How to fix a chainsaw pull cord

By: Leon Rhodes

Your chainsaw endures a lot of abuse from normal use. Vibrations, working conditions and neglect all play a role in how long it continues working. Eventually chainsaws breaks down and pull cord issues are actually quite common.

This process of fixing a pull cord works on Stihl, McCulloch, Homelite, Husqvarna and other chainsaws, here's how to fix yours.

Stihl Chainsaw Starter

1. Remove the starter cover

The rope, pulley, cover and spring of most chainsaws are an integrated unit. After unplugging the spark plug for safety reasons use a screwdriver or cordless torque wrench to remove the starter cover bolts.

Some recoil units have rivets holding the cover in place, if that's the case a 1/8 drill bit can be used to drill them out but do not drill too deeply.

2. Inspect the starting assembly

Once removed check the back side of the cover and rope assembly for obvious signs of damage. The rope should be wrapped around a pulley that spins freely which is held in place by a retaining clip.

If your unit has a small wing-shaped engaging lever make sure the bend in your retaining clip is facing in the same direction, it won't work properly when attached in the wrong direction.

3. Cut and remove the old rope

The easiest way to remove the old rope from your chainsaw starting assembly is to cut it. Push the old rope through the handle to release it and push it through the opening on the pulley side. Discard the old rope.

4. Insert new rope into the case

Cut a 1 meter length of 1/8" diameter recoil starter rope and, if needed, secure the frayed ends with a lighter. Pass the rope through the rubber handle and secure it with a solid knot.

Push the other end of the rope through the starter case opening and pull the rope in until the handle touches the cover.

5. Fasten the rope to the pulley

When all of the rope is on the inside of the cover re-secure it to the pulley in the same direction it came out. You do not need to remove the pulley retaining clip to do this.

After it's through tie a secure knot on the end, trim any excess rope and pull the rope so that the knot is securely inside the pulley.

A set of needle nose pliers is useful to push the knot ALL the way in, you do not want any rope sticking out from the side of the pulley.

6. Re-wind the starter pulley

Using your thumb hold the rope near the handle end so that the handle is tight against the case. Using you other hand wind the pulley clockwise six full rotations(pulley only, the rope doesn't get wrapped around yet).

Next hold the pulley tension in place with one hand and pull the handle out again to remove all the rope slack from inside the case. Gently release the pulley and allow it to wind the rope around it.

All of the rope should be around the pulley and the handle should be tight at this point, pull the rope a few times to make sure the pulley spins and re-winds freely.

7. Re-install the starter cover

You can now re-install the cover and secure the bolts. Don't over-tighten the cover bolts or you might crack the plastic case, but make sure they are secure. That's all there is to it.

The process typically takes 30 minutes the first time you do it but with experience it becomes a 5 minute job.

How long should a chainsaw pull cord be?

Between 36 and 40 Inches of cord is needed, as recommended by most chainsaw manufacturers. That amounts to roughly 1 meter of rope if you use the metric measurement system.

Can I re-use the same cord on a chainsaw?

It's a good idea to use new rope when fixing a chainsaw starter rope. You can re-use the old one if necessary, however, expect to need to repair it again sooner.

Why is the pull cord stuck on my chainsaw?

The problem is often improper rope diameter. Skinny cords can cross over each other and become tangled and thick cords can bind inside the pulley. Other common causes include a broken tension spring and being clogged with sawdust.

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