Chainsaw Know-How: Maintain, Sharpen, and Replace Your Chain

May 24, 2018   //  Posted in: Supporting Sponsors, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  one response

This post was sponsored by STIHL because they supplied the chainsaw (STIHL’s MSA 120 C-BQ) and sharpening equipment. The content itself is my own. It’s no secret that I advocate for homeowners to try battery-powered tools. Everything I’ve purchased and tested is pretty awesome, and the STIHL Lightning Battery System® line of products does not let down.

There’s a definite intimidation factor when it comes to buying a chainsaw, especially if you’ve never owned one before or you’re not sure you know what to do with one. For me, even the most ordinary maintenance requirements seemed above and beyond what I was capable of performing.

One huge advantage of battery-powered tools is that they require significantly less maintenance than their comparable gas/oil counterparts. It doesn’t mean that they’re maintenance-free, but it takes out a lot of the guesswork and complexity. It’s most common that you’ll need to know how to maintain the chain itself, so that’s why I recapped the process in this short video (totally SFW!):

  • How to check chain tension on your chainsaw
  • How to remove and reinstall a chain
  • How to tell if your chainsaw needs sharpening
  • How to sharpen the teeth on a dull chainsaw

Last summer’s trip to STIHL in Virginia Beach was more than a factory tour and throwing axes (nailed it), it was a hands-on experience that allowed us the opportunity to test a full range of outdoor STIHL equipment, and learn how to properly maintain it.

STIHL MSA 120 C-BQ testing. Battery-powered chainsaws are so easy to use!

The STIHL Lightning Battery System® line of products has been featured in a few previous posts on this site. You already saw me using the MSA 120 C-BQ when I showed you how to make a Swedish torch fire log, and I used the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine to cut flagstone when making repairs to my front steps. My goal is still to demystify user questions and concerns about the tools. If you’re considering buying a light-weight, low-maintenance chainsaw, they have a few good ones to consider.

Knowing whether or not you need to sharpen your chainsaw is critical, and if you experience any of the following “symptoms,” the above video will help show you how easy it is to get your chainsaw back to like-new condition.

  • The saw isn’t cutting as “effortlessly.” It should slice like it’s going through butter.
  • The saw is burning the wood, creating smoke; the chain is working too hard, needs to be sharpened.
  • The sawdust is powdery and dense, like sand. A sharp chainsaw will always produce sawdust that looks more like wood chips or pencil shavings, like this:

This is what good sawdust looks like when it's cut using a sharp chainsaw.

Looking for something bigger? You shoulda seen the log I trimmed with that saw.

The biggest, most giant chainsaw I could find at STIHL. Super heavy but photo-worthy.

J/K. That’s just part of a cool outdoor display that the team had for us to see at STIHL. Pretty impressed that anyone could wield it with accuracy, since I could barely heave it off the tabletop.

Always remember to wear protective workwear when you’re maintaining and operating a chainsaw. Remove the battery before performing any maintenance on the tool.

Inspiration For a DIY Driftwood Clock

May 18, 2018   //  Posted in: DIY, HGTV + DIY Network Projects   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

Heart-eyed emoji! If you’re wondering if you’ve seen this big piece of driftwood before, probably yes. It was the star of one of the first projects I featured on this blog back in 2010, and one of the few pieces of driftwood I’ve held onto over the years. I’ve rid myself of a lot of our excess, so that’s really saying something. Though we used it as a centerpiece accent in our old house, it has been untouched since, kind of awaiting its opportunity to shine with an intended purpose. When you find the perfect project for one of your treasures, it’s kind of a magical day, so I wanted to share this here. This clock also uses found pieces from our beach glass collection (and though we stopped adding to it, there are still several thousand pieces awaiting their turn in the spotlight).

I included this DIY clock–and 7 other easy DIY ideas–in a new photo gallery on

How to Repair Deteriorating Flagstone Steps

April 27, 2018   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Supporting Sponsors, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

This post was sponsored by STIHL because they supplied the cut-off machine and safety equipment. However, the decrepit steps are my own, and repairing them has been on my list for a long time. Thanks to STIHL for partnering with me on the project.

You know it’s time to repair your entryway stone steps when it’s become instinctive to warn guests to watch out, look out, careful! don’t step there, please don’t fall. Our tangled length of caution tape weathered 10 consecutive seasons and was still was holding up better than the crumbling, deteriorated flagstone step of our 1950s home.

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

The flagstone steps and stone details were original to the construction of our home, and the spots that took the most foot traffic were really beginning to show their age. The stone had not only begun to splinter and crack, but it was also loose (sitting atop the mortar unsecured) which seemed especially hazardous for anyone not paying attention to their footing. Recipe for disaster.

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

Finding flagstone that would work for replacing these steps was the easy part–we had leftovers from the summer when we installed a large patio on the back of our home–but cutting them down to fit the depth of the step was the challenge, and the real reason this repair never seemed to get done.

When we installed the patio, we worked with a friend who is a professional landscaper; he’d bring along his gasoline-powered professional cut-off machine to trim stones down to size as we needed (and it was a really, really big intimidating saw). We don’t readily have access to him or the big saw though, and other ordinary homeowners don’t have those types of connections either, so when I visited STIHL last fall and went all heart-eyed at the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine, the team was (surprised about my heart-eyed interest but) really receptive to me wanting to get my hands on the product.

FWIW, we weren’t there to be testing cut-off machines as much as we were learning about the Lightning Battery System® line of products, but between presentations and tours, we were lucky to get a lot of exposure to the variety of products manufactured by the company. STIHL makes just about everything for outdoor care. And, FYI you already saw me using the MSA 120 C-BQ if you caught my post on how to make a Swedish torch fire log; that’s a real good chainsaw.

So yes, I’m already a fan of battery-powered tools, but a battery-powered cut-off saw? I questioned a lot.

Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

I certainly liked the idea that it was a push button start (nothing complicated about it) and was fully-powered by a battery (no gasoline/oil/mixtures; boasting a “Caring for Nature” seal) and consequently, positioning it as a low maintenance tool when compared to its gas-fueled counterparts. Despite the big 4-lb. battery, it’s still super lightweight, weighing in at a total of 12.3 lbs., compared to 20+ lbs. for the gas-powered cut-off machines.

Would it be easier to maneuver? Less intimidating than a pull-start? (Can’t attest to how it feels compared to the big guns, but it’s absolutely less intimidating. Put on eye protection, push button, WHHHHRRRRRR.)

Would it be as loud? (It’s loud enough to warrant ear protection but not *as* loud as the machine we borrowed for the patio, which could wake the neighborhood. I mean, I was cutting through stone so there’s going to be some loud noise. That said, the tool has a maintenance-free brushless DC motor that makes for low noise levels and reduced vibration.)

Powerful enough to get the job done? (Spoiler alert, yup it was. The tool’s AP 300 battery will operate for ~18-minutes, depending on the type of material you’re destroying.)

Could it cut through flagstone that’s multiple inches thick? (Yes, our stone was 1.5” and the tool could cut up to 2.75” on the 9” blade.)

STIHL obliged with my desire to test the TSA 230, even though its uses are more limited for ordinary homeowners. If you find it interesting, definitely visit the TSA 230 product page on the website or get in touch with your local STIHL dealer to learn more.

When I was initially learning about the tool, it seemed like a sure winner for homeowners and landscapers who just need to do a few ZIP-ZIP-ZIP cuts without the hassle of pull-starting the machine with every use. It’s not an everyday type of tool, but one of convenience that’s worth having for specific projects. However, when I met with the local STIHL distributor for product training, I was surprised to learn that they also did a lot of business with emergency responders and fire companies who have been embracing the TSA 230 because it’s small, easy-to-store on fire trucks, and super quick and easy-to-use when the occasion arises and time is critical. It’s a less intimidating tool to learn to use, requires less maintenance, and is still amazingly powerful. Perfect alternative for these crews, and a product that homeowners with a penchant for DIY improvement and maintenance will value too.

So, back to our sad stone steps?

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

I started by removing the damaged stones. They were no longer attached and lifted right on up.

Removing and replacing old flagstone steps.

Beneath the stones was a layer of sand, which sat atop a layer of mortar.

Old sand and mortar beneath broken flagstone steps.

To loosen the mortar, I used the cut-off saw to create some notches in the material to break it up.

Using the STIHL TSA 230 to score mortar to make it easier to remove during a flagstone stair repair.

Using the STIHL TSA 230 to score mortar to make it easier to remove during a flagstone stair repair.

Once the base beneath the old stone was cleared out, we were able to confirm measurements for the new stone steps, and measure cuts on pieces of 1-1/2” thick flagstone. Using the metal tip of a pen, I scratched the straight line onto the surface of the stone (no marker or pencil, because it would have washed away with water spray). Why the water? It keeps the blade cool, and also keeps the dust at bay. Makes things a little muddy, but still probably the “cleanest” circular type saw I’ve ever used.

Measure and mark flagstone. Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

The machine itself ran like magic. So lightweight, ergonomic and easy-to-hold, I’m eagerly awaiting another opportunity to put this tool to use. To use this tool–and other cut-off machines–for stonework, start by scoring the stone across the line you etched. Creating that shallow guide line will serve you well as you continue to make the cut.

Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

On the second pass, cut a little deeper. On the remaining passes, depending on the thickness of the stone, forge deeper at the start of the cut and again at the end of the stone, envisioning that you’re leaving a bridge through the center of the stone to connect the two halves. Taking it slow and going a little bit at a time reduces the chance of the stone fracturing in the wrong spot. Still, as cautious as I was, each cut only took me 30-seconds. So awesome.

With the stones clean and dry, mix and lay your mortar on the step. We had two stones to replace that needed to level with stones that were still secure and intact, so we diligently leveled as we went to make sure everything was aligned.

Leveling flagstone steps in fresh mortar; a 1950s home repair.

Use your finger to point and smooth the mortar between the stones on all sides, and also use a damp sponge to remove mortar that squished onto the surface of the stone.

Smoothing mortar between flagstone steps.

We blocked off the stairs with some scrap wood and let the mortar sit undisturbed for a few days.

Allow mortar on flagstone steps to dry before walking on it.

The finished step? Hopefully, it’ll last for another 67 years!

Repaired flagstone stairs on a 1950s home.

It’s amazing how easily you can get a project done when you have the right tools. Thank you again to STIHL for making this possible.

How to repair crumbling flagstone stairs.