When it comes to properly maintaining and storing a chainsaw, one of the most common questions asked is whether you should leave oil in the chainsaw when storing it for extended periods of time. There are pros and cons to both approaches, so it is important to understand the implications before deciding what is best for your specific chainsaw. In this article, we will explore the key factors to consider when determining if you should store your chainsaw with oil.
The quick answer is that most experts recommend removing all oil from the chainsaw before long-term storage. Oil left sitting in the chainsaw can end up causing more harm than good over time as it can start to degrade, thicken, or lead to corrosion inside the engine and bar. This can lead to costly repairs down the road. However, there are some exceptions where you may want to leave the oil in, such as for very short-term storage between uses. Overall, for long-term storage of a month or more, it is best to drain the oil.
The Purpose of Bar and Chain Oil
Before determining whether or not to store a chainsaw with oil, it helps to understand the purpose of bar and chain oil in a chainsaw:
- Lubricates the chain, bar, and drive sprocket – Keeps these components from overheating due to friction.
- Protects against wear and tear – The lubrication helps prevent rust/corrosion and premature wear.
- Carries away sawdust – The oil cleans out dust, sap, and sawdust as the chain moves.
- Reduces vibration – Allows the chain to move smoothly around the bar.
These functions explain why oil is so important when operating a chainsaw. Fresh, high-quality bar and chain oil ensures your chainsaw runs safely and efficiently. However, leaving old oil sitting in a stored chainsaw can lead to the opposite effect.
Reasons to Remove Oil Before Storage
Here are the main benefits to removing all oil from your chainsaw before long-term storage:
1. Prevents Internal Corrosion
One of the biggest risks of leaving oil sitting in a chainsaw for months at a time is corrosion. Most modern chain oils contain additives and detergents. As these deteriorate over time, the chemical composition of the oil changes. This can cause oxidation, varnish, sludge, and acidic by-products to occur. These contaminants can corrode the inner metal surfaces of the bar, chain, sprocket, and engine.
Draining out all oil eliminates this risk of corrosion during storage. A corroded engine or bar can lead to decreased performance, seizing, or even complete failure down the road.
2. Avoids Oil Degradation Issues
Fresh chain oil has the ideal viscosity and fluidity to properly coat and lubricate moving parts. However, the viscosity and quality of oil decreases over time in storage. Contaminants in the air and moisture condensation inside the oil tank or engine can accelerate degradation.
Oil left in a stored saw for months on end often ends up oxidized, contaminated, and excessively thick. This can lead to poor lubrication, increased friction, and component wear when you do use the saw again. It is very difficult to fully remove degraded oil from the engine, bar, and chain. Simply draining old gas and oil and replacing with new is not enough once contamination occurs.
3. Eliminates Stale Fuel Contamination
If there is leftover gas in your chainsaw when storing it, this stale fuel can mix with the oil and cause it to break down faster. The oil contamination that results can plug small passages inside the engine. Any unburned gas in the engine can also react with the oil and form harmful residues.
Removing all oil and gas before storage prevents this potential interaction. Never store a chainsaw with gas in it for more than 1 month.
4. Removes Excess Bar Oil Buildup
Letting a chainsaw sit for months with oil in the reservoir and bar can lead to excess buildup and leakage. Oil coats the inside of the tank and bar and can seep out external fittings. It can be difficult to fully remove this old, sticky oil residue from the saw’s exterior and internal passages.
Draining the oil gives you a chance to fully clean the saw and bar of any excess buildup before storage. This leaves the saw in ideal working condition for the next time you need it.
Reasons Some Recommend Leaving Oil In
Despite the potential downsides, some chainsaw user manuals still recommend leaving oil in for storage. Here are a few of the reasons why:
1. Prevents Rust in the Bar
Since the chain oil provides a protective coating, some argue that leaving it in place helps reduce surface rust and corrosion in the bar and chain during storage. However, most chainsaw experts argue that simply spraying the bar with a rust preventative spray is equally or more effective for short-term storage under a month.
2. Avoids Dry Starts
Another rationale is that leaving oil in the saw ensures the bar and chain are pre-lubricated for the next use. This prevents a “dry start” scenario where oil does not reach the bar immediately on startup. However, pre-filling the oil tank prior to the next use has the same effect without leaving old oil sitting for months.
3. Reduces Work for Short-Term Storage
Draining the oil does introduce more steps when initially storing your saw. Because of this, some argue to simply leave the oil in if storing a saw for 1 week or less between uses. The risks of oil contamination and degradation are lower on these very short time frames.
Best Practice Recommendations
When assessing expert recommendations, the consensus is to remove all oil from a chainsaw when storing it for 1 month or longer. Here are some best practices to follow:
Drain the Oil Tank and Bar
Start by emptying the saw’s oil tank and reservoir using the drain screw or release valve. Manually wipe out any visible oil in the tank. Next, lay the bar and chain flat and spray it with brake cleaner or degreaser. Use a rag to wipe off all visible oil and residue from the bar.
Clean the Engine and Carburetor
Remove the spark plug and spray engine cleaner or carburetor cleaner into the spark plug hole and carburetor throat. Reinstall the plug and pull the starter cord several times to disperse the solvent through the engine. This will dissolve any varnish or oil contamination.
Apply Rust Inhibitor
Spray the bar and chain with a water-displacing rust inhibitor spray. Allow it to dry fully. You can also wrap chains in paper or apply a thin coat of oil to prevent rust.
Place tape over the end of the bar tip sprocket hole and the oil tank cap vent to seal moisture out.
Keep your chainsaw in a dry, room-temperature place away from direct sun during storage. Inside a protective case or sheath is ideal.
Special Case: Long-Term Saw Storage With Oil
While emptying all oil is best for general storage, there can be some exceptions. For example, when placing an antique or collectible chainsaw into very long-term storage of 5+ years, some collectors recommend leaving bar and chain oil in place. Because the saw will not be maintained or run during this time, the idea is that the oil provides added corrosion protection.
Another scenario where you may intentionally store a chainsaw with oil is if you are storing the saw in climate-controlled conditions for 2-3 years and plan to periodically start and run the engine. The oil provides wet sump lubrication when briefly firing up the saw. Just be sure to fully drain and refresh oil prior to actual use. Periodically monitored storage with oil depends on your specific chainsaw model and intended use pattern.
Steps to Prepare a Stored Saw for Use
If you did properly store your chainsaw without oil, here are the steps to take before putting it back into service:
- Thoroughly clean the saw exterior and remove any tape/plugs.
- Inspect for any rust or deterioration – address as needed.
- Fill the oil tank with fresh, high-quality bar and chain oil.
- Tighten all fittings, fasteners, and adjustments.
- Check chain tension and throttle operation.
- Add fresh gas to the engine’s fuel tank.
- Start the engine and allow to warm up for several minutes.
- Test chain lubrication on wood before actual cutting.
Signs of Oil Contamination
If you suspect that your chainsaw did have contaminated oil left in it during storage, watch for these warning signs as you operate it:
- Excess smoke from the exhaust
- Difficulty starting
- Rough, uneven idling
- Stalling and hesitation under load
- Poor chain lubrication
- Overheating engine/bar/chain
- Visible sludge in the oil tank or bar
These are indicators that the previous oil did indeed degrade and contaminate internal components. At the first sign of oil contamination issues, fully disassemble the saw and have it professionally cleaned and serviced.
Key Takeaways on Storing a Chainsaw with Oil
- For storage under 1 month – Leaving oil may be acceptable if saw kept in good condition.
- For 1-6 months of storage – Best to drain oil tank and bar before storage.
- For long-term storage 6+ months – Always drain oil fully from the saw.
- An exception is climate controlled storage with periodic operation.
- Stale oil can degrade and cause corrosion, sludge, and engine damage over time.
- Before using a stored saw, add fresh oil and gas and test operation.
- Properly removing oil keeps saw in ready-to-use condition.
While the convenience factor of leaving oil in a chainsaw during storage is understandable, most professionals advise against it for long-term storage. Stale oil that sits for months on end can end up doing more harm than good if it oxidizes, thickens, or contaminates the engine. For storage over 1 month, best practice is to fully drain the bar, chain, and oil tank and add fresh high-quality bar oil at the next use. This saves you from expensive repairs down the road and keeps your chainsaw running in tip-top shape. Be sure to prep saws that have sat empty by lubricating components before the next use. Following proper storage procedures allows even infrequently used chainsaws to provide years of reliable service.