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Chainsaw Clutch Slipping: 6 Causes and Fixes

Chainsaw Clutch Slipping: 6 Causes and Fixes

If you’re experiencing clutch slipping, there’s a problem in either the clutch, the shoe, the bearings, or the clutch drum. Less often, but easier to fix, you may have turned on a setting such as a chain brake or compression relief affecting your chainsaw. 

This article will cover what exactly happens when your clutch slips and how to fix it. Keep reading to learn more about your chainsaw clutch and what it might feel like when something is amiss.

1. The Clutch Is Out of Adjustment 

If you’ve noticed that your chainsaw is slipping when you use it, or if you’re having trouble getting it started, chances are that your clutch needs some adjusting. The chain can be under stress, which means it will wear out more quickly than other parts of your chainsaw.

How To Adjust Your Clutch 

If you’re having trouble keeping the chain on, it could be as simple as adjusting the clutch to make it tighter. This is done by turning the screw on the side of your engine that controls how much tension is on the chain when it’s running. If this isn’t done properly, you’ll notice that your chain doesn’t engage properly and slips off easily.

As always (and get ready for this reminder in every section of this article!), ensure that your chainsaw is off and powerless before messing with anything. Removing the blades will also ensure no accidental injury. 

This YouTube video gives an excellent visual of this process:

Fixing a Chainsaw Clutch

2. The Shoes Are Worn Out

The shoes are the part of the chain that actually touches the chain bar. The shoe is made of steel and wears out over time, especially when you use a saw for many hours. If you find that your saw is no longer cutting as well as it did before, chances are your shoes have worn down to an ineffective level.

How To Fix

To replace them, remove all your old parts from the chainsaw and order new shoes from your local hardware store, Amazon, or another online retailer. You should look up the type needed for your particular chainsaw before you decide to purchase. 

3. The Clutch Drum Is Worn Out 

The clutch drum is the part that the chain wraps around (source). It’s usually made of steel and is the first part to wear out on a chainsaw. If you use your saw often and for long periods, it will likely need replacing at some point.

How To Fix

If your clutch drum is worn out, the only solution is to replace it. You can usually find a clutch drum online or at your local hardware store, and your manual should have information about which kind fits on your saw. 

If you’ve got an older saw or have never changed a clutch drum before, it might be worth having someone who knows what they’re doing look at it for you before attempting this project yourself! Ensure your saw is off and blade-free before attempting any fixes. 

4. The Chain Brake Is Activated

A chainsaw clutch slipping doesn’t always mean something is wrong; sometimes, it can just mean user error!

The chain brake is a safety feature that kicks in when the chain is engaged and the clutch is activated (source). You or a malfunctioning part of your chainsaw can activate it. This has likely been activated if you hear a loud grinding noise while starting up or operating your saw.

How To Fix

If you’ve turned on the chain brake, just shut it off to fix this problem. If your chain brake wasn’t activated, but it was causing the problem, then your saw may have some malfunctioning issues. Unfortunately, with malfunctioning, your best bet is to give the 1-800 hotline located on the manual of your chainsaw. This has to do with the real inner boards, so they may need to send you a replacement. 

5. The Compression Relief Feature Is On

If you notice that your chainsaw revs up but won’t fully accelerate, the compression relief feature is likely engaged (source). This safety device on most chainsaws prevents the motor from exceeding its maximum RPMs by releasing air through small ports in the engine. The result is often a noticeable loss of power and sluggish acceleration, making cutting especially difficult.

How To Fix

As mentioned above, this is human error nine times out of ten. Turn your compression relief feature off (read your manual if you don’t know where it’s located) and see if that helps your problem. Again, if the compression relief feature isn’t on, but you’re absolutely sure this is the problem, your manufacturer owes you a new, non-malfunctioning saw!

6. The Centrifugal Clutch Needs Replacing 

If worse comes to worst and none of the above seem to fix your chainsaw, it may be the clutch that needs replacing. 

The centrifugal clutch is the most common type of chainsaw clutch (source). It consists of a round metal plate with teeth on one side and a spring on the other. The teeth push against a metal brake shoe that slides onto the top of your bar. When you squeeze your trigger, it makes room for the teeth to pass through so they can grab onto your chainsaw blade and make it spin faster than its natural speed.

How To Fix

To replace this part, follow these instructions (source): 

  1. Disassemble your chainsaw as much as possible without removing any parts from inside it.
  2. Remove all four bolts holding down your centrifugal clutch assembly.
  3. Remove everything except one bolt securing each end of the assembly.
  4. Remove these two bolts by first releasing them with an Allen wrench (or socket) into each side individually before removing them altogether.
  5. Clean out any old gasket material or dirt around where these two halves come together before reassembling them using the new clutch.

Typically, your local hardware store can help you with this process! 

The throttle is vital for a chainsaw, so what do you do if it stops working? I’ve presented common causes and methods to fix them in my guide.


If you are uncomfortable working on your chainsaw or if it has been sitting for a long time, then don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer for help. They should be able to assist you through this process and offer recommendations on what parts may need replacement and what kind of maintenance schedule might be recommended for future use.

Fortunately, your chainsaw likely just needs some support and doesn’t need to be tossed!

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