How Chainsaw Chains are Measured: A Guide

how chainsaw chains are measured

Whether you’re a professional logger or a weekend warrior looking to fell some trees in your backyard, having the right chainsaw chain is crucial for smooth and efficient cutting. But how exactly are chainsaw chains measured, and why does it matter? In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the key measurements used for chainsaw chains, how to find them, and how matching the right measurements results in better performance and safety.

First, let’s look at why properly measuring chainsaw chains is so important. An improperly sized or worn out chain can lead to increased vibration, chainsaw kickback, slower cutting, and damage to your saw and bar. By understanding the basic measurements used for chainsaw chains, you can select the optimal replacement chain and keep your saw running smoothly. The three key measurements we’ll cover are pitch, gauge, and number of drive links.

How are chainsaw chains measured?

how chainsaw chains are measured

There are three measurements that characterize every chainsaw chain:


Pitch refers to the distance between consecutive rivets on the chain. This spacing determines how wide the teeth are and how much material the chain can remove with each revolution around the bar. Pitch is measured in inches, commonly 1/4″, .325″, 3/8″, or .404″. A 1/4″ chain has narrower teeth best suited for smaller bars and electric chainsaws, while 3/8″ and .404″ have wider teeth optimized for high-powered gas chainsaws. Knowing the pitch allows you to match a replacement chain to the specific bar groove width.

To measure pitch, simply use a tape measure or ruler to determine the center-to-center distance between any three consecutive rivets on the chain. Make sure to measure several locations and take the average to get the most accurate pitch.

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The gauge measurement refers to the thickness of the drive links, which connect each tooth to the next. Gauge ranges from 0.043″ on smaller chains up to 0.063″ on larger chains, and can be measured using a dedicated gauge tool or the thickness of specific coins. For example, a dime is approximately 0.063″ while a nickel is around 0.05″. Matching the gauge allows the chain to properly fit and move within the groove on your guide bar.

To find the gauge, either use a tool specifically designed to measure chain gauge, or compare several drive links on your chain to coins of known thickness. 0.043″ is considered “low profile” while 0.050″ is standard for most chainsaws.

Number of Drive Links

The number of drive links determines the overall cutting length of your chainsaw chain. Drive link count varies based on the size and model of your saw and bar. Most chain packaging will specify the length in drive links, usually ranging from 40 to over 100.

To find the number of drive links, simply count all the individual links including the drive links and tie straps that connect the two ends of the loop. Having the correct number ensures proper tension and fit around your specific bar.

Finding Measurements on the Chainsaw

Rather than manually measuring a worn out or broken chain, you can also find the specifications on your existing chainsaw. Here’s where to look:

Chainsaw Bar

Most guide bars have the three key chain measurements stamped near the sprocket hole where the chain mounts. This includes the pitch, gauge, and recommended bar/chain length. Checking here provides a handy reference for selecting a direct replacement chain.

Chainsaw Manual

Your saw’s manual will provide not only the standard bar and chain combinations, but often an exploded parts diagram showing the exact chain that originally came with your model. While you can upgrade certain components, checking the manual helps find chains guaranteed to fit.

How Chainsaw Chains are Measured: A Guide

Measuring the Chain Manually

If your existing bar and chain are worn out or you need to replace a broken chain, measuring it manually before heading to the store ensures you get the right replacement. Here are the basic steps:

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Tools Needed

  • Tape measure
  • Coins like a nickel, dime, quarter for gauge measurement
  • Pen and paper

Step-by-Step Process

  1. Lay the chain flat on a table and use the tape measure to measure from the center of one rivet to the center of the fourth rivet. This will give you the pitch in inches.
  2. Use coins to match several drive links on the chain. A dime’s thickness of 0.063″ indicates 0.063″ gauge. Write down the gauge.
  3. Count all the drive links in the chain, including cutters and tie straps. Note the total.
  4. Compare your measurements to chain packaging when purchasing a replacement to match pitch, gauge, and drive link count.

Taking precise measurements and notes will make it easy to shop for the correct replacement. Keep in mind that while you can sometimes substitute a different pitch or gauge, the drive link count must match your bar length.

Choosing the Right Replacement Chain

Once you have the measurements, it’s important to use them find the optimal chain for your saw and application. Here’s what to look for:

Matching Measurements

Your new chain must match the pitch, gauge, and drive link count to properly fit your bar and saw. Even a slightly off pitch or gauge can prevent the chain from mounting or moving smoothly in the groove. Getting all three measurements right ensures quick installation and efficient, safe cutting.

Chain Types and Applications

Beyond the basic sizing measurements, you also need to consider the chain type. This includes:

  • Chisel chain – optimized for fast cutting in clean wood. The square chisel shape leaves a rough cut.
  • Semi-chisel – a compromise between speed and smoothness with beveled cutter tops.
  • Skip chain – cuts slower but smoother by omitting every other top plate. Good for lumber.

Match the type to your most common application, whether that’s felling trees, bucking logs, or trimming branches.

Chainsaw Maintenance and Safety

Properly measuring your chainsaw chain is only one aspect of chainsaw maintenance. Here are other key areas:

Proper Chain Tension

Loose chains can derail or break. Check tension regularly and adjust the chain to allow only slight vertical movement halfway down the bar. Refer to your saw manual for detailed tensioning instructions.

Regular Chain Inspection and Replacement

Examine your chain before each use for damaged rivets, dull or chipped cutters, and stretched links that indicate wear. Replace sooner than later to improve performance and safety.

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Following manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations helps ensure your chainsaw performs optimally for years of reliable service. And never forget to wear proper protective gear when operating a chainsaw!


Whether you’re replacing an old chain or buying a new saw, understanding how chains are measured regarding pitch, gauge, and drive link count is key to maximizing cutting performance. Properly matching a new chain to your specific saw and bar prevents binding, slippage, or breakage. And don’t forget chain maintenance – keep it tensioned, lubricated, and inspect it before each use. Follow this guide and you’ll be armed with the knowledge to select and run the optimal chainsaw chain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between low profile and standard chains?

Low profile chains have a gauge of 0.043″ while standard chains are 0.050″ or larger. The narrower gauge allows low profile chains to cut smoother and saw easier in small electric saws at the cost of slightly slower cutting speed in dense wood.

How do I know when my chainsaw chain is worn out?

Signs of a worn chain include looseness, visibly damaged or blunt cutters, decreased cutting ability, increased sawdust, or excessive vibration. Most experts recommend replacing your chain after just 1-2 chainsaw sharpenings.

Can I use a different pitch or gauge chain on my chainsaw?

While you can sometimes substitute a slightly different pitch, the gauge and drive link length must match your bar and saw model precisely. Using the wrong gauge or length can damage the saw and lead to accidents.

How do I sharpen my chainsaw chain?

Use a round file of the proper diameter for your chain pitch. Secure the bar and file each cutter at a 30° angle a few strokes outward. Maintain all cutters’ length uniformly. Many choose to have chains professionally sharpened.

What are the different types of chainsaw chains and their uses?

Chisel chain cuts fastest but roughest, semi-chisel is a compromise between speed and smoothness, while skip chain leaves the cleanest finish for lumber. Match the chain type to your purpose – felling, bucking, or trimming.

How do I clean and maintain my chainsaw chain?

Regularly remove sawdust from the bar groove using a screwdriver. Lubricate each link’s rivets and joints with chain oil or bar and chain lube. Tension properly before each use and replace when worn.

Can I use a longer or shorter bar on my chainsaw?

You can upgrade to a longer bar provided your chainsaw has the power. But the replacement chain must have the correct drive link count to fit the new bar. Shorter bars also require the properly sized chain.

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