Chainsaw Chain Oil: Tips from a Professional


If you are a homeowner that frequently uses a chainsaw, you’re probably aware of the importance of your chainsaw’s chain. A well-sharpened and properly lubricated chain ensures a smooth operation and minimizes jerks. There are various types and categories of chainsaw oil available in the market. In this article, I shall explain all you need to know about chainsaw chain oils.

Chainsaw Chain Oil:

  • The industry standard chain lube involves petroleum-based oils, which come in various grades for summer and winter.
  • Vegetable oils such as canola oil are excellent alternatives to chain lubes.
  • Motor oil of a suitable viscosity can also be used if no alternate option is available.
  • To add the chain oil, locate the oil reservoir and open its cap. Fill into the top. Run your saw for a few minutes.

In this blog post, I will further explain chain lubricants. How do you know if your chain is sufficiently lubricated? What types are there, what can you use, and how to apply them.

Why Is a Chain Oil Used?

Let’s first discuss the significance of chain oil, which makes it paramount for a smooth chainsaw operation. Most chainsaws, be it gas powered or battery powered, have chains rotating at RPMs which range from 5000-15000. At such a high rotational velocity, the friction between the chain and the bar also becomes huge. This can cause the chain to heat up or even undergo failure. Also, at such high RPMs, there is a high chance that the chain might slide off the bar if there is not adhesive force to bind it to the bar.

To solve both these problems, we use a chain oil that serves both lubrication purposes and provides adhesion. It lessens the chain heating by minimizing friction and also guarantees a smooth and jerk-free operation. Also, it prevents the chain from slinging off the bar owing to its superior adhesive force. Hence, keeping your chainsaw’s chain well oiled is the key to its superior performance and durability.

Knowing If Your Chain Is Lubricated or Not:

You should always perform a routine inspection of your chain after regular intervals. This is not hard to perform. You can do it by using the following methods:

1. Hand Inspection:

Visually, one can notice whether the chain is oiled or not. You can also check this by touching your fingers on the side of the chain after a fresh run. If you feel the oil on your fingers, then it means that your chain is well-lubricated. If not, you should consider adding some oil into the reservoir.

2. Inspecting the Oil Spray:

If you aren’t satisfied by manually inspecting your chain, then there’s another method to check whether the chain is oiled or not. In this method, you run your chainsaw’s engine and place dry cardboard right in front of the bar’s shorter edge. If you notice tiny droplets of oil being sprayed onto the cardboard, then your chain is well oiled. Otherwise, it requires lubrication.

3. Checking the Oiler Hole:

In some cases, the oil reservoir is full of oil, but still, the chain doesn’t show any signs of lubrication. This points towards a faulty oil pump. To check this, remove your device’s side cover and take the bar and chain off. Now, start your engine and avoid taking it to full throttle.

During running, if you notice oil droplets coming out of the oiler hole, then it shows that the pump is functioning perfectly, and you need to add some more oil into the reservoir. If you don’t see any oil droplets coming out despite the reservoir being full, then your oil pump is at fault and needs to be replaced.

Adding Chain Oil to the Chainsaw: Step-by-Step

If this is the first time you add chainsaw oil into your device, don’t worry. This section contains the step-by-step method of lubricating your chainsaw’s chain.

● Step 1: Start with the basics:

If you’re using a gas-powered chainsaw, ensure sure the engine is completely cool before adding any oil. Always remove the battery from battery-powered chainsaws to ensure that the saw does not start accidentally while adding oil.

Make sure the chainsaw is on a level surface as well. We won’t have any trouble pouring the oil into the container if we use a table.

● Step 2: Find the oil reservoir:

Most chainsaws have a separate oil reservoir that carries the bar and chain oil and lubricates the bar. An oil pump is in charge of distributing the oil into the bar’s chain-fitting groove. This reservoir’s cap is located immediately next to the handle. So, if you come across the cap, make sure to remove it and set it aside. 

● Step 3: Fill the reservoir with oil:

Now it’s time to put some oil in the chainsaw. It’s advisable to use a funnel to swiftly direct the oil into the reservoir and protect it from spilling on the saw. Make sure the oil is poured to the top, but don’t overfill it.

● Step 4: Run the chainsaw for a few minutes:

After the oil has been added, seal the oil cap and run the engine for a few minutes. Due to this, the oil pump will equally distribute the oil on the bar and, finally, on the chain.

Can you use regular oil for bar and chain oil?

The bar and chain oil for a chainsaw need to have an adequate amount of adhesive force while at the same time, it should be slippery enough to lubricate the chain effectively. Unlike motor oils, chainsaw chain oils do not come in SAE grades. Typically, the chain oils are formulated from petroleum derivates.

If a chainsaw chain oil is unavailable, regular SAE grade motor oils can be used as an alternative. In that case, it is advisable to use SAE-30 during the summer and SAE-10 during the winter.

SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers. It has established various grades to define the viscosity of motor oils. An SAE-30 oil has a higher viscosity than an SAE-10. This is the reason why SAE-30 is more suited for use in summers when the viscosity of a liquid decreases due to high temperatures. Due to the same reason, SAE-10 is formulated for better performance in winters due to its low viscosity.

What kind of oil do you use for a chainsaw chain?

Generally, the oils used to lubricate chainsaw chains can be categorized into two types. The first type includes petroleum-based oils, while the second type uses vegetable oil.

● Petroleum-based oils:

Petroleum-based oils are the industry standard lubricants for chainsaw chains. These oils have various grades depending on the season. High viscosity oils are preferred for summers, while low viscosity (or thinner oils) is better suited for winters. In comparison to motor oils, petroleum-based oils are more slippery and are stickier.

It would be best if you preferred consulting your owner’s manual while purchasing chain oil. Most chainsaw manufacturers recommend EP-90 transmission oils for use in their chains. Despite being designed specifically for use in chainsaw bars and chains, petroleum-based oils are not environment friendly. Their use may be threatening for water bodies and vegetation. Their inhalation or ingestion may cause health problems.

● Vegetable oils:

Keeping in view their drawbacks, most chainsaw manufacturers have suggested the use of vegetable oils in chains. Vegetable oils have been tested to have a suitable viscosity and stickiness and have been deemed fit for use in chains. They are also bio-degradable and do not cause any raise any health concerns if swallowed or ingested. Vegetable oils have been shown to last longer than their petroleum-based counterparts, typically by 50%. Hence, their use can save you lubrication costs to quite an extent.

Expert Opinion:

Based on my experience of addressing various chainsaw-related issues, vegetable oils, despite being well suited to replace petroleum oils, have some drawbacks which should not be ignored. They are listed as follows:

Despite these issues, the pros of using vegetable oil, such as their bio-friendliness, better economy, and decent lubrication, still make them a very effective alternative to standard chain oil.

What can I substitute for bar and chain oil?

If a standard bar and chain oil aren’t available, you can use:

  • Motor oil: As explained above, motor oil is an excellent substitute for chain oil since they exist in various viscosities and can be suited for use in any season. However, they aren’t very eco-friendly due to their synthetic nature and may be harmful to your vegetation while sawing.
  • Hydraulic fluid: Hydraulic or brake oils are also an alternative if a chain oil isn’t available. However, these oils tend to dry up very quickly and thus are consumed in a high quantity. Moreover, they can also have adverse environmental impacts.
  • Vegetable oils: Oils derived from vegetables are not only environmentally conscious, but they also possess the optimum characteristics for a chain oil. Moreover, they are also cheaper and thus serve as the most effective, economical, and eco-friendly alternative for bar and chain oil.

For instance, canola oil (rapeseed oil) is an excellent replacement for petroleum-based chain lubricants.

Can I use two-stroke oil as chain lube?

Most homeowners have found two-stroke oil to be suitable for use as a chain lube. If you do not have chainsaw chain oil at hand, two-stroke oil of the appropriate grade can be used to lubricate your chainsaw’s chain.

However, we recommend that you always prefer using the prescribed bar and chain oil and, if unavailable, use vegetable oil instead of switching to a two-stroke oil. The reason being that two-stroke oils are not designed for chain lubrication. They are better suited to lubricate the engine’s components due to their high viscosity. Also, two-stroke oils are expensive when compared with standard chain lubes.

How much chain oil should a chainsaw use?

The oil consumption of a chainsaw chain depends on two factors. The first being the bar/chain length and the second being the oiler settings. Longer chains consume more oil than shorter ones.

Typically, most chainsaws consume ½ to ¾ tank of chain oil per tank of fuel at the default oiler settings. To put this into perspective, let me present you with real-life examples which I have encountered by interacting with various chainsaw users.

● Effect of adjustable oiler:

Adjustable oilers use more oil to lubricate the chain effectively. To visualize this, I used two gas-powered chainsaws from STIHL. The 024 and the 260 Pro. The STIHL 024 is a 20-year-old model without an adjustable oiler, while the 260 Pro had an adjustable oiler.

When using it the 024 used ½ tank of oil per tank of fuel. In comparison, 260 Pro consumed the entire tank of oil per tank of fuel. With the oiler set wide open.

You can see that with a wide-open oiler setting, the oil consumption doubles compared with a non-adjustable oiler. The more the chain is lubricated with oil, the better it is for its durability and performance.

● Effect of bar length:

To see the effect of bar length, I used a STIHL 024 chainsaw with a 16″ and a 20″ bar. You could see that with the 16″ bar, 2/3rd of the oil tank was used per tank of fuel. But with the 20″ bar, the entire oil tank per tank of fuel was used. The oil consumption was increased by 50% (or 1.5 times) simply by using a 20″ bar instead of a 16″ bar.

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