stihl chainsaw with close up of chain

Best Type Of Chainsaw Chain

Before you begin your tree clear up, cutting firewood, or even landscaping tasks, it is essential to have a chainsaw in good working order: well-maintained and with a sharp, high-quality chain. This will turn a slow frustrating job into a breeze!

Which is the best type of chainsaw chain?

These are the types of chain you can get for your saw:

  • Low profile: This chain has low teeth and safety elements such as a round radius edge and grind profile; it’s a great choice for non-experienced users as the chain has less risk of kickback and less sensitivity to dirt, but it may require more frequent sharpening.
  • Semi-chisel: The teeth of this chain have rounded corners and, though less efficient on soft woods, it retains its sharpness longer making it a great choice for hard, dry or frozen wood, dirtier wood or even stump removal. Semi-chisel chains also have a lower kickback risk, and are suitable for consumer use, as well as semi-professional and professional saws.
  • Full chisel: This chain has square-cornered teeth which cut quickly and efficiently through clean softwood. These are not recommended for beginners as they can increase the risk of kickback. These chains are mainly for semi-professional and professional chainsaw users.

The type of chain I would recommend you go for is a semi-chisel. They are the chain of choice for most homeowners. They can withstand more dirt, have less kickback, and require less sharpening.

A great chain to go for is the Oregon S56 AdvanceCut16″ semi chisel. It has a good balance of high performance and safety features for new operators.

Matching the gauge, pitch and length

The first and most important step is to choose the right chain for the saw – it’s important to match not only the gauge, pitch and length (number of links), but also the performance level of the chain to the saw.

You should use a more aggressive cutting chain if you own a high-powered saw otherwise you will be wasting the saws power. This is usually the case for saws in frequent use or being used on larger jobs. A first-time user may prefer a smaller, less powerful saw and chain combination.

When in doubt, always refer to the user manual for your saw, or the list of compatible saws for the chain.

Are there different chains for different tasks or woods?

Yes, it’s key to choose the right chain for the job. Different chains can be bought to match to the type of wood it is cutting, and each chain will have a different cutting profile or shape depending on how aggressive you want to cut through the wood.

There are chain profiles known as “Crosscut” used for felling trees, for pruning standing trees, limbing downed trees, bucking a log into short lengths, or clearing brush around our property.

Most of us using a chainsaw at home will be cutting firewood, and hardwood can dull the cutting edge some chains more quickly than others, this will mean you will have to spend more time on each job, which will get boring FAST.

Many entry-level chains may not retain their cutting edge if used on hardwood, or fallen logs (where there’s a possibility that the chain will often make contact with the ground) as dirt will wear down the chain cutting face.

However, caution should noted if you are considering buying a high performance chain for its hard cutting edge. Many higher-performance chains may not have the safety features desired by a less-experienced chainsaw operator. High performance chains can take a large bite which puts more stress on you to hold the saw firmly.

What is chainsaw gauge?

The gauge, which is the width of the spacing on the bar into which the chain in inserted, is often displayed on the saw, usually near the user-end of the guide bar (the blade).

Chains are available in .043”, .050”, .058”, and .063” gauge measurements, with .050” being the most common.

If the chain gauge is too large, the chain will not fit into the channel on the guide bar, and if it is too small, the chain might fall sideways during operation, and cut poorly.

What is chainsaw pitch?

The pitch of the chain refers to the distance between its drive links; if not indicated on the saw or in the user manual, simply measure the distance between the rivets of any three consecutive drive links and divide the measurement by two.

Typical pitches are 0.325”, 0.375” (or 3/8”) and 0.404” and bigger or heavier chains, generally used by arborists, usually have a larger links, and therefore a higher pitch.

How to measure a chainsaw chain?

The length is based on two measurements: the length of the guide bar, and the number of links on the chain.

When replacing a chain, it is easiest (whenever possible) to simply count the number of drive links on the old chain.

It’s important to note that there could be a different number of drive links on the same length of guide bar: if the pitch is higher or lower, there will be fewer or more links on a chain of the same length.

You must ensure that the replacement chain has the appropriate number of links for a proper fit on the saw.

Different chainsaw chains

The earliest saw chains had teeth resembling those of a handsaw, with scratcher teeth (very simple cutting teeth in a [left – centre – right – centre] wave-like pattern) which were very inefficient and slow. They also required a lot of time and great skill to sharpen, so were not a good choice for an infrequent user.

The chipper chain, using a tooth curled over the top of the chain in an alternating [left cutter – right cutter] pattern, was a dramatic improvement on the scratcher chain.

There is also a depth gauge ahead of the tooth, which allows for chip clearing, as well as limits the depth of cut; chipper chains are still used today, usually for dirtier work, as the larger working corner allows the cutter to remain sharp even when abraded.

In recent years, more innovations have been made in consideration of safety and efficiency. Based on the work you’ll be doing and the type of saw you’ll be using, you can choose between different types of chain such as:

What is the chain arrangement?

The chain arrangement refers to the pattern of the links, which is the specific placement of the cutters in relation to the connecting links.

  • A full complement chain has a [left cutter – drive link – right cutter – drive link] pattern and can be used for most applications
  • A skip chain has a [left cutter – drive link – drive link – right cutter – drive link – drive link] pattern, giving it 1/3 less cutting teeth; it’s generally used on long bars (over 24”) for added chip clearance space but is also an effective choice when the bar is inappropriately long for the power head used (as fewer teeth over the same length of chain will require less power from the motor to operate).
  • A semi-skip chain alternates the above patterns, having one or two drive links in between pairs of cutters, and a performance level between that of the full complement and skip patterns.

How do I match the correct chain type to my bar, or to my saw?

It’s best to consult the saw’s manual to determine which chain and bar combinations are compatible. A saw can usually accept multiple bars and chains.

Less powerful saws are meant to hold shorter guide bars, though a stronger motor can handle a longer bar.

A mismatch of chain and bar to the saw, such as an overly aggressive chain on a basic power head, will not result in better performance; matching the aggressive chain to an aggressive saw will give its maximum performance.

How do I maintain my chain?

It is important that, regardless of the chain, proper maintenance be performed as needed to keep the chain in tiptop condition and working most efficiently.

A dull chain cannot cut well and chips in the chain can increase the risk of kickbacks or jamming.

The chain should be kept sharp, and many users advise storing the chain submerged in chain oil when not in use for longer periods.

Always ensure that the chain is sufficiently lubricated to avoid overheating (and therefore “stretching”) the chain, and to prevent the possibility of it jamming.

Please comment below if you found this article helpful. Thank you!

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