chainsaws are unequaled in power and speed, enabling you to quickly and efficiently turn your jumbled pile of logs into next year’s neatly stacked supply of seasoned firewood.

Now if you’ve just purchased a chainsaw or your chainsaw won’t start, then you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’ll review the best practices on how to start a chainsaw safely as well as review fuel mixing and storage tips. Let’s get started.

How To Be Safe While Starting

Before we review the step by step procedure to start a chainsaw, keep a few things in mind.

Chainsaw safety is critical. Sharp chains designed to slice through oak and hickory while spinning at 60mph will make even quicker work of your flesh. It pays to give them respect.

Before you start the saw, you need to put on the appropriate personal protective equipment. Using eye protection, a hardhat, sturdy boots with a protective toe, and cut resistant chaps are essential.

Also, it’s worth investing in ear protection considering chainsaws can exceed 85dB.

person wearing chainsaw safety equipment

While the following starting instructions are applicable to most gas chainsaws, it’s important you read the owner’s manual for your particular brand as instructions may vary from brand to brand.

ie. a Stihl chainsaw may start differently from a Craftsman chainsaw.

1. Prepare your Saw.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the owner’s manual, make sure your saw is fueled up with a fresh tank of the appropriately mixed gas. But what exactly is a “fresh” tank of gas?

While your local gas station doesn’t provide you with an expiration date, you don’t want to use fuel that’s been stored longer than 3-6 months, as gasoline can go bad.

Much depends on the storage conditions and in ideal conditions, fuel can remain “fresh” for a long time.

However, chances are you’re storing your fuel in less than ideal conditions, like in your garage where fluctuating temperatures and humidity will quickly degrade your fuel.  Many starting headaches can be avoided by heeding this simple advice; use only fresh gas and oil mix.

Make sure the guide bar and chain oil reservoir is full, and check the chain to make sure it moves freely on the guide bar.

2. Clear a Place

Next, find a place to start your saw.

You will be starting the saw on the ground and you need a flat, firm, uncluttered space. Give yourself at least a 10 foot circle, free of logs, branches, chainsaw cases, gas cans, or anything else that can get in the way. And look overhead as well!

Bottomline: you want to work in as safe an environment as possible without obstacles that can compromise your safety.

3. Hand and Foot Placement

Secure the saw to the ground by placing your right foot inside the rear handle, and your left hand on the top handlebar.  The guide bar and chain should not be touching the ground or any other debris.

4. Engage the Chain Brake

The chain brake keeps the chain from spinning while the engine is running.

In a kickback event, the chain brake will push against your wrist as the saw moves backward stopping the chain. We want the brake engaged while starting, so lean your left wrist forward to push the chain brake handle forward until it clicks.

5. Priming

Your saw will have an on/off switch. Move it into the “on” position.

Most chainsaws have a primer bulb.  The purpose of the primer is to pull fuel from the tank through the fuel line and all the carburetor passages, removing any air, and thus preparing the engine to run.  Three to five slow, even depressions of the bulb should be sufficient and you will feel the bulb stiffen as air is purged from the system.

primer bulb on chainsaw

If your saw has a decompression valve, this is the time to use it.  These are designed to make for easier starting.

6. Choke

Next, the choke must be set.

The choke is a mechanism that restricts or “chokes” the engine of air. This is used to aid in starting a cold engine. If the saw is warm from recently running, you can disregard this step.

Using the choke when the engine is warm may lead to flooding the engine. On a cold engine, set the choke fully on.

7. Starting the Saw

Pull the starter rope slowly until you feel resistance. Then pull forcefully in a smooth quick movement.

After a pull or two, you will hear the engine begin to fire. Move the choke to the halfway position, and pull the starter rope again.

The engine should start and idle. Allow the engine to idle for 30 seconds before fully shutting the choke off.

Your chainsaw is now ready for use.

Mixing Oil and Gas For 2 Stroke Chainsaws

In order to pack the power available in a small package, the 2 stroke engine combines 2-cycle oil mixed with gasoline to provide the lubrication necessary for the engine to function as well as the fuel needed to power the engine.

Without the oil, the engine would soon seize up. The ratio of oil to gas varies by age and manufacturer of equipment. It is essential to know your particular saw’s proper mixture ratio.

gas jug

To mix, simply measure the appropriate amount of oil into your container before adding one gallon of fresh gasoline. No additional agitation is necessary.

If you intend to store the fuel mixture longer than 30 days, go ahead and add a fuel stabilizer to help increase the shelf life.

Finally, ensure your container is clearly marked “mixed gas” and put the ratio on the label.


Follow these simple directions to get your chainsaw started. You can be assured your saw will give you the performance you need when you need it. If you’re a casual chainsaw user, print out these directions and tuck them in your saw case for quick reference.

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