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6 Common STIHL Chainsaw Problems (Troubleshoot)

Performing routine maintenance on your STIHL saw will help minimize problems and help extend the chainsaw’s life. However, you will most likely still run into issues.

I’ve put together this guide to help you determine the cause of your STIHL chainsaw problem. Here you can find simple charts with causes and solutions. I’ve also provided links to articles in more detail to further help.

Always follow the safety procedures found in your STIHL operator’s manual. This includes waiting for the engine to cool and for all parts to stop moving. Remove the spark plug wire prior to performing repairs.

Common STIHL Chainsaw Problems:

  1. STIHL chainsaw won’t start
  2. STIHL chainsaw starts, stalls, and dies
  3. STIHL chainsaw chain won’t turn or move
  4. STIHL chainsaw only runs with the choke on
  5. STIHL chainsaw loses power and bogs down
  6. STIHL chainsaw is smoking
STIHL chainsaw problems and solutions

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Follow all safety instructions provided in your equipment operator’s manual prior to diagnosing, repairing, or operating. Consult a professional if you don’t have the skills, or knowledge or are not in the condition to perform the repair safely.

Common STIHL Chainsaw Problems & Solutions

STIHL Chainsaw Won’t Start

A STIHL engine doesn’t start when it doesn’t get sufficient air, fuel, and spark. Start by looking into items that can restrict these items.

Make sure you are running a gas-to-oil fuel mixture at a ratio of 50:1. Always use fresh gas with a minimum 89 octane rating and maximum 10% ethanol content. Mix in a premium 2-cycle engine oil like STIHL High Performance or STIHL HP Ultra.

STIHL recommends consuming fuel within 30 days and no longer than 60 days when using a fuel stabilizer.

Detailed information can be found at:
Reasons Your STIHL Chainsaw Won’t Start

CauseReason for the ProblemSolution
Bad or old fuelFuel breaks down over time making the fuel less efficient and prone to clogging the fuel system.Drain the fuel tank and fill it with fresh gas and 2-cycle oil. mix at a ratio of 50:1. Use a fuel additive like Sea Foam to stabilize the fuel and assist with cleaning the fuel system. Use the right fuel.
Incorrect 2-cycle oil mixAn incorrect mix can fail to provide the lubrication the engine requires.Mix gas and 2-cycle oil at a rate of 50:1. Use gas with a minimum 89-octane rating and maximum 10% ethanol content.
Bad spark plugA dirty or damaged spark plug; loose spark plug wire, or incorrect gap can prevent the engine from starting. Replace with a new spark plug, secure connections, and ensure it is gapped to manufacturer specifications.
Plugged air filterDirt can plug the air filter preventing airflowRemove the filter and clean it. Replace the filter if it is in bad condition.
Plugged fuel filterA dirty fuel filter will restrict fuel flow.Replace the fuel filter.
Blocked fuel linesDeposits left behind by old fuel and dirt can clog the fuel lines preventing the engine from getting fuel.Use a carburetor cleaner and compressed air to clear the clog out of the fuel line. Replace the line if necessary.
Plugged fuel tank ventA plugged fuel tank vent will no longer allow the tank to vent. A vacuum will form keeping fuel to flow out of the tank.Replace a plugged fuel tank vent.
Plugged spark arrestorHot air isn’t able to exit the chainsaw when the spark arrestor is plugged with soot.Clean the spark arrestor screen.
Dirty carburetorThe carburetor can become dirty and clogged due to bad fuel and ethanol deposits preventing fuel flow.Clean the components making up the carburetor. Replace it if needed.
Bad primer bulbA cracked primer bulb will fail to move fuel to the carburetor.Replace the primer bulb
Flooded engineThe fuel-to-air mixture is running too rich that it can’t ignite. This can be caused by pressing the primer bulb too many times or pulling the starter rope too many times while the choke is closed.Switch the lever to the “0” stop position. Remove the spark plug. Pull the starter rope 6-8 times. Reinstall the clean dry spark plug. Start the chainsaw in the starting throttle position.
Broken starter recoilA damaged or broken recoil prevents the recoil to start the engine.Check the recoil to see if it can be restrung. Broken parts must be replaced. Replace the recoil assembly if needed.
STIHL Chainsaw Starting Problems

STIHL Chainsaw Starts Then Dies

Most of the items that can prevent your STIHL chainsaw from starting are items that can cause the chainsaw to die after it has been running.

In addition to these items, make sure the choke is in the off position to allow airflow to the engine so it continues to run.

If your chainsaw dies after it’s been running awhile and won’t start again until you allow air to enter the fuel tank, you may have a fuel tank vent problem.

Detailed information can be found at:
Your STIHL Chainsaw Starts, Stalls and Dies

CauseReason for the ProblemSolution
Wrong choke settingThe engine will die when the choke lever isn’t placed in the open position after the engine warms.Close the choke to restrict air to start a cold engine. Open it once the engine warms.
Bad fuelFuel breaks down over time making your fuel less efficient and prone to clogging the fuel system and engine damage.Drain the fuel tank and fill it with fresh fuel and 2-cycle engine oil mixed at a ratio of 50:1. Use a good fuel additive to assist with keeping the fuel stable and cleaning the fuel system.
Plugged air filterDirt can plug the air filter preventing airflow.Remove the filter and clean it. Replace the filter if it is in bad condition.
Plugged fuel filterA plugged fuel filter won’t allow sufficient gas to pass through it.Replace the fuel filter
Clogged fuel linesBad fuel deposits and dirt can build up and clog the fuel lines preventing the engine from getting the required fuel.Use a carburetor cleaner and compressed air to clear the clog out of the fuel line
Dirty carburetorThe carburetor can become dirty and clogged due to bad fuel and ethanol deposits preventing fuel flowClean all the components making up the carburetor. Rebuild or replace if needed.
Plugged fuel tank ventA plugged fuel tank vent will no longer allow the tank to vent. A vacuum will form keeping fuel to flow out of the tank.Replace a plugged fuel tank vent.
Plugged spark arrestorThe spark arrestor can plug with soot so hot air can no longer exhaust.Remove the spark arrestor screen and clean it with a metal brush. Replace a damaged screen
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Starts, Stalls and Dies

STIHL Chainsaw Chain Won’t Turn or Move

The chain may no longer move smoothly around the bar. First thing, never touch the chain without removing the spark plug wire for safety reasons.

Next, look for bar or chain damage or incorrect chain tension. Make sure the bar and chain are sufficiently lubricated, and check for worn clutch pads.

Detailed information can be found at:
Your STIHL Chainsaw Chain Won’t Move or Turn

CauseReason for the ProblemSolution
Chain brake is engagedThe chain brake is a safety guard that reduces the possibility of injury in the event of a kickback by stopping the chain.Ensure the chain brake is pulled to the rear of the saw so the is not engaged.
Bar & chain are not sufficiently lubricatedA buildup of friction and heat due to insufficient lubrication can cause the chain to stop turning on the bar.Fill the bar and chain oil reservoir. Check the oil channel to make sure there isn’t a clog.
Chain tension is too tightThe chain should sit securely around the guide bar and still be able to move easily. The chain should not be hanging loose from the bar.Adjust the chainsaw by loosening the bar retaining nuts. Hold the bar nose up. Turn the tensioning screw counter-clockwise to loosen the chain and clockwise to tighten it.
Clutch pads are wornWorn clutch pads won’t engage the clutch drum to turn the chain.Replace the clutch assembly.
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Chain Won’t Move or Turn

STIHL Chainsaw Runs With the Choke On

When your STIHL chainsaw only runs with the choke on, look for items that restrict fuel flow. The chainsaw may need the choke engaged to correct the fuel-to-air ratio so the mixture is ignited.

You will also need to look for items that are allowing too much air to get into the system. Pulling in too much air will cause you to have to restrict air using the choke.

Detailed information can be found at:
Your STIHL Chainsaw Only Runs with the Choke On

CauseReason for the ProblemSolution
Old fuelOld fuel can leave behind varnish and deposits that cause fuel restrictions and fuel component failures.Drain the fuel tank. Refill with fresh gas and 2-cycle oil mixed at a ratio of 50:1. Add a fuel stabilizer and fuel system cleaner. Start and allow the fuel to work its way through the fuel system.
Fuel line punctureAir can be sucked into the line increasing the amount of air getting to the engine.Replace the fuel line. Check for fuel line restrictions.
Plugged fuel filterA dirty plugged air filter restricts airflow.Replace the air filter.
Bad carburetor gasketThe gasket may no longer seal allowing excess air into the carburetor.Remove the carburetor and replace the gasket.
Dirty carburetorFuel passages can clog and no longer allow sufficient gas for the combustion process.Remove and clean the carburetor. Rebuild or replace it if needed.
Plugged fuel tank ventA plugged fuel tank vent will cause a vacuum to form in the fuel tank. This will keep fuel from flowing out of the tank.Replace the fuel tank vent.
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Only Runs with the Choke On

STIHL Chainsaw Loses Power and Bogs Down

When your STIHL chainsaw acts like it’s losing power and bogging down, the cause is often a dirty carburetor or other items that restrict fuel flow.

Other items to check are those that keep hot air from exiting the chainsaw, air from getting to the engine or spark from igniting the fuel and air mixture.

Detailed information can be found at:
Reasons STIHL Chainsaw Loses Power & Bogs Down

CauseReason for the ProblemSolution
Old fuelOld fuel can leave behind varnish and deposits that cause fuel restrictions and fuel component failures.Drain the fuel tank. Refill with fresh gas and 2-cycle oil mixed at a ratio of 50:1. Add a fuel stabilizer and fuel system cleaner. Start and allow the fuel to work its way through the fuel system.
Plugged air filterGood airflow cannot pass through a plugged air filter.Replace the air filter.
Dirty spark plugA dirty spark plug can cause an intermittent spark.Clean or replace the spark plug.
Plugged fuel filterSufficient fuel is unable to pass through a plugged filter.Replace the fuel filter.
Clogged or punctured fuel lineClogged fuel lines can keep fuel from getting to the carburetor.Try to clean the fuel line or replace it.
Plugged fuel tank ventA plugged fuel tank vent will cause a vacuum to form in the fuel tank. This will keep fuel from flowing out of the tank.Replace the fuel tank.
Plugged spark arrestorThe spark arrestor can plug with soot so hot air can no longer exhaust.Remove the spark arrestor screen and clean it with a wire brush.
Chain brake is engagedThe chain brake is a safety device to stop the chain in the event of a kickback.Place the chain brake in the off position.
Dirty carburetorFuel passages can clog and no longer allow sufficient gas for the combustion process.Clean the carburetor to remove varnish left behind by old fuel. Rebuild or replace it if necessary.
Carburetor requires an adjustmentThe RPMs at idle speed and full throttle may need to be adjusted for good performance.Refer to this article for instructions to adjust the carburetor.
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Loses Power & Bogs Down

Stihl Chainsaw Is Smoking

When your STIHL chainsaw smokes when cutting, you need to look for items that can cause increased friction between the bar and chain.

You may experience smoke coming from the engine and exhaust. This may be due to a wrong fuel mixture, water in the fuel, or a plugged air filter.

Detailed information can be found at:
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Smokes

CauseReasons for the ProblemSolution
Dull chainMore pressure must be applied when using a dull or incorrectly sharpened chain. Pressure increases friction.Sharpen a dull chain. Have the chain professionally sharpened if you are unsure how to sharpen the chain for safe use.
Tight chainFriction and smoke occur when the chain isn’t able to move freely around the bar.Remove the spark plug wire and adjust the chain.
Empty bar & chain oil tankFriction builds when there is a lack of oil.Fill the tank with bar & chain oil.
Wrong bar & chain oilToo thin of oil will not sufficiently stick to the bar.Use a good oil like STIHL Woodcutter.
Clogged oilerOil isn’t able to lubricate the bar and chain when the oiler is clogged.Clean the oiler.
Plugged air filterA plugged filter will cause the fuel mixture to run rich resulting in smoke.Replace a very dirty air filter. Check and clean it regularly.
Too much oil in the fuel mixtureMore oil than required in STIHL’s 50:1 fuel mix can cause the chainsaw to smoke.Drain the fuel and fill the tank with the correct 50:1 fuel mix.
Water in the fuel mixtureWater can create white exhaust smoke.Drain the fuel and fill the tank with fresh gas and oil at a 50:1 ratio.
Reasons a STIHL Chainsaw Smokes

Don’t Skip Maintenance on Your STIHL Chainsaw

When you own a chainsaw long enough, you’re bound to run into problems with it. While STIHL chainsaws are not trouble-free, you can minimize problems by performing routine maintenance and using the right fuel.

I recommend completing a full maintenance service on your STIHL chainsaw once a year to keep it in good condition.

The annual service includes replacing the maintenance parts: air filter, fuel filter, and spark plug. You should also check the fuel system and cooling system, and clean the exterior.

Tighten any loose hardware and replace any damaged or missing parts. In addition to this, you must inspect the chain before each use to make sure it is in good condition.