When you’re looking to buy a new chainsaw, some of the terms you come across can be pretty confusing, especially when it comes to the saw’s chain. In this article, I’ll explain some of these terms in simple English and answer some of those questions you may not be sure about.
What are the components of a Chainsaw chain?
The chain essentially consists of four parts as shown below, although there are two types of cutter – a left hand and right hand cutter (also known as the teeth).
I’ll refer to some of these terms later in the article.
What is the chainsaw pitch?
When you are looking at chainsaws, reference is often made about the chain’s pitch. This is the distance, measured in inches, between three consecutive rivets as demonstrated in the diagram below.
There are several different sizes of pitch, but the most popular sizes found in homeowner saws are 3/8” and 0.325”. So what’s the difference? Well, a larger pitch generally means it is bigger and heavier. In this case it would be the 3/8” pitch and indeed this is the most popular size for professional users as it offers a good compromise between weight, flexibility, strength and cutting speed. Does this mean that it’s superior to a 0.325” model? Absolutely not – many popular saws run this smaller chain. As well as being lighter they can also be considered as ‘high speed’ and are capable of excellent cutting performance.
What is the chain gauge?
The gauge is the thickness of the drive link where it fits into the guide bar groove. Like the pitch it is also measured in inches and three sizes are 0.05” (the most popular), 0.058” and 0.063”. The larger the gauge, the stronger but heavier the chain tends to be and weight affects performance. As you can see there are pros and cons. With a smaller gauge you will get better performance but a less robust and durable product.
What are standard, semi-skip and full skip chains?
These terms refer to the number and configuration of the cutting teeth.
The standard class has the greatest number of cutting teeth. When it comes to jobs that require small cuts, it is the fastest and smoothest of the three arrangements. It is popular on short and medium length bars for users who do a lot of limbing.
A full skip type has its cutting teeth spread quite widely apart. They are often used where there is a lot of long-cutting. As the chips for this type of cutting get carried quite a distance before being expelled, they often get caught in the spaces under the teeth. Widening the distance between the teeth helps to more easily get rid of the debris and prevent it from clogging the chain. The downside of this type of arrangement is that they are prone to vibration, not ideal when it comes to short cuts and more importantly it increases the chances of kick-back.
The semi-skip variety is a compromise between the standard and full-skip versions. Half of the cutters are close together – as with the standard model – and half are spread like the full-skip. Although they offer flexibility they are the least popular type.
In summary, standard chains are best for small cuts (such as limbing) and provide a smooth cut. They do not have as much kick-back potential as full-skip versions and are therefore popular on homeowner saws. The downside is that because they have more teeth, there is more work involved sharpening the chain. Full skip saws are best used on large cuts (such as cutting through a large tree), where a smooth cut is not essential. For bars under 24 inches long, the full complement standard models are recommended.
I’ve read about low profile chains – what are they?
These were developed in the seventies and are basically a form of standard chain. They are lighter in weight than your typical standard type and therefore require less power to operate. The difference between the standard and the low-profile is their height. A regular standard is about ¾” high and is suitable for gas saws over 42cc. The low-profile version is 1/2” high and is fitted to electric saws and gas saws up to 42cc.
What is a low-kickback chain?
Most of the chainsaws sold in the homeowner market today have low-kickback chains. These have been designed to deflect the force of kickback and allow the wood to gradually ride into the cutter. To be designated as low-kickback, it must meet all the requirements of ANSI B175.1-1991, which is the American National Standards Institute’s relevant standard in relation to this product.
This version, when attached to a reduced kickback guide bar, means much safer cutting and better protection against kickback. This is obviously a great benefit to the occasional chainsaw user. There are, however, a couple of downsides.
First, the kickback zone becomes almost redundant when it comes to bore-cutting (this is where trees need to be felled in a particular direction using a bore cut as the back cut). If the saw is used primarily for limbing or bucking firewood, for example, this isn’t an issue. Where is does become a problem is for the safe cutting of large trees.
The second negative with low kickback products is that they are more difficult to sharpen and if not done properly will have a negative impact on cutting performance. If you are not skilled in this area it is worth having the chain sharpened by a professional.
What is the best brand?
Many saws come with OEM (original equipment manufacturer) cutting equipment. Sometimes these can be perfectly fine, other times not so great. If you are looking for a top quality replacement, Oregon are the market leaders. Brands, however, such as Husqvarna and Carlton are also well known for producing excellent products. Our reviews will always comment on any issues with regard to the quality of the cutting equipment.
What direction do I fit the chain?
Most new saws come unassembled so you will need to fit the cutting equipment. This is not usually a particularly difficult task but you need to ensure that the cutting part of the chain is facing the right direction. Unfortunately chains can be fitted both ways and if it is put on backwards, which many new users do, the saw won’t cut.
The correct direction is shown in the diagram above, if you imagine that this part of the chain is on the top of the blade. Another way to consider it is that when holding a saw, the cutting part of the chain should be traveling from the back of the saw to the tip.
How tight should the chain be?
During operation chainsaw chains will stretch and could begin to sag on the bar. If it becomes too loose there is a danger that it will come off the bar and become unsafe so it’s important that the correct tension is maintained.
So how tight should it be? Ideally, it should be a little loose on the bar but tight enough so that the drive links cannot be pulled out of the bar nose. If you can pull on the bottom of the chain and the links are still engaged (that is they do not come away from the bar groove) then the chain is properly tensioned. If the drive links can be disengaged from the bar when pulled then you need to tighten up.
How do I tighten the chain?
This very much depends on the type of saw you have. Many modern saws have automatic tool-less tensioning buttons where it is possible to tighten up with a few twists of a large button. Others involve the use of tools to loosen the guide bar panel and then to turn a screw which adjusts the tension.
Each saw is different and full instructions should be provided in the operator’s manual which comes with the product.
How do you sharpen a chain?
You will find instructions about how to sharpen your equipment in the saws operator manual. I’ll cover this in more detail in a future article but you will need an appropriate tool sharpening kit.
If you’re not happy doing this yourself you should get it done professionally.
As always, I hope you found this article useful.