All about Chainsaw Chains, what are the different types, cutters, cutter tip, material


Chainsaw chains come in a variety of sizes, types, and features. This is predominantly because different chainsaws vary significantly in size, features, and application. When it comes to replacing a chainsaw chain, it is essential to have all the correct information about your chainsaw, including its chain size and the chain features that you should be looking for. Matching the proper chain to your chainsaw is a bit more complicated than matching other accessories because of the unique way in which chainsaw chains are measured. Even if you’re aware of the chain measurement terms, it’s possible to see terms that describe the various styles of chains and bars available that you are not aware of.

If you’ve been planning on replacing your chainsaw chain but are not familiar with the chain sizing and features, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, we will discuss measurement terms such as pitch and gauge and provide you with an overview of the different types of chains based on design, cutters, cutter tip materials, etc.

All about Chainsaw Chains, what are the different types, cutters, cutter tip, material

In general, there are three significant/defining parameters:

  • Pitch: The distance between the drive links on the chain.
  • Gauge: A measure of the drive link thickness.
  • Number of drive links: The exact number of drive links on a particular chain.

Chainsaw chains are also categorized based on chain arrangement, chisel type, cutter tip material, etc. Based on chain arrangement, the different types of chains are:

  • Full complement: This type of chain has the greatest number of cutting teeth and is the smoothest of all arrangements.
  • Full skip: This type of chain has the greatest distance between two cutting teeth and is best for long cutting.
  • Semi-skip: This chain type is a compromise between the two arrangements mentioned above.

Based on chisel type:

  • Full chisel: This chain type has sharp, pointed cutters and is best for hardwood.
  • Semi-chisel: This chain type has rounded teeth and is considered the best option for homeowners.
  • Low profile: This chain type has the least kickback and is best for beginners.

Based on cutter tip:

  • Chrome: The chains have chrome-tipped cutters that are sharp and debris resistant.
  • Carbide: Carbide-tipped cutters are resistant to heat and last longer.
  • Diamond: diamond-tipped cutters are used to cut rocks and concrete.

Besides these features that differentiate various chains, there are some specialty chain types too. We will discuss those towards the end.

Chain Measurement:

● Chain Pitch:

A chain’s pitch is defined as the distance between two drive links, or the distance between the first and third rivets divided by two. This spacing between the links, otherwise known as “pitch”, is significant because it should exactly match the teeth spacing on the drive and bar tip sprockets. In other words, the two parameters should be compatible for a chain to fit your chainsaw.

A greater pitch usually means a bigger or heavier chain. A chain’s pitch is generally mentioned somewhere on it or in the user manual. The most common chainsaw chain pitches are 0.325” and 3/8”.

● Chain Gauge:

A chain’s gauge is the measure of the thickness of its links. Chain gauge is significant because the drive links have to fit in the drive bar’s grooves for a perfect match.

Usually, chains with greater link thickness are stronger and heavier. The most common chain gauges are 0.43″, 0.50″, 0.58″ and 0.63″.

● The number of Drive Links:

Knowing the total number of drive links is vital because a chain’s length is the combination of its pitch and the number of links. In this way, having a record of the exact number of drive links helps manufacturers keep their chain types in order.

When buying a new chain, you should be aware of the required pitch, gauge, and number of drive links. If the new chain is similar to the one being replaced in terms of these parameters, it will perfectly match your chainsaw.  

Chain Arrangements:

● Full Complement/Standard Chain:

The full complement or standard chain has the highest number of cutting teeth, making it the best option for smooth cuts. A full complement chain is simply a full skip chain on a larger bar. The standard chain is used on chainsaws with a guide bar that is up to 24 inches.

The full complement chain’s main disadvantage is that it does not cut wood as fast as a full skip or a semi-skip chain. However, it is the best option for builders because it gives the cleanest finish.

● Full Skip Chain:

The full skip chain arrangement is the most efficient arrangement for fast cutting. The full skip chain has fewer teeth, but the bar is larger (24 inches or more) than the full complement arrangement. You might be under the impression that fewer teeth would result in less cutting power, but this is far from true. Full skip chains can cut larger portions of wood faster due to their fast operational speed and teeth arrangement.

The downside of a full skip chain is that its cuts aren’t as smooth as a full complement one. Therefore, the full skip arrangement is best suited for cutting firewood and other such tasks where smoothness and cleanliness don’t matter as much.

Another thing to note is that this arrangement is best suited for bigger chainsaws because of the particular teeth arrangement and larger bar.

● Semi-skip chain:

The semi-skip chain arrangement is a mid-grade chain arrangement. This arrangement is considered a compromise between standard and full skip.

In a semi-skip chain, the teeth are arranged at points where there are one or two links between the cutters. Unlike the full skip chain, it can’t cut through wood as swiftly. However, this does not mean that a semi-skip chain is not powerful.

Professionals use the semi-skip arrangement to perform specific jobs. While it doesn’t cut as fast as a full skip chain, it offers a firm balance between power and efficiency with far smoother cuts.

Chisel Types:

● Full Chisel Cutter:

The full-chisel cutters have square-cornered or sharp teeth that make them the best for cutting at higher speeds. They are most appropriate for cutting hardwoods when a smooth cut is not that significant. This type of chain is used for cutting down trees and limbs and for cutting firewood.

Though the full chisel cutter is a powerful chain, it does have some notable drawbacks too. First, it isn’t the most durable chain and therefore is not suited to rough-cutting environments such as dirty wood. Secondly, it has an increased risk of kickbacks because it operates at higher speeds. Finally, since full chisel cutters don’t make clean cuts, they aren’t ideal for cutting softwoods.

● Semi-chisel Cutter:

Semi-chisel cutters have teeth with rounded corners. Compared to full chisel cutter chains, these chains run at slower speeds. Therefore, these cutters are more suited to cutting softwoods.

Though semi-chisel cutters lack full chisel cutters’ speed, they make up for it in reliability; the semi-chisel is much more durable. They can also handle rough and dirty environments and can cut frozen and even dry wood. These qualities make these cutters quite desirable as they can work on various types of wood.

Another advantage with semi-chisel cutters is that they have a lower kickback risk and are a much safer option than full chisel cutters.

● Low Profile Cutters:

Low profile or “low pro” cutters are generally considered the best option for beginners because these are the safest. These cutters also have rounded teeth like the semi-chisel cutters. The standout feature of low-profile cutter chains is that they have elements placed between the teeth to prevent kickbacks. Low pro cutters can handle various kinds of woods like semi-chisel cutters but can’t reach a full chisel cutter’s speed.

Low-profile chains are usually available in a 3/8″ pitch and a .050″ gauge. These chains fit bars made for low-profile chains. If your saw uses a bar that necessitates a chain with more than 72 drive links, a low-profile chain will not fit on it.

Cutter Tips:

Besides chain arrangements and cutter types, a chain’s cutting ability also depends on the cutter tip material. Therefore, chains are also categorized on this basis with the material types as follows:

● Chrome-tipped Cutters:

Chrome-tipped cutters are the most common. Both full chisel and semi-chisel chains come with chrome-tipped cutters. Dipping the cutter tips in chrome makes them resistant to debris which helps keep them sharp for longer.

● Carbide-tipped Cutters:

Although chrome-tipped cutters are the most common and considered to be standard cutters, carbide-tip cutters are even stronger. Carbide-tipped cutters are heat resistant and are best for cutting objects that would quickly dull standard chains.

Carbide-tipped chains are usually costlier than standard chains, but they are also more durable and sharper. Professionals use carbide chains to cut frozen wood, cement roofs and walls, and waterlogged wood in frozen streams.

● Diamond-tipped Cutters:

Diamond-tipped cutters are less common and are used only for special tasks such as cutting rocks and concrete. Diamond-tipped cutters are the strongest and most expensive and can only be used with saws and bars designed especially for cutting concrete and rocks.

Specialty Chains:

New types of chainsaw chains have been designed over the years to make them suitable for particular jobs, and they are called specialty chains. Ripping chains and narrow kerf chains are among the most popular specialty chains.

● Ripping Chain:

The ripping chain is a common specialty chain designed for milling logs into planks of wood.

A ripping chain’s cutters cut at a lower angle (10 degrees) than those on standard chainsaw chains (30 degrees). The second difference is that a ripping chain cuts along the wood’s grain rather than cutting against it. These qualities make a ripping chain excellent for removing smaller chunks of wood. Therefore, a ripping chain is the best option for creating fine cuts and smooth planks.

If you plan to use a portable sawmill with your chainsaw to mill wood, you should go for a ripping chain.

● Narrow Kerf chain:

Just as a low-profile chain has smaller cutters than a standard chain, a narrow kerf chain has narrower cutters. So, a narrow kerf chain is used for jobs where thinner, narrower cuts are required.

Since its cuts are thinner, a narrow kerf chain removes less wood compared to a standard chain. However, the more delicate cuts allow your saw to cut more rapidly and to use a long bar with a full-size chain even if the saw has low horsepower. A narrow kerf chain is usually the best chain option for electric chainsaws.

As a low profile chain, a narrow kerf chain is usually available under a brand name, for example, in Husqvarna’s pixel chain. Also, make sure that your bar is designed to fit a narrow kerf chain.

Final Remarks:

When buying a new chain for your chainsaw, you might be tempted to buy the heaviest, most robust, fastest, and most expensive chain available. However, the correct approach is to take into consideration your chainsaw’s size and the power with which it operates. Taking the type of task, you plan to do with it into consideration is also significant. With these factors, you will be able to buy a chain suitable for your saw. In this blog post, we have explicitly described all the properties that define a chain to aid in choosing the correct one for your chainsaw. We hope that we have answered all your chain-related questions!

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