Chainsaw Without Oil. Tips from a Professional


Chainsaws are power tools that consist use a high-speed rotating chain to cut wood easily. Traditional chainsaws use a two-stroke gas engine to power the chain, whereas the electric variants utilize an electric motor for that job. For both types, lubricating the machine’s moving components is a critical aspect of its performance which shall be discussed in this article.

Chainsaw without oil:

All chainsaws, electric and gas require timely lubrication of their moving parts to work seamlessly. There are two main types of lubricants, engine oil and bar/chain oil. Running your chainsaw without bar oil leads to accelerated wear of the bar and chain. It also raises the risks of kickbacks. At the same time, the absence of engine oil overheats your gas engine and increases the risk of piston damage or even a permanent engine seizure.

For a deeper understanding of chainsaw oils and the impact of their absence, I will both look at running a chainsaw without bar oil and running a gas chainsaw without engine oil. I will also address the question of if electric chainsaws need oil.

What happens if you Run a Chainsaw without Oil?

Running a chainsaw without any oil (be it bar oil or engine oil) is detrimental to its life in the long run. The absence of lubricant overheats the machine components and contributes to a significantly accelerated wear and tear rate. It will result in the chainsaw stop working after a time.

Metal-to-metal contact in machines must be avoided at all costs, especially when high speeds are involved. Friction causes heat to be generated as a result of the contact. If the speed is high enough, the friction may be enough to melt the guide bar and eventually cause the engine to overheat. As a result, a bar or chain oil is injected between the chain and the guide bar, forming a thin oil coating between the metallic surfaces and preventing metal-to-metal contact. It also provides traction by holding the chain to the bar.

Two-stroke engines power the majority of chainsaws. They do not have a separate oil reservoir as four-stroke engines have. For two-stroke engines, the oil must be mixed with the fuel in the correct ratio. This mixture prevents engine components such as the piston from rubbing against the cylinder walls and forms an oil coating between the two surfaces.

● Running a Chainsaw without Bar Oil?

A chainsaw not lubricated with bar oil will cease to function after some time. Normal operation results in the accumulation of sawdust/dust in the guide bar rails. The dust will clump up on the saw, making it difficult to cut. It can also result in dirt being lodged in the teeth of your saw and hindering its rotation. In some situations, the damage can result in saw kickbacks.

The main purpose of bar oil is to lubricate the saw chain while it is in use. Without lubrication, your guide bar will wear out at a quick rate and begin to fail. Bar oil also keeps the saw chain cool while operating, preventing it from overheating and burning.

In that case, more power is asked from the engine, causing it to overheat. Overheating a chainsaw can cause damage to the piston cylinders. I’ve seen incidents where the engine stopped up as a result of running hot. Even if the chainsaw does not fail, the heat is enough to score the cylinder wall. Poor lubrication of the bar oil also increases the possibility of kickbacks.

– Increased kick back risk for a chainsaw without bar oil

Kicking back happens when a blade becomes locked in one spot and kicks up towards the user from its cutting material. This can be quite a hazardous situation.

Bar oil is essential. Use the following tips to ensure proper usage and what to do if you run out:

  • Adequate oil supply: Always ensure that your bar oil tank is never empty. Never run your chainsaw without bar oil, and if it becomes necessary, use alternatives.
  • Use alternatives: You can also use products that imitate bar oil and allow your saw to operate for short periods without real bar oil, such as WD-40, cooking spray oil, or vegetable oil.
  • Engine oil: Standard engine oil is also an acceptable short-time alternative if bar oil isn’t available. Just make sure the engine oil isn’t stale. Also, it’s not appropriate for long-term use in place of bar oil.

– Standard Bar and Chain Oils:

Petroleum-based oils are the industry standard for chainsaw chain lubricants. Depending on the season, these oils come in a variety of grades. High viscosity oils are recommended for summer use, whereas low viscosity oils (or thinner oils) are better suited for winter use. Petroleum-based oils are more slippery and stickier than motor oils.

When purchasing chain oil, you should check your owner’s manual. Most chainsaw manufacturers recommend EP-90 transmission oils for use with their chains. Despite being mainly used in chainsaw bars and chains, petroleum-based oils are not eco-friendly. Their use could be hazardous for vegetation.

– Bar Oil Alternatives:

1. WD-40

WD-40, like bar oil, can be used to lube the chain of your chainsaw. However, it is crucial to note that WD-40 is not intended for this purpose and does not have the same qualities as bar oil. WD-40, for example, lacks anti-wear compounds that can keep your chainsaw from overheating.

WD-40 is intended for greasing locks and removing adhesives, not for operating your chainsaw smoothly. It’s also worth noting that WD-40 will cause long-term harm to the rubber components in your engine by drying them out. However, you can use a small quantity to lube your chainsaw occasionally, but I do not advocate it for use more than that.

2. Motor oil

In a pinch, motor oil can be used as a substitute for bar oil. It is vital to note that employing motor oil may cause damage to the rubber components of your engine. Also, motor oil is more viscous than bar oil and also attracts dirt into the guide bar rails.

3. Vegetable oil

In place of bar oil, a tiny amount of vegetable oil can be used. Vegetable oils are a good alternative considering their bio-degradability and suitable viscosity range. However, they also have certain drawbacks. Most vegetable oils do not have as good heat radiating capabilities as bar oils. Furthermore, they have a shorter shelf-life and can go rancid after a while. Also, they can attract rodents and other pests due to their organic nature.

● Running a Chainsaw without Engine Oil?

Using a two-stroke chainsaw with raw gas means that the internal engine parts are not lubricated. It will cause the engine to overheat, potentially damaging the piston, cylinder walls, and crankshaft. It can also trigger a seizure.

Engine oil aims to reduce metal-to-metal friction between moving parts. This gradually reduces engine temperature and adds to seamless and efficient performance. When the engine is starved of lubricant, the heat generated by friction can be hazardous. The following are the consequences:

  • Scoring the cylinder walls: At high temperatures, without lubricant, thermal expansion causes the piston to interfere with the cylinder walls and ends up scoring them. The engine’s compression is reduced as a result of the scoring of the walls. Consequently, it will not start or will cut with less power.
  • Engine seizure: A severe situation occurs when the piston becomes stuck in the cylinder, causing the engine to seize permanently. The piston becomes stuck, due to which the crankshaft does not turn. This occurs when it is run without engine oil for an extended period. It is impossible to repair the engine in this scenario, and replacement is the only option.

Do all Chainsaws need Oil?

All gas chainsaws need two types of oils. One to lubricate their engine’s components and the other for greasing the guide bar and chain. Electric chainsaws use an electric motor instead of a gas engine and only require bar and chain oil.

Whether gas or battery-driven, most chainsaws have chains that rotate at RPMs ranging from 5000 to 15000. The friction between the chain and the bar becomes enormous at such a high rotational rate. This can cause the chain to overheat or maybe fail. Furthermore, at such high RPMs, the chain has a great probability of slipping off the bar if no binding force holds it to the bar.

Bar or chain oil is used to address both lubrication and adhesion issues. It reduces chain heating by lowering friction and ensures smooth, seamless running. Because of its increased adhesive force, it also prevents the chain from flinging off the bar.

Do Electric chainsaws need oil?

Electric chainsaws only need bar or chain oil to function efficiently. The power source in these devices is the electric motor, which rarely needs an additional lubricant. Any lubrication for the electric motor is added during manufacturing and can not be replaced.

Nevertheless, electric chainsaws still require oil for their guide bar and chain. This oil is topped up in the oil reservoir. Let’s have a look at the steps needed to fill and use it:

  • Step 1. Preliminaries: Before oiling, always place the chainsaw on a flat surface. Make sure you remove the battery, so there’s no chance for the saw to start by itself.
  • Step 2. Locate the reservoir: The oil reservoir stores the bar oil, and an oil pump circulates it throughout the guide bar and chain. The reservoir’s cap is situated next to the handle. Remove the cap and put it aside.
  • Step 3. Pour the oil: Use a funnel to direct the oil into the reservoir swiftly. Ensure that its level is filled up to the max mark.
  • Step 4. Run the engine: After filling the oil, run your chainsaw for a short while. Doing this will distribute the oil evenly through the oil lines across the guide bar and chain.

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