Best Type Of Chainsaw Chain

It’s that time of year again – There’s a distinct chill in the air, a time for the pleasant perfume and cheery crackling of wood fires, as well as the dramatic storm season. Early autumn in North America is usually ushered in by a series of offshore storms, which causes untold damage in the hardest-hit areas. With the storms comes the cleanup, as wind and severe weather causes trees to snap and fall.

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!

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Different types of chainsaw chain

A chainsaw is by far the best power tool for heavier DIY timber cutting jobs such as tree pruning, cutting firewood or tree removal.

Many of us have our own chainsaws and eventually we will need to replace the chain. This presents you with the question, “How do I choose the best chain for my chainsaw?”

There is no simple answer. There are quite a few factors to consider when choosing a chain.

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:

  • 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. It is not recommend for consumer use as it is more sensitive to dirt and its lack of safety elements increase the risk of kickback. These chains are mainly for semi-professional and professional chainsaw users.

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.

When and how should I sharpen my chain?

The chain should be sharpened when the saw begins to vibrate or cuts poorly; the engine will run harder while cutting and, instead of curling wood chips, will produce sawdust.

Many professionals around the country offer sharpening services, but for a small investment in equipment, it is fairly easy to sharpen the chain on your own.

Manual sharpening kits as well as base-model handheld electric, and bench-mounted electric sharpeners are a wise investment for the average chainsaw owner.

Most manual kits also contain gauges, which fasten to the bar and align with the cutting teeth, allowing the appropriate edge to be more easily obtained.

It’s important to note that, if using an electric sharpener, it’s best to use many short strikes (rather than simply grinding the edge) in order to avoid overheating, which can soften the metal.

The chain can be sharpened repeatedly, so long as the minimum length marking hasn’t been reached.

The overall life-span of a chain is variable depending on its usage; harder woods or driving the saw into the dirt can dull the teeth more quickly.

Many home users keep a second chain on hand so that they dont have to stop working when the cutting teeth become dull.

How do I lubricate my chain?

Keeping the saw well lubricated is essential to achieve its top performance and can even impact the fuel consumption.

It requires more power and effort to move an insufficiently lubricated chain, which can cause damage to the saw motor over the long term.

As a result, most new saws are designed to be self-lubricating, and it’s recommended that the user fill the oil reservoir when refilling the gas; it’s also important to refill the sprocket lubricant at the same time.

This can be done by inserting the tip of a chainsaw grease gun under the sprocket and slowly filling the receptacle until the oil begins to seep through.

Why is my chain overheating?

There could be a number of reasons causing a chain to overheat: insufficient lubrication, poor positioning, or inappropriate use such as not following through the cut in a straight line or forcing a dull chain.

Regardless of the cause, overheating can cause the metal in the links to expand, and the chain will stretch.

Stretching can also be due to wear and tear on the links of the chain. A new chain may stretch during its first use as the metal adapts to usage.

This can be corrected by tightening the chain slightly using the hand tool provided with the saw.

How do I choose from all these options?

Considering all these factors – saw strength, bar length, chain length, cutting type, etc. – which chain is the best?

Though it’s ultimately a personal choice, the first-time user may still feel intimated by the abundance of options.

In an attempt to clarify things for the DIYer or casual user, I’ve reviewed twelve popular chains produced by various manufacturers, compatible with some of the most popular saws, and in many sizes and configurations.

I’ve included the specifications as well as my findings and impressions, and I will give you the most important pros and cons of each chain.

I will also provide short reviews of some of the more important accessories needed to keep your saw in tip-top condition: various sharpening tools, and a case for safe storage and transportation of your saw.

Oregon S56 AdvanceCut 16″

The first chain we’ll be reviewing is designed for the occasional chainsaw user and compatible with many different saw makes and models (including but not limited to Craftsman, Husqvarna, John Deere, Poulan and Remington), so is a popular choice for homeowners and DIYers.

Features and Specifications

The Oregon S56 AdvanceCut Saw Chain is a low-vibration, low-kickback chain featuring Chamfer Chisel cutters with twin cutting corners; the precision cutting chain, heat-treated and hard-chromed cutter chain is engineered for safety, quality, durability and outstanding performance. This Low-profile chain with 3/8” pitch and a .050” gauge has 56 drive links and fits a 16” bar on a saw motor up to 42cc.

Pros & Cons

  • The S56 chain is compatible with a wide range of saws and will fit older models as well as new ones
  • It cuts cleanly and quickly through up to 15” logs
  • It is easy to sharpen (I used a bench-mounted electric sharpener)
  • It can dull quickly on heavier jobs and require sharpening more often than ideal

My Impressions

I had an old saw that I hadn’t used in years and thought was dumpster-bound, but I was able to find this replacement chain which gave it new life.

I found it to be easy to use with no kickback and minimal vibration. It is great for small jobs such as clearing downed branches or preparing firewood, though it will dull more quickly if chopping hardwood (which may shorten the overall lifespan as it will need more frequent sharpening).

My Findings

This chain provides an excellent value for the price, and given that it can be used with most makes and models of saw, it’s a fantastic choice for any homeowner. I would recommend it for moderate everyday use and even infrequently for larger jobs such as removing smaller trees and stumps or preparing a batch of firewood. It is specifically designed for ease-of-use and safety making it an excellent choice for a new saw owner. 

Oregon L74 ControlCut 18”

The second chain I’ll be reviewing is the longer Oregon L74 ControlCut 18”; it’s designed specifically for use with Stihl brand saws and appeals to homeowners and commercial users alike for occasional usage.

Features & Specifications

This chain has a .063” gauge and .325” pitch with 74 drive links and fits an 18” bar on a saw motor between 38 and 62 cc. Its exclusive OCS-01 Steel provides greater durability while the top-plate filing indicators make sharpening easier; it is a low-kickback saw chain with tough, sharp cutters, which are resistant to corrosion.

Pros & Cons

  • It’s extremely sharp out of the box and remains sharp even after cutting for an hour or more
  • Great value as it’s comparable to Stihl brand chains at ½ the cost
  • Can cut through larger logs quickly and cleanly
  • Does have some kickback, though it’s minimal – so not an ideal choice for a first-time chainsaw user

My Impressions

This is a high-quality saw chain with excellent performance and durability. It’s simple to sharpen and, for an experienced saw operator, effortless to use. It’s designed for use on Stihl saws, and is an aggressive chain – best for hardwood and large logs. It stayed sharp through an hour of continuous use and had very few chips or notches on the cutting edges afterward.The filing indicators made sharpening simple and straightforward.

My Findings

The L74 ControlCut 18” is a fantastic chain for a more seasoned operator, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a first-time user. Its aggressive style is a great match for many makes of Stihl saws – I see this as an advantage and drawback because, though it’s an excellent choice, you are restricted by its limited compatibility. If you own a Stihl saw, and are dissatisfied with the OEM chain, or looking to save money on a replacement, you should definitely try this chain! 

Oregon S62 AdvanceCut 18”

The next saw we’ll be looking at is this larger cousin of our first review. The S62 AdvanceCut 18” is also designed for homeowners and occasional use and is compatible with multiple makes and models of saw, such as Husqvarna, Makita, and Ryobi.

Features and Specifications

This chain has a 3/8” low-profile pitch and .050” gauge with 62 drive links and Chamfer Chisel cutters with twin cutting corners; it’s designed for outstanding performance with low vibration levels and minimal kickback. It’s ideal for use on saws up to 42 cc.

Pros & Cons

  • It’s a good value as the cost is lower than the price of professional sharpening
  • It’s easy to use and cuts cleanly with no kickback
  • It dulls quickly (after 30-40 minutes) when used on hardwood or sandy/dirty wood
  • It doesn’t always hold an edge well after sharpening (10-20 of use between sharpenings)

My Impressions

This chain worked very well out of the box and cut quickly and cleanly through 4 long hardwood logs approximately 15” in diameter; the cutting edge began to dull after about an hour of use. I found it difficult to sharpen with a file, though it was easier with the electric sharpening tool; the chain dulled more quickly after being sharpened. This is a less aggressive chain and is suited for less powerful saws, with a wide range of compatibility.

 My Findings

I would recommend this chain for a homeowner – especially one with little experience – as it is smooth and doesn’t kick back. The downside is that it doesn’t remain sharp as long as some other chains; and, for the price, it’s less costly to buy a new chain than to have this one professionally sharpened. If you already own, or plan to invest in an electric sharpener, then it’s worth reusing this chain; otherwise, plan to buy multiples and replace the chain as needed.

 

Husqvarna 531300439 18-inch H30-72 (95VP)

The next chain we’ll be reviewing is made by Husqvarna and intended for use exclusively on their saws – though it can be used with another brand with matching specifications; it’s compatible with most models (435,440,445,450,455 Rancher, 460 Rancher, 543 XP, 545,550 XP, 550 XP G, and 550 XP TrioBrake) and should be used with an 18” guide bar.

Features and Specifications

This chain was developed with today’s lightweight chainsaws in mind; it cuts a narrow kerf and requires less power from the saw than most standard cutting systems. It has a .325” pitch and .050” gauge, with Micro Chisel cutters and both low kickback and low-vibrations safety features.

Pros & Cons

  • Easy to use; ideal for a first-time saw operator
  • Good performance with smaller saws (38-62cc)
  • Not recommended for heavy duty work
  • Requires adjustments after installing as the chain may “stretch” after 10-15 minutes during its first use

My Impressions

I had read mixed reviews about this chain, so was eager to try it; it was quite sharp out of the package and easy to install. I tried it on pine, cedar, and oak, and it cut cleanly and quickly through all for about 3 cords of firewood. It was easy to sharpen with a file, but held the edge better when I used my electric sharpener. The chain performed well after sharpening as well.

My Findings

Some reviewers mentioned purchasing dull chains or that their chain quality was not up to par, though mine seemed comparable to the one that originally came with my Husqvarna saw. I would recommend this chain for a new user as it combines safety features with efficient performance; this is an excellent chain for the DIYer who has a downed tree to clear or some firewood to chop, but I wouldn’t recommend it for heavier or daily use. 

Husqvarna 531300437 16-inch H30-66 (95VP)

This next chain to be reviewed is a shorter version of the one listed above, with 66 drive links rather than 72. It is compatible with most Husqvarna saws (41, 45, 49, 51, 55, 336, 339XP, 340, 345, 346 XP, 350, 351, 353, 435, 440, 445 and 450e) and a 16” guide bar.

Features and Specifications

This chain is also ideal for use on a lighter saw; it cuts a narrow kerf and uses less power from the saw than standard cutting systems. It has a .325” pitch and .050” gauge, with Micro Chisel cutters and both low kickback and low-vibrations safety features. At 66 drive links, it puts out more cutting power than the longer 18” chain on the same saw model.

Pros & Cons

  • Easy to use; ideal for a first-time saw operator
  • Great performance with smaller saws (38-62cc)
  • Can be used for heavier-duty and/or more frequent jobs
  • Durable and holds up well between sharpening

My Impressions

The chain was easy to install and cut like a dream. It lasted all day without requiring a touch-up, but was easy to sharpen when the time came. The chain performed well after sharpening as well.

My Findings

I would recommend this chain for anyone using a compatible Husqvarna saw. It combines excellent safety features for a newer user with thefast and efficient performance any home user (or even a professional) can appreciate. Nothing beats using an OEM chain on a Husqvarna saw for an ideal combination and the highest-quality cutting performance.

 Oregon R50 AdvanceCut 14-Inch Micro Lite Chain

We’ve reviewed another Oregon chain; this 14-inch chain is also part of the AdvanceCut series and is ideal for home use. It’s designed for use on Stihl saws and fits a 14” guide bar, as always, it could also be compatible with another brand of saw providing that the specifications match.

Features and Specifications

This chain has chrome-plated cutters with hardened rivets for excellent performance and low-vibrations with minimal kickback. It cuts a narrow kerf, and has 50 drive links, a 3/8” pitch and a .043” gauge. The top-plate filing indicators make it easy to sharpen accurately; it’s recommended for saws up to 42cc.

Pros & Cons

  • Ideal for use on smaller or electric saws
  • Highly efficient on lower-power saws
  • Maintains sharpness well under everyday conditions
  • Can dull quickly on hardwood or dirtier wood

My Impressions

It was difficult to find information about this chain before trying it; very few reviews have been published by other users. Under limited use, it appears to hold an edge very well and cuts cleanly and efficiently. Like the other chains in the AdvanceCut series, this one is crafted to be user-friendly and forgiving when occasionally striking dirt, yet still tackle tough jobs like storm cleanup.

 My Findings

If you use a smaller saw, I would definitely recommend trying the Oregon R50 AdvanceCut chain; its advanced maintenance and safety features make it easy for even the least experienced users to handle and it has the power to accomplish whatever tasks the DIYer may need to tackle around the home. I especially like that it fits a smaller, 14” guide bar, and can be used with an electric saw for any city dwellers who don’t want to disturb their neighbours with the roar of a gas-powered saw.

 

Stihl 33rs-60 16″

Next, we’ll be looking at a Rapid Super chain produced by Stihl; this is an aggressive cutting chain, designed with the professional in mind.

Features and Specifications

This 16” chain has a 3/8” pitch, 0.050” gauge and 60 drive links; its cutter and tie strap design significantly reduce the vibration level, while the square-cornered cutter shape reduces chain friction for faster and cleaner cuts in hard or frozen wood; however, it has the potential for kickback, and Stihl recommends using a reduced-kickback bar with this chain.

Pros & Cons

  • This is a very aggressive chain which delivers fast and clean cuts
  • It’s ideal for forestry and industrial use, including felling, bucking and limbing
  • It requires careful sharpening and maintenance to ensure high performance
  • It is not intended for inexperienced users, as the kickback has the potential to cause serious injury

 

My Impressions

I was impressed by this chain; it maintains an edge well through 2-3 truckloads of firewood, but is difficult to sharpen in the field. I was glad to have a spare on hand, though I didn’t get through enough wood to need it. My cuts were clean, the chips were all larger and thrown cleanly away from the cut, and this chain got through the log quickly and powerfully. The chain does kick back, which can be dangerous for the inexperienced user, especially when felling a tree or limbing when holding the saw in an awkward angle.

My Findings

This chain is for the serious sawer! It got high praise from experienced users and definitely won’t disappoint. It’s a great choice for a seasoned operator, who is used to kickback and has had chainsaw safety training, though I would not recommend this for a beginner. The chain performed well over a day’s use, and I look forward to trying it again. It can be difficult to sharpen properly, so I would recommend having it done professionally if you can.

 

Husqvarna H4684 24″

Next, we’re looking at another Husqvarna chain that is compatible with larger saws for operators looking to fell wider trunks, or who prefer a longer reach when bucking wood. It’s compatible with many Husqvarna models in the XP series as well as the 455 Rancher and 460 Rancher

Features and Specifications

This chain, featuring a 3/8” pitch and .050 gauge with 84 drive links, is recommended for use on 50cc to 100cc saws. It has chisel cutters, kickback reduction and low-vibration features for safer cutting.

Pros & Cons

  • It is easy to use; would be a good choice for a less experienced saw operator
  • It delivers a good performance with more powerful saws (50-100cc)
  • This chain is uncomplicated to sharpen and maintains its edge fairly well
  • It cuts cleanly and quickly through many different woods

My Impressions

This chain holds up well through hardwood; I was able to refill the gas tank twice before sharpening for the first time. I’ve used it for felling, limbing and bucking – it performed well for all, and I was careful to keep it away from the ground so as to maintain a nice edge as long as possible. The chain was easy to sharpen with a bench-mounted electric sharpener, though it could be tackled in the field with a manual sharpener if necessary.

My Findings

The chisel cutters ensure high performance, and the safety features (low vibration and reduced kickback) make it a good choice for a beginner – or anyone – who is looking for reliable performance on a longer saw. It’s ideal for a Husqvarna user, though I’ve read that, when replacing the chain on some older model saws from other brands, this chain might even outlast the saws on which it’s used.

Oregon s56 16″ semi chisel


The next chain we’ll be reviewing is the Oregon s56 semi-chisel chain, which fits many makes of saw, including some Craftsman, Echo, Homelite, Husqvarna, Poulan, Remington, and Stihl models.

Features and Specifications

This 16-inch semi-chisel saw chain has a low-profile, 3/8” pitch and .050 gauge. It is designed for precision, providing smooth and fast cuts with less kickback.

Pros & Cons

  • It’s easy to use; with a good balance of high performance and safety features for new operators
  • It performs best with smaller saws (38-62cc)
  • It’s not recommended for a lot of heavy duty work
  • It can dull quickly under some conditions

My Impressions

The blades were quite sharp out of the box, and worked well – cutting quickly and cleanly while felling, limbing and bucking an old oak tree, but after tackling the stump, the chain was quite dull; though it was easy to sharpen in the field and I was able to get back to work. This was a reliable chain overall, and if well maintained, it will not disappoint.

My Findings

This is a decent chain, providing reliable performance value for the price, and compatible with many different saws. It is designed for an occasional user, and is easy to use with the safety features necessary for a first-time operator. I would not recommend this chain for extensive projects, or at least would suggest carrying a filing kit, or keeping an extra chain handy should the first become too dull to use before the workload is complete.

Oregon D70 20″ Vanguard


Next, I’ll be reviewing another Oregon chain; the D70 Vanguard is a high-performance chain for saws between 50cc and 100cc and is compatible with several different makes and models.

Features and Specifications

This precision cutting, heat-treated, and hard-chromed cutter chain features a unique cutter design for smooth and fast cuts with safety features meant to reduce kickback; it has a 3/8” pitch and a .050 gauge, with 70 drive links and should be used on a 20” guide bar.

Pros & Cons

  • It remains sharps even after heavy use and on various projects
  • It’s uncomplicated to sharpen, with top-plate filing indicators for improved accuracy
  • It saws quickly and easily through hardwood
  • It can be sensitive to a lack of lubrication – always check the reservoir when refueling

My Impressions

This chain is a huge improvement over the factory chain on my Poulan saw; it cuts aggressively with minimal kickback and can get through 12 inches of hardwood in under 10 seconds. It needed a light adjustment after the first few minutes of use, and maintained sharpness well under standard conditions. The filing indicators make it easy to maintain an edge, if needed, while in the field. A few strokes with a file when refueling ensure that it remains in top condition.

My Findings

Oregon markets the D70 Vanguard as the best 3/8” pitch chain they’ve ever made for arborists, commercial cutters, farmer and loggers who are looking for exceptional safety features on a high-performance chain; I have to agree. Though this chain may be too aggressive for the new, or occasional user, if you’re cutting more than a dozen cords of firewood annually, or have quite a few trees to fell, this is a great choice.

Oregon R34 8″ Microlite


This 8” chain is specifically for use on smaller saws, such as Craftsman, Husqvarna, Poulan, Remington, Stihl, and Troy-Bilt pole saws or Black & Decker electric saws.

Features and Specifications

This Micro-Lite chain is a narrow kerf cutting tool; its .043” gauge increases efficiency since it requires less power from the saw than a standard cutting system. It has 34 drive links and a 3/8” pitch; it should be used on an 8” guide bar (though some reviewers are reporting using it on 9.5” bars).

Pros & Cons

  • Cuts quickly and cleanly through small to medium limbs
  • Good performance with the smallest saws
  • Not recommended for heavy duty work, though it can handle bucking soft woods with a small diameter.

My Impressions

This chain can give new life to an old pole saw. As it’s not a tool most homeowners use often – perhaps once or twice a year for pruning – it sometimes takes years to realize how poorly the old chain is performing; this new chain was able to cut through 6” branches in less than a tenth of the time it took with my old one. It definitely reduces the time needed to complete my fall pruning.

My Findings

Though I hate to suggest replacing a chain rather than sharpening it, this replacement is such a great value that it’s less expensive (in many cases) to replace than to have professionally sharpened; if you have a home sharpening system, it should take under an hour to do. I would definitely recommend this chain for anyone with a compatible saw who is hoping to improve its performance.

Stihl 12” Chainsaw Chain Loop (63 PM 44 Drive Links)

The next chain I’ve reviewed is this Stihl loop, which is compatible with small handheld saws or pole saws.

Features and Specifications

This 12” Picco Micro chain has 44 drive links, a 3/8” pitch and a .050 gauge; it is a very aggressive semi-chisel chain which was specially designed for light and compact saws. It reduces vibration and kickback levels while combining exceptional cutting performance and quality with user comfort.

Pros & Cons

  • This chain cuts quickly and cleanly through most limbs and small trunks
  • There is a good balance between performance and safety features
  • It is designed for use on lighter-weight saws, so it’s quite comfortable to use

My Impressions

This saw strikes a great balance between powerful performance and ease of use; I used it with my pole pruner, and was able to lop off several dead limbs and shape quite a few ornamental trees in under an hour.

My Findings

If you are interested in an aggressive, reliable chain for a smaller crosscut saw motor or have a longer bar on a pole saw, this is an excellent choice. Due to its speed and high performance, I would recommend it for a more seasoned operator, though a new user could also use this chain quite safely.

Oregon R40 AdvanceCut 10-Inch


The final saw I’ll be reviewing is this narrow 10” chain produced by Oregon and compatible with many makes and models such as the Black & Decker LCS1020, the Cub Cadet PS26 Pole Saw, the Kawasaki KMP01A Multi Task Pole Pruner, and the Troy-Bilt PS720r Dura-Lite Pole Saw; it can also be used with several Craftsman, Echo, Husqvarna, and Ryobi saws.

Features and Specifications

This narrow kerf chain has 40 drive links on a 10-inch loop with a 3/8” pitch, Low Profile technology and a .043” gauge. It has top-plate filing indicators for better sharpening accuracy and a LubriTec system which keeps the chain and guide bar oiled, reducing friction and improving its lifespan. It was designed for use with saws up to 42cc.

 

Pros & Cons

  • This is a long-lasting chain, and is a great value
  • The filing guide makes sharpening quick and easy
  • The narrow kerf requires less power from the saw motor to achieve a fast and clean cut

My Impressions

I tried this chain on an older pole saw and was impressed at how well it performed; it had more cutting teeth than the original chain and threw large chips for quite a while. It was easy to sharpen and worked as well as new afterwards. I cleared a large patch of brush, including several 6”- to 8”-inch trunks, over the afternoon and only needed to sharpen the chain once.

My Findings

This is a great replacement chain, and a great value for the price as it increases saw efficiency. I would recommend it to a landscaper or homeowner looking for great performance from a small, low-powered saw.

Accessory Reviews

Husqvarna 531300081 3/8-Inch Saw Chain Filing Kit


If you’re planning to sharpen your own saw chain, or would like to carry a sharpening kit into the field for emergency on-the-spot touch-ups, this Complete Saw Chain Filing kit is a great investment.

Features and Specifications

The kit contains a filing guide, a round file with handle, a depth gauge tool, and a flat file with a handle as well as a tool pouch for carrying the other pieces. The file diameter is 3/16” and the kit is designed for use with chains with a .325” pitch, though it will work on any chain with the same pitch.

Pros & Cons

  • It is simple and straightforward to use, especially on chains with a filing indicator
  • The tools are sturdy and work very well
  • Manual filing can be time-consuming when compared to using an electric sharpener

My Impressions

The kit came with everything needed to sharpen a chain and made hand-sharpening a breeze; my personal preference is to use an electric sharpener for all but quick touch-ups, but I will be keeping this in my field kit for emergencies. The filing tools worked well, but I would have preferred having multiple sized guides for differently pitched chains.

My Findings

If you’re not certain whether you’d like to invest the time into sharpening your own chain rather than having it done by a professional, or if you’ve bought a chainsaw and don’t have an expert sharpener nearby, I would recommend purchasing this kit. It contains everything you need at a good value, so even if you decide not to sharpen your own chains regularly, this is a great backup option to use if your chain should develop chips or wear while in the field.

Oregon 557849 Professional Filing Guide


Next, we’ll look at this filing guide manufactured by Oregon; this is another handy tool for those interested in sharpening their own chains.

Features and Specifications

This filing guide installs directly on the saw bar with the chain in place; it allows the user to lock onto each cutting link for consistent, accurate sharpening results that are comparable to a motorized grinder. Replacement parts can be purchased separately if needed.

Pros & Cons

  • It was relatively easy to install onto the bar
  • It offers a decent value for the price
  • It is not as efficient to file by hand as it is to use a motorized sharpener
  • It requires multiple adjustments and does not securely hold the chain in place, meaning that the consistency and accuracy of sharpening are compromised

My Impressions

I’d read several reviews noting that the jig did not securely hold the chain in place, and so was expecting to have to modify the guide slightly so that the chain would stay firmly positioned during sharpening. Of course, for unbiased review, I tried the guide as-is before making any modifications; sadly, I have to concur with the other results,though with a bit of work(I needed to add spacers at the mounts, and secure some flimsier parts), this jig is really quite convenient and is easy to use.

My Findings

If you’re looking for a filing guide system that is easy to install, this is it. If you’re looking for a sturdy, well-built jig that provides highly consistent sharpening, this is unfortunately not it. I would recommend looking at other options – for the same $40, you can purchase an entry-level bench-mounted electric sharpener or you can get another manual filing alternative like the Granberg 106B jig for less.

Stihl 0000-900-4008 OEM Woodsman Chain Saw Storage & Carrying Case


The final item I’ll be reviewing is a definite asset for any saw owner: a storage and carrying case; it will protect your investment as well as prevent oil from staining surfaces. This one is the Woodsman case produced by Stihl.

Features and Specifications

This Stihl case is designed for carrying and transporting chainsaws to and from the worksite; it can also be used to store your saw when not in use. It fits most saws with up to a 20” bar (but cannot accommodate a wrap handle) and comes with a removable bar scabbard with built-in tool holders for carrying additional tools to the worksite.

Pros & Cons

  • It is simple and convenient to use
  • This model can be used with many different saw and bar sizes
  • Made of plastic, it’s lightweight and easy to carry
  • The plastic hinges and handle are not extremely durable and can break under unsympathetic use

My Impressions

I had read mixed reviews about this case, but actually like it quite a bit. I especially appreciate the integrated tool storage and the lightweight design; it keeps my saw safely stored away where my children won’t be tempted by it, and allows me to travel without worrying about oil stains in my trunk, or on my street clothes. As I’ve only used it for a short time, I can’t speak to the long-term durability of the hinges or handle.

My Findings

This case is a good option for more lightweight saws or for the occasional user who won’t be opening and closing it often, or carrying it over long distances. The flimsier plastic components – the hinges and handle – can be replaced by heavier-duty versions, but new parts are not available directly from the manufacturer, so any modifications would be strictly DIY.         

So, which chain is the best choice for me?

As a general rule, better quality equipment provides a higher-quality result. A new chain will outperform an old chain every time – though some chains are, without doubt, better than others. As previously stated you should always choose the appropriate chain for the job: consider not only the size of your saw and the length of the guide bar, but also the task to be undertaken (felling, limbing, bucking or brushing), and the type of wood you’ll be cutting.

Many operators prefer using branded or OEM chains made specifically for their saws (i.e. putting a Husqvarna chain on a Husqvarna saw), while others prefer to use a generic chain from a manufacturer like Oregon. Some chains perform amazingly well over the short term but have an overall shorter life span – not a huge problem for the occasional user – while other saw chains cut more slowly but maintain their edge better and withstand more sharpening, thereby extending their overall lifetime.

Another factor to consider is your level of experience; some chains are more aggressive than needed for home projects, and more powerful than is safe for a new saw operator.Other chains will not stand up to the workload of a forestry worker or even a homeowner who uses several cords of firewood annually.

I’ve reviewed many of the most popular choices for you, which is a great starting point; but remember that there’s nothing wrong with trying out a few options to see what saw and chain combination you prefer for your tasks.

How do I get the best value for my money?

Choosing the right chain for your task and saw is only the beginning; maintaining the saw properly is key to getting the best value from your purchase. Some seasoned saw operators store their chains in oil in sealed containers while not using them, insisting that it prevents corrosion and adds to the lifetime of the chain.

In addition to keeping the components and the chain properly lubricated, it’s best to maintain the chain with a light filing as needed and regular sharpening when it begins to dull as a dull saw chain requires more force to push through the wood, increasing fuel consumption and leading to wear and tear on all the components.

A good rule of thumb is to sharpen the chain at each refuelling; however, if while working, the saw begins to throw dust rather than wood chips, and it becomes more difficult to complete the cuts, it’s best to stop and sharpen the chain to improve its cutting efficiency. Remember that it’s crucial to sharpen evenly, matching – as closely as possible – all cutter depths to the lowest. This is easiest to achieve when using a mounted guide or sharpening system.

How can I be sure I’m using my saw safely?

My final recommendation might be the most important of all: please consider your safety and that of those around you whenever you use a chainsaw or any other high-powered tool. Even with the safety features available on modern saws and chains, the potential for serious injury still exists. Even a small, entry-level saw can perform 15-16 revolutions per second – which is more than enough power to cause serious bodily injury, even severing a leg within 2-3 seconds. Incorrectly felling a tree, or causing a downed log to roll while limbing or bucking it could injure the saw operator and any bystanders.

What safety equipment should I wear using a chainsaw?

There are several types of safety gear available: safety clothing as well as personal protection equipment (PPE). For the head, there are hard hats, hearing protection (earplugs or noise-cancelling earmuffs) and eye protection such as safety glasses, goggles and face shields.

Leather gloves with ballistic nylon reinforcement help maintain a good grip on the saw and absorb some of the vibrations of the saw as well as protecting the hands from nicks or cuts while sharpening the chain. Wearing close fitting clothing without cuffs made of close-woven fabrics can prevent material from snagging in the moving parts of the saw; trousers or chaps with ballistic nylon pads protect the legs from incidental contact with the saw.

Heavy, well-fitted work boots with soles appropriate to the terrain are essential, and those made of ballistic nylon offer additional protection against cuts.

Further, some PPE are classed either 1, 2, or 3; the labeling defines the chainsaw speed at which the product was tested and at which it can effectively stop the chain. Class 1 products should be used with a saw speed of up to 20 metres per second (m/s), Class 2 for speeds up to 24 m/s and Class 3 at 28 m/s.

A Class 1 rating is sufficient for most home users; the higher the rating, the more padded – and therefore the heavier and warmer – the clothing is. In my opinion, every chainsaw operator should invest in a good pair of Class 1 chaps or trousers, a medium- to heavy-weight work shirt, hard hat, eye and ear protection and solid work boots. Most articles can also be worn while doing other potentially dangerous outdoor work around your property.

How to maintain your chainsaw 

As I mentioned throughout this post, it’s imperative that you maintain all pieces of your equipment – the saw motor, the bar, but especially the chain – in top working order to ensure that you’re working as safely as possible. Kickback (the sudden upward motion of the guide bar) is the most common, and one of the most dangerous of potential chainsaw accidents. A lack of proper maintenance can greatly increase the risk of kickback, either due to a dull chain, loose rivets, a lack of chain tension, incorrectly sharpened chain angles, or bent, cracked or broken saw components.

A dull chain can also be a hazard as the extra force required to drive it through the wood can contribute to operator fatigue, or even to muscle strain. It’s best to carry a small filing kit or a spare chain for replacement if your chain should show signs of dulling while still in the field.

Educate Yourself

Of course, it goes without saying that anyone operating a chainsaw – whether it be for home use, forestry or industrial work – should consider taking a chainsaw operator’s course; in addition to proper operation and safety measures, courses can also provide information on maintenance such as chain sharpening and saw lubrication.

Many homeowners – especially those who purchase smaller, low-powered saws – will not purchase proper safety gear or learn to safely operate their equipment; I feel that the small cash outlay for good PPE and training is more than justified by the advantages they provide.

I recommend that anyone planning to use a saw, whether regularly, occasionally, or even just for a single project, should educate themselves (ideally by taking a class, but at the very least reading the user manuals and safety guides provided by the manufacturer).

A quick search will yield multiple online classes with varying subject matter online, though many workplace safety associations or forestry groups may offer them for the general public as well.

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