Can You Run a Chainsaw without a Chain? Tips from a Professional


The chain is maybe the most crucial part of a chainsaw. Depending on the task, there are different types of chains. Some are better suited to cut logs. Others can even cut through a nail. A question I sometimes get is if you can run a chainsaw without a chain. There can be various reasons you want to do this, like during maintenance or using a chainsaw as a prop.

Can you run a chainsaw without a chain?

You can run a chainsaw without a chain, but I wouldn’t recommend this for more than a few minutes. The engine will rev up higher, and this increases wear and tear. It can also run hot when the throttle is used. Ensure that you empty the bar oil tank, else oil can spray out of the chainsaw.

In this blog post, I will look at the different aspects of running a chainsaw without a chain.

Is It Bad to Run a Chainsaw without a Chain?

It is not recommended to run a chainsaw without a chain. If you need to run it as a movie prop or you are fixing the engine, ensure that you run it for a short time only. I do not recommend letting it run for more than 5 minutes. Without a chain, the chainsaw will cause the engine to rev higher. This can eventually overheat the engine’s components and increase wear and tear.

If you look at a chainsaw, you will see that the chain is looped around the bar while connected to the sprocket. When you’re using a chainsaw, the chain will spin continuously around the bar. The bar is there to guide the chain through its groove, and it does not perform any actual cutting.

Without the chain, the engine will have way less resistance. This will result in more engine revolutions than normal. Particular when you throttle up. Revving the engine without a chain will also put more load on the centrifugal clutch.

Another potential hassle is oil leakage. Typically, the chain catches the oil from the bar’s holes, using it to minimize friction. However, if the chain is gone, the oil will spill out of the bar’s oil holes as the throttle is pushed and may cause a mess. If you need to operate the chainsaw without a chain, I recommend you empty the oil reservoir.

Can You Run a Chainsaw without the Chain?

You can run a chainsaw without a chain but try to do that just for a few minutes. I wouldn’t advise you to run a chainsaw without a chain for more than a few minutes. If you are not careful, you can overheat the engine and increase the wear and tear. Ensure that you empty the oil tank, else it will spray out of the chainsaw.

A chainsaw is essentially non-functional without a chain. There can be various reasons why people want to use it without a chain, like using it as a prop or for maintenance purposes.

Safety advice: I always recommend using some gloves when handling the chain. Particularly when it is sharp, you can cut yourself easily.

What Is a Skip Chain for a Chainsaw?

Skip chains are a type of chainsaw chain with fewer teeth. They allow for more seamless movements. However, you’ll need to use more engine power. There are both half-skip and full-skip chains, each with targeting different applications.

Skips chains get their name from their teeth sequence. One tooth is skipped in each sequence, leaving spaces for the chain to glide through more easily. As mentioned, there are two types of skip chains: half-skip and full-skip. Half-skip chains have different clusters of teeth: some are close together while others have skips in their sequence.

Overall, half-skip and full-skip chains give you a better cleaning ability. The in-between spaces leave more room for deeper cuts. This feature enhances performance, particularly for larger bars. On large bars, skip chains help control engine speed. Moreover, skip teeth are more efficient to maintain. The spaces make re-sharpening edges far easier. For full-sequenced chains, maintenance is more challenging. 

But skip chains don’t work well for shallow cuts. On the whole, you’ll need more engine power to use skip chains, meaning higher fuel consumption. Greater engine power means increased vibrations and the likelihood of kickbacks. As such, skip chains are more dangerous than regular chains. If you’re using skip chains, always be mindful of the kickback risk.

Can You Put Any Chain on a Chainsaw?

Generally, you can’t put any chain on a chainsaw. To make the chain work with your chainsaw, you must consider a few things: bar size, chain thickness, link quality, pitch, and teeth sequence. All these factors determine if the chain will fit your chainsaw and bar.

Most chainsaws have specific chain requirements. As such, most manufacturers sell chains separately for each of their models. But that doesn’t mean you can only use a chainsaw from that brand. If the chain matches the requirements of your chainsaw and bar, you can also use chains from other brands.

If you are unsure what the requirements should be for a new chain, check the user manual or the manufacturer’s website.

Pro tip: chains are also covered under warranty. If the chain broke during your warranty period, you can call your manufacturer and get a free replacement.

The factors that define if a chain will fit your chainsaw are:

● Bar Length

Your chain must be long enough to cover the bar. If it’s too long or short, you’ll have trouble mounting the chain. If you do not know your bar size, use a measuring tape to check it. Lay the two side by side to obtain an approximate measurement. The bar length is the part that sticks out of the chainsaw. Round the measurement to the nearest inch.

● The chain Gauge or Thickness

Chain thickness is also called the chain’s gauge. It tells you how thick your drive links should be. If the gauge is incorrect, the chain won’t fit in the guide bar’s groove. Usually, the gauge value is available on the bar. You can also find it in your user’s manual. 

● Chain Pitch

The third factor is the pitch. The pitch value is the distance between two teeth. Measuring is more challenging. The easiest is if you can find it in your user manual.

You can also measure it yourself. Use a ruler to measure the distance between two teeth on the chain.

● Teeth Sequence

Lastly, you must consider the type of teeth sequence you need. As mentioned, there are full-sequenced, half-skip, and full-skip chains. Each chain type performs differently, so keep in mind your intended use. Full sequenced chains are suitable for small-medium length bars. For large bars, you can either choose between half-skip and full-skip chains.

Should You Start a Chainsaw with the Chain Brake On?

You should always start your chainsaw with the chain brake on. The chain brake will ensure that the chain is not moving and should only be released when you actually want to start sawing. Until that time, the chain brake minimizes the risk of an injury.

When you’re using a chainsaw, your first step should be to put on essential safety equipment. Your next step should be to ensure the chain brake is activated. Only when you are really sawing, the chain brake can be deactivated. If not, you should always activate it. The chain brake makes sure that the chain isn’t engaged when the engine is turned on.

Also, engage the chain brake if you start a chainsaw between your legs. This saves you from any risk of a leg accident. This safety step is quite easy to overlook, especially if you’re in a hurry. I’ve seen plenty of beginners miss this.

If you don’t know how to turn on the brake, here are the steps to follow:

  • Step 1: Place the saw on an even surface such as a table.
  • Step 2: Grip the chain brake tightly, squeezing the activation lock.
  • Step 3: Use your left wrist to press the kickback safety handle. (Don’t release the activation lock.)
  • Step 4: Start the chainsaw by pulling the cord or adding the battery if you use a battery-powered one.

As for the last step, you should never forget that positioning is key. When you turn on a chainsaw, you can do it on the ground or between your legs. But I always recommend starting it by placing it on the ground.

If you’re experienced enough, you can even do that by using a leg-lock technique. The advantage of the leg-lock method is that it can be performed even when climbing a tree where ground placement is not feasible.

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