Chainsaw 101: Everything from Types to Sizes and More

Chainsaws are considered the ultimate gear for loggers, farmers, ranchers, and homeowners. The once heavyweight product has evolved and is now available in many lightweight versions. And with that, the chains that equip the tools have changed as well.

The market is now more dynamic than ever. As a result, the combinations of types, features, and sizes of chainsaw chains are limitless in their genuine sense. So without further ado, let's take a dive into chainsaw 101 and find out about its many varieties and attributes.

Types of Chainsaw Chains

The variety of chainsaw chains are endless. They vary in terms of cutter types, chain sequence, and based on specialized add ons. Each type of chainsaw chain is designed to help you work through different projects. Each serves a particular purpose.

Types of Chainsaw Chains

While the variation in chainsaw chains are limitless, they mainly differ on the following variations:

  • Chain sequence
  • Cutter type 
  • Specialized add-ons 

So let's get into chainsaw 101 types and sizes and take a look at the different kinds of chainsaw chains based on these variations.

Chain Sequence

Chain sequence refers to the arrangement of chains. It essentially means that chainsaw chain types vary based on the spacing between their teeth. Therefore, how a chainsaw chain functions depend on the distance between its cutters.

Note that this is not the same as the pitch of the chain. Pitch refers to the space between links. Links are not permanently attached to the chain's teeth.

Chain Sequence

So based on the chain sequence, there are three main types of chainsaw chains:

Full Skip or Aggressive Chainsaw Chain

Full skip chainsaw chains come with fewer cutters. But their bars are much larger, measuring at least 24 inches.

These chainsaw chains are compatible with larger and heavier chainsaws. However, they can't perform well with smaller chainsaws as their cutters are arranged at large bars.  

Full Skip

The specialty of this type of chainsaw chain is that they are highly efficient and are specifically designed for high-performance cutting. Nevertheless, this is not credited to their fewer teeth. Instead, these chains come with fast operational speed, resulting from the smartly engineered arrangement of the teeth.

They can cut larger portions of wood at a much faster pace. However, their fast cuts don't necessarily translate to smooth cuts. These chains are excellent for cutting limbs, firewoods, and other DIY tasks where smoothness is not important.

Semi-Skip Chainsaw Chains

Chains that have mid-grade chain arrangements are labeled as semi-skip chainsaw chains. Professional cutters and carpenters widely use these chains. The cutters in these chains have one or two links in between.

They differ from full-skip chains in that these chainsaw chains are not as powerful. Neither are they as fast as the full-skip chainsaw chains. However, they help carpenters achieve perfect cuts in specific tasks.

Semi-Skip Chainsaw Chains

These chains offer an incredible balance between efficiency and power. And their cuts turn out to be a lot smoother than that of full-skip chains.

Standard or Full-House Chainsaw Chains

This type of chainsaw chains has the most teeth with bars larger than that of full-skip chainsaw chains. The standard chainsaw chains are compatible with chainsaws with guide bars that are not more than 24 inches.

Standard or Full-House Chainsaw Chains

The chain offers very smooth cuts, which helps carpenters carry out exemplary woodwork projects. It is perfect for projects that demand extremely fine finish, such as cutting timber used in buildings. However, it cannot cut wood as fast as full skip chains. It's even slower than semi-skip chains.

Cutter Type

Cutter type determines the shape of a chainsaw chain. It mainly refers to the angle at which a chain's cutter is bent. Based on the cutter type, there are three main types of chainsaw chains:

Full-Chisel Chainsaw Chains

Full-chisel cutters have teeth that feature a square corner. It results in high efficiency and speedy cut. However, these chains are not great for achieving smooth cuts. So the full-chisel chain types are primarily used by carpenters to cut hardwoods where smoothness is not very important.

These chainsaw chains are also used to cutting down entire trees, logs, and limbs. They are also used to cut firewood. All in all, these chains are incredibly efficient. And the best part is that they do not have any prominent shortcomings.

Full-Chisel Chainsaw Chains

To name some of their minor drawbacks, we have to mention their short durability. These chains are not the best when it comes to durability. They cannot withstand rough cutting conditions. The chain will sustain damage if you use it to cut dirty woods.

In addition, since these chains work at extremely high speeds, there is a greater risk of getting a kickback from it. Therefore, they are not used for smooth cutting as well. As noted before, the full-chisel chainsaw chains fail to make clean cuts and fine finish. As a result, they are not used for cutting softwood.

Semi Chisel Chain

The semi-chisel chains come with cutters with rounded corners and are a bit slower than the full-chisel chains. However, what it lacks in speed, the chain makes up for it in reliability and performance. They differ from full-chisel chains in that, and you can use these chains to achieve a fine finish.

This, in turn, makes them excellent for handling softwood.

Semi Chisel Chain

In addition, the semi-chisel chains work well in rough environmental conditions, including cutting dry, dirty, or frozen woods. So it is safe to say that the chains are great for cutting a wide array of timber without any trouble.

Moreover, since the chain operates relatively slower, there is a lower chance of kickback. So it ensures a greater level of safety for the carpenter.

Low Profile or Chipper Cutter

Low profile or chipper cutter features rounded teeth like semi-chisel cutters. It is among the most widely used chainsaw chains in the industry. So it offers commercially available options, which opens the door to a whole new market for users.

It is also referred to as a lo-pro chain. These cutters make proper use of the chainsaw cutters that aren't as tall or deep as the standard chains. That is to say; the chains are great for making shallow cuts.

In addition, they are great in terms of weight as the chains weigh far lesser than other chains of this category. And even a beginner knows that the lighter the weight, the easier it is to operate. It also applies less strain on the engine, therefore ensuring a longer lifespan.

Since the market is huge, the product is designed with safety in mind. It is engineered to prevent kickbacks, ensuring other safety elements. Besides, the chain can cut through a wide range of wood types. However, it cannot attain very high speed, unlike the full-chisel chain.

Low Profile

A low-profile cutter generally comes with a pitch measure of 3/8 inches and a 0.05-inch gauge measure. These chains fit the bars of chainsaws that are made according to their specifications.

So, all things considered, the chain is an excellent pick for amateur carpenters, homeowners, and DIYers. It can cut various kinds of wood while ensuring safety for the user.

While it is very beginner-friendly, you should keep in mind that it will need sharpening a lot more often than its counterparts. That means it may not be as durable as the other chain types.

Specialty Chains

Several chainsaw chains are designed with certain functions in mind. These specially constructed chains make the work at hand simple and quick.

Chainsaw Chains

Let's take a look at some of the most popular specialized chains.

Ripping Chain

The ripping chainsaw chains are designated for heavy-duty tasks such as cutting entire logs into wood planks. These chains can cut at low angles. It can go lower than that any standard chainsaw chain. For example, you can rely on it to cut at 10 degrees, while a standard chain would be able to cut at an angle of 30 degrees.

Moreover, the ripping chain is able to cut along wooden grains. As a result, the ripping chain can easily remove small chunks of wood with much less aggression compared to standard chainsaw chains.

Ripping Chain

Needless to say, these chains are incredible for achieving smooth wood planks and fine cuts. All these amazing features explain why the chain stands at a higher price point.

These specialty chains are often considered a great investment for carpenters as they can entertain a range of tasks. The chains are especially great for people who are planning to use portable chainsaws or sawmills due to their lighter weight.

Narrow Kerf Chain

Just as the low profiles feature shorter cutters, narrower kerf chains feature narrow cutters. These chains will help you get narrow and thin cuts due to the chainsaw chain's narrow teeth. In addition, since the cutters are narrow, the chains are known to get rid of less wood from your project.

In addition, the chain is lightweight and puts less pressure on the motor. So this is meant to last a lot longer than a standard chainsaw chain. The chain also cuts through the wood much faster. So a narrow kerf chain is an excellent pick if you're pairing it with an electric chainsaw or sawmill.

Narrow Kerf Chain

Narrow kerf chains are also widely used, therefore widely commercialized in the market. As a result, you'll find a range of options when you're trying the pick the best chainsaw chain. Note that some narrow kerf chains double as low-profile chains and offer much lighter products than most competitors.

Sizes of Chainsaw Chain 

Now you know about the many combinations of chainsaw chain types and sizes. However, there is a lot that you need to consider in your quest for the right chainsaw chain. So let's take a look at some of the essential measurements you need to factor in while getting the suitable chain.

Sizes of Chainsaw Chain

Pitch Measurement

The chainsaw chain's pitch is essential to determine how close the links are connected to each other. Note that it does not help count the total number of links that the chain has, nor does it measure the length of the chainsaw chain.

The pitch is measured as half the distance between three consecutive rivets present on a chain. However, the measurement is not as simple. So most chainsaw chain manufacturers calculate themselves and present the pitch measurement on the packaging or the manual.

The most common pitch measurements are 1/4 inches, 3/8 inches, 0.325 inches, and 0.404 inches.

So you can choose a chainsaw based on your needs. First, consider the pitch size and pick one that fits your particular requirements. The market is full of commercialized chains now, so you won't have trouble finding the right one for yourself. If you cannot find the pitch size on the box, you can measure it yourself.

How to measure the pitch of a chain, you may ask. First, measure the length between three rivets in a chainsaw chain. Then simply divide the number by 2. This is chainsaw 101, and we hope you don't need to go to an expert to get this measurement.

Common Pitch Sizes

The most common pitch measurement is 3/8 inches. It is followed by a low-profile version of the same size, allowing very small and sharp cuts. These small cuts are a result of the very narrow kerf, which refers to the width of wood that a chainsaw can cut through.

Narrow kerfs allow the chains to operate using very little power. These 3/8 inches low-profile chains are ideally compatible with chainsaws with a guide bar of 18 inches or less. Such a chain is mostly used by amateur carpenters who work on personal projects.

Chainsaw Chains

Let's look at the chains with a 0.404-inch pitch next. These are professional-grade chains that are compatible with larger chainsaws. They allow deeper and more aggressive cuts, which help you cut through more robust materials.

These chains are used mainly by rescue workers and firefighters when they are out on a mission.

Number of Drive Link

The drive link is the base or bottom area of a chainsaw chain. This is the only part of a chain that fits into the guide bars. 

Moreover, the number of drive links in a chain is a vital factor that will help you get the perfect chainsaw chain. It also helps manufacturers measure the total length of a chain. The total size of a chainsaw chain is measured by combining both the pitch size and the number of links.

So manufacturers use both of these measurements to keep track of chains of different sizes. However, you will not find the number of links labeled anywhere in the box, unlike pitch measurement or the size of a chain. This is why you will need to count it manually.

Gauge Measurement

Gauge is the measurement of the thickness of a drive link when viewed along the length of the chainsaw chain. This is an important factor to consider when matching your chainsaw with a chain as it helps identify whether the chain will fit the guide bar.

The chainsaw chains come in a wide array of gauge measurements, all measured in inches. They generally range between 0.043 inches to 0.063 inches. Among the many sizes of chainsaw chain gauge, the most common is 0.05 inches.

Gauge Measurement

Just like the pitch measurement, you will find the gauge measurement displayed on the chain's box most of the time. However, it is often given at the end of the guide bar as well, making sure that the number is never lost. That's how important it is to factor in the gauge measurement.

How to Match Your Chain with Chainsaw?

Finding the right chain for your chainsaw is not an easy task. But in this chainsaw 101 guide, we will walk you through the steps you need to follow during your search.

How to Match Your Chain with Chainsaw

Get the Chain's Pitch Measurement

Most of the chainsaw chains come with the pitch measurement on the packet, user manual, or on the user end of the chain. If you still can't find it, proceed to measure it yourself.

Find the distance between three consecutive drive links on the chainsaw chain. Then divide it by 2. Note that while the process seems rather simple, there are still scopes of errors that may result in a wrong purchase. So we recommend you get it measured by experts in the nearest gear shop.

Find the Accurate Number of Drive Links

Simply measure the number of drive links that are present on the chainsaw chain. Drive links are the bottom part of a chain, which are very easily visible. So take the accurate count so that you can match your chain with the right chainsaw.

Get the Chain's Gauge Measurement

Like the pitch measurement, you are likely to find the gauge measurement on the user end of the product. You can also find it in the user manual. And if not, you can get the measure yourself by taking the thickness of a drive link on the chainsaw chain. Again, make sure to use a very accurate set of calipers.

Features of Chainsaw Chain

Besides the features mentioned above, there are several other essential features that you need to look out for in a chainsaw chain. Let's take a look at those features that your chainsaw chain should have:

Features of Chainsaw Chain

Vibration Reduction System

This is a standard feature in all modern and industrialized chainsaws. The component consists of rubber bushing and springs. They connect the chainsaw chain's front end and the rear handles with the guide bars and the tool's engine.

This clever design helps absorb excessive shock that may be produced during the chainsaw's operation and lower the vibration of the gear.

Both chainsaw and its chain experience tremendous vibration during operation. They go through standardized testing during the manufacturing process to identify vibration ratings. These ratings help users understand how compatible the tool would be for a particular task.

Being exposed to heavy vibration for a long time may cause serious health damage to carpenters, including white finger syndrome, burning sensation, pain, and numbness. The vibration control feature is designed to tackle these health issues and provide a healthy experience for users.

However, the vibration should not be a concern for users if they use the chainsaw only occasionally. It does not cause health issues in such a case. But if it's something that you turn to on a regular basis, you should definitely keep the vibration level in check.

Built-in Lubrication

Built-in lubrication is a chainsaw's best friend. It keeps the chainsaw speedy and efficient for a long time.

Unfortunately, the chainsaw chains that come without any built-in lubrication system often fail to maintain a fast operation after a while.

Without the lubricant, the speed at which the chainsaw chain moves along the guide bar decreases. This eventually causes degradation for the chainsaw itself.

So, the best chainsaws come with a range of features that will help keep the chain automatically lubricated for a long time. The products are designed to keep on lubricating during operations as well.

Features of Chainsaw Chain

The lubrication features include holes in the cutting drive links, grooves, and more. And, the holes in the link make sure that the lubricant stays put into the chainsaw chain during operation. So once you put lubricating oil onto the chain, rest assured that it will stay on for quite some time.

Lubrication is an essential feature for a cutting tool like a chainsaw. Its entire performance relies on it. So you should consider how well the lubrication feature is in a chainsaw before confirming a purchase.

Muffler

Chainsaw chains can be very noisy sometimes; that's no secret. But the good news is that many modern chainsaws come with a muffler. It is an essential feature for gas-powered gears as they produce a lot of noise.

The primary function of a muffler is to keep the noise of the chainsaw in check. It reduces the noise and directs the chainsaw's exhaust further away from the user. So you can relax a little even while using the chainsaw.

However, keep in mind that the muffler should not be touched at any cost. It can heat up very easily and will cause serious injuries if you touch it. The muffler can even exceed temperatures greater than 900 degrees Fahrenheit, causing severe burns if you accidentally touch it.

Self-Sharpening Feature

Sharpening is one of the biggest maintenance concerns for cutting tools like chainsaws. Users spend hundreds of dollars to resharpen the chainsaw chain and keep it operational.

However, the good news is, the expansion of this industry has brought about many fantastic features in a chainsaw, including the self-sharpening quality.

And getting a chainsaw that has self-sharpening features will reduce half your maintenance issues. The process will be so much easier from then onward. These chainsaws come with teeth that are able to file themselves as the chainsaw chain goes around its guide bar.

Using a chainsaw chain will save you some trips to the experts for resharpening the chain, and it saves a lot of costs as well.

But here's the reality check: you can't always rely on the self-sharpening feature. While the trips will not need to be as frequent, you will still need to get it resharpened manually sometimes.

However, the self-sharpening feature will help you keep the chain sharp and in shape for a lot longer than a regular chainsaw chain.

Carbide Chains

Carbide chains are often very sturdy, rigid, and durable. While these chains are designed for durability, they can also be quite brittle. Carbide chains will most likely shatter rather quickly when struck with force. Very specific chainsaws are compatible with carbide chains.

These chains are also very fast in their operations. They are used for specific cutting situations where the wood needs to be cut very fast and may wear out a regular cutting chain.

Carbide Chains

They perform well in extreme weather conditions as well. Without a hitch, the carbide chains will cut through dirt, frozen wood, sand, and more.

However, aside from cutting through such extreme conditions, carbide chains are relatively expensive and less sharp than many of the regular chainsaw chains. These are considered as trade-offs for the greater durability and ability to operate in extreme conditions without trouble.

Spark Arrestor

This is an integral part of the chainsaw chain's exhaust system. Its primary function is to prevent the spark generated during operation from leaving the chainsaw. This is essential because the spark may end up creating fire around the project.

The arrestor is located right under the cover of the muffler. It looks like a rectangular mesh screen prevents the exhaust generated by the chainsaw from leaving.

Note that the rectangular body may be blocked by sawdust, dirt, carbon buildup, and such. And the engine will not be able to operate if the arrestor is clogged up.

So you'll have to make sure to clean the arrestor every once in a while to ensure the durability of the chainsaw. You'll need to clean the arrestor with a carburetor cleaner fluid; make sure to let it cool before removing it from the body of the chainsaw.

If it's not cleaned up regularly, it will eventually get clogged by the sawdust, and you'll need to replace the arrestor.

Can You Interchange Chainsaw Chains?

It is not possible to give a straightforward answer to this question, as there is no particular chain that will fit chainsaws of all types. So whether you can interchange the chainsaw chain will depend on several factors.

You'll have to consider the model of the chainsaw that you're using, the chain's pitch measurement, gauge measurement, guide bars, number of drive links, and so much more.

Another important feature to remember is that you should not use a chainsaw bar from one brand with the chainsaw body of another brand as it might not be compatible. It might not always be a problem. In fact, many experts mix and match chainsaws and chains from different brands, as long as they are compatible.

If you're looking to replace your chain after several years, then you might have some trouble finding the same chain from the brand or another compatible chain from the same brand. In such a case, you will have no other option than to mix and match with another brand.

Remember that chainsaw chains and bars come in all kinds of sizes, shapes, and types. Our guide to chainsaw 101 types and sizes has discussed different combinations of these features.

Can You Interchange Chainsaw Chains

So even if you're planning on mixing different brands, make sure to check compatibility. Of course, you can always consult an expert in this regard.

Here are a few things that you'll need to consider in order to find the right chainsaw chain that you can interchange with the existing one. Of course, these features will need to be identical on both chains if you're planning on interchanging them.

Be Sure of the Size of the Chain

If you're looking to interchange the chain, they both have to be the same size and offer the same measurements.

Look for the Lubrication Holes

Some models of chainsaw chains come with lubrication holes, also known as oil holes. This is an important feature that will keep the chain efficient for a long time.

Check for the Tensioner Holes

Tensioner holes are designed to help you adjust the chain's tension, placed on the guide bar. Take a look at the new chain to see whether the tensioner holes are compatible.

Conclusion

Chain is only the most crucial part of a chainsaw. Its performance and efficiency rely on how fit the chain is. So you should always pay special attention to the chain's compatibility with the chainsaw, its features, and whether the offerings will serve your cutting purposes.

There can be a variety of combinations with the chain's size, types, and features. We prepared this complete guide to chainsaw 101 types and sizes to help you find the suitable chain for your chainsaw. We hope that the chainsaw's maintenance will seem a lot easier for you now.

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