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What Type Of Chainsaw Chain Do I Need?

There are a seemingly limitless number of combinations of chainsaw chains with varying size, type and features. When the time comes to replace your chain, you need to be fully aware of what you need.

Your first port of call should always be to look at your manufacturer’s manual, as this will have the specific instructions on the types of chains that will fit on your chainsaw. Beyond that, here is our quick checklist that should help demystify replacing your chainsaw chain.

Measuring your chain

Finding the right chainsaw chain is theoretically a simple process – all you need to understand are the three different measurements that will fit on your bar:

  1. Pitch
  2. The pitch of the chainsaw is the measurement that defines how close together the links exist on the chainsaw chain. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean the overall number of links in total or the total length of the chain, as these are completely different measurements.

    Typically, a larger pitch exists on bigger and heavier chains, which is why it is important to understand the measurement properly, as it must be compatible with the saw sprocket and the bar tip sprocket. Generally, pitches are measured at 0.325” and 3/8” but make sure you check the exact measurement before you replace your chain.

  3. Gauge
  4. The chainsaw gauge is the measurement that defines the thickness of the drive links – specifically the portion of the drive links that fits in the guide bar grooves. The thicker the links, the heavier and stronger the chain is likely to be. With lighter machines, the speed will be faster but not always as effective, so make sure you understand the different characteristics of your chain for the job at hand. If the chain gauge doesn’t match, it will not fit correctly in the bar.

  5. Number of chain links
  6. This is important as it helps to define the size required in the chain. This doesn’t necessarily mean the overall length of the chain, as selecting the correct chain must be a combination of all three measurements. The number of chain links must be counted if it isn’t known - this isn’t always shown in the manual so it’s important to have the number to hand when you are replacing the chain.

Chain arrangement

Once you have settled on the size of the chainsaw, you also need to consider how you would like your chain arranged:

  1. Full complement chains
  2. Full complement chains or standard chains have the highest quantity of cutting teeth. They are designed to be the smoothest and fastest of all of the different chain arrangements. They are popular on short or medium chainsaw bars so are ideally geared towards chainsaw users who do a lot of limbing.

  3. Full skip chains
  4. The cutting teeth on these chains are the furthest apart. These are ideal for long periods of cutting as they are stronger at clearing chips from the wood. As there are fewer cutting teeth overall this means that there are less teeth that require sharpening. The downside is that full skip chains can be prone to vibration and the risk of kickback is much higher.

  5. Semi skip chains
  6. This is a happy medium between the full complement and full skip chain sequence as half of the teeth are close together and the other half are far apart. Although this type of chain appears more versatile, it’s not as popular as the others.

Selecting the right chisel

In addition to understanding the different measurements and arrangements of chains, you need to decide on the type of chisel you need. The chisel signifies how the cutting teeth are cast on the chainsaw chain itself, which then affects how the chainsaw cuts through the wood.

  1. Full chisel chains
  2. Typically, you should only use a full chisel chain if you are an experienced chainsaw user or a professional, as the risks are at their greatest. They are used to cut through the toughest hardwood like oak. You can spot a full chisel chain due to its square cornered cutting teeth that are more geared up to muscle through the wood. This type of chain has a much higher risk of kickback, which is why it should only be used by professionals or experienced chainsaw users.

  3. Semi-chisel chains
  4. Although these chains are less effective at cutting through the wood, the risk of kickback is smaller. The cutting teeth have rounded edges as opposed to the square corners that you would see on the full chisel. As a result, you are more likely to see these chains on domestic chainsaws. Also, this design doesn’t require sharpening as often as full chisel chains.

  5. Low profile chains
  6. These are the ideal chains for beginner chainsaw users as they are the least likely to incur kickback during use. It is for this reason that you see these chains on a lot of chainsaws sold in the retail sector.