How to Start a Stihl Chainsaw in 13 Easy Steps

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Written By Michael Culligan

With over 12 years of experience in Oregon's forestry industry, I have established myself as a skilled and knowledgeable lumber professional. As a passionate competitor in local timbersports events, I have consistently ranked among the top lumberjacks in my area. I take great pride in meticulously maintaining an extensive collection of restored vintage axes. I personally test every axe I review by using it to fell and chop up oak firewood on my land.

REVIEWED BY SPencer Durrant
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To start a Stihl chainsaw, follow these steps: 1) Activate the chain brake. 2) Set the choke lever to the starting position. 3) Press the decompression valve (if applicable) and primer bulb. 4) Place the chainsaw on a flat surface, hold the handle firmly, and pull the starter rope briskly.

Learning how to start a Stihl chainsaw can be difficult for a beginner because of all the buttons, switches, reservoirs, and tensioners. But it is an essential skill that can be applied to almost any brand of chainsaw. I have spent over a decade in the forestry industry and have trained many beginners in the safe use of a chainsaw.

I have found that there are 13 easy-to-follow steps in getting a Stihl gas chainsaw to start every time. You can start a chainsaw by placing it on a flat surface or holding it off the ground. I recommend placing it on a flat surface for beginners, so you don’t need to worry about the weight if it takes a bit longer to complete all of your checks. Once you understand what to do and the chainsaw engine has warmed up, you can start it while holding it up – just make sure the chain isn’t touching anything.

How to Start a Stihl Chainsaw in 13 Easy Steps

Step 1. Wear Your PPE

Chainsaws are extremely dangerous tools and need to be treated with respect. I have seen too many injuries caused by overconfidence, so complete all the required pre-start checks to ensure you are operating a safe piece of equipment and wearing all your protective equipment. I recommend wearing a helmet, goggles, chaps, gloves, boots, and hearing protection.

Step 2. Complete Pre-Start Checks

Check the fuel reservoir is filled with gas, and the oil reservoir is full of bar oil. Also, check the tension of the chain – it should be tight enough that it won’t fall off but loose enough to spin freely. Finally, check that the teeth on the chain are sharp enough and that the depth gauges aren’t too high.

Step 3. Activate Chain Brake

How to Start a Stihl Chainsaw in 13 Easy Steps

You need to activate the chain brake to stop the chain from spinning before you are ready. On Stihl chainsaws, the chain brake is located directly in front of the top handle. It is activated by pushing it forwards. This stops the chain from moving until you turn off the brake.

Step 4. Remove Bar Cover

How to Start a Stihl Chainsaw in 13 Easy Steps

You should store your chainsaw with a bar cover during transport, so you don’t damage either the chain or anything else in your truck. Remove this now.

Step 5. Press Decompression Valve Button

Stihl Chainsaw Decompression Valve

If your Stihl chainsaw has a decompression valve, press it once. They are located on the top of the chainsaw under the top handle. This releases the compression within the motor and allows the rope to pull more easily.

Step 6. Press Primer Bulb Until Firm

stihl chainsaw primer bulb

Press the primer bulb several times until it feels firm. I generally find this to be two to three times. This primes the motor with gas, which makes it easier to start on the first try. The primer bulb is located on the other side of the chainsaw to the starter rope – this depends on the model.

Step 7. Set Master Controller to Choke/Cold Start

stihl chainsaw master controller

Most Stihl chainsaws have a master controller. Set this switch to choke, which is also called cold start mode. This is signified as a horizontal, squiggly line between two vertical lines on Stihl gas chainsaws. It is normally the bottom-most option on the controller. The master controller switch is located right next to the throttle.

Step 8. Pull the Starter Rope Until it Fires

pull the start rope on a stihl chainsaw

Now is the time to pull the starter rope until the chainsaw starts. This may take several pulls depending on the temperature, how long it has been since it was started last, and the age of the tool. Try to pull the rope directly out, so it doesn’t rub on the housing – this can ensure the rope lasts and doesn’t need replacing over time.

Step 9. Test the Throttle

You may notice the chainsaw will start easily but then splutter and die. This is because there is air in the fuel lines, and the engine runs out of gas. Make sure you pull the throttle a few times to increase the fuel flow and give the motor enough gas to stay running.

Step 10. Switch the Master Controller to Normal/Idle

stihl chainsaw master controller

Now that the chainsaw is running properly, you will need to switch the master controller from choke to normal mode. This is signified on Stihl chainsaws as an upper case ‘I’ letter. If you leave the switch on choke mode, the chainsaw can flood with too much fuel and will splutter and die. The master controller is located right next to the throttle.

Step 11. Warm Up Engine

After doing a few test runs on the throttle to ensure the motor is full of gas, I generally leave the chainsaw running for a minute or two to warm up. This will increase the life of the chainsaw by avoiding heating up too fast, damaging the machine over time.

Step 12. Release the Chain Brake

Deacativate Stihl Chainsaw Chain Brake

Now that you are ready o get to work then, you can release the chain brake by pulling it towards you. This will allow the chain to start spinning when you pull the throttle.

Step 13. Start Cutting

Now the chainsaw is running and ready to use. You can get to work cutting down that tree or splitting that firewood. Make sure you stop to rest, refuel, and sharpen your chain as you notice the cutting speed slow down.

How to Start a Stihl Electric Chainsaw

Starting an electric Stihl chainsaw is even easier. The main problem most people have is using a fully charged battery that is inserted correctly, so the electrodes are in contact. You still need to complete the pre-start checks, such as wearing all your protective equipment, checking for uneven ground, and filling up the bar oil. Stihl electric chainsaws also have a hand guard, which is effectively a dead man switch. You need to pull both the hand guard switch and the throttle switch for the chainsaw to spin.

Stihl electric chainsaws also have a throttle trigger switch. This button is located just above the throttle. You need to press this button down to be able to activate the throttle.

Showing the throttle trigger switch on a Stihl Electric Chainsaw
Showing the throttle trigger switch on a Stihl Electric Chainsaw

Now that you have learned how to start a Stihl Chainsaw you are ready to get to work and start processing wood for your next project.