As someone who regularly uses a chainsaw for various projects around my property, I understand firsthand the importance of choosing the right chainsaw chain. I’ve learned through experience that having the wrong chain can make cutting inefficient, slow, and even unsafe. After testing out many different chain types over the years, I’ve gained a solid understanding of the pros and cons of each.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk through the key things you need to know about the various chainsaw chain types. I’ll explain the differences between full chisel, semi chisel, low profile, and specialty chains. I’ll also cover important chain measurements like pitch, gauge, and drive links. My goal is to arm you with the knowledge to select the optimal chain for your specific chainsaw model and intended application. Equipped with this information, you’ll be able to cut faster, easier, and safer.
Chainsaw Blade Types: What Are the Different Types?
There are four main categories of chainsaw chains, each optimized for certain types of cutting tasks. The key distinctions between them come down to the shape and sharpness of their cutting teeth. Let’s look at each type in more detail:
Full Chisel Chains
Full chisel chains are characterized by sharply pointed, square cutter corners. This full chisel design makes them the most aggressive and fastest cutting chains, able to rip through clean softwood with incredible efficiency. I’ve found they can increase my cutting speed by up to 40% compared to a semi chisel chain.
However, full chisel chains also come with some downsides. Their ultra-sharp cutters dramatically increase the risk of dangerous kickback when the tip catches in the wood. For this reason, full chisel chains require experienced chainsaw handling and are best suited for pros.
Semi chisel chains have rounded cutter corners that get progressively more rounded as the chain wears. This rounded semi chisel design makes them less aggressive than full chisel chains. While they don’t cut as quickly in clean softwood, they perform much better in dirty or frozen wood.
The semi chisel cutters are also much safer for the average homeowner to use. Their rounded shape significantly reduces the chance of kickback, making them the go-to choice for occasional use like cutting firewood. While pros can handle full chisel chains, I’d recommend semi chisel for all amateur users.
Low Profile Chains
As the name suggests, low profile chains have shorter cutter teeth that don’t protrude as far from the chain body. This makes them the least aggressive cutting chain type. While they remove material slower than full or semi chisel chains, low profile chains have their benefits.
Their diminished cutters pose little risk of kickback, so low profile chains are great for novice chainsaw users. They work well for light duty use like cutting up smaller logs for firewood around the yard. I don’t recommend them for heavy duty timber cutting though where you need all the cutting power you can get.
There are also some specialty chain types engineered for specific cutting situations. Here are three examples:
- Ripping chains have specially designed raker angles and cutters to facilitate high-speed ripping cuts. They work with chainsaw mills to produce lumber planks efficiently.
- Carbide-tipped chains have cutters made from or coated in long-lasting carbide. This makes them resistant to heat and wear when milling or cutting dirty or abrasive materials.
- Diamond chains have industrial diamond embedded in their cutters, letting them tear through materials like concrete, stone, and masonry that would quickly destroy ordinary chains.
Chain Measurements and Sizes
Beyond cutter type, chains also come in different pitches, gauges, and drive link counts. Let’s look at what these all mean:
The pitch of a chain refers to the spacing between its drive links, measured in inches. Common pitches include 1/4″, 3/8″ low profile, standard 3/8″, .325″, and .404″. Make sure to match the chain pitch to the specs of your bar and chainsaw model. Mismatching pitch is a safety hazard!
The gauge is the thickness of the drive links, typically measured in hundredths of an inch. Some examples of common gauge sizes are .043″, .050″, .058″, and .063″. Lower gauge chains have thinner drive links and cut faster, but thinner chains wear out faster too. Match the gauge to your saw’s engine power.
Number of Drive Links
This is the exact number of drive links the chain contains, which determines its length to fit your guide bar. Getting the right drive link count ensures smooth operation and ideal chain tension. Check your bar’s instructions for the recommended number of links.
Chainsaw chains also utilize different cutter arrangements that impact cutting performance. The main types are full complement, skip tooth, and aggressive chains.
Full Complement Chains
Full complement chains have a cutter tooth immediately followed by a raker depth gauge on every drive link. This gives them the maximum number of cutting teeth for the smoothest cutting action. Full complement chains provide great cutting precision for tasks like sculpting or trimming.
Skip Tooth Chains
As the name suggests, skip tooth chains have some drive links without any cutters, creating gaps between cutting teeth. This fuller skip arrangement means fewer teeth to do the cutting, enabling faster but rougher cutting. Skip tooth chains are good for limbing logs where you need speed more than finesse.
Aggressive chains take the skip tooth design to the extreme, with up to three drive links between cutter teeth. This full-skip configuration transforms the chain into a gnarly wood-devouring beast, able to rip through timber at blazing speeds. However, in the hands of an amateur this ultra-aggressive chain can also be extremely dangerous due to heightened kickback. Leave it to the professionals only.
The actual material used to construct the cutter teeth also impacts chain performance. Some common options include:
Chrome is a popular cutter material due to being very hard, sharp, and resistant to debris buildup in the cutters. It provides a good balance of sharp cutting, durability, and value. Many standard chains use chrome-plated cutters.
Carbide cutter tips and inserts are extremely hard and resistant to heat and abrasion. This makes carbide chains perfect for dirty cutting conditions or milling lumber that generates a lot of heat. They stay sharp much longer than standard chrome chains.
For the ultimate in harness and abrasion resistance, some chains have industrial diamond embedded in the cutter tips. These diamond chains can cut through materials like concrete, stone, and masonry that would rapidly degrade standard chains.
Choosing the Right Chain for Your Chainsaw
With all these chain options available, it’s crucial to select the right chain for your particular chainsaw make and model. Here are some key factors to consider:
- Cutter Type – Match the cutter style and aggressiveness level to your experience level and cutting needs.
- Pitch and Gauge – Ensure exact compatibility with your chainsaw’s drive sprocket and power output.
- Drive Link Count – Double check your guide bar’s recommended link count.
- Cutter Arrangement – Choose skip vs full complement based on desired cutting speed vs smoothness.
- Cutter Material – Factor in durability needs and materials being cut.
Taking the time to properly match all these chain factors to your saw results in maximum cutting performance and safety. Don’t just slap on the first chain you see. Consult your saw’s manual or talk to dealers to outfit your chainsaw with the ideal chain.
As you can see, chainsaw chains are more complex than many owners realize. The myriad options available means you can truly customize your saw’s performance for the task at hand by installing the optimal chain.
Whether you need surgical-like trimming finesse with a full complement semi chisel, lightning fast timber harvesting with an aggressive skip tooth, or concrete-crushing durability from a diamond chain, there’s a specialized chain that fits your needs. Taking the time to learn about chain types helps ensure you choose the right links for maximizing cutting efficiency and safety.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between full chisel and semi-chisel chains?
Full chisel chains have sharply pointed, square cutter corners that deliver aggressive and fast cutting in clean softwood. In contrast, semi-chisel chains have rounded cutter corners that provide slower but safer cutting in dirty or frozen wood.
How do I measure the length of my chainsaw chain?
The chain’s length depends on both its pitch (distance between drive links) and number of drive links. Count the links and multiply by the pitch to get the chain length. Refer to your saw’s guide bar specs for recommended chain length.
What is a low profile chainsaw chain?
A low profile chain has shorter cutter teeth that don’t protrude as far out from the body. This makes them less aggressive for safer operation, but reduces cutting speed compared to full chisel or semi chisel chains.
What are the common chain pitches and gauges?
Common pitches include 1/4”, 3/8” low profile, standard 3/8”, .325”, and .404”. Common gauges are .043”, .050”, .058”, and .063”. Always match chain pitch/gauge to your saw.
What is a ripping chain?
A ripping chain has specially engineered cutters and rakers to facilitate fast, smooth plank cutting when used with a chainsaw mill. The cutters shear wood fibers for efficient ripping instead of chopping.
How do I choose the right chainsaw chain for my needs?
Consider the type of cutting, your experience level, saw model specs, and materials being cut. Get the right match of cutter type, pitch, gauge, drive links, and arrangement to optimize performance and safety.
What are the different cutter materials for chainsaw chains?
Common cutter materials include chrome (sharp, debris resistant), carbide (durable, heat resistant), and diamond (extreme hardness for concrete, stone). Choose material to suit your cutting needs.
Michael Boyle is the founder and main author of Chainsaws Finder, boasting over 20 years of experience in the chainsaw industry. Hailing from Texas, Michael combines his extensive knowledge and hands-on expertise to provide reliable advice and top-notch service. His vision is to empower chainsaw users to tackle any project with confidence, making Chainsaws Finder a trusted resource in the field.