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Chainsaw 101: Chain Types and Sizes

Today, there are almost limitless combinations of sizes, types, and features for chainsaw chains. There are just several available varieties on the market, which is because chainsaws themselves also come in several varying sizes and applications.

Chainsaw chain types:

  • Aggressive (Full-Skip)
  • Regular Chains (Skip-Tooth)
  • Low-Kickback/Anti-Kickback
  • Ripping Chain
  • Narrow Kerf Chain
  • Low Profile Chainsaw Chain

Chainsaw chain sizes:

  • Pitch Measurement
  • Gauge Measurement
  • Number of Drive Links

If you want to replace your chainsaw chain, you need to have all the appropriate information as regards your chainsaw and its chain size or types. It can be somewhat easy to match the right chain to a chainsaw if you have the right information or measurements. However, this can also become a little more complicated, even more than finding your power tool accessories, because of the unique way that chainsaw chains are usually measured.

Chainsaw 101: The Ultimate Guide

Even after matching the right size of chain for your chainsaw, there are still loads of chainsaw chain types, and features that you can choose from that would be a match to the application. However, these features and types are usually much more straightforward than finding measurements. Before we go into the various types and features of a chainsaw chain, let us look at the measurements, which are absolutely important for matching chainsaw chains. It is critical to know that there are three major measurements that every chainsaw user needs to know ahead of time to ensure that the appropriate chain size matches their chainsaw. They include the Pitch, Gauge, and the number of Drive links(they must be counted).

Here is an in-depth explanation of how these features are measured on chainsaw chains, the most common measurements that are used, the method of how to find these measurements, and how to measure them even when they cannot be found. 

1. Pitch Measurement:

The pitch measurement of a chainsaw chain shows how close to each other the links are on the chain. The pitch does not describe the total number of links present on the chain; neither does it give details of the total length of the chain. Instead, the pitch is half of the distance between any three (3) rivets on the chain. Although this measurement is quite complicated, most chainsaw manufacturers display the measurement either on the tool or in the user manual for ease. The following pitch sizes are available on chainsaw chains, and they are usually measured in inches: 1/4 inch, 0.325-inch, 3/8 inch, 3/8 inch low profile, and 0.404-inch.

The 3/8 inch pitch size is usually the most common size of the pitch chain, followed by the 3/8 inch low-profile pitch chains, which are even more common than the regular 3/8 inch chains. These 3/8 inch low-profile chains allow only a small amount of the material to be cut. This is because the “kerf” (the width of material removed during cutting) is very narrow, reducing the power needed for cutting. The 3/8 inch low-profile chains are typically fit to chainsaws with guide bars that are 18 inches or lesser, which are the most commonly used chain for light, non-professional application chainsaws like one that a homeowner might own.

Now the 0.404-inch pitch chains are normally used for larger, professional-grade chainsaws like the ones that are used by professionals such as firemen and rescue workers. The distance between the links is very great and this gives room for more aggressive cutting.

When displayed on the tool, the chainsaw chain’s pitch measurement is usually on the guide bar and is located around the user-end of the tool. The measurement is sometimes displayed very clearly, and other times it is mixed in with other numbers. Therefore, you need to know what you are looking for. If a pitch size number cannot be found on the chainsaw or in the user manual, then the pitch can be measured. However, a high level of accuracy is needed when measuring to tell the difference between certain sizes (for instance, 0.325-inch and 3/8 inch), so it is advisable to take the saw to an expert for it to be measured.

However, if you still think you can measure the pitch by yourself, always remember to measure between the middle points of 3 rivets on the chain, then divide the result by 2. For example, if you measure a 3/8 inch pitch chain, the right measurement between 3 links would be 3/4 inch, which, when divided by 2, will give 3/8 inch.

2. Gauge Measurement:

There is a part of the chainsaw chain that fits into the guide bar. This part is called the drive links, and the drive link is the bottom area of the chainsaw chain. Now the gauge measures the thickness of the drive links when you look at them along the length of the chain. Certainly, it is very important to make sure that the right chain gauge is matched with the saw so that the chain can fit into the guide bar properly.

There are several gauge measurements available for chainsaw chains, all of which are also measured in inches, and they include the following: 0. 043-inch gauge, 0.050-inch, 0.058-inch gauge, and 0.063-inch gauge. The 0.050-inch is the most common gauge measurement. Just like the pitch measurement, the gauge measurement is also usually displayed on the chainsaw, often towards the user-end of the guide bar. The gauge measurement, also like the pitch measurement, can either be displayed clearly on the tool or mixed with a bunch of other numbers. Therefore, it is also important to know the kind of numbers to look out for.

Since gauge measurements are very small, we do not recommend that users measure gauge by themselves (if the measurement cannot be found on the tool or in the user manual). Rather, it should be taken to a store for proper and accurate results. However, if accurate calipers are available, then the gauge measurement should not be hard. If calipers are not available to you, we recommend that you take the saw to a shop to have the chain gauge measured (there are even some tool men who are so familiar with these chains that they will be able to identify the measurements just by sight).

3. Number of Drive Links:

The number of drive links on the chain must be counted so as to get the right chainsaw chain (if the count is not already known). The overall length measurements of chainsaw chains (like “a 2-foot chain”) may not be helpful enough when you need to find the right chainsaw chain. This is because the total length of a chainsaw chain is given as a combination of both the pitch (distance between links) and the number of drive links. This method is the most accurate and best way for chain manufacturers to keep all the various sizes and types of chains in order. Normally, unlike the pitch and gauge, the number of links on a chain is not displayed on the tool or given in the manual. This is why the number of links on a chain must be counted.

Chain-Matching Search Steps

Before you begin a search for a matching chainsaw chain, it is important to go through some steps to get accurate results. Here are some steps that should be taken into consideration before you begin a search for a chainsaw chain that matches your chainsaw:

  • Get the pitch measurement of the chain: This can be done either by finding it on the user end of the tool, in the user manual, or by dividing the distance between 3 links on the chain by 2. We recommend that this should be done by an expert in a shop.
  • Get the gauge measurement of the chain: As stated above, this can either be done by finding it on the use ends of the tool, in the user manual, or by measuring the thickness of the chain’s drive links with a very accurate pair of calipers.
  • Get the accurate number of each drive link on the chain: To get this, you need to count the number of drive links on the chain.

Now, if you have carried out the steps above, the rest is easy. As long as you have those three numbers, getting the right match of a replacement chain becomes easy, and this only takes a moment.

Types of Specialty Chains

Over the years, several types of chainsaw chains have been created to make cutting and sawing faster, easier, and to be best suited for a specific job. There are three types of specialty chains that are common. These include the Low profile chain, the Narrow kerf chain, and the Ripping chain.

Low Profile Chainsaw Chain

A low profile or “lo-pro” chain makes use of cutters that aren’t as tall as those cutters on the standard chainsaw chain. This means that a low-profile chain will make a shallow cut. Some advantages come with using a low profile chain, one of which includes the weight. Normally, a low-profile chain weighs less than the standard chain, making it a good option for low-horsepower saws and electric saws. Hence, the lighter the weight of the chain, the less the strain on the engine.

Generally, low profile chains are available in a 3/8 inch pitch and a .050 inch gauge, and it fits bars that are specifically made for low profile chains. Now, if your chainsaw uses a bar that requires more than 72 drive links on its chain, then the low profile chain cannot fit and will not work with your bar and saw.

Narrow Kerf Chain

The narrow Kerf chain has narrower cutters than the standard chain, just as the low profile chain has shorter cutters than a standard chain. If you use a narrow kerf vision, then you would get a thinner, narrower cut.

Since the cuts are thinner, the narrow kerf chain typically removes less wood than a standard chain when cutting. However, this feature allows the chainsaw to cut very quickly and to use a long bar with a full-size chain even if it is a low-horsepower saw that is being used. A narrow kerf chain is usually an excellent choice for electric chainsaws.

Just like the low profile chain, a narrow kerf chain might be available under a different brand name, such as Husqvarna’s Pixel chain, and some narrow kerf chains are also low profile chains that can help you achieve the same lightweight, high-speed cutting experience. Before you change, therefore, always look out for the compatibility of your narrow kerf chain to know if it matches your saw and its bar. Your bar must be like a bar created to fit a narrow kerf chain.

Ripping Chain

Both the low profile chain and narrow kerf chain can help when you need to do standard tasks efficiently. For example, tasks like trimming tree limbs, cutting branches into smaller logs, and more can be done effectively with the low profile chain and narrow Kerf chain. In contrast to this, the ripping chain is designed for specific heavy-duty tasks such as milling logs into wood planks.

The cutters on the ripping chain can cut at an angle lower than those on standard chainsaw chains (10 degrees compared to the standard 30 degrees). Unlike the standard chains that cut against the grain of the wood, the ripping chain cuts along the wood’s grain. Because of this, the ripping chain can remove smaller chunks of wood less aggressively. This feature makes it the best option for creating finer cuts and smooth planks, explaining why its price is high. The ripping chain can be an essential investment, especially if you plan to use a portable sawmill with your chainsaw to mill logs.

Chain Aggressiveness

Chain Aggressiveness is a very important feature to consider before you purchase a new chainsaw chain. This fracture comes in three different levels or degrees. They are:

  1. Low-Kickback/Anti-Kickback
  2. Regular (Skip-Tooth), and
  3. Aggressive (Full-Skip)


Most chainsaw chains are designed to have low-kickback or anti-kickback features that help to reduce the risk of kickback-related accidents. A kickback is a phenomenon that happens when the upper nose of your chainsaw guide bar makes contact with the material you are cutting during operation. This upper part of the chainsaw guide bar is often referred to as the “Kickback Danger Zone” because if it makes contact with the material during an operation, the increased resistance force will instantly throw the chainsaw back, which is in the direction of the user. Kickback-related accidents are usually terrible and gruesome, and the victim might end up visiting the hospital.

To avoid any damage or injury to the user, manufacturers have designed caution information to help their users. In addition, other online stores provide caution information that often appears at the top of their “Chainsaw Chains” Accessories page to help protect their users against accidents. However, while many chainsaw chains can kick back at any point of use, many others lack kickback protection and are only designed for professionals and experts. Therefore, if you have not received any specialized training for kickback control and prevention, you should only look into and purchase “Low Kickback” chains to help prevent injury or accidents.

However, low-kickback chains often limit the amount of material being cut and may be time-consuming. Hence, the cutting proceeds at a slower pace than with more aggressive chains. Even at that, low-kickback chains still require less power for cutting because of their narrow kerfs. For ease of purchase and to avoid confusion, it is also vital to note that most chain manufacturers have their own trademark names for the low-kickback designs available for their chains.

Regular Chains (Skip-Tooth)

Skip-tooth chains are usually made to have a one-link space between each cutting tooth. This feature allows lower resistance, faster and grittier cutting. If the manufacturers do not list your chain as a low-kickback chain, a full-skip, or as having some other special feature, then it is most likely a regular skip-tooth chain that is often used for professional operations.

Aggressive (Full-Skip)

A full-skip chain is designed in a way that it spaces two links between each cutting teeth, hence providing really low-resistance cutting. These chain types are usually for saws that have guide bars of 24 inches or more. After being trained properly to use the chains and saws of this particular length and cutting aggression, the users often enjoy the extra length because they don’t need to bend down to reach the work area. However, asides from the special convenience that they provide, these chains are often for trained and professional users, and a lot of regular chainsaw users will not have an application that requires this type of chain.

Chainsaw chain features

There are several other chainsaw chain features that are available and are equally important. There are also certain numbers of chain features that are offered for different sizes and types of chains. These features usually have trademarked names, which are given by the manufacturers. However, those features will be listed here according to their functions and properties.

1. Self-Sharpening Chains:

Self-sharpening chainsaw chains are designed with features that allow the teeth to file themselves as the chain passes around the guide bar. According to statistics, sharpening is one of the biggest maintenance problems that chainsaw users face, and it is usually best done by experts to avoid ruining the blades. Using a self-sharpening chain can actually help you to reduce those trips to a chainsaw store and also save costs. However, it is key to know that this feature does not always sharpen the chain completely. This is why the teeth should occasionally be touched up first, manually before needing to receive regular sharpening maintenance. However, the self-sharpening chain features will still make sure the chain remains sharper for a longer time.

2. Built-In Lubrication:

Chainsaws are designed to have many design features that would help keep the chains lubricated during operations. These features usually include grooves and holes in the cutting links, ensuring that the lubricant stays on the chain during cutting. Constant lubrication is obviously an essential maintenance method for any moving cutting tool such as a chainsaw. Hence, users should try to consider this feature, especially if maintaining proper lubrication through regular means feels like a hassle to them.

3. Low-Vibration Chains:

Both chainsaws and the chains receive vibration ratings from standardized testing. These ratings are quite important because constant use of vibrating tools such as chainsaws can cause serious health dangers to the hands or elbow (including pain, white finger syndrome, numbness, burning sensation, etc.) To tackle this problem, many chain manufacturers provide necessary design features that can greatly reduce vibration, and ultimately the risk of health problems. They can accomplish this by creating a space between the chain and the guide bar, which acts as a resistance against friction, reducing vibration. Chainsaw vibration should not be of much concern to users if they operate the saws only for occasional uses. However, if using the saw as part of your daily routine, then a low-vibration chain is the perfect option.

4. Ripping Chains:

Most users searching for chain types would certainly have run into this. Ripping chains are usually for a very specialized and professional operation that involves the cutting lengths of wood along the grain. Ripping chains are not for standard regular or normal applications because they require extra skills and techniques.

5. Carbide Chains:

Carbide is a type of material that is extremely hard and durable. Although it is quite brittle, carbide can shatter if it is struck with force. Now certain chainsaw chains are made with carbide. These chains are designed to have more durability, especially in cutting situations that should quickly and totally wear out a normal chain. However, these chains can be costly compared to the normal types, so they are usually only considered for operations in the dirt, sand, cold weather, and other extreme conditions that would normally cause wear to a chain. Although the durability of the carbide chain can keep the chain sharp for longer periods and helps prevent wear, this feature still results in a trade-off because carbide chains are usually less sharp and are slower during overall cutting. 

Are Chainsaw Chains Interchangeable?

It is somewhat impossible to give a direct answer that fits all types of chainsaws. Whether or not the chainsaw bars you’re planning to purchase will be interchangeable depends on many factors, which include the model of chainsaw that you have, the size of the bar, and more. Another way that might help is by assuming that you probably won’t take a particular brand of a chainsaw and use a bar from another brand on it. However, you might be able to use what is considered a universal chainsaw bar, that is, one that is not related to a name brand but can still suit your needs. Even after doing that, there are still certain things that you have to consider for you to determine if the chains are interchangeable or not.

  • Consider the size: If you are going to be using the same chain for two different chainsaws, they have to be the same size.
  • Consider the tensioner hole: Chainsaws often have a tensioner hole that allows you to adjust the tension of the chain on the bar.
  • There are also oil holes that are present in some models of chainsaws.

At any rate, all of these features must be identical on both chainsaws for you to be able to use the chain bar on either of them. So if the tensioner hole on your chainsaws does not line up, if the sizes are not the same, or if the bolt slot is not placed in the same length on both tools, it simply won’t work.

If you are sure that all these features actually match, then the next step is to remove the chains on one chainsaw and place it on the other one. Make sure it actually works for a while before concluding. If your chainsaw does not have any problems, then you know for sure that you can use that same chain for both of the tools.

Final Remarks

Because the chainsaw is just one type of power tool accessory, there are several things to understand about the chains. Once that can be understood, then you’re clear. We only hope this article has been able to help you regarding the maintenance of your chainsaw. Good luck!