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Do Chainsaws Need Oil? Tips from a Professional

Chainsaws are powerful cutting devices that are used both by professionals and amateurs. Like all machines, keeping chainsaws well maintained by ensuring oil changes at regular intervals is the key to their longevity and effectiveness. This blog post will lay down the significance of chainsaw oils and discuss the adverse effects of running a chainsaw without oil.

Do chainsaws need oil?

Both gas and electric chainsaws need oil. Oil helps the smooth and hitch-free performance of the chain and the engine. A special bar/chain oil is used to lubricate the bar and chain. In the case of a gas engine, oil is used as an engine lube. Running a chainsaw without any lubricant can cause it to overheat and lose performance. It also raises the possibility of operational accidents.

I will further explain when oil is needed, what type of oil you can use. And what you can do when you are out of oil.

Can I use a Chainsaw without Oil?

You should never use a chainsaw without any lubricant as it can adversely affect performance. It accelerates the wear rate of its components and contributes to premature failure.

Metal-to-metal interaction in machinery should be prevented at all costs, especially at high speeds. As a result of the contact, heat is generated by friction. If the speed is high enough, the friction could wear away the guide bar and cause the engine to overheat.

In a chainsaw, the bar or chain oil is used between the chain and the guide bar. It provides a thin oil coating between the metallic surfaces and avoids metal-to-metal contact. It also increases traction by keeping the chain attached to the bar.

The majority of chainsaws use two-stroke engines. These engines, unlike four-stroke engines, do not have a separate oil reservoir. The engine oil must be combined with the gas before being put into the gas tank. This combination keeps engine components like the piston from rubbing against the cylinder walls by forming an oil coating between the two surfaces. A four-stroke engine will have a separate oil tank. Similar to a car, you should check and add oil when needed.

When an engine is used without oil, the lack of lubrication raises its temperature considerably. Furthermore, sliding friction between the piston and the cylinder could lead to harming it and even lead to piston seizure. This is a condition when the piston gets jammed in the cylinder, and the crankshaft doesn’t rotate. Piston seizure marks an end to an engine’s lifespan, and replacement is the only option.

When Should I Oil My Chainsaw?

The frequency of adding oil to your chainsaw’s bar and chain oil tank depends on the use and operating conditions. I always recommend filling the oil reservoir after each refilling of the gas tank. If you have a two-stroke gas engine, oil is added to the gas. Electric chainsaws only have a chain oil reservoir. Four-stroke gas engines will have an oil reservoir that needs to be checked regularly.

Before using your chainsaw, make sure you check the oil tank to determine that the amount of lubricant lasts the entire session. Typically, the bar oil lasts as long as the fuel in the tank. Hence, consider refilling your oil reservoir every time you add gas. This can help you keep track of oil changes. However, the oil consumption can vary depending on the use. In the case of a cordless chainsaw, I recommend checking it when you replace or recharge the batteries.

On a relatively hot day, you can expect your oil to run out faster than on a colder day. Similarly, if you’re sawing dry timber, your oil consumption would increase. My experience is that using a 20-inch guide bar instead of a 16-inch bar raises the oil consumption by about 50%. Under all these conditions, you can expect your bar oil reservoir to finish earlier than the fuel tank. In those cases, you need to check more often and keep some bar oil at hand.

Nowadays, most chainsaws come with adjustable oilers that can control the oil flow rate to the bar. In this way, you can manually adjust the amount of oil that should go to the bar and chain and control the oil consumption. Just ensure that you never use your chainsaw with an empty oil tank.

What happens if you Run your Chainsaw without Bar Oil?

After a while, a chainsaw that hasn’t been adequately lubricated with bar oil will start to run poorly and eventually stop working. Sawdust/dust accumulates in the guide bar rails as a result of normal chainsaw usage. The dust will clog up on the saw, making cutting harder. It can also cause dirt to become trapped in the teeth of your saw, impeding its rotation. In some cases, the clogging can cause saw kickbacks.

The primary function of bar oil is to keep the saw chain lubricated while in use. Without oil, your guide bar will wear out much faster and eventually will fail. In addition, bar oil keeps the chain cooler while in use, preventing it from overheating and burning.

A chain that runs badly can increase the strain on the engine. This can lead to overheating the chainsaw engine and can cause piston-cylinder damage. I’ve seen too many instances where the engine shut down due to overheating. Even if the chainsaw does not break, the heat is sufficient to score the cylinder wall. The potential of kickbacks is also increased by poor lubrication of the bar oil.

The following helps to ensure that the chain and bar are always lubricated:

  • Enough oil supply: Make sure your bar oil tank is never empty. Never use your chainsaw without bar oil. In case you run out, utilize alternatives.
  • Use replacements if you run out: You can also buy lubricants that can substitute bar oil and allow your saw to run for short periods without actual bar oil, such as WD-40, cooking spray oil, or vegetable oil.
  • You can use engine oil: Standard motor oil can be used in place of bar oil. Just make sure that the oil isn’t stale. These engine oils provide decent lubrication; however, their viscosity range is on the higher side, due to which they aren’t suited for prolonged usage.

Is Chainsaw Bar oil the same as Motor oil?

Motor oil is not the same as chainsaw bar oil. Bar oil contains additives that are not found in motor oil. Bar and chain oil is more sticky and less viscous than motor oils. It serves the purpose of keeping the chain attached to the bar while it cuts.

Due to its stickiness, bar oil tends to stay on the chain for a longer duration. Motor oils fly off the chain more easily. You would need to check and fill your bar oil tank more often if motor oil is used instead.

I would say that motor oil does provide enough lubrication, but it possesses a slightly higher viscosity which is not ideal for use in a chainsaw. Thicker oils tend to create viscous friction, which causes unnecessary heating up of the chain. Furthermore, it tends to attract dirt more easily, clogging up the bar’s groove and chain rails.

What can I use instead of Chainsaw Oil?

In place of bar oil, you can utilize vegetable oil, WD-40, or motor oil for your chains and bar. But It is important to know that these are less efficient and may not keep your chainsaw operating smoothly. You should use them cautiously and only in a sort of emergency when you run out of bar oil.

1. Use WD-40 instead of Chainsaw Bar Oil

WD-40, like bar oil, can be used to lubricate your chainsaw’s chain. However, it is worth remembering that WD-40 is not meant for this function and does not have the same properties as bar oil. For example, WD-40 lacks anti-wear additives that can prevent your chainsaw from overheating.

WD-40 is designed to grease locks and remove adhesives, not to make your chainsaw run smoothly. It’s also worth noting that WD-40 will dry out the rubber components in your engine, causing short-term damage. However, you can use a small amount to lubricate your chainsaw’s chain occasionally, but I do not recommend using it more than that.

2. Use Motor oil instead of Chainsaw Bar Oil

In need, motor oil can be used instead of bar oil. But it is important to know that using motor oil may not be good for your chain if used for prolonged periods. Motor oil has a higher viscosity than bar oil and more easily attracts dirt into the guide bar rail. It is less sticky and finishes out much quicker than bar oil. Motor oils also pose an increased environmental hazard to vegetation due to their synthetic nature.

3. Use Vegetable oil instead of Chainsaw Bar Oil

A small amount of vegetable oil can be used instead of bar oil. Vegetable oils may be the best alternative due to their biodegradability and appropriate viscosity range. They are also much cheaper than the available alternatives, particularly compared with WD-40. One of the more popular alternatives is canola oil (rapeseed oil).

However, there are certain cons to consider. Most vegetable oils are not as good at radiating heat as specialized bar oil. They also have a lower shelf life and can get rancid after a while. This is due to their organic nature. They can also attract rodents and other pests.

What Happens if you don’t Use Chain Oil?

If the chain isn’t appropriately lubricated, its cutting performance will decline. Its smooth operation will be disrupted, and it adds additional stress to the engine. Eventually, it will overheat most engines. It also increases the risks of kickbacks.

When a chain oil isn’t used, the friction increases between the bar and chain. The friction will slow down the chain and causes the engine to work harder. Both the bar and chain will wear much faster, compromising your chainsaw’s cutting performance. When you do not stop in time, it can even overheat the engine.

Additionally, when the chain doesn’t rotate freely, it is bound to get stuck while cutting and can kick back towards the user. These kickbacks pose serious risks of accidents and injuries. That is why it is crucial for chainsaw users always to add some sort of lubricant for their bar and chains.