How a Chainsaw Oiler Works. Tip from a Professional


Lubricating your Chainsaw’s bar and chain is the key to ensuring its long-lasting performance. For this purpose, modern chainsaws include an oiler pump responsible for transporting the lubricant oil from the reservoir to the guide bar’s groove. In this article, I shall discuss various aspects of a chainsaw oiler ranging from its working, maintenance, repairs to the various oil alternatives.

How a chainsaw oiler works:

Chainsaw oiler consists of an oil pump, oil lines, and oil holes. The pump transports the lubricant from the reservoir to the oil outlet holes in the guide bar. Most modern chainsaw oilers consist of an adjustment screw that controls the oil flow to the guide bar. Standard bar oil is recommended for use in oilers. Vegetable oil may be used as a short-term substitute if bar oil isn’t available.

In this blog post, I will further explain the various aspects of a chainsaw oiler. How do you know when your oil tank is empty or dirty. How do you adjust it, and what type of oil should you use.

What is the Oiler on a Chainsaw?

An oil reservoir performs the oiling mechanism in current chainsaws (gas and electric) with an oil pump. While the chain is moving, the oil pump releases lubricant from the reservoir on the guide bar as the throttle is pressed. The rotating chain then distributes it evenly on the bar.

The objective of a bar and chain oiler is to provide sufficient lube to the chain, which reduces friction and prevents it from overheating. There was no oiling mechanism in an old Chainsaw, and the operator had to pour the oil amid the cutting process manually. An onboard oiling plunger was added to chainsaws as they were getting more advanced. When the first oilers were introduced, the user had to press them manually to lubricate the chain when needed.

Then arrived the modern chainsaws. They have an automatic oiling mechanism. These ‘oilers’ are made out of an oil pump that is powered by a worm drive from the engine’s throttle. The pump injects oil into the bar-chain groove without the need for the user to intervene.

There are typically two types of oiling systems. i.e., fixed flow oiling and adjustable flow oiling. The pump sends oil at a constant rate regardless of temperature or device RPMs in fixed flow oiling. An adjustable screw controls the amount of oil that enters into the bar and chai groove in an adjustable flow oiling.

To increase or decrease the oil flow, the screw has a plus and minus sign on it, respectively. On a hot day, the user may want to tweak the screw to draw additional oil for the chain for increased lubrication.

Examining the Oil Level:

Before each operation, check the oil level in the reservoir to see if there is enough oil available for use. If the oil level is low, top it up before proceeding. The type of oil required for your Chainsaw is indicated in the owner’s manual. Start the Chainsaw and let it run for a few minutes.

Allow the chain to rotate around the guide bar while pointing it at a piece of wood. Examine the wood to check that the chain throws small amounts of oil while in operation.

If you see an unusually large amount of oil coming from the guide bar, your oiler setting could be set for too much lubrication. This can be fixed by turning the oil adjustment screw towards the minus sign. Similarly, if you do not see any oil splashes, try adjusting the oiler screw towards the plus sign to increase the lubrication.

How do I know if my Chainsaw Oil Pump is Bad?

If your oil pump isn’t working, no oil will flow the guide bar’s groove, and chain lubrication would be compromised. If you notice that your Chainsaw is getting hotter than normal despite having enough lubricant in the tank, the chances are that your oil pump is bad.

A lack of lubrication is characterized by excessive chain heat-up, rough cutting operation, and excessive noise while cutting. Now, in general, there can be more than one reason for the lack of lubrication. Hence, before we could say that the oil pump is bad, we need to be sure that it’s not the other two reasons due to which we are getting no lubrication.

1. Empty Oil Tank:

This is the first and the easiest way to sort out. The oil tank is situated at the front of your Chainsaw in most models. The oil cap is usually black and has an oil droplet mark on it. Just remember that the exact shape and location could be different for your brand.

After the oil cap is located, make sure you fill the reservoir up to the mark. If your tank has enough lubricant in it, you should move towards the next step, i.e., cleaning the oiler.

2. Dirty Oiler:

If your Chainsaw has been in use for a long time, the oil lines will likely accumulate debris, given that oil naturally attracts dirt. When the deposits build up to a certain level, they choke the oil flow in the lines, and as a result, no oil is supplied to the guide bar for lubrication. To check and clean your oiler, please follow the steps below:

  • Remove the guide bar and chain: Start by removing the guide bar and chain from your device. It would be better to wear protective while doing it. Removing the bar and chain exposes the oil ports and lines.
  • Clean the oil outlet: After the bar is taken off, a tiny oil port will be visible at the side of the spindle. This port is from where the oil flows into your guide bar. It often gets plugged with debris and sawdust, and therefore, it must be cleaned to ensure that the oil flow isn’t choked.
  • Clean the bar’s groove: The guide bar has oil holes to deliver the lubricant to the chain. Using a thin metallic wire, make sure you clean these holes from all forms of debris. Afterward, run the same wire through the bar’s groove and clean it thoroughly from the gunk.

With the oiler system cleaned from all the debris and gunk, reassemble everything and start your Chainsaw. If the problem persists, we shall now check the last item in the line, i.e., the oil pump.

How do you Check a Chainsaw Oil Pump?

To check if the pump is working correctly, remove the guide bar to make the clutch visible. Push the throttle and notice if any oil is sprayed from the oil outlet port while the throttle is engaged. If no oil drips out from the port, your oil pump isn’t working.

The oil pump creates the necessary pressure, which carries the oil from the reservoir to the oil holes in the guide bar. For pump inspection, you need to remove the side cover of your Chainsaw to access the clutch and sprocket. For that, you need to remove the bar and chain from the shaft. To check if the oil goes into the bar and chain, start up the Chainsaw. To do so, remove the bar and chain from the shaft.

Start the Chainsaw to see if the oil has gotten into the bar and chain. Avoid exceedingly high revs since this may cause the clutch to disconnect. If you can see drops of oil flowing out of the hole, the oiler pump is working correctly. If no oil droplets appear, your oil pump is at fault, and it might need a replacement.

How do you Adjust a Chainsaw Oiler?

An adjustment screw is used to tune the bar oil’s flow on the oiler. You can increase the amount of oil that gets to the bar by turning the screw out (counterclockwise). Likewise, turning the screw in (clockwise) lowers the oil supply to the bar.

The oil adjustment screw is located at the base of the Chainsaw. The adjustment screw controls the oil flow to the pump. Most chainsaws have a notation on the screw (represented by a plus and minus sign) that tells us which way the screw must be turned.

What happens if you Run a Chainsaw without Bar Oil?

A chainsaw without bar oil will not function smoothly. Apart from its performance, inadequate lubrication leads to overheating of the Chainsaw. This makes it highly susceptible to an engine seizure if run for a prolonged period without oil. In addition, it also raises the risk of kickbacks.

Lubricating the bar and chain on a chainsaw is extremely critical to guarantee optimal machine performance. If you run out of bar oil, it is still appropriate to use alternatives like WD-40 or engine oil to ensure that the chain stays lubricated. Following are the major risk factors involved when you run a chainsaw without bar oil.

  • Chain wear: The chain’s cutter teeth wear at an accelerated rate when ample lubrication isn’t provided. Hence, the chain sharpening needs to be done more frequently. This could also decrease the overall lifespan of your chain.
  • Kickbacks:  Due to lack of lubrication, dust builds up on the guide bar and chain, making the cutting hard and rough. This increases the likelihood of the bar getting stuck in the wood and kicking back at the user. Kickbacks can be extremely dangerous, and not oiling your bar could make them highly imminent.
  • Overheating: As the friction between the bar and chain increases, so does the load on the engine. The heat generated due to friction along with the increased engine load overheats the entire Chainsaw.
  • Engine seizure: If a chainsaw that is already overheated is run at WOT, the possibility of engine damage increases significantly. This could harm the gaskets and oil seals of the cylinder and lead to the scoring of the cylinder walls. Hence, running a chainsaw without bar oil for a prolonged time raises the risks of your engine getting seized up.

How often should I Oil my Chainsaw?

If you have a gas chainsaw, you should fill the oil reservoir every time you refuel it. For electric chainsaw models, you should examine the oiler after each use and make sure it gets replenished when empty.

Typically, the oil tank in a 16-inch chainsaw lasts just as much as a fuel tank. However, when a larger guide bar is used or when the oil adjustment setting is set at maximum, you may need to refill your oil before refueling. The oil consumption tends to increase when you operate on rough logs, or in summer or when the Chainsaw is frequently operated at WOT.

Can I use Vegetable Oil in my Chainsaw?

You can use vegetable oil when bar oil isn’t available. It has known to provide adequate lubrication to prevent chain wear. Canola oil (rapeseed oil) is the most preferred form of vegetable oil to be used in chainsaw chains.

Vegetable oil is an alternative that can be used if you suddenly run out of bar oil. Its lubricating properties are good enough for everyday use. Just make sure you don’t use your Chainsaw in the dirt or start carving ice with it. Moreover, vegetable oil is much cheaper than bar oils and is also not toxic to the environment.

However, there are certain reasons why I wouldn’t recommend you to use vegetable oil as your standard option.

  • Low temperature: First off, vegetable oils have slightly less viscosity than bar oils. Due to this, they’d be too thin for use at temperatures higher than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Their ideal temperature range falls between 5 degrees to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Hard to clean: Vegetable oil tends to harden up when the Chainsaw cools down. These hardened jelly-like deposits can cake up the chain and the groove, and it would be a nuisance to clean them. Too much deposit formation can disrupt the chain operation. If you want to use this oil, be sure to empty your oil tank and wipe your bar immediately after every use.
  • Mice and insects: Vegetable oil attracts insects and rodents. If stored for a longer period, you might attract unwanted attention from mice and several other pests.

I would recommend going for bar oil to lubricate your chain since it is designed for that purpose. The only drawback is that bar oils can be a bit expensive and may be toxic for vegetation. The takeaway is that vegetable oil can be used as a short-term replacement for bar oils. But for long-term use, always invest in a standard manufacturer-recommended bar oil.

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