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How To Choose A Chainsaw Chain


Chainsaw Chain



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An integral part of the petrol chainsaw is the chainsaw chain. Without one the chainsaw is redundant. Many companies design and manufacture chainsaw chains for different capabilities and of varying quality.


The type of chainsaw chain you require will be dependent upon the model of chainsaw that you have and the specific cutting requirements you have. But one common feature to all chainsaw chains is that they need to be maintained properly to function at optimal working capacity. This means that they need to be sharp at all times and lubricated properly.


The chainsaw chain can vary in pitch measurement, gauge measurement and number of links used to form it. These particular measurements are vital to you when it comes to replacing an existing chainsaw chain.


You cannot just walk in to a chainsaw parts shop and take any chainsaw chain off the shelf and hope to use it with your chainsaw. You need to refer to your chainsaw handbook for the specific details of chainsaw chain that can work on your chainsaw bar.


If you do not have the chainsaw handbook anymore then always go to the supply store with your existing chainsaw chain to be matched up and then replaced.


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Regular Chainsaw Chain


Also referred to as skip tooth chains. The characteristic here is that the chainsaw chain has a space link between the cutting teeth. What this achieves is to allow less resistance which in turns allows faster and gritter cutting. When you look at chainsaw chains, if they are not listed as low kickback or have special features applied to them, then they are likely to be regular chains.


Aggressive Chainsaw Chain


Also referred to as full skip chains. Here the chainsaw chain will have two space links between each cutting teeth. This provides very low resistance and are generally used on chainsaw guides of 24” and above. These chains are for the fully trained professionals and the added length means less bending and are easier to work with over long periods of time

When it comes to replacing and matching a chainsaw chain there are a couple of measurements and numbers that you require to make an exact match. The chainsaw chain is available in a pretty limitless combinations of sizes, features and types. The reason for this is because the chainsaw itself varies greatly in size and application requirements.


So when the time comes for you to replace an existing chainsaw chain it is essential for you to have the correct measurements and information about your particular chainsaw chain. It is also worth noting that even after you have matched the correct chainsaw chain size there are still decisions to be made regarding the chainsaw chain type and features with it. These decisions will based on the application the chainsaw is required for and your specific preferences.


So the first and most important issue for replacing a chainsaw chain is knowing the exact size of your chainsaw chain. To determine this there are 3 measurements that you need to know. These measurements are pitch, gauge and drive link numbers of the chainsaw chain.


The Number Of Drive Links


In order to match the correct chainsaw chain you need to know the number of drive links on your chain. If the number is not in the user manual then you will have to count them. You cannot simply ask for a 2 foot chainsaw chain for example. This is because the length of a chainsaw chain is actually determined using a combination of pitch, gauge and the number of drive links. Unfortunately drive link numbers are not usually displayed in the same manner as pitch and gauge.




So to choose a chainsaw chain just follow the procedures below:

Obtain the pitch measurement

Get the gauge measurement

Count the number of drive links.

With these 3 measurements finding a replacement chainsaw chain will be a breeze.





When you have ascertained the correct size of chainsaw chain you require there is another decision for you to make. This decision is regarding the aggressiveness of your chainsaw chain. There are three different levels of aggressiveness to choose from. These levels are low kickback, regular and aggressive.


Low Kickback


Kickback is a safety issue always related to the chainsaw. Kickback happens when the nose of a chainsaw guide bar comes in to contact with a material during the chainsaw operation. Any increased force of resistance will throw the chainsaw back towards the user and pose a serious threat of injury. The majority of chainsaws do have features to reduce the risk of kickback but having a low kickback chainsaw chain will add to safety.


The low kickback chainsaw chain works by limiting the amount of material that can be cut at any one given time. It will cut at a lower speed when compared with more aggressive chainsaw chains. They possess narrow kerfs and require less power for cutting. When looking for a low kickback chainsaw chain remember that the manufacturers tend to have their own trademarked names for these types of chainsaw chain.


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Chainsaw Chain Features


When searching for a new chainsaw chain you will also become aware of the fact that there are many different chainsaw chain features that can come with different sizes and types of chains. These features can have special trademarked names depending upon the manufacturer.


Self Sharpening Chainsaw Chain


It is essential that you always keep your chainsaw chain sharp. Now this can prove to be a hassle sometimes and one solution is the self sharpening chainsaw chain. They work by keeping the chain teeth filed as the chain passes around the chainsaw guide. As good as it sounds this type of feature though does not always sharpen the chain evenly. So you need to keep your eye on the individual teeth and maybe sharpen some of them manually. However this feature will keep a chainsaw chain sharper for longer.




A chainsaw chain needs to be lubricated at all times. A built in lubrication system will include either grooves, holes or both in the cutting teeth and links to keep the chain continually lubricated. This types of chainsaw chains are good for those who think the normal means of chain lubrication are a hassle.


Low Vibration Chainsaw Chain


Using a power tool such as the chainsaw will expose you to vibration. Most chainsaws have features to deal with vibration and reduce it greatly. By using a low vibration chain you will be enhancing this issue even further. How the low vibration chainsaw chain works is by creating a space between the actual chain and the guide bar. This space acts as a buffer against friction and hence reduces the vibration level. If you are only an occasional user with the chainsaw this feature is not one you really require.


Carbide Chainsaw Chain


For a more durable chainsaw chain, the carbide chain is worth considering. Carbide is a hard and tough material that can work for longer periods of time in environments that would wear out a standard chainsaw chain rather quickly. Carbide chains are expensive but their durability keeps them sharper for longer and reduces wear. If you are working where there is sand, dirt and rough conditions these could prove to be a very good option.


The correct chainsaw chain maintenance requires that you always keep the chain sharp and well lubricated. A chainsaw chain that is not well maintained will:


Increase wear and tear on the bar, sprocket and motor of the petrol chainsaw

Perform cutting slowly and unevenly

Require added pressure from the operator to cut

Produces small wood chips


Increase kickback risk

Waste fuel

When you have a fully sharpened chainsaw chain you need to protect it. So when the chainsaw is not in use always use a pack shack bar cover. You want one with a plastic insert to prevent the chainsaw chain from snagging on the nylon.




The tools you require to properly maintain a chainsaw chain are:

A good bench vice with soft jaws

A sharpening kit

Drill with a wire wheel attachment


Marker pen


Stiff brush

Bar edge sharpener




To sharpen the chainsaw chain can be done yourself as long as you have the time and the correct tools. Your first couple of attempts will be quite trying and time consuming. However as you become familiar with the sharpening process it will not take too long before the task becomes second nature to you. For the correct chainsaw sharpening techniques check out chainsaw sharpening. If you do not fancy doing the sharpening yourself then you can always take your chainsaw to a specialist who can perform all your sharpening requirements for you.


Chainsaw Chain Maintenance


How To Run In A New Chainsaw Chain


When your replace your old chainsaw chain with a new one, there are a couple of things you need to do to run the new chainsaw in. By running in a new chainsaw chain properly you can extend it’s working life quite considerably.


After buying a new chainsaw chain, remove it from the packaging and soak it overnight in oil. This will allow the oil to penetrate all the chainsaw chain components.


You should never run a new chainsaw chain on an old or worn drive sprocket. So when you change the chain you need to change the drive sprocket on your chainsaw.


Allow the new chainsaw chain to run at half throttle on the chainsaw without actually cutting. Do this for a few minutes and allow the oil to reach all parts of the bar and chain. It also allows everything to warm up properly.

After allowing the new chain to run for a few minutes turn the chainsaw off and check the chainsaw chain tension. Adjust the tension accordingly if required.


When first cutting with a new chainsaw chain ensure that there is extra oil on it for the first few cuts and try not to exert any pressure on the chainsaw. First cuts should always be light cuts.


Pitch Measurement


The pitch measurement of a chainsaw chain is the measurement of how close the links of the chain are together. The way to do this is to measure the distance between any 3 rivets on a chain and then divide that measurement in half. This will give you the pitch measurement. To do this yourself is quite simple but it is highly likely that the pitch measurement will be highlighted somewhere on your chainsaw itself. And if not then definitely within the operator manual. So check the guide bar of your chainsaw. This is normally where the measurement will be highlighted. If you do the pitch measurement yourself, remember to measure between the middle points of 3 rivets on the chainsaw chain. A final solution for determining the pitch measurement is to take the chainsaw chain to a chainsaw specialist who can do the measurement for you.


The chainsaw chain will come in any of the following pitch sizes:








3/8” Low profile




The 3/8” chainsaw chain size is the most common pitch size around. This sized chainsaw chain is used with a guide bar size of 18” or less. The type of chainsaw that a homeowner would use for general gardening work or cutting firewood. For larger chainsaws and professional use the .404” pitch is the size that is used. Having a larger gap between the drive links allows for a more aggressive cutting performance.


Gauge Measurement


This measurement is the thickness of the actual drive links. The drive links on a chainsaw chain are the parts which fit in to the chainsaws guide bar.

So when you look at a chainsaw chain the drive links are the bottom part of the chain.You need to have the correct gauge measurement for your particular chainsaw so that the chainsaw chain will correctly fit in to the chain bar. The gauge measurements are usually of the following:










The .050” is the most common gauge measurement and the measurement details should be shown on the chainsaw guide bar. If not then the measurement can be obtained using a pair of calipers. This is easily done yourself. However, because the gauge measurement is so small it is recommended that you get the measurement from a specialist if the measurement is not on the guide bar or in your operator manual.


Types Of Chainsaw Chain