What is the best bar and chain oil substitute?
No doubt you’ve heard about people using alternative bar oils like canola or motor oil, but are they good for your chainsaw? What are the long-term consequences of using them?
While I personally only use a regular bar and chain oil, I’ve thoroughly researched the topic and want to share both sides of the argument.
Chainsaw Bar Oil Substitutes
DGP Pro100 Chainsaw Oil
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Oregon Bar Oil
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Husqvarna Bar Oil
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If you are caught short without any bar and chain oil, any of the oils listed here are suitable as a temporary alternative.
People commonly use:
- Vegetable oil
- Motor oil
- Hydraulic oil
Thousands of people use these oils for the life of their chainsaws and have only positive things to say about them. It’s extremely unlikely to harm your saw and will get you through the day.
There are reports that bars and chains will need to be replaced more frequently, but this is through the permanent use of substitutes.
It is important to state that using anything other than the manufacturer’s recommended bar and chain oil may void any warranties or service claims.
For example, the Stihl warranty policy does not cover:
- Repairs made necessary by improper maintenance, lubrication, or oil deposits
- Any failure caused by lubricants not supplied or recommended by Stihl
- Repairs made necessary due to improper oil mix rations or the use of oils and other lubricants not specified in the product’s instruction manual
You can see the limited warranty typical to all their saws here.
It’s more than likely that other chainsaw brands, like Husqvarna for example, have similar warranty exclusions.
While it is unlikely anyone would know if you have used an alternative oil once or twice when you’re in a pickle, regular use will be obvious.
Reasons For Using A Bar Oil Substitute
Heavy users of chainsaws, from professional arborists and tree fellers to those with a firewood side gig, are split on whether or not to use alternative bar oils.
Those who do, swear by it, and those who don’t can have a visceral reaction to the very idea.
There are two main reasons why people choose to use alternative bar oils:
- They are cheaper
- They are better for the environment
The price factor will depend on where in the world you live.
In some countries or states, chain bar oil is not expensive at all. It’s comparable in price to alternative oils. In this case, it makes sense to simply use real chain bar oil.
However, in other parts of the world, there is the opportunity to make significant savings. In this case, you would need to weigh up the other pros and cons of using substitute chain and bar oil.
The environmental factor is important to many.
All of the oil you put into the bar and chain chamber goes out into the environment.
Small particles are spread through the air, in the sawdust, on the wood, and expelled in whatever direction your saw is pointed.
Regular bar and chain oil isn’t biodegradable and contaminates the environment. It’s not great to breathe in or get on your skin either.
There are biodegradable bar oils designed for chainsaws, and these are an alternative that I’m listing below.
Best Bar And Chain Oil Substitute
The following 5 oils are the most common substitutes for regular bar and chain oil.
While I’ve done my best to provide accurate information, please make sure you do your own research.
A lot of this information is anecdotal and comes from chainsaw forums and Facebook groups.
In my experience, the most useful info comes from these groups, but it doesn’t always line up with chainsaw manufacturer guidance.
1. Canola Oil
Canola Oil is a vegetable oil, but because it comes up most often as an alternative bar oil, I’ll consider it separately.
For interest’s sake, it’s made from the seed of the rapeseed plant – a yellow flowering member of the cabbage family.
It’s one of the most used bar oil substitutes, is usually on hand in most households, and is relatively cheap wherever you live. In some locations, it is up to 50% cheaper than real chain oil.
Canola oil is slightly thinner than regular chain and bar oil.
Those who use canola oil for chain and bar oil say:
- It keeps the bar and chain cleaner
- They can find it cheaper than regular oil
- Friendly on the environment – better for plants and animals
- Doesn’t smell as bad
- Flows easier
- Has a low freezing point and pours well at low temperatures
- The chain stretches less
- Doesn’t contaminate clothing as bad as other oils
Downsides of using canola oil as a permanent substitute:
- Oil is not as tacky and may use more
- Possible warranty void
- May attract rodents
- Canola oil can go bad
If you are going to leave your chainsaw without use for a longer period, it is recommended to run one or two loads of real chain bar oil through it beforehand. This will stop the canola oil from going bad.
2. Vegetable Oil
Other vegetable oils besides canola can be substituted for bar and chain oil.
The pros and cons of using alternative vegetable oils are basically the same as with canola, so I won’t rehash them here.
However, keep in mind that every oil has a different viscosity and so will act slightly differently in your chainsaw.
Other vegetable oils most commonly used in chainsaws:
- Soybean oil – thicker than canola
- Olive oil – thicker than canola but not good at low temperatures
- Sunflower oil – thinner than regular chain oil
Those who use these oils have little concern about wear, tear, or damage to their saws and are happy to use them full-time.
Besides the observation that perhaps you’ll need one extra bar and chain over the course of a decade’s chainsaw use, there are a few other complaints.
The other instance where people will use vegetable oil as a substitute is when carving up an animal like a moose or stag.
It goes without saying that motor oil or regular oil would not be suitable in this case.
Some also use chainsaws to divide up hay bales and other animal feed products.
It’s always better to use biodegradable and edible oil for these tasks.
Finally, there are those who use used canola oil. Perhaps they live next to a restaurant with a fryer?
This type of oil would need to be highly filtered first.
It might be one way to get free bar and chain oil, but it’s not recommended!
3. Motor Oil
After vegetable oils, motor oil is the next most used chain and bar oil substitute.
This chain and bar oil substitute causes a little more controversy in the forums and Facebook Groups.
There are those who have been using it forever and wouldn’t change for anything, and those who think it’s the most ridiculous idea out there. That’s before getting into the debate of whether or not to use used motor oil as chain and bar oil (not recommended by many)!
What type of motor oil is commonly used?
The main pros of using motor oil is that it is cheaper and may keep your saw blade cleaner.
The cons are that it isn’t as tacky, will likely void your warranty, and may cause faster bar and chain wear.
Here are some responses to one man who uses engine oil for his bar and chain.
The next example discusses using used motor oil and comes with plenty of passion.
And lastly, some anecdotal evidence that using motor oil as an alternative can cause faster bar and chain wear.
Used motor oil contains tiny bits of metal that will certainly cause bars and chains to wear out faster.
However, the question is always how much faster?
When spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a chainsaw, do you really want to risk it for a few dollars?
4. Hydraulic Fluid
Hydraulic fluid is another alternative but it doesn’t get the same number of mentions in the chainsaw community.
The gentleman in the video above uses used hydraulic fluid from a tractor that has been filtered.
It might be something worth testing out if you have an abundance of it around your home or farm.
As with motor and vegetable oils, it doesn’t contain a tackifier and so less of it will make it around the bar and chain. This is what can cause the bar tips and chain to wear out faster.
As usual, there are those who would not take the risk of damaging their chainsaws.
I wouldn’t hesitate to use clean or filtered hydraulic fluid as a substitute in a bind but would avoid using it as a permanent bar and chain oil solution.
5. Transmission Fluid
It’s nowhere near as tacky as the real stuff – it’s much runnier, so it’s not a good solution full-time.
It can be mixed with regular chain oil which can help it last a bit longer, but as it is you could be filling up your chain oil each time you fill-up the gas.
One of the downsides of this and other substitute oils is that it’s not great for the environment or your lungs.
Your saw will throw off large volumes of this oil which will inevitably end up all over the place – best to only use it if you need to get rid of it or you’ve run out of regular.
Biodegradable Chain And Bar Oil
The final bar oil substitute I have to share with you is the purpose-made biodegradable oil for chainsaws – it’s a bit more legit than some of the other options!
These are oils specially designed for use in chainsaws:
- Usually vegetable-based
They are easy to pour, work well in a range of temperatures, and are less likely to negatively affect your bar, chain, and oil pump.
There are many chainsaw and lubricant manufacturers who supply these types of oil.
Some of the most popular include:
- Stahls Bio Plus Chain Lubricant
- Husqvarna X-Guard Biodegradable Bar & Chain Oil
- Renewable Lubricants Bio-Pro Chainsaw Oil
Check out the best-selling bar and chain oils on Amazon here.
Oregon takes the number one spot for those who want to keep it traditional and not use alternative oils.
It’s available in 1-quart or 1-gallon containers and is designed for use with all brands of chainsaws. It has a premium oil base that is fortified with high-performance additives.
If you were wanting to avoid putting more oil out in the environment, one of the best alternatives is a biodegradable bar and chain oil. These products break down quickly and cause less harm in the outside world.
Chainsaw Bar Oil Alternative
In a pinch, the best bar and chain oil substitute is a suitable vegetable or motor oil.
Whether or not you choose to use alternative oils all of the time is up to you. A lot of people do so you will certainly not be alone.
If you have a cheap source of substitute oils, it might make the most sense in your case.
The reasons I choose to use regular chainsaw bar oil in my machines are:
- It’s not much more expensive in my location
- I want to use my chainsaw according to the manufacturer’s specifications
- I want to use the best possible products to prolong the life and effectiveness of my chainsaw
- For the peace of mind
The environmental factor is something I’m mindful of, especially when working around my property where we have a lot of grazing animals that are likely to consume the oil.
Biodegradable chain bar oil is something I’m going to test out and likely end up using all the time.
Finally, here are some types of oil you should definitely not use as a chain and bar oil substitute:
- Blood, sweat, and tears
- KY Jelly
- Diesel or gas
And nor would I do what the following mad lad suggests.
What have your experiences been with alternative chain and bar oils?
Let us know in the comments below!