What is the Difference Between R56 and S56 Chainsaw Chains?

What is the Difference Between R56 and S56 Chainsaw Chains?

Chainsaws are powerful tools that can help make quick work of cutting and pruning trees and logs. An important component of any chainsaw is the saw chain that drives around the guide bar. There are different types of chainsaw chains available, with the R56 and S56 being two of the most common options. But what exactly is the difference between R56 and S56 chainsaw chains? Let’s break it down.

Briefly, R56 chains have 56 drive links and are designed for smaller bars while S56 chains have 64 drive links and are meant for larger bars. The R56 is thicker with a .043″ gauge compared to the .050″ gauge of the S56. The R56 works better on softwoods and is more durable overall. The S56 is optimized for hardwoods. While they have some similarities, the chain specifications result in different performance characteristics.

What is the difference between R56 and S56 chainsaw chains?

what is the difference between r56 and s56 chainsaw chain

The main differences between R56 and S56 chainsaw chains come down to the number of drive links, gauge thickness, guide bar compatibility, and ideal wood type. Let’s look at each of these key differences in more detail.

Drive Links and Guide Bar Sizes

As the names imply, R56 chains have 56 drive links that travel around the guide bar while S56 chains have 64 drive links. The number of drive links directly correlates to the guide bar length the chain is designed for.

R56 chains are engineered for bars 18 inches or smaller in length. S56 chains are suited for longer bars of 20 inches or more. Matching the chain to the proper bar length helps ensure smooth operation and efficient cutting.

Chain Thickness

Another significant difference is the gauge or thickness of the R56 and S56 chains. R56 chains have a .043 inch gauge while S56 chains are slightly thicker at .050 inches.

The thicker gauge of S56 chains makes them more rigid and durable for rough cuts. The thinner R56 chains can move around tighter bar radiuses more easily.

Wood Type Compatibility

Due to their different gauges and construction, R56 and S56 chains are better suited for cutting different types of wood.

R56 chains work optimally on softwoods like pine, fir, cedar, and spruce. The thinner gauge allows the cutters to sever softwood fibers cleanly.

S56 chains are engineered for hardwoods like oak, maple, hickory, and ash. The thicker gauge stands up to dense hardwoods for smooth cutting.

Benefits of Using R56 Chains Over S56 Chains

While S56 chains have their place for large bars and hardwoods, R56 chains are preferable for many users because of advantages like:

Greater Durability

Due to their thicker gauge construction, R56 chains are generally more rugged and durable compared to S56 chains. The thicker drive links and cutters resist stretching and damage, extending the useful life of the chain. R56 chains can withstand more wear and tear during regular use.

More Secure Connection

Another benefit of R56 chains is they are less likely to jump off the guide bar and drivetrain during operation. The tighter tolerances result in a more secure connection between the chain and bar. This reduces the chances of detachment that could cause an injury.

Oregon R56 and S56 Chains Specifications

To see the differences between R56 and S56 chains, let’s look at some examples from Oregon, a leading chainsaw chain manufacturer:

Oregon R56 AdvanceCut Chainsaw Chain

  • 16-inch guide bar
  • 56 drive links
  • .043 inch gauge
  • Ideal for homeowner usage

Oregon S56 AdvanceCut Chainsaw Chain

  • 20-inch guide bar
  • 64 drive links
  • .050 inch gauge
  • Designed for demanding cuts

The number of drive links, gauge thickness, and intended bar lengths clearly vary between the R56 and S56 models. Always match your bar size to the chain specifications for safety and performance.

Compatibility and Interchangeability

Given the design variations between R56 and S56 chains, you may be wondering:

Sprocket Differences

Fortunately, the sprocket or drive mechanism that engages the chain remains the same between R56 and S56 chains. So you don’t need to change the engine sprocket when swapping chain types.

Bar and Chain Compatibility

However, the chains themselves are NOT interchangeable on the same guide bar. The inner width – called the chain track – is different between the R56 and S56. An R56 chain won’t seat properly in an S56 bar and vice versa.

How to Choose the Right Chainsaw Chain

When selecting a replacement chain, keep these tips in mind:

Consider Your Chainsaw Model

Consult your owner’s manual or check the manufacturer’s website to find the recommended chain types and lengths for your particular chainsaw make and model. Using the manufacturer’s chain suggestions helps maintain optimal performance and safety.

Assess Your Cutting Needs

Think about what size wood you’ll be cutting most often and whether it’s softwood or hardwood. Choose an appropriate R56 or S56 chain based on the typical cutting conditions. Factor in the bar length that works best for your tasks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use an R56 chain on a chainsaw designed for an S56 chain?

No, R56 and S56 chains are not interchangeable on the same guide bar due to their different chain track widths. Always match the correct chain type for your bar.

How do I determine the correct chain for my chainsaw?

Check your owner’s manual or manufacturer’s website to find the recommended chain types and lengths. Consider the bar size along with the wood type you’ll be cutting most often.

What is the difference between low-profile and full-chisel chains?

Low-profile chains have smaller cutter teeth optimized for fast, smooth cuts in lumber or timber. Full-chisel chains have larger teeth to aggressively rip through wood – ideal for felling trees.

How often should I replace my chainsaw chain?

Replace the chain when it becomes dull, damaged, or stretched so much that the chain tensioner can no longer take up the slack. This helps prevent binding and other issues.

How do I sharpen a chainsaw chain?

Use a round chainsaw file and holder or an electric grinder to sharpen the cutting edges at the proper angle. Refer to the manufacturer’s sharpening guidelines.

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

Narrow kerf chains are thinner, removing less material and requiring less power but providing a smoother cut. Standard kerf chains are thicker, more durable and better for dirty or frozen wood.

How can I prevent my chainsaw chain from coming off the bar?

Ensure proper chain tension, maintain the bar rails and sprocket tip, avoid over-tightening, and don’t apply excessive force during cutting. This helps secure the chain.


To summarize, R56 and S56 chainsaw chains have distinct differences in terms of drive link count, gauge, intended bar length, and wood type suitability that impact their cutting performance. R56 chains are ideal for smaller softwood cutting tasks where durability and secure drive connections are needed. 

S56 chains are engineered for large hardwood applications that require rugged dependability. With a basic understanding of chain specifications and features, you can match the right chain for your chainsaw and cutting requirements. Proper chain selection and maintenance will lead to increased safety, efficiency and longevity of your equipment.

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