How to Determine the Right Chainsaw Bar Length for a Task

How to determine the right chainsaw bar length for a task

Choosing the right chainsaw bar length for the job is one of the most important decisions when using a chainsaw. The bar length impacts cutting efficiency, safety, and control. I learned the hard way after struggling with the wrong size bar for a few tricky yard projects. Using a bar that’s too short or too long can make your work much more difficult and dangerous.

In this article, I’ll walk through the key factors to consider when selecting the appropriate bar length. I’ll cover the common size ranges, how to accurately measure your bar, matching bar length to chainsaw power, recommendations for specific tasks, and important safety considerations. With the right knowledge, you can confidently choose a bar length tailored to your needs.

Factors to Consider

How to determine the right chainsaw bar length for a task

The ideal chainsaw bar length depends on several key factors:

Type of Task

The most important consideration is the type of work you’ll be doing. Cutting small limbs and branches requires a shorter bar than felling large trees. Match the length to the average size of the wood you’ll be cutting.

Diameter of Wood

Closely related is the diameter of the wood itself. The bar must be long enough to fully cut through the entire diameter in a single pass. Add 2-4 extra inches to the wood’s diameter to determine minimum bar length.

User Experience and Control

Longer bars become heavier and harder to control. Novices should stick to shorter lengths under 18 inches for better handling. More experienced users can tackle larger diameters with longer bars.

Chainsaw Power

Higher power chainsaws allow the use of longer bars. Make sure to match the engine power to the bar length. I’ll go into more detail on this later.

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Chainsaw Bar Length Ranges

Chainsaw bars come in a wide range of lengths to suit different purposes. Here are the common size options:

Common Bar Lengths

  • 10″ to 18″ – Homeowner and casual users
  • 18″ to 24″ – Felling small trees and cutting firewood
  • Over 24″ – Professional logging and large trees

Professional and Commercial Chainsaw Bar Lengths

Pro-grade chainsaws can accommodate extremely long bars:

  • 30″ to 36″ – Taking down medium-sized trees
  • Over 36″ – Full-time logging operations on large-diameter trees

For most homeowners, a bar in the 16″ to 20″ range will handle the majority of yardwork tasks. My go-to length is 18″ for good versatility. Don’t buy more bar than you realistically need for your home projects.

Measuring Chainsaw Bar Length

To determine the ideal bar length, you need to understand the different measurements. There are two important dimensions:

Effective Cutting Length

This is the actual usable cutting length of the bar. It will be slightly less than the full bar length due to limitations at the tip and base.

To measure the effective cutting length:

  1. Remove the bar from the saw if possible.
  2. Using a tape measure, measure from the tip of the bar to the furthest point of the chain tensioning slot.
  3. Round down to the nearest whole inch. This is the max wood diameter it can cut.

For example, my chainsaw’s nominal bar length is 18″, but the effective cutting length is about 16″.

True Bar Length

This is the full tip-to-base length of the bar itself, not accounting for cutting limitations. It will beprinted directly on the bar. You don’t need to manually measure this dimension.

Knowing both the effective cutting length and true bar length will help match a bar to your required cutting capacity. Many bars lose 2″ of effective length compared to their marked size.

Chainsaw Power and Bar Length

Picking the right engine power for the bar length is crucial for optimal cutting performance. Here’s what you need to know:

Engine Power Requirements

More powerful chainsaws are required to drive longer bars efficiently. If the engine is underpowered for the bar, cutting will be slow, difficult, and hard on the motor.

As a general rule of thumb:

  • Up to 40cc engines can support bars up to 18″.
  • 40-50cc engines handle 18″ to 24″ bars.
  • 60cc+ engines power bars over 24″.

Refer to your specific model’s manual for recommended bar lengths. When in doubt, choose a shorter bar for your engine size.

Importance of Matching Engine Power with Bar Length

Using an overpowered chainsaw with a short bar wastes potential. But running an underpowered saw with too long of a bar can cause serious issues:

  • Increased wear and tear on the motor
  • Overheating and damage from strain
  • Frequent stalling while cutting
  • Excessive vibration and decreased control
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Make sure your chainsaw’s engine has enough power to efficiently run the bar length you choose. This prevents premature breakdowns while maximizing cutting performance. Don’t push an underpowered saw past its limits.

Chainsaw Weight and Handling

The bar length also significantly impacts the total weight and handling of a chainsaw. Long bars shift the weight distribution forward.

This can make the saw more difficult to control, especially for smaller-statured users. The heavier saw also increases fatigue over long cutting sessions.

For optimal control, choose the shortest bar that can still get the job done. This is especially important for beginners learning proper chainsaw techniques. Take the time to get used to controlling and balancing a shorter bar before moving to something longer.

Chainsaw Bar Length for Specific Tasks

The ideal bar length depends heavily on the type of jobs you plan to do. Here are my recommendations:

Property Maintenance and Trimming

For basic homeowner yardwork like pruning bushes, small branches, and firewood rounds, a shorter bar in the range of 14″ to 18″ is ideal. This covers most household tasks without being overly cumbersome. I use an 18″ bar for my general weekend warrior projects.

Cutting Down Small Trees and Thick Branches

Felling trees up to 18″ in diameter and cutting large branches requires a slightly longer bar of around 18″ to 22″. I’d go with a 20″ bar for occasional tree removal around the property. Make sure your saw’s engine can handle a bar this large.

Professional and Commercial Tasks

Logging operations, tree removal services, and municipal crews need high-powered chainsaws with long bars exceeding 24″. Specific needs depend on the average tree size in your region. Some professional models accommodate up to 40″ bars for massive timber! For serious tree work, always defer to the manufacturer’s recommendations based on your saw’s engine displacement.

My advice is to avoid going above 24″ unless you truly need the extra reach for larger trees. The trade-off in safety and control often isn’t worth it for casual users.

Chainsaw Safety and Bar Length

While longer bars allow you to cut bigger material, they can also be more hazardous if misused. Here are some key precautions:

Kickback and Control

Longer bars increase the risk of dangerous kickback from the tip contacting wood while cutting. This can throw the spinning saw back toward your face and torso. Always cut with the lower quadrant of the bar tip to prevent kickback. Long bars also require more strength and experience to control safely.

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Proper Maintenance and Usage

Using an overextended bar without enough engine power can lead to increased kickback and chain derailment from the underpowered saw stalling mid-cut. Maintain your chainsaw properly and never exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations for bar length.

Stick to shorter bars while you’re still mastering beginner techniques. Get professional training if attempting large diameter cuts that require long bars. Chainsaw kickback is no joke – a momentary lapse in form can have serious consequences. Respect the equipment and start small until you’ve gained experience. Don’t let an oversized ego push you to cut material you can’t handle safely.


Choosing the right chainsaw bar length makes your woodcutting work much easier and safer. Take into account the tree sizes you’ll be cutting, your experience level, chainsaw engine power, and handling preferences. Measure your true cutting length instead of relying solely on marked bar size. Match long bars with sufficiently powerful saws to prevent issues. Favor shorter lengths while mastering control and proper kickback prevention. With the appropriate bar for your needs, you’ll achieve cleaner, more efficient cuts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common chainsaw bar length for homeowners?

For most basic property maintenance needs, a 16 to 18 inch bar is ideal. This covers small to decent sized branches and firewood cutting. Homeowners don’t require the extremely long bars used by professional loggers.

Can I use a longer bar on my chainsaw?

You can, provided your chainsaw’s engine has enough power to drive the longer bar under load. Always check the user manual for recommended bar lengths based on engine displacement. Using too long of a bar on an underpowered saw causes significant issues.

How do I know if my chainsaw bar is worn out?

Look for a prominent wear groove along the bar’s running surface, excessive side plate play, bent bar rails, burnt paint, and curled bar tip. A worn bar needs replaced for safety and proper chain tensioning.

What is the difference between a narrow kerf and standard kerf chainsaw bar?

Kerf refers to the width of the cut made by the chain. Narrow kerf bars allow chains that remove less material, which is easier on smaller saws. They can bind more easily in dirty or frozen wood. Standard kerf is more common and works for most uses.

How often should I replace my chainsaw bar?

With proper care and maintenance, a good quality steel bar should last several chain replacements before needing swapped out. Inspect regularly for wear and damage. Replace sooner if you notice degraded cutting performance.

Can I use a shorter bar on my chainsaw?

Absolutely – just make sure to get a matching length chain. Shorter bars improve handling and are safer for beginners. The only downside is reduced reach for cutting wider material.

What is the longest chainsaw bar available?

Professional chainsaw models can accommodate monster bars exceeding six feet! The longest bar on a production consumer saw is likely in the 40 to 42 inch range. Bars over 36 inches are reserved for experienced loggers tackling extremely large diameter trees.

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