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Chainsaw Chain Sizes and Types: An Expert’s 101 Guide

Today, there are almost limitless combinations of sizes, types, and features for chainsaw chains. Several varieties are available because chainsaws come in varying sizes and applications.

Chainsaw Chain Sizes and Types:

Chainsaw chains vary by pitch (distance between links), gauge (drive link thickness), and number of drive links. Chains range from low-kickback for safety to full-skip for aggressive cutting. Other features are self-sharpening, anti-vibration, lubrication, and carbide construction.

Step into the realm of chainsaw chains. With a variety of sizes and types, each chain has its unique application. Learn about the different features they offer, from self-sharpening to anti-vibration. Don’t stop here; there’s a lot more to learn!

Contents

Chainsaw 101: The Ultimate Guide

Even after matching the correct chain size for your chainsaw, there are still loads of chainsaw chain types and features you can choose from that fit the application. However, these features and types are usually much more straightforward than finding measurements.

Before we go into a chainsaw chain’s various types and features, let us look at the essential measurements for matching chains.

• Understanding Chainsaw Measurements

It is critical to know three significant measurements that every chainsaw user needs to know beforehand 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 used, the method of finding them, and how to measure them even when they cannot be found. 

1. Pitch Measurement:

The pitch measurement of a chainsaw chain shows how close the links are to each other on the chain. The pitch does not describe the total number of links on the chain; neither does it give details of the entire chain length.

Instead, the pitch is half the distance between 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.

-The Commonality of 3/8 Inch Chains

Which are even more common than the regular 3/8-inch chains. These 3/8 inch low-profile chains allow only a tiny 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 less, 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 typically used for more extensive, professional-grade chainsaws like those used by professionals such as firemen and rescue workers. The distance between the links is excellent, allowing more aggressive cutting.

– Location of Pitch Measurement on Chainsaw

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, mixed in with different numbers. Therefore, you need to know what you are looking for.

The pitch can be measured if a pitch size number cannot be found on the chainsaw or in the user manual. However, a high level of accuracy is needed to tell the difference between specific sizes (for instance, 0.325-inch and 3/8-inch).

– When to Consider Professional Assistance for Pitch Measurement

So, taking the saw to an expert to measure it is advisable. However, if you still think you can measure the pitch 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 correct measurement between 3 links would be 3/4 inch, which, when divided by 2, will give 3/8 inch.

2. Gauge Measurement:

A part of the chainsaw chain fits into the guide bar. This part is called the drive link; 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.

Indeed, it is essential to ensure the correct chain gauge matches the saw so that the chain can fit into the guide bar properly.

Several gauge measurements are available for chainsaw chains, which are also measured in inches, including 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.

– Location of Gauge Measurement on Chainsaw

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, like the pitch measurement, can be shown clearly on the tool or mixed with other numbers.

Therefore, it is also essential to know the kind of numbers to look out for. Since gauge measurements are tiny, we do not recommend that users measure gauge by themselves (if the measurement cannot be found on the tool or in the user manual).

In my two decades of experience, I’ve worked with various chainsaw chains, each with its unique application. From full chisel to semi-chisel, low-profile cutters, and skip chains, the choice of chain can significantly affect your cutting efficiency.

– Importance of Accurate Gauge Measurement

Instead, it should be taken to a store for proper and accurate results. However, the gauge measurement should not be complex if accurate calipers are available.

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 toolmen 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 to get the correct 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 finding the correct 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.

Usually, 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 search for a matching chainsaw chain, you must 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 by finding it on the user end of the tool, in the user manual, or by dividing the distance between the three links on the chain by 2. We recommend that an expert in a shop should do this.
  • Get the gauge measurement of the chain: As stated above, this can 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.

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.

In my career, I’ve noticed that people often overlook the importance of choosing the right chainsaw chain. They either pick the wrong size or type for their job, underestimate their chainsaw’s power, or neglect proper maintenance – all of which can lead to inefficient cutting and potential safety risks.

Types of Specialty Chains

Over the years, several types of chainsaw chains have been created to make cutting and sawing faster, more accessible, and to be best suited for a specific job. Three common types of specialty chains. These include the Low profile chain, the Narrow kerf chain, and the Shipping chain.

Low Profile Chainsaw Chain

A low profile or “lo-pro” chain uses cutters that aren’t as tall as those 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.

Typically, a low-profile chain weighs less than the standard chain, making it a good option for low-horsepower and electric saws. Hence, the lighter the weight of the chain, the less strain the engine will have.

Generally, low-profile chains are available in a 3/8-inch pitch and a .050-inch gauge, which fits bars precisely for low-profile chains. Now, if your chainsaw uses a bar requiring more than 72 drive links on its chain, 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 traditional chain. You will get a thinner, slimmer cut. If you use a limited kerf vision

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 use a long bar with a full-size chain, even if a low-horsepower saw is used. A narrow kerf chain is usually an excellent choice for electric chainsaws.

– The Connection Between Low Profile Chains and Narrow Kerf Chains

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 thin 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 thin kerf chain.

Ripping Chain

The low profile chain and narrow kerf chain can help when you need to do standard tasks efficiently. For example, functions like trimming tree limbs, cutting branches into smaller logs, and more can be done effectively with low-profile and narrow Kerf chains.

In contrast, 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 average 30 degrees).

– Understanding the Ripping Chain

Unlike the standard chains that cut against the wood grain, 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 its high price. The ripping chain can be an essential investment, mainly if you use a portable sawmill with chainsaw-to-mill logs.

Chain Aggressiveness

Chain Aggressiveness is an essential 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)

Low-Kickback/Anti-Kickback

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 called the “Kickback Danger Zone” because if it contacts the material during an operation, the increased resistance force will instantly throw the chainsaw back, which is in the user’s direction.

– The Importance of Caution Information

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.

– Limitations of Low-Kickback Chains

It would be best to only look into and purchase “Low Kickback” chains to help prevent injury or accidents. However, low-kickback chains often limit the cut material and may be time-consuming. Hence, the cutting proceeds slower 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 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 and faster and grittier cutting.

Suppose the manufacturers do not list your chain as a low-kickback chain, a full-skip, or having some other unique feature. In that case, it is most likely a regular skip-tooth chain often used for professional operations.

One thing many people don’t realize is that chainsaw chains stretch with use and must be tensioned regularly. Also, the sharpness of a chain can significantly affect the performance and safety of a chainsaw. These are some lesser-known facts I’ve learned over the years.

Aggressive (Full-Skip)

A full-skip chain is designed to space two links between each cutting tooth, providing low-resistance cutting. These chain types are usually for saws with 24 inches or more guide bars.

After being appropriately trained to use the chains and saws of this particular length and cutting aggression, the users enjoy the extra length because they don’t need to bend down to reach the work area.

However, aside from the particular convenience they provide, these chains are often for trained and professional users, and many regular chainsaw users will not have an application that requires this type of chain.

Chainsaw chain features

Several other chainsaw chain features are available and are equally important. Specific numbers of chain features are also offered for different sizes and types of chains.

These features usually have trademarked names, which the manufacturers give. 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 help reduce those trips to a chainsaw store and save costs. However, knowing this feature does not always sharpen the chain is critical.

This is why the teeth should occasionally be touched manually before regular sharpening maintenance. However, the self-sharpening chain features will ensure the chain remains sharper for longer.

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 the lubricant stays on the chain during cutting.

Constant lubrication is an essential maintenance method for any moving cutting tool, such as a chainsaw. Hence, users should consider this feature, especially if maintaining proper lubrication through regular means feels like a hassle.

3. Low-Vibration Chains:

Both chainsaws and the chains receive vibration ratings from standardized testing. These ratings are crucial 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 design features that can significantly reduce vibration and 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 concern 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 undoubtedly 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 regular 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 pretty 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 be quick.

And wears out a standard chain. However, these chains can be costly compared to the standard types, so they are usually only considered for operations in the dirt, sand, cold weather, and other extreme conditions that generally cause wear to a chain.

Although the durability of the carbide chain can keep the chain sharp for extended periods and helps prevent wear, this feature still results in a trade-off because carbide chains are usually less intense and are slower during overall cutting. 

Are Chainsaw Chains Interchangeable?

It is somewhat impossible to give a direct answer that fits all chainsaws. Whether or not the chainsaw bars you’re planning to purchase will be interchangeable depends on many factors, including the model of chainsaw you have, the size of the bar, and more.

Another way that might help is assuming that you probably won’t take a particular brand of chainsaw and use a bar from another brand. However, you might be able to use a universal chainsaw bar 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 use 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 chain’s tension on the bar.
  • There are also oil holes in some chainsaw models.

• The Importance of Tensioner Hole Alignment

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

If you are sure that all these features match, then the next step is to remove the chains on one chainsaw and place them on the other. Make sure it 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.

Remarks

Because the chainsaw is just one type of power tool accessory, there are several things to understand about the chains. The most important of these is the chain measurements. A simple measurement process can determine the size you need for your chainsaw.

First, you’ll need a tape measure. You will need to measure the distance between three rivets on the chain. To do this, you count three rivets and measure the distance. This measurement is then divided into two parts to give you the pitch measurement.

• The Importance of the Underside Teeth of a Chainsaw

The pitch measurement you are looking for will help you determine the proper chain for cutting. Next, look at the little teeth on the underside of the chain. These teeth, or drive links, are a mundane part of the chainsaw but perhaps the most mundane.

They must fit into the chainsaw’s guide bar to gain proper traction. Finally, remember that working with a chainsaw requires skill.

It’s not just about knowing how to use the tool but also understanding how to maintain it. We only hope this article has been able to help you regarding the maintenance of your chainsaw. Good luck!

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  1. Chris Caldwell says:

    I’m impressed by the level of detail in this article about chainsaw chain measurements.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Chris Caldwell! I’m glad you found the article informative. Make sure to check out the video links for even more details on chainsaw chain measurements and types.

  2. Henry Lynch says:

    Do you have any recommendations for beginner chainsaw users when selecting a chain?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      When choosing a chain, consider your saw size and application needs. For beginners, a Low-Kickback/Anti-Kickback chain may be safest. Ensure proper measurements and count of drive links. Good luck!

  3. Gordon Stewart says:

    This article is so helpful in clarifying the different types and features of chainsaw chains.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Gordon! I’m glad you found the information on chainsaw chains helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions.

  4. Terri Harvey says:

    What are the pros and cons of using a self-sharpening chain?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      “It can help with reducing maintenance trips and costs, but manual sharpening is still necessary. Consider the balance between convenience and effectiveness with self-sharpening chains.”

  5. Roger Rivera says:

    I never knew there were so many specialty chains available for different cutting tasks.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for your comment, Roger! Yes, there are so many specialty chains out there for different cutting tasks. It’s fascinating how chainsaw chains have evolved to suit various needs.

  6. Sally Cook says:

    I never knew there were so many factors to consider when choosing a chainsaw chain.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      “Thank you for the feedback, Sally. Choosing the right chainsaw chain can be overwhelming with all the options available. I’m glad you found the information helpful.”

  7. Greg Rivera says:

    Are there any environmental concerns when using carbide chains?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for your question! Carbide chains are durable and great for extreme conditions, but they can be costly and less sharp. Consider your needs before choosing one.

  8. Tim Sims says:

    Can different chainsaw chain types be used on the same chainsaw?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, different chain types can be used on the same chainsaw as long as the pitch, gauge, and number of drive links match. It is crucial to have the correct measurements.

  9. Brian Baker says:

    What are the risks of using the wrong chainsaw chain size on a chainsaw?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      It is critical to have the right chain size for your chainsaw to avoid damaging your chainsaw or causing safety hazards. Always ensure you have the correct pitch, gauge, and number of drive links.

  10. Terry Carlson says:

    Can chainsaw chains be repaired if they break?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, chainsaw chains can be repaired if broken. However, it is often easier and more cost-effective to replace the chain altogether with the correct size and type for your chainsaw.

  11. Kay Morrison says:

    Great breakdown of the different types of chainsaw chains available.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Kay! I’m glad you found the breakdown helpful. Let me know if you have any questions about choosing the right chainsaw chain for your needs.

  12. Don Lawson says:

    How often should chainsaw chains be replaced?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Hi Don! Chainsaw chains should be replaced when they are dull or damaged. Match the pitch, gauge, and drive links to find the right replacement. Hope this helps!

  13. Levi Hall says:

    I appreciate the detailed explanation of how to measure and match chainsaw chains.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you for the feedback, Levi! Glad you found the information on chainsaw chain measurements helpful.

  14. Thomas Burke says:

    I found the section on different chain aggressiveness levels very informative.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Thomas! I’m glad you found the information on chain aggressiveness levels informative. Be sure to check out the rest of the Chainsaw 101 series for more insights.

  15. Rodney Stephens says:

    How do you know if a chainsaw chain is too loose?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Based on the details provided, if the chainsaw chain droops down from the bottom of the bar, then it is too loose and needs to be tightened. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct tension.

  16. Max Garrett says:

    Thank you for explaining how to measure the pitch of a chainsaw chain in such an easy-to-understand way.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Max! I’m glad you found the explanation helpful. Remember, getting the right chain size is crucial for your chainsaw’s performance and safety. Happy sawing!

  17. Travis Romero says:

    Is it possible to sharpen chainsaw chains at home?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Yes, it is possible to sharpen chainsaw chains at home, but it is important to know the right sizes and types to ensure a proper match. Match the pitch, gauge, and number of drive links for best results.

  18. Clinton Mitchelle says:

    This article really broke down the process of selecting the right chainsaw chain.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Clinton! I’m glad you found the article helpful in understanding the process of selecting the right chainsaw chain. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions!

  19. Troy Wheeler says:

    I appreciate the advice on chain maintenance, it’s something I’ve always struggled with.

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      Thank you, Troy! I’m glad the advice was helpful. Remember to match the right chain size and type to your chainsaw for optimal performance. Happy chainsawing!

  20. Margie Lynch says:

    What is the best chainsaw chain for cutting through hardwood?

    • Allard Vdhooft says:

      The best chainsaw chain for cutting through hardwood is the Ripping Chain due to its ability to cut along the wood’s grain for smoother cuts and fine planks. It is ideal for heavy-duty tasks such as milling logs.

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