Not all chainsaws chains are created equal. Sure, they might all look alike from afar – but the chain that cuts and mauls your timber can vary wildly in design and use. Each chain type’s cutters, length and setup are made for a specific application, and using the wrong chain could make your yard work or tree felling more expensive and time-consuming (and possibly more dangerous). With this revelation in mind, let’s jump into a quick run-down of the most popular chain types, what each chain’s purpose is, and which one is best for your new powered lumber cutter.
Types of Chainsaw Chain Cutters
Cutters are the teeth appointed to your chainsaw chain. They’re made of metal alloys that retain sharpness and resist rust and corrosion, and each type of cutter is designed for a specific cutting need. Some cutters are fast, made for the professional lumberman, while other cutters are slower, smoother and more accurate – perfect for the weekend warrior, arborist or casual trimmer.
A Low Profile chain is the entry-level solution for beginner users and homeowners. Featuring smaller-than-average, round cutting edges and safety blocks between teeth, the Low Profile chain is slow and steady. It offers the smallest chance of kickback, sharpens easily, and works on most smaller consumer saws – typically those with a 42cc or smaller motor. The Low Profile also works great for arborists and residential gardeners who need to trim or prune larger bushes and thick growths.
The Semi Chisel chain is the “everyman’s” cutter option. Featuring one of the oldest round cutter designs, the Semi Chisel affords the best balance of maintenance, cutting speed and safety. A Semi Chisel uses larger teeth and cutting edges than the Low Profile. The Semi Chisel is great for firewood, tree trimming and small lumber. This common chain works well on any saw with a 50cc or larger motor, and makes a great option for owners who are comfortable operating a standard saw.
The Full Chisel is the “semi-pro” chain option for advanced residential and light commercial saws. This chain features the most aggressive cutting profile and largest teeth of the round chains, slicing through hardwoods and knotted woods efficiently. The Full Chisel dulls quicker and is less forgiving in its cutting accuracy, yet its teeth are simpler to file. The Full Chisel requires regular sharpening to maintain efficiency – inconsistent maintenance could result in slow cutting and dangerous kickback.
Square Ground Chisel
The Square Chisel is the professional’s solution for those who want one of the fastest cuts of any soft or hardwood. The Square Chisel or square ground, as the name implies, uses highly aggressive, squared off cutting edges to power through the most stubborn or largest woods quickly. The Square Chisel also dulls the fastest and like the Full Chisel, requires frequent sharpening to avoid kickback and to maintain its cutting capabilities safely.
Types of Chainsaw Chains
Now that you have an idea of what cutter will work best for you, it’s time to dive into the different chainsaw chain types. Each chain type is a configuration of how far apart your cutters are placed.
- Standard: The standard chain, also referred to as full-compliment, uses the most cutting teeth of any chain type to offer the smoothest and fastest cut available. Standard chains carry the least amount of sawdust out of the cutting groove with each chain revolution, so this configuration works best for shorter cuts and smaller woods. The Standard chain produces a cut that’s free of rough edges.
The Standard chain is best for cutting wood which will be exposed for appearances or used for building and crafts. This dense cutter pattern is preferable among operators for several reasons: Each cutter experiences less wear, allowing prolonged use in between sharpening. The smoother operation allows for slower, more precise cuts. This denser cutter pattern also risks less kickback because each cutter endures less drag and resistance.
- Semi Skip: As the name implies, the Semi Skip chain maintains an irregular pattern. This chain sequence uses one cutter followed by a link space, followed by a cutter, followed by two spaces, followed by a cutter, and so on. This “in between” chain type offers the most versatile cutting capabilities, producing a relatively smooth edge while allowing larger cuts through thicker lumber.
- Full Skip: The Full skip maintains two spaces between each cutter, allowing the chain to carry the most sawdust away from the cutting groove. This largely spaced chain type is favored among loggers and those who need to cut through long softwoods. The fewer the teeth per chain, the more debris the chain can carry away – and thus, the larger the wood it can handle. The Full Skip risks the most kickback and so this chain type should only be utilized by an experienced operator. The Full Skip’s fewer cutters makes maintenance easier, requiring less sharpening.
How do I Know What Size Chain my Chainsaw Needs?
You’re almost ready to pick the right chainsaw chain – now you just need to know how to measure it. Unfortunately, you can’t pick a chain simply based on your chainsaw’s bar length. Your chain is measured by three variables: Pitch, Gauge, and the number of links.
- Pitch is simply a measure (usually in sub-inches) of how close together your chain’s links are. To measure pitch, you must measure the distance between the left or right rivets on two of your chain’s links. A 3/8” pitch is the most common pitch length.
- Gauge is the thickness of the guides on the underside your cutters’ teeth, called drive links. They, too, are measured in partial inches. If your gauge is too thick or thin, your chain won’t ride your saw’s bar, and some nasty accidents could result. Because gauge is measured so precisely – in one hundredths of an inch – it’s best to let a shop foreman or sales associate help.
- The number of links is self-explanatory, and one simply need count the total number of drive links under each tooth (do not count the actual chain links) to get their measurement. Because of pitch and chain types, one cannot simply use their chain length to get the right chain. The number of links is critical in getting the right chain.
Chainsaw Chain Sizes Charts
Getting the right size chain for your chainsaw is very important, always check your chainsaw model recommendations and make sure you have the right chain for your cutting application.