Chainsaw Maintenance

Chainsaw Hard To Pull?  Avoid These Common Mistakes

Have trouble yanking the starter cord on your chainsaw? Trust me, I’ve been there too, feeling like I’m about to dislocate my shoulder trying to get the darn thing to start! But don’t worry, with some basic troubleshooting, we can get to the bottom of what’s causing your stubborn saw to be so hard to pull.

The most common reasons a chainsaw is hard to pull include an improperly adjusted chain brake, built-up grime and debris, a sticking clutch, improper chain tension, damaged components, bad fuel mixture, and engine issues. By methodically checking each of these areas, you can quickly diagnose and fix the problem.

Well, take a deep breath, and let’s walk through this together. I’ll share the typical reasons a chainsaw is hard to pull based on my experience, so you can get your diagnosis done and get back to cutting wood instead of workouts with the pull cord.

Why Is It So Dang Hard to Pull-Start My Chainsaw?

When you find the chainsaw starter rope won’t budge no matter how hard you yank, there are a few common culprits to blame. Let’s go through them one by one.

The Chain Brake is Sticking

Many chainsaws have a chain brake that stops the chain from moving when engaged. This helps prevent accidents if the saw kicks back while cutting. But if the brake gets stuck halfway on, it makes the engine impossible to turn over.


Before you try starting the saw, check that the chain brake lever is pushed all the way forward to the disengaged position. Try turning the chain by hand – if it’s stiff, you need to loosen up that brake! A little lubricant on the pivot points usually does the trick.

It’s Gunked Up with Sawdust and Grime

Over time, sawdust, pine needles, and other woodsy debris can really build up in and around your chainsaw’s bar, chain, and clutch area. All that gunk adds tons of friction that makes the engine way harder to turn over.


Take off the bar and give it a good cleaning. Use some compressed air or a brush to clear out the sawdust bunnies clogging things up around the clutch and starter housing. A clean saw is a happy saw!

The Clutch is Sticking

The centrifugal clutch on your chainsaw needs to engage smoothly to transfer power to the chain. But if it’s sticking and not releasing properly, you’ll feel like you’re arm-wrestling the saw!


Take a peep at the clutch springs – if they’re worn out or stuck, they’ll need to be replaced. Also, check the clutch drum for any rough spots or burrs that could cause sticking. A little smoothing and polishing does wonders.

The Chain is Too Tight or Too Loose

Having the chain at the proper tension is surprisingly important for easy starting. Too loose and it can hop the bar and cause drag. Too tight and it binds everything up.


Your manual should show how to test chain tension. The chain needs a smidge of sag – about the thickness of a dime, I’d say. Adjust the tension accordingly if it’s off.

The Starter Parts are Just Plain Worn Out

After years of use, those starter parts wear down. The pull cord gets frayed, the handle rubber cracks and the recoil spring weakens. All that can contribute to hard starting woes.


Inspect the cord closely for any fraying, and check the handle and pulley for damage. Swapping out worn starter parts is an easy fix to get you pulling easier.

Bad Gas or Improper Fuel Mix

Using old gas with varnish in it, or the wrong gas/oil mix, makes it way harder for the engine to turn over. Always use fresh fuel and the right ratio of gas to oil.

Read more: Does A Chainsaw Take Regular Gas? 

While you’re at it, clean or replace the fuel filter too. Anything to help the engine breathe properly and start easier!

Low Compression in the Cylinder

Lack of good compression in the cylinder due to worn piston rings, leaky gaskets, sticky valves etc. – that can definitely make the saw a bear to start.

You can check compression with a gauge. If it’s weak, the top end might need to be rebuilt with new rings, cylinder gasket, etc to get back to prime pull-starting shape.

Alright, Let’s Troubleshoot This Puppy

Now that we’ve identified the usual suspects, let’s walk through step-by-step how to diagnose and fix your hard-starting chainsaw. We got this!

First Check the Chain Brake

Before you yank that cord even once, make absolutely sure the chain brake is fully disengaged. The lever should be pushed forward, and you should be able to freely turn the chain by hand. A little lube on the pivot can loosen it up if needed.

De-Gunkify It

Take off the bar and give it a good cleaning. Use some compressed air or a toothbrush to dig out all the packed-in sawdust around the clutch and starter housing. Get it squeaky clean!

Examine the Clutch

Check those clutch springs closely for wear or sticking issues. Look at the drum too – any roughness could cause it to bind. A little polishing with emery cloth can work wonders here.

Is the Chain Tensioned Properly?

Consult your owner’s manual on how to check chain tension. See if it has the recommended slight sag in the middle. Tighten or loosen the chain as needed.

Inspect and Replace Starter Parts

Look closely at the pull cord, starter handle, and pulley for any worn parts. Replace anything damaged to get that starter pulling smoothly again!

Check the Fuel Quality

Dump out any old gas and put in fresh fuel with the proper 2-cycle oil mix. Swap the fuel filter too if it’s looking gunky.

Test the Engine Compression

Use a compression gauge to check cylinder compression. Low reading? The top end may need to be rebuilt with new rings and gaskets.

When to Take It to the Shop

If you’ve made it through all these steps and it still won’t start right, it’s probably time to let a professional have a look. Especially if internal engine work is needed.

Let’s Avoid These Starting Issues in the Future

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to chainsaw maintenance. Here are some tips:

  • Follow the manual for replacing air, fuel filters, plugs, etc
  • Use only fresh gas with the correct oil mix
  • Clean it thoroughly after each use, bar rails and all!
  • Check that chain tension regularly
  • Sharpen the chain when needed to prevent excess drag
  • Make sure the chain brake moves freely
  • Address any engine issues early before they get worse
  • Don’t skip scheduled maintenance!

Taking good care of your saw will mean a much easier start for you. But if you do run into issues, use this guide to get your balky saw starting smoothly again. With a little know-how and elbow grease, you’ll have that puppy pulling like a champ!

Frequently asked question

Why is it hard to pull my chainsaw?

It could be due to a jammed chain, a flooded engine, or a faulty recoil mechanism. Make sure the chain moves freely and check for engine issues.

Why won’t my chainsaw pull cord move?

This usually happens if the cord is tangled or the recoil spring is broken. Inspect these parts for damage or obstruction.

Why is my Ryobi chainsaw hard to pull start?

For Ryobi chainsaws, a hard pull start could be caused by a tight chain, a dirty air filter, or engine compression issues. Regular maintenance can prevent this.

How do I know if my chainsaw is seized?

A seized chainsaw won’t start, and the pull cord will feel stuck. Check for a lack of lubrication or overheating signs in the engine.

Why is my chainsaw hard to pull and kick back?

This is often due to engine misfiring or a faulty spark plug. It might also be a sign of improper chain tension or a damaged flywheel.

final thought

Overcoming a chainsaw that’s hard to pull is often a matter of simple fixes: checking the chain brake, cleaning out debris, adjusting the chain, and ensuring good fuel mix. Regular maintenance is key. If these steps don’t solve the problem, it might be time to consult a professional. With the right care, your chainsaw will be ready for action, saving you time and effort.