Differences Between Standard and Low-Profile Chainsaw Chains

Differences Between Standard and Low-Profile Chainsaw Chains

As an avid chainsaw user, I understand the importance of having the right chainsaw chain for the job. While standard and low-profile chainsaw chains may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences that impact cutting performance, speed, safety, and more. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explain the differences between standard and low-profile chainsaw chains to help you determine which type is best for your needs.

First, let’s quickly go over why it’s so important to understand your chainsaw chain options. The chain is the business end of your chainsaw that does all the cutting work. Using the wrong chain type or size can lead to poor performance, increased wear and tear, safety issues like kickback, and just overall frustration while sawing. Knowing the differences between standard and low-profile chains will ensure you get the optimal chain for your particular chainsaw, bar length, and cutting tasks. With this essential knowledge, you’ll be equipped to tackle trees, lumber, and firewood with speed, efficiency and safety using the best chainsaw chain.

Now, onto the main question – what exactly are the differences between standard and low-profile chainsaw chains? In short, standard chains have taller cutters while low-profile chains have shorter cutters designed for lightweight saws and safety features. Let’s look at the differences in more detail.

Standard Chainsaw Chains

Standard chainsaw chains have cutters that are taller in height compared to low-profile chains. The taller cutters can handle more torque and are best suited for more powerful gas-powered chainsaws. If you have a high-performance chainsaw, a standard chain is likely the best choice to harness all that extra muscle.

Some of the most common pitch sizes for standard chainsaw chains are 3/8″ and .325″. The gauge is typically 0.050″, 0.058″, or 0.063″. This combination of pitch and gauge measurements provides strong, rugged cutting ability for taking on demanding tasks like felling trees, bucking logs, and milling lumber. Standard chains really shine when you need an aggressive chain with a robust design.

Differences Between Standard and Low-Profile Chainsaw Chains

Low-Profile Chainsaw Chains

As the name suggests, low-profile chains have much shorter cutters than standard chains, giving them a lower profile around the bar. This makes the chain lighter in weight and designed for improved safety. The shorter cutters are less prone to kickback since they have a smaller kickback zone near the upper quadrant of the bar tip.

Low-profile chains also vibrate less during cutting due to their innovative designs. Features like vibration-dampening tie straps and cutters with extra mass help absorb and reduce vibration. This makes them ideal choices for electric chainsaws which inherently vibrate more than gas models.

Some common pitch sizes for low-profile chains include 3/8″ LP and 1/4″ LP. The gauge is typically 0.043″ or 0.050″. This combination of narrow kerf pitch and gauge allows the chain to cut a smaller channel in the wood, increasing cutting speed while reducing strain on the saw.

Overall, low-profile chains excel in low-powered electric saws while providing extra safety and comfort features lacking in standard chains. Just don’t expect the same aggressive cutting characteristics of a standard chain.

Types of Chainsaw Chains

Beyond the standard and low-profile categories, chainsaw chains come in several specific types designed for different cutting purposes. Let’s look at some of the most common chain types.

Full Chisel Chains

As the name describes, full chisel chains have cutters with square-cornered chisel-shaped teeth. This full chisel design cuts aggressively and quickly in softwoods like pine, spruce and cedar. The sharp square corners help pull the chain through the cut swiftly. Full chisel chains offer the fastest cutting, but the sharp teeth can be prone to rapid dulling in hard or dirty wood.

Semi Chisel Chains

Semi chisel chains still have chisel-shaped cutters, but the front corners are rounded off slightly. This provides a smoother cut while still retaining reasonable cutting speed. Many users gravitate towards semi chisel as a good all-around compromise between fast full chisel chains and safer options. The rounded corners help maintain sharper edges as the chain encounters grit and sap.

Ripping Chains

A ripping chain has a unique design specialized for ripping or cutting parallel to the wood grain when milling lumber. The cutters have a zero degree hook angle and rakers ground at a flat slope. This configuration allows the chain to efficiently rip through wood fibers rather than aggressively chopping and bucking across them. For anyone milling lumber, a ripping chain is a must-have accessory.

Chainsaw Chain Measurements

To select the optimal chain for your chainsaw and bar, you need to understand the critical measurements that differentiate chainsaw chains. The three key measurements are pitch, gauge, and number of drive links. Let’s look closer at how each one impacts chain performance.


The pitch of a chainsaw chain refers to the spacing between the rivets joining each link. Common pitches for chains range from 1/4″ up to 3/8″ for most chainsaws. The 1/4″ pitch is best suited for smaller electric saws or topping poles, while 3/8″ has the most cutting power for demanded tasks. Other less common pitches include .325″, 3/4″, and 1″ for specialized large saws. Matching the chain pitch precisely to the bar is crucial for safe and efficient operation.


The gauge measurement refers to the thickness of the drive links in the chain. Common gauge sizes range from 0.043″ on smallest chains up to 0.063″ on larger chains. As a general rule of thumb, thinner gauge chains cut faster but may wear out sooner, while thicker gauge chains are more durable but cut a bit slower. Matching your saw’s power output and bar length to the proper gauge is key.

Number of Drive Links

The number of drive links determines the working length of the chain loop to fit around the guide bar. Chains range from 40 drive links for small electric saws up to over 100 links for long bars. To determine the correct number of drive links, consult your saw’s user manual or measure the bar’s length in inches and multiply by the chain’s pitch measurement. Getting the link count right ensures smooth bar travel and optimal cutting.

Chainsaw Chain Arrangements

Beyond basic measurements, chainsaw chains also come in different arrangements that impact performance. The most common arrangements are full complement, full skip, and semi-skip. Let’s explore the differences between these chain configurations.

Full Complement Chains

In a full complement chain, every tooth on the chain does the cutting work. There are no dedicated raker teeth solely for clearing saw dust. While this provides the most cutters possible for fast working speed, it can lead to increased vibrations and chains getting bound up in dusty conditions. Full complement is common on polesaws and in 3/4″ pitch chains.

Full Skip Chains

Full skip chains have each cutter tooth followed by 2 or 3 raker teeth for clearing chips. The full skip pattern leaves more gullet space for excellent chip flow to reduce clogging. This arrangement works well across a wide range of cutting conditions and helps dissipate heat. It provides a good balance of speed, smoothness and reliability.

Semi-Skip Chains

As a middle ground between full complement and full skip, semi-skip chains have one raker tooth between each cutter. This provides moderate space for clearing chips. Semi-skip chains retain more cutters than full-skip for increased cutting speed, but with less chip room than full skip arrangements.

Chainsaw Chain Materials

Beyond basic design differences, chainsaw chains today are available made from different base materials for specialized applications. The most common materials are chrome, carbide, and diamond. Let’s compare the characteristics of each.

Chrome Chains

The vast majority of chainsaw chains are made with chrome-plated cutters. This chrome plating helps protect against corrosion and wear while still allowing chains to be economically produced. Chrome chains offer a good balance of affordability, sharpenability, and cutting longevity for the average user.

Carbide Chains

For more demanding cutting, carbide chains have cutters made from carbide rather than standard steel. The incredibly hard carbide retains a sharp edge significantly longer when abrasive conditions quickly dull standard chains. However, carbide chains are challenging for consumers to sharpen and are considerably more expensive.

Diamond Chains

For situations like concrete cutting or dirty remediation sites, diamond chains have embedded diamond particles for the ultimate abrasion resistance. Of course this comes at an even higher cost yet, but diamond chains can cut through materials that would immediately destroy other chains. They also hold up to prolonged dirty cutting when carbides chains would slowly wear down.

Choosing the Right Chainsaw Chain

With all these options available, choosing the right chainsaw chain may seem complicated at first. But just remember to match the chain pitch, gauge, and drive link count to your saw’s specifications. Then select the chain type and arrangement designed for your most common cutting tasks, whether that’s felling trees, bucking logs, milling lumber, or trimming branches. Referring to your saw’s user manual for recommended chains is always a safe bet.

For most firewood cutters and weekend warriors, I would suggest starting with a versatile semi chisel full skip chain in the appropriate pitch and gauge for your saw. This chain configuration provides a robust design, reasonable cutting speed, and good chip flow across a variety of wood types. As you gain experience, then you can experiment with more specialized chains like full chisel for fast ripping or narrow kerf low-profile chains for battery-powered saws.

Proper chain selection, sharpening and maintenance will keep your chainsaw running safely and efficiently. Understanding the key differences between standard and low-profile chainsaw chains empowers you to choose the best match for your particular sawing needs. With this knowledge, you can tackle any cutting task efficiently and confidently.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main advantage of using a low-profile chainsaw chain?

The main advantage of low-profile chains is that they are lighter weight than standard chains. This makes them well suited for use on low-power and electric chainsaws that can’t handle the heavier standard chains efficiently.

Can I use a standard chainsaw chain on a bar designed for a low-profile chain?

No, standard and low-profile chains are not interchangeable. Using a standard chain on a low-profile bar, or vice versa, could be unsafe and result in damage. Always match your chain selection precisely to the guide bar.

What are the common pitch sizes for low-profile chainsaw chains?

The most common pitch sizes used on low-profile chains are 3/8″ LP and 1/4″ LP. This helps create a narrow kerf cut to reduce friction and chain load.

What is the difference between full chisel and semi chisel chains?

Full chisel chains have square cutters for fast, aggressive cutting. Semi chisel chains have partially rounded corners for slower but smoother cutting with less wear when contacting gritty or dirty wood.

What is a ripping chain used for?

A ripping chain is designed specifically for chainsaw milling lumber. The unique cutter configuration allows efficient ripping cuts parallel to the wood grain instead of standard cross-cutting.

How do I determine the correct number of drive links for my chainsaw chain?

Refer to your saw’s user manual for recommended chain lengths, or measure the bar and multiply by the chain pitch to calculate the number of drive links needed. Getting the length right is critical for performance.

What is the purpose of chainsaw chain arrangements like full skip and semi-skip?

The different arrangements control the number and location of raker teeth between cutters. This allows fine tuning chip flow, speed, smoothness and other characteristics for particular cutting needs.

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