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Chainsaw Hard to Pull? Here’s How to Fix It


How to fix a chainsaw that's hard to pull when starting.

Have you ever pulled on a chainsaw cord and it just wouldn’t give? This can be so perplexing but the truth is there are some very simple reasons why the pull cord may not be cooperating.

If your chainsaw is hard to pull, here are some common causes:

  • The pully system is snagged or stuck
  • The starter assembly is stuck or sticky
  • The housing may be damaged

Let’s take a look at some of the most common issues that can come up when your chainsaw is hard to pull and the simple steps you can use to fix it. 

Common Problems with Your Chainsaw

It is frustrating to break out your chainsaw for the season only for it to be stuck. We’ll go over some of the most common problems that make the chainsaw hard to pull, and simple methods to fix them.

Check the Rope

The first thing you should check if your chainsaw won’t pull correctly is the rope itself.  The rope can break, get twisted up, or even get coated in sap or other contaminants that find their way inside the starter assembly by hitching a ride, gumming up the system.

I’ve seen a number of chainsaw ropes matted with grass and other debris to a point that the cord couldn’t be pulled. This stuff gets down into the pully system (more on that in a moment) and can really wreak havoc on a chainsaw.

The fix may be as simple as untwisting the rope or replacing it. If the rope is frayed or completely broke, best to replace it with something of equal length and thickness.

This guy on YouTube does a great job of walking you through the process of repairing a pull cord: 

Pull Cord Repair On Stihl MS250 Chainsaw

Look at the Pully System

The pulley system is important because it helps with the retraction of the starter rope. A broken pully system could easily mean a slow or difficult pull, or that it won’t pull at all.

The two main places to look are:

  • The starter rope goes to the pulley, so first check the pulley itself. Does the pulley wheel move easily? Is there something stuck in the pulley wheel?
  • The pulley then goes to the pawl and spring. Is the spring in working condition, without rust or anything gumming it up?

For this to work, there needs to be some tension within the system because it causes the entire system to spin up. If the spring or pulley is damaged, the chainsaw cannot start and it will either feel too easy or too hard to pull.

The best way to fix it is to repair or replace the specific part that is damaged in the pulley system. Unless the rope is simply stuck on something inside or is sticky with sap, then a replacement will be the only option.

Check the Starter Assembly Itself

Once again, follow the starter rope back through the pulley to the starter assembly. When you pull on this, the rotation will move the starter assembly, which then kickstarts the entire system. This part will not rotate until you pull on your rope. If you pull once and nothing happens, you need to wait for the rope to retract fully before trying again

However, if you pull three or four times with no results and have to wait for the starter rope to retract again this is a sign that the starter assembly is not working. 

The biggest issue that can affect starter systems is a lack of oil, or the use of the wrong type of oil for your climate. If you are trying to start your chainsaw in cold weather with oil that was not rated to get to temperatures that low, then the system will feel sluggish to move and may not start properly.

If one of the parts is the problem, it is important to get that part replaced quickly. If the rope is to blame, untwisting it or moving it around so it is no longer stuck may be the best choice. 

Look at the Starter Spring

The starter spring is very important to helping the starter assembly that we talked about before. When it is working, it should retract your starter rope. The spring can sometimes be delicate, or become brittle with overuse.

After you use your chainsaw quite a bit, it is possible for the spring to break off. One of the first things to check when you have a hard pull on the chainsaw is the spring. This is the most likely reason for trouble and is a simple thing to fix. 

To check the starter spring:

  • Try to pull the starter rope
  • If it is hard to pull, check to see how the spring is doing. 
  • If the spring is starting to wobble, take it in to replace. 
  • If the spring is completely broken, you may need to replace the whole starter assembly. 

Don’t attempt to start the chainsaw manually if the spring is broken.

The Starter Housing is Damaged

Another common issue that can make the chainsaw hard to pull is that the starter housing gets damaged. The housing can break and may impede the path of the rope, or pieces may fall inside and get wound up and stuck in the pulley and starter.

This is something that you are likely to need to completely replace. However, if it is just a small piece, you may be able to repair it with epoxy or tape.

The Engine is Damaged or Seized

The last, and worst, problem to have is with the engine itself. If there has been any damage done to the engine itself, the starter assembly may not be able to properly pump the piston and actually start the engine. Likewise, if the engine is gummed up or seized entirely, the rope will be difficult or impossible to pull, respectively.

Unfortunately, both of these issues could mean it’s time to take it to a professional or scrap it. It’s not a good idea to perform any work related to the piston or engine assembly itself unless you have the proper knowledge. 

However, it could also be a good, low risk opportunity to learn if the chainsaw is just headed for the scrap pile!

Maintaining Your Chainsaw

It is important to maintain your chainsaw to ensure it will last a long time and you will not end up with a chain that is hard to pull. Here’s some techniques and tips to help make sure your chainsaw is as least prone to issues as possible.

Store the Chainsaw Properly in Good Conditions

It is important to store the chainsaw well. This will keep it from getting ruined or any of the parts rusting up. 

Some things to consider when you store your chainsaw include:

  • Keep the chainsaw off the ground so no one trips over it. 
  • Keep the chainsaw away from the rain or any moisture. Moisture can rust up the parts and make them stop working.
  • Keep the chainsaw away from places where it will see a lot of fine dust or sawdust. 

A cool, dry place in your shop or garage is the best way to store your chainsaw to make sure nothing gets inside. This can reduce the risk of something breaking or damaging the chainsaw, so it never becomes hard to pull. 

If you live in a particularly muggy or dusty climate, a cover for your chainsaw might be a good investment.

Get the Chainsaw Checked Often

Often the chainsaw will start to fail and is hard to pull because it gets old and a part breaks. Proper maintenance can decrease the likelihood that you need to deal with this kind of problem. 

If your chainsaw becomes hard to pull, there are many reasons why you may run into trouble with getting it to behave. A quick look at the components of the starter system, such as the rope, pully, starter assembly, and spring can rule out the simplest solutions. 

Related Reading:

What To Do When a Chainsaw Smokes on Startup

Teddy Henderson

Teddy is always fiddling with small engines, picking up thrown-out string trimmers or tearing apart dirt bikes. He shares what he learns along the way. Hopefully, you'll have less headaches than he has had by learning from his mistakes.

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