Choosing the right chainsaw chain is crucial for optimal performance and longevity of your saw. An improperly matched chain can lead to increased vibration, reduced cutting speed, premature wear, and even damage to the bar and engine. The chain pitch and gauge are key specifications to get right. In this guide, I’ll walk through everything you need to know about measuring, identifying, and selecting the proper pitch and gauge for your specific chainsaw model.
What is Chainsaw Chain Pitch?
Chain pitch refers to the spacing between the rivets that hold together the drive links of the chain. This distance is measured in inches or millimeters. The most common pitches for chainsaw chains are 3/8 inch, .325 inch, .404 inch, and 1/4 inch. Pitch impacts how the chain fits into the guide bar groove and engine sprocket, so it is essential to match the pitch of your new chain to the specifications of your saw. An improperly matched pitch will not seat correctly on the bar or engage the drive sprocket properly.
Pitch also affects cutting efficiency – smaller pitches allow the teeth to be positioned closer together, enabling faster cutting. Larger pitches are stronger and more resistant to wear and tear. Consulting your saw’s manual or the markings on the existing bar and chain will reveal the correct pitch size you need.
Common Chainsaw Chain Pitches
Here are the most common chain pitches you’ll encounter and the chainsaw models they are typically used on:
- 3/8″ pitch – This is the most popular pitch for modern chainsaws under 50cc engine displacement. It’s found on brands like Husqvarna, Echo, and Stihl homeowner saws.
- .325″ pitch – Smaller pitch for lightweight and compact chainsaws, generally under 35cc. Used on many Remington, Poulan, and portable Stihl saws.
- .404″ pitch – Larger pitch built for rugged power saws over 70cc. Common on professional-grade Stihl, Husqvarna, and Echo models.
- 1/4″ pitch – Usually only found on vintage or very small electric chainsaws under 10cc.
Measuring Chainsaw Chain Pitch
You can easily measure a chain’s pitch by doing the following:
- Locate three consecutive rivets joining the drive links.
- Using calipers or a small ruler, carefully measure the distance between the centers of the first and third rivet.
- Divide this measurement by two. For example, if the distance is 1 inch, 1 inch divided by 2 equals a 1/2 inch pitch.
- For metric chain pitches, divide the measurement in millimeters by 25.4 to convert to inches.
Performing this quick procedure will allow you to definitively determine the pitch for replacement. Referencing the pitch markings on your existing chain can also provide the measurement.
What is Chainsaw Chain Gauge?
Along with pitch, the gauge of a chainsaw chain is another critical compatibility factor. Gauge refers to the thickness of the chain’s drive links – essentially the distance between the two horizontal edges of the cutter link. This determines how the chain fits into the groove along the guide bar.
Common gauges are .043″, .050″, .058″, and .063″. Thicker gauge chains have greater durability, while thinner gauges allow chainsaws to cut faster and operate with less resistance. Gauge size impacts the type of bar the chain can fit on, so this must align between the new chain, existing bar, and chainsaw model specifications.
Common Chainsaw Chain Gauges
Here are typical gauge sizes for different chainsaw types:
- .043″ gauge – Light duty homeowner saws under 40cc like Poulan and Crafstman models.
- .050″ gauge – All-around residential use chainsaws up to 55cc from Echo, Remington, Husqvarna, etc.
- .058″ gauge – Mid-size professional chainsaws 60cc and above.
- .063″ gauge – Large 80cc+ pro-level saws for forestry, firefighting, and milling.
Measuring Chainsaw Chain Gauge
You can use calipers to precisely measure gauge thickness at the drive lugs. An easier option is test fitting the chain into the bar groove. The chain should drop smoothly into a properly matched groove. If tight or loose in the slot, there is a gauge mismatch. Examine the markings on your existing chain to identify the gauge size as well.
Consult your chainsaw’s operator’s manual, bar stampings, or OEM part lookup to confirm the correct gauge. Using the manufacturer’s replacement chain is the best assurance proper gauge and pitch.
What is Chainsaw Chain Length?
The overall drive link count determines the length of a replacement chain. Chainsaw bars come in varying lengths depending on the saw model and power. Chain length must match the bar’s size, otherwise the chain will be too tight or loose during installation.
Most bars range from 10″ to 20″ for small saws, and 16″ to 36″ for larger professional models. Measure your bar tip to tip to determine the specific length. Then count the number of drive links currently on the chain – new replacements come in common increments like 45, 52, 56, 60, or 72 links. Match this quantity for proper fit.
Identifying Chainsaw Chain Information
If the pitch, gauge, or length is not apparent from your visual inspection, there are other ways to identify the proper replacement chain specifications for your model.
Chainsaw Chain Stamps
Chains have etched or stamped markings on the depth gauge or drive links indicating the pitch and gauge. For example:
- 3/8 .050 – Denotes a 3/8″ pitch and .050″ gauge chain.
- 1/4 .043 – Signifies a 1/4″ pitch with .043″ gauge.
Chainsaw Bar Information
The existing bar on your chainsaw will also have critical markings. Look near the sprocket end for etchings like these:
- 3/8 / .050 – Corresponds to a 3/8″ pitch and .050″ gauge.
- .325 / .058 – Indicates the bar takes .325″ pitch chains with .058″ gauge.
Consult the bar and chain stampings together to match a new chain to the same specifications.
Choosing the Right Chainsaw Chain
Once you have measured the pitch and gauge of your current chain, and determined the proper length, finding the right replacement is straightforward.
Compatibility with Chainsaw Model
Always match the new chain to your specific chainsaw’s make and model per the manufacturer’s recommendations. For example, if you have a Stihl MS 271 Farm Boss, Stihl specifies that model uses a .325″ pitch, .050″ gauge chain in lengths from 16 to 20 inches. Opting for the Stihl branded chain made specifically for that saw ensures compatibility.
Aftermarket and Oregon brand chains can also work, but confirm they align with the pitch, gauge, and length specs for your saw. Consulting the user manual or looking up parts online for your chainsaw is the best way to guarantee you get the right replacement chain.
Chainsaw Chain Types
While the pitch and gauge determine fit, you also need the right chain type for your intended use. Here are some common examples:
- Chiseled – Aggressive cutting for felling and bucking logs. Most common for the average user. Available in different pitches.
- Semi-chisel – Faster wear but smoother cut. Good for detailed carving or pruning.
- Skip – For fast limbing/pruning with less drag. Various pitches available.
Again, check that any specialty chain is made in the correct pitch and gauge for your model saw. Getting the right chain style optimizes cutting performance and bar/chain longevity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between low profile and regular chainsaw chains?
Low profile chains have smaller drive link heights but similar thickness as standard chains. This allows higher chain speed with less friction. They are best suited to professional use saws with >60cc engines and lubrication systems that accommodate the tighter chain tolerances.
How often should I replace my chainsaw chain?
Expect to replace a chainsaw chain after 12-18 months of average use. More frequent replacement may be needed with very heavy or commercial use.
Can I use a different pitch chain on my chainsaw?
It is possible but not recommended. Different pitch chains will not properly mesh with the engine sprocket or guide bar. This can cause poor performance, increased vibration and wear.
How do I know if my chainsaw chain is worn out?
Signs of a worn chain include loose fitting, difficulty tensioning, cutting to one side, sawdust vs. chips, and taking more force to cut. Chains dull over time so monitor sharpness and replace early.
What is the difference between full chisel and semi-chisel chainsaw chains?
Full chisel chains have fully angled depth gauges and cutters for aggressive cutting. Semi-chisel de-emphasizes the top of cutters for a smoother cut. Full chisel chains stay sharp longer but cause more vibration.
How do I sharpen my chainsaw chain?
Use the proper diameter round file and holder. Hold the file perpendicular and stroke evenly 3-4 times per tooth. Maintain 30 degree inside/outside angles. Depth gauges can be lowered every couple sharpenings.
Can I use a different gauge chain on my chainsaw?
Avoid running a different gauge chain unless you switch the guide bar. Gauge must match the bar groove width for proper fit and performance. Running a loose or tight chain risks component damage.
Choosing and installing a correctly matched new chain is critical for any chainsaw user. Take the time to properly measure your existing chain pitch, gauge, and length. Consult your saw’s manual and bar/chain markings to identify the proper replacement specifications. Finally, select the right chain type for your saw model, ensuring optimal cutting performance and longevity between replacements. With the tips in this guide, you can be confident your new chain will function safely and effectively.
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.