The best chainsaw chain will slice through logs, branches, and tree trunks with ease. Saws make cutting firewood and hardwood to size fairly easy, but when the chain gets dull it can be a risk.
The risk is kickback. Kickback occurs when a tooth bites too deep in the lumber, gets stuck, and the saw recoils, which makes it dangerous and a possible cause for an accident.
Because my chain was worn and need replacement, I did some research into buying a good saw chain and thought I’d share.
Anatomy of a saw chain
The chain is made up of different parts, including drive links, rivets, and cutters. More importantly, a few dimensions are important when getting the correct chainsaw chain for your unit. They include gauge, pitch, and length.
Gauge refers to how thick the drive links are and is determined by the bar gauge. Common gauges include .05″ through 063″. It’s important to make sure chain and bar gauge match.
Pitch is the distance between two rivets. Chain pitch needs to match the sprockets.
Length refers to the length of the full chain loop. It is the number of drive lengths and is determined by bar type and length, as well as sprocket sizes and saw setup.
Many saws will have the pitch, number of drive lengths (length), and gauge stamped, etched, or engraved on the guide bar. If it’s not, check with the manufacturer.
The core power of a chain are its teeth, which are often formed from a blend of chromium-plated steel alloy.
There are different tooth cutter profiles: Chipper, semi- and full-chisel. Each have their pros and cons.
Full chisel configurations have teeth with square edges. Semi-chisel configurations have rounded corners, as do chipper tooth profiles. The difference between semi-chisel and chipper are the corner radii.
According to wikipedia, full chisel designs work well for cutting softwood because they easily split wood fibers, and semi-chisel designs excel at dry, frozen, dirty wood — as well as hard wood or stump work.
Round designs don’t cut as fast as square designs, which lose their edge in dense, hardwood, and in dirty environments. Square designs tend to be faster because their profile is more aggressive.
Arranging those teeth
The teeth are arranged on a chain in a designed way. Arrangement does not have anything to do with teeth type and refers to the teeth spacing.
A few different arrangements include skip, semi-skip, and full complement.
Full complement means that the chain has a left cutter, then a drive link, then a right cutter, and then another drive link, which is pretty common setup.
Skip has two drive links between every left and right cutter, whereas full complement only has one. Generally, these are used when the bar length is quite long for the engine power. The idea is that less teeth means the saw can operate at a higher RPM avoiding it from bogging.
Semi-skip is a combination of full and skip. It alternates back and forth between using one or two drive links between cutter pairs.
A little history …
Chainsaws, which were put on the market in the late ’20s, use to require two people to use. But after advancements around the World War II time frame, saws became more portable and designed for use by one person.
Like the saw itself, cutting chains have changed, too.
Scratcher teeth were different than the style of teeth mentioned above. Whereas modern designs reduce the number of teeth, scratcher designs had lots of teeth very close.
Close teeth meant that they would not “bite” deep into the wood — i.e., they were inefficient, slow, and required extra need cleaning and sharpening.
The chipper chain improved the scratcher design. The chipper chain design featured left and right teeth that alternated, along with a depth gauge.
The depth gauge reduced kickback because it did not allow the teeth to cut very deep.
Also, the extra space in the teeth gave the wood chips to clear out of the chain quickly.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
The first rule when buying a chain for your saw is this: Make sure it will fit your saw!
Remember, you want to make sure the correct length, gauge, and pitch are used.
An easy way to make sure it will fit is to look on the bar, which may have the information on it. Another way is to check the owner’s manual, contact the manufacturer, or look on the manufacturer’s website.
Depending on your bar length, you may not need to choose between skip or semi skip. Your only choice may be a full complement chain.
Remember, skip and semi skip configurations require a minimum guide bar length of 24 inches long and are preferred on longer chainsaws to maintain a higher RPM and eliminate that bogging.
Once you have the correct pitch, gauge, and length determined, you have options on what style tooth you want.
The saw chains tooth type should be matched to the job. For instance, full chisel teeth have an aggressive square edge, which can make quick work of clean and soft wood.
One caveat: Full chisel teeth will wear quickly when using cutting hardwood, dry wood, or frozen, dirty wood.
Tasks like tree trunks, stumps, firewood may call for semi chisel teeth profiles or chipper profiles.
But what about arrangement?
Maintenance and cleaning are important. That’s one of the benefits of a semi-skip or skip setups: They allow the chain to throw wood chips and debris out of the extra spaces in the saw chain.
A semi-skip or skip chain won’t provide nice smooth cuts; instead, the cuts will have edges that are jagged and the sawdust will be messy and thick. But, if you’re cutting firewood, it doesn’t matter.
A full complement chain is best if you want a smooth edge on your cuts.
Tips for taking care of your saw chain
Chainsaws can be dangerous if improperly kept or used. Although kickback is an issue when operating the saw, another issue is unmaintained equipment. You should keep your saw chain sharp, well-lubricated, and clean and covered when not in use.
A sharp chain is important to the safety of your saw. When the teeth dull, they increase the risk for kickback. Kickback can cause serious harm if you are not accustomed to it.
Besides, a dull chain reduces efficiency.
A good electric chain saw chain sharpener or sharpening stone is all it takes to keep the chain in good shape.
It sounds counter-intuitive to lubricate a chain that’s spinning at high RPMs because the lube will surely fly off it. However, chain-specific oil will stick.
Chain oil has additives in it that keep the lubricant on the chain even while it is moving at high RPMs.
I know most people will use motor oil in a pinch, but it flies off and requires frequent application. Motor oil is not the best chainsaw chain oil to use.
It’s important to use the right chain oil, which will keep your saw working correctly and efficiently — not to mention help reduce possible accidents.
A plastic scabbard covering the chain can prevent injury when the saw is in storage or transport. The scabbard can also protect the bar and chain from accidental damage.
Parting thoughts about the best chainsaw chain
Although the gas motor may be the loudest part on a chainsaw, the chain is just as important.
When replacing or buying a new saw chain, you should take into account saw’s configuration, type of wood you’ll be sawing, and the type of cuts your looking to achieve.