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Can You Cut Ice With a Chainsaw?

Have you tried fishing in a frozen lake? It might sound difficult as the ice layer can be hard to get rid of and dangerous at the same time. Breaking it with a shovel can be a recipe for disaster as the sheet can crack, and you are in danger of drowning and hypothermia. What if we told you that there was an easier and safer way of doing it, and that would be; using a chainsaw to cut the ice? Well, if you haven’t used this technique before, then stay tuned as we explain the process of cutting ice with a chainsaw in this blog post.

Can you cut ice with a chainsaw?

Yes, you can cut ice with your chainsaw. You don’t have to apply any mineral oil to prevent the water from pollution. To prevent the blade from rusting, you will have to look after your chainsaw.

A brief answer is good for those who are short of time. Scroll on to read the detailed answer to this question.

Is ice cutting legal?

Before you even set your foot on the ice, observe the safety measures for a successful chainsawing session, where you will be unhurt with plenty of fish in your basket. Your clothing must be waterproof, warm, and insulated. It would help if you also put on a pair of gloves and boots.

In many places worldwide, the use of a chainsaw to cut ice is illegal because it will discharge harmful lubricating oil into the water body, which will harm marine life. Before you plan to cut the ice with your chainsaw, you must determine whether the lake or the river is located on public or private property.

You will have to pay unpleasant and heavy fines if you cut ice in a prohibited area. You must ask for permission to cut a hole in the ice with your chainsaw because sometimes the water body is a breeding area for the endangered fish species. You must always use a map or a GPS to check the ice sheet’s stability because if there is a hot spring or a shallow area nearby, you will find yourself in the freezing water, which can drown you, or you may catch pneumonia.

Ice cutting chainsaw

You must select a specially designed ice-cutting chainsaw with a non-slip handle. Chainsawing ice is not so different from chainsawing wood if you are an expert at it; in fact, it is easier. You must never make two holes close to each other because it will weaken the whole ice sheet risking your and others’ life as it begins cracking.

Steve Thompson, a guide in Ely, Minnesota, said, “Chainsaws are awesome.” Having used the same chainsaw for more than a decade, he has never needed to sharpen its blade because it will not become dull when you use it for cutting ice only. He says, “I have had it for a decade or twelve years, and you don’t even need to send it in to get it sharpened; just look after it.”

“I am very careful with it,” Thompson said. “The experts advise that you can use it as a chisel to get the hole started in ice, but I always prefer a spud. When the hole is big enough to fit the chainsaw, you can put the spud bar away.

I don’t have to take even the slush out of it,” he said. “A 4-inch hole is large enough to get the chainsaw down into the ice; then you can start chainsawing from there.”

For Steve Thomspon, using a spud bar takes very long by itself, but with his chainsaw, he can cut a hole through ten or twelve inches of ice in less than 5 minutes, and he says you can too, as long as you use the proper technique.

“After starting a hole in the ice with your spud, you must switch to your chainsaw and angle its blade as you cut. To cut a straight line in the ice, you should keep the blade of your chainsaw at a forty-five degree to a sixty degrees angle, not straight upward and downward, and make the cuts in ice as you push its blade into the ice, not while you draw it backward,” Thompson said. “When you need to create a corner, then you must hold the chainsaw straight upward and downward and make shorter and slower strokes,” he said.

“You must gently twist your chainsaw with your hand while cutting to steer it into an arc. Even the minimum amount of pressure must coax it through a corner. After you have made four inches to six inches half-circle in the corner, you should drop your chainsaw back to a forty-five degree or a sixty degrees angle. Make sure you use longer strokes to use your blade’s full length and cut another straight line to the next corner.

You should hit the block of ice with your ice chisel,” he said. “Then you must push the big block under the ice and away from the hole you just made. Now you are ready to start fishing.” The right chainsaw angle is critical if you want to push the block under the ice for a cleaner hole.

“Otherwise the blade of your chainsaw may slope, and then the blocks will hang up and work against you,”  he said

“Before you wet a line, you should spend a couple of minutes looking after your chainsaw. You must dry it off when you are done. Never allow it to become rusty,” he suggested. “Mine does not have any rust on it because I always make sure that it is completely dried after each use.”

“I fold my chainsaw back over and put the pin in it, so it is locked tightly. I then wrap it up in my towel sometimes, only to protect it, so I don’t have anything rubbing against its blade ever,” Thompson said.

Marge Sidney from the Ministry of Environment (MoE) said: “A chainsaw is an integral piece of equipment for BCIT winter Limnology field trip. It has been reliable for over thirty years. It has been in use and has enough power to easily cut through sixty centimeters of ice in some of the higher elevation lakes in the Southern Interior.”

She says: “ A chainsaw is the starting point of all of my work out on a lake with a class. Once we have determined the depth of water, we are standing on with an ice auger and other depth measuring devices. I teach the students the proper way to cut a hole into the ice with my chainsaw. First of all, I put on my safety gear and tell my students that they don’t need to put mineral oil or any other lubricant in the oil tank because the water will lubricate the bar and chain of your chainsaw.

We should never pollute the water. I also tell them, to the best of my knowledge, the original chain of my chainsaw has never been sharpened since the 1980s as it will not get dull while cutting ice only.

I always start my chainsaw flat on the ice, let it idle a bit to warm up for a couple of seconds, and then stand my chainsaw on the bar tip to let it cut vertically into the water. Once the bar has hit the water below the ice, I let the chainsaw do the work by digging the dogs into the ice and rocking it back and forth. You must stand back as there are many splashes of water coming off the chainsaw.

I slant my chainsaw inward to the hole so the ice chunk can come out and you must always make sure to stand outside of the ice chunk you are cutting, not the inside. Finally, I finish the cuts vertically so that the ice chunk will become loose. A pair of ice tongs, many ice bars, and many of my students make short work of getting the ice chunks out of the hole.

Lessons learned

The lessons learned over the years with my chainsaw include; before shutting the chainsaw off, I always walk a distance away from the group of my students and rev the chainsaw up to clear any water, then it is shut off and place up off the ice. There have been times during below zero degree celsius weather with my class that the chainsaw has frozen up and been difficult to start, which is very aggravating.

My chainsaw is more than thirty years old and, now I am using it on ice only. It looks and runs like a brand new one. Check the length of the board, its appropriate distance, and then use the chainsaw to cut another hole in the ice ahead of the board. If you notice sawdust on the ice, you should stop immediately as the board is being cut, so you should quickly move further away.”

Final Remarks

To conclude this blog post, I would say that a chainsaw is the best power tool to cut a hole in an ice sheet with a thickness of about eight inches. Never bring the block that you have cut on the surface of the ice because it will slip and hurt you, instead, push it hard into the water and let it drown. Remember to use very slow movements and never let the ice overpower you.